It seems that at least once every year, I go through a period of time when I reflect on my running history. I mean really reflect. It starts as I fondly remember those first few months of running, and how hard it was to get to the point where I could run three full miles before I couldn’t go any longer. Then, I’m moved to pull out the ever-increasing volumes of running logs I have kept over the years, and look back fondly as I relive the smells and the sounds and the feelings of those first runs. It seems like just yesterday that I ran my first race, but it has actually been over 28 years. Where did the time go?
I didn’t always have the library of logs that I treasure today. In fact, I had already been running for several months before I got my first journal. Keeping records of anything was never my forte, but for some reason, at some point early on, I decided that keeping track of my runs would be a good idea. I don’t even think I purchased that first log, but I think it might have come in a goodie bag from one of my early races. In any event, in August of 1982, I made my first entry in the log, and it’s pretty much been a way of life, and a story of life, since then. It was the place that I logged my times, but it also encompassed the accompanying thoughts and observations as well. As I started going through the 20 years of running history, I started to wonder. Where did the time go? To say it went in my log is much too simplistic.
When I first started to register my runs, I was still single, still living at home, and home was New York. After three months of running, I could still barely run three miles before I had to walk, and in my early races, I couldn’t break 25 minutes for a 5K. That was many moves, and many moons ago now. The first time I raced with my father, who had already been running for years, he beat me by a minute. He is now 82, and though he still walks four miles 3 to 5 times a week, the days of marathons and regular races, when I used to meet him in Central Park, are long behind us. Since my first entries in my log, my daughter was born, grew up, moved out, and now has a 2 year old of her own. She went from not being there at all, to becoming an adult, and all this has occurred since I first started running. It all seems to have happened so fast that I am left shaking my head. Where did the time go?
As I continued to read through my logs in chronological order, from the oldest one, now a bit frayed and tattered, to the current one, with still four chapters to complete, I was struck by a lot of different things. From a strictly performance viewpoint, early on, my race times dropped fast, and then, as the years went by, they held pretty steady. There were some years where the annual log had many blank pages, and that emptiness alluded to things outside of running. The pages are blank to the reader, but in my mind, they are detailed to the 100th of a second. Only the owner of the log would know the missing text of the empty pages, and I remember all the blank pages very clearly. A second hand reader would just see pages with no times, and wonder. Where did the times go?
At some point in the early 90’s, the logs seemed to become more alive, and at the same time, they became much too small to hold everything I wanted to say. The entries were no longer just records of a person who ran, but they became the memories, goals, dreams and accomplishments of a runner, squeezed into four small lines per day leaving me hungry to write more. By the mid 90’s, the small daily entries were no longer enough to hold my thoughts and to satisfy me, and that’s when I started to write “Thoughts of a Roads Scholar” which is really nothing more than an expansion of my journal entries. It’s always been about the run, and will always continue to be.
As I finished skimming through my logs, I had walked through nearly 28 years of running, and I was feeling pretty content. In all those years, I’ve only lost about 3 minutes on my 5K time when I’m in top shape. That falls right in line with the established standard of 5% loss of speed for every decade that I have read about. That’s not too bad, I thought. In 28years, there were only thre minutes that remained unaccounted for. And I wondered, where did that time go?
But as I lay in bed that night, the numbers still dancing in my head, the whole picture suddenly struck me in a different way. I realized that this loss of time is not just fractions of a second. This is a full three minutes! nearly 200 seconds that I used to spend on the other side of the finish line, cheering others on, and now, I’m still on the wrong side of the finish line with more than a quarter mile to go when the clock hits 20 minutes. And not a single step of it is any less taxing than it ever was before. From one day to the next, I haven’t changed a bit, but somehow, over 28 years, I have gotten a full three minutes slower than I used to be. I understand that this was going to happen to everyone else, but it was never supposed to happen to me! Where the **** did that time go????
For some reason, I started to see more clearly than ever before that my slowing down might be something that is here to stay, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. In 28 years, I’ve lost three minutes, which I may never be able to recover. The time has shifted to the wrong side of the finish line, and I may never be able to put it back where it belongs. But it won’t stop me from trying.
My last 5K, and it took me over 25 minutes. My training has been very good, but my race performances continue their gravitational pull to slower times. I could not have squeezed a single second of additional speed out of today’s effort, and a difficult effort it was. For over three miles, I kept on looking for those minutes I have lost over the span of my running career, and they were nowhere to be found. I finished the race totally frustrated. And I questioned. Where did the time go?
Wherever the time went, I will continue my quest to find it again, a few seconds at a time. The direction I take in my quest to improve my time will play a major role in the direction that my future times ultimately go. It has recently become more important to me than it has in a long time to push towards a faster finish line, and more time spent on the winning side of it.
They say that time, once lost, can never be recovered. With good training and positive focus, perhaps that theory can be disproved.
Here's to the work required that will eventually drop my times. Let the people who used to kick my butt come up to me and ask. “Where did the time go?”