Like most runners, I have often fantasized about going all-in for the sport, living a truly running-centered life for a while and discovering just how good I can be.
Very few runners other than the gifted young men and women who earn the opportunity to run professionally are able to live out this fantasy. But this summer I made myself an exception.
I relocated with my wife, Nataki, from our home in northern California to Flagstaff to train for three months with HOKA Northern Arizona Elite and document the experience in a blog and a future book.
During this period, which will culminate at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8, I have (to the extent that I am able) done everything the dozen full-time members of the team do: morning and afternoon runs on most days, supplemental strength training, weekly sports massage, clean eating, regular visits to the physical therapists at Hypo2 Chiropractic, and even counseling with a local sports psychologist.
The results so far have blown away my expectations. In August, I ran a 5K race in Oregon and beat my time from last year by 40 seconds (and won).
At 46, an age at which most runners who’ve been at it as long as I have are slowing down, I am fitter than I’ve ever been. The Chicago Marathon is now a week away, and I think I have a pretty good shot at improving on the personal-best time of 2:41:42 I set nine years ago -- something I told friends was impossible before I left California.
My conclusion? The pros know what they’re doing, and what works for them can work for any runner with proper scaling.
Whatever happens in Chicago, I will leave Flagstaff with a head full of precious memories, most of them involving the remarkable young men and women I’ve had the honor to be surrounded by here. Examples:
-- Sitting around a nighttime bonfire with NAZ Elite members Ben and Stephanie Bruce and the 22 attendees of their annual summer running camp and taking my turn to share my greatest running-related fear.
-- Receiving a surprise phone call from NAZ Elite coach Ben Rosario, then in Malaysia with another athlete, who’d just woken up to the news that I’d hurt myself in a workout and was as concerned about me as he would have been about any of his paid athletes.
-- Laughing myself breathless when NAZ Elite member and Flagstaff native Rochelle Kanuho mistook the hard one-mile interval I was running for a cool-down jog and asked if she could join me.
If you would like to join me for the remainder of my challenging and rewarding journey as a full-time “running bum,” you can do so by checking out my daily blog at www.finalsurge.com/therunningbum.