The Planet Wave: Ditch Training, Play Instead
I hate training. I really do. While I’m at it, I also despise working out and absolutely never run workouts. Never.
Don’t get me wrong: I love running. Probably just as much as you do. What I hate is the “training” word. Maybe it’s a case of semantics, but I equate training and working out with…work.
I work plenty, just not when I run. Work is the last thing I want to think of when I run. There’s an important distinction between running and working out/training that too many of us have confused.
Let me explain. Steve Scott is good friend of mine. He’s the great American miler, a three-time Olympian, who in his heyday, ran more sub-4-mile miles (136) than anyone on this planet. He trained like maniac and whenever he left the house to lift or run, Steve would always say something to the effect like, “It’s time to go to work,” just like someone who works all day in a factory might say.
And for Steve it was work. Running was his livelihood and he trained longer and harder than any miler in the world. Training is something that professional runners do as much as eight hours a day when you throw in all the other peripheral stuff that constitutes “working out.”
But, for me, running is play time. Every morning, I run a couple of miles through my neighborhood to a green belt which connects to a golf course—my sandbox.
There, I cruise along spongy, forgiving fairways, past herds of feeding deer who are so used to the sight of me, they don’t even look up. I pass by the den of my favorite grey fox who only rarely makes a morning appearance. But the armadillos are usually up, foraging for breakfast around the ponds where the rising mist in the morning chill creates this magical ground fog. After hopscotching over a couple of dry creek beds, I hit a long, hilly par-5 on which I ramp up to race pace–just for the heck of it–from tee to green.
Once I run out of holes, I exit the golf course along a narrow deer path which intersects a development springing out of what had been nothing but scrub brush. I hit the development’s main road and put in my habitual 1000-meter surge. There’s one more hill and after that, I pound past the school kids waiting for the bus who must be wondering: Why is that guy in the baseball hat always smiling?
That would be me. A workout? Hardly. Training? I don’t think so. This is me at play.
I’ve been following this ritual ever since third grade when I discovered this, the simplest of joys. I grew up in a small community—Belltown–and went to a school (again, Belltown) that was so small, we didn’t have a cafeteria or school bus service. So at lunchtime, everyone rode their bike or walked home.
Everyone but me. I ran.
As the clock approached noon, I would tighten the laces on my sneakers and crouch down like the sprinters I had seen on TV do. The second the clock ticked to noon, I would spring out of class and bolt out the front door, bounding off the top step.
It was a little over a mile to home where lunch was waiting, but between the school and my neighborhood was a heavily wooded area. I knew these woods so well, it was like my personal playground. Cutting through the woods with branches whipping my face, jumping off boulders, hurdling downed trees and flying down the trail, I felt an awareness of myself that nothing else provided.
By the fourth grade, I began to time my runs and every lunch was my chance to go faster and faster. Speed was fun and these daily runs to and from school became the unquestioned high point of my day. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but simple joy of movement, the sense of discovery, the freedom of being able to cover vast distances at will, made me feel alive and special.
To this day, it’s a feeling I’ve tried to replicate every morning.