Some things just naturally go fast: money, turbos, jets, and light. I'm
not one of those things. Any "speed" I've attained has come through a lot
of time and effort. During these years I've learned quite a bit. Not only
things about myself, but about athletes and people in general. This
article is meant to tell a story. Hopefully, some of you can relate to my
experiences and learn from them.
July 22, 1957
This was the day I was born. My mother tells me it was a very quick
labor, being that I was her first child. I'm not sure whether that
means I was fast, or she was. Anyway, it goes downhill from here.
Fall 1965 -- Age 8
I decided it was time to try Little League football. I actually wanted
to play the year before but my mother thought I was too young. I also
suspect the fact that I was the next to smallest kid in my class had
something to do with it! You may ask why a short, chubby, slow kid
would want to play football. Good question! But, I threw my better
judgement to the wind and signed up. Have you ever watched 25 eight
year olds in full pads do a 1/4 mile "wind sprint" around the field
after practice? A lot of the kids wanted to win that sprint. I knew
better. My goal was not to be last! Thank God there was always one
very round clumsy lineman (or should I say "rounder and clumsier
lineman"?) who I could just nip at the finish. How come some of these
guys who never ran any more than I did could finish in 1/2 the time? I
wrote it off to short legs.
Spring 1971 -- Age 14
High school P.E. class, what a concept. All the guys are busy trying
to impress the girls, when in fact, puberty is busy contorting their
bodies so that some of them can hardly walk! Besides gymnastics,
soccer, ***oline, Playboy, and all the other activities we fondly
remember from those days, our particular teacher made us run a timed
mile twice a year. The "training" for this event started well ahead of
time and consisted of running a 1/4 mile on Monday, a 1/2 mile on the
next Wednesday, and you guessed it -- a full mile on Friday. And me,
the picture of consistency, could only beat one other kid in class. I
turned in a scorching 11:50! How come all these kids that didn't run
anymore than I did were so much faster? I also was taking a biology
class that year and learned about genetics. Hmmmmmmm.
Spring 1973 -- Age 16
Our progressive high school let us choose our P.E. courses. Since I'd
been swimming (slowly!) since age five I decided to take a course that
involved learning to teach young kids from elementary schools in the
district to swim. Before each class we had to swim anywhere from 1/4 to
1/2 a mile depending on how motivated the instructor was that day.
Also, twice a semester we had to swim a timed mile. Well, at least we
got more than a week to train! In this case all the guys in the class
could beat me, but I could just beat a few of the girls in the class.
I'm a firm believer in equal rights. I have just as much right to beat
the girls, as I have to beat the guys. Where were these girls in my
younger years!? I'd complain to the coach about my speed and he would
say "Don't worry Larry, you have beautiful form." Gee, thanks. How
come all these kids who swim the exact workouts I do are so much faster?
1975 -- Age 18
During my senior year of high school running had caught fire. I was a
bit over weight and thought running would be a good way to lose some
excess poundage. That "round & clumsy lineman" still lived . . . The
wimpy looking kid from across the street told me that he had run around
the park near our house. I was a macho senior, so I certainly could
match that! As it turned out that first workout was 3.5 miles. I ran at
a comfortable pace (read: "didn't puke") and finished without injury (18
year old bodies can do amazing things!). Looking back that was a pretty
amazing/stupid feat. I hadn't run at all, but was able to jump right
into a 3.5 mile jaunt. Hmmmm, no speed but maybe some natural endurance.
The other thing I did was only run once or twice a month. You betcha, no
1976-1979 -- Age 19-21
Off to college to get smart. Not only did I learn a lot about computers,
but during this time I started to take running seriously. I started
running a mile five days a week. I always wore a watch to keep track of
my times and pulse. When that got too easy I went to 1.5 miles, then 2
miles, and finally 3.5 miles five days a week. One day I got crazy and
ran 6 miles in 54 minutes. After that run I thought about training for
the "M-Mountain 9-miler", a race that the school put on each year. By
this time I was beginning to get some respect as a "runner" from peers at
school. I ran the race and averaged exactly 9 minutes per mile. I was
still slow, but 30% of the people finished after me. Including a bunch
of guys! As soon as I started running regularly my resting heart rate
fell like a rock. It went from 70 to 45 beats per minute in just two
months. After 10 more years of training, including the last five very
intense ones, my resting rate has only dropped another 3 beats. Another
thing I now can correlate with some of my success is that I could always
swim the longest underwater, and hold my breath longer than all my
buddies at summer camps. Some more hints from my body . . .
1983 -- Age 25
My wife's employer was the co-sponsor of a mini-triathlon. It included a
6.2 mile run, a 18 mile bike, and a 1/2 mile swim. Since I was already
running daily, swimming once a week, and cycling to work, it didn't take
much convincing to get me to try it. Hell, I'll try anything. I
finished the race in fine form, and about 30% of the folks finished after
me. The ***ion had begun . . . .
Since 1983 I have done 39 triathlons including three 1/2-Ironman distance
races, Ironman Canada, four eight hour winter triathlons, a full marathon,
a 50 mile mountain ultra-marathon, and three 35 mile mountain
ultra-marathons. I have progressively gotten faster at all three sports (I
ran my first full marathon at a pace 20 seconds per mile faster than that
first 9 mile race), however, I still only finish in the top 30% (nope I
said the top 30%, not the bottom 30%!). I read all the triathlon
magazines, I get reprints from sports medicine journals on training topics,
I listen to all the top athletes. I love this sport! Recently, because of
my experience, I've taken on a "coaching" role with some friends at work.
It's frustrating to see folks that I'm coaching end up beating me within a
very short period of time. But I can write it off to good coaching, and
they're just built for speed!
There is a wide spread belief in the triathlon world today that the right
type of quality training will make you a winner. Sorry folks, it's just
not true! What everyone needs to realize is that we all do certain things
well. Some people can hardly walk but can invent new high speed circuits
for computers. Some people are naturally fast. Some people, like me, have
natural endurance. Some people are fast AND have natural endurance,
they're the ones that win races! I've talked to many triathlon age group
winners about their training and it's un-canny how many of them say "I just
entered my first triathlon for fun last year and ended up finishing third.
So I figured with a little training . . ." As I see it there are only
two reasons to race. The first one is to make money by winning, the second
one is to have fun -- to be with friends, to get outside, to see yourself
improve, to stay fit. In fact, if you're not having fun, even the money
probably won't be enough for long.
Take some time, look back on your life. What things come easy for you?
What things come harder? If you want to focus on the hard things you can
move from an "almost didn't finisher" to a "middle of the packer"; if you
want to focus on the easy things you can move from a top 30%er to a winner!
In any case, the good feelings you'll get from seeing yourself improve are
worth every bit of effort! You may find it makes life easier to gain some
of this insight into yourself. It has for me.
I am a 34 year old computer scientist working as a project manager for
Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, CO. I race about 5 times per year and
train about 12 hours per week (Run 25 miles/week, Bike 120 miles/week, swim