Making the Big Time

There’s always a sense of pleasure when you’re among the first to discover something – a little hole-in-the-wall bistro that serves the best tacos this side of Guadalajara, or the scuffling band playing at a free concert in the park, knocking out tunes that you can’t help but get up and dance to. And that feeling is justified and intensified when your discovery becomes a hit after being discovered by the general populace, although to be sure that can be tempered a bit when you can’t get a reservation for dinner at that spot you used to walk into on a moment’s notice or ticket prices for the band you used to see for free in the park approach the three-figure mark at a large concert hall.

It can be the same way in running, too. For many years I wrote the high school column in Running Times, profiling an up-and-coming scholastic runner who figured to make a mark on the national scene in the upcoming season. Most of the time, they panned out, and a few went on to successful collegiate careers, with an even smaller sampling continuing to compete in the open ranks in national and international events. Perhaps the most notable example was when an old college running buddy who was coaching in upstate New York tipped me off about this girl who was running at a school that didn’t even have a girls team, but was clearly head and shoulders above anyone else. “She’s the real deal,” he said. “Keep your eye on her.” Years later, when Molly Huddle set the American record for 5,000 meters on the track, I emailed Bill Mullarney and told him that he had indeed been right about her when she was just a high school sophomore. Now, if he could just use that talent identification skill to pick a few horses at the next season at Saratoga, we could both retire early. Continue reading

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Too much of a good thing?

Back in the days of the Cold War, the Russians, in their conglomerate nom de guerre of the Soviet Union, were big on secrets. It was de rigueur in the Spy Vs. Spy world of international espionage that throttled the planet in those dark decades, since the less your enemy knew, the greater the advantage and element of surprise you held in your hand.
Now, the Berlin Wall is down, the U.S.S.R. is nothing more than part of a Beatles song title, and détente and its resultant openness seems to rule interactions between Mother Russia and the rest of the world, particularly the United States. Except, it seems, when it comes to track meets.
WorldChampLogoIn case you missed it, the IAAF World Championships of Athletics (track and field to we Americans) are being held this week in Moscow, in the very stadium where athletes from America (and many of its allies) were prevented from competing by the boycott of the Olympic Games of 1980. And if you have been missing it, don’t blame yourself: this might be the worst-publicized World Championships since the meet began three decades ago in Helsinki, in part as a response to those very Olympics, as a mean of providing a less politicized venue for track and field athletes to compete without the attendant jingoistic baggage the multi-sport Games entailed. Continue reading

Off and running

If there’s one thing we, as runners, can take pride in (or be accused of) it’s persistence. No matter the conditions – snowdrifts up to the windows, thunder and lightning, or heat and humidity that would wilt the hardiest Panamanian – you’ll find at least one, and often many, of us out there on the roads, track or trails, putting in our daily miles.

No doubt this is the result of another attribute of virtually every runner: we’re creatures of habit, craving the routine our workout schedules create for us. Often, this virtue becomes a fault, like when we “train through” injury or illness when a day or two’s rest would be more beneficial. But, good or bad, hewing to a routine, and persisting even in the face of obstacles to doing so, tend to define us as runners.

It’s much the same way with writing. While the occasional burst of inspiration from a divine muse might inspire the odd book or article here or there, for the most part, writers are a lot like runners, achieving whatever measure of success we get through the often tedious process of sitting down at a keyboard and pecking away, whether it’s for a matter of minutes or months. And in doing so, the process often becomes more important than the product, just as the act of completing a 45-minute run creates its own intrinsic reward more gratifying, certainly in terms of immediacy, than any competitive accomplishments it might engender down the road. Continue reading