As you see, I’m not opposed to formal races. I think they play a special role in an endurance athlete’s life. For me, the 2012 Prague Marathon is a goodbye party for the four guys in my training group: Alain, El Doce, The Jewish Stallion, and me. Before coming to The Netherlands, I did about 90% of my running alone. Now, I probably run only 60% of my miles alone. Shortly after moving to The Netherlands, I met the Jewish Stallion, and we began completing long runs together. Those long runs gave us time to get to know one another pretty well. We talked about kids and families, goals and dreams, and fears and faults. We even morphed ourselves into comic book anti-heroes who battled against the ever-perfect Hot Tuomas. And we discussed these things as we felt our hearts beat heavily and our lungs express air, as we used the inevitable air Kleenex, as we expectorated, as we peed in the bushes, as we groaned appreciatively after farting, and as we fought with wind and rain and cursed Mother Nature. When you run long with a training partner, it’s hard to hide who you are. It’s tough to be inhibited (in endorphins veritas), and so we offered one another support and honest criticism. In the end, training together helped two strangers who run become great friends. Prague will be a celebration of that friendship.
El Doce (I hope to remember to explain his nickname in a blog post next week) turned our duo into a triumvirate. I don’t remember meeting El Doce the first time (I first met the Jewish Stallion in a booze shop), but now it seems as if El Doce has always been a part of my training in The Netherlands. If it weren’t for his encouragement and support, I would not have participated in the Antwerp 70.3, which ended up being the one race in which I performed to as high a level as my fitness would allow. He’s a triathlete first and a runner second, but he’s improved greatly as a runner since we began training together (right now, he may be the fastest guy in our group), and he’s one of those guys who seems not to know just how good he could be, an extension of a sincerely humble mien. For El Doce, training is as much about his partners as it is about him. He’s a much stronger cyclist than I, but he’ll pull for me into the wind and he’ll wait for me at the side of a bike path after putting in a hard effort to ensure I know my way back to where we started. He was also kind enough to smack the Jewish Stallion and me around in the water to help us get used to swimming with contact. Prague is also a celebration of this friendship.
Alain is the first non-American in our group, a Swiss of the French variety. He joined our group while I was still recovering from surgery, so I’m just now getting to the point where I can run with him, rather than behind him. He too is a triathlete first and a runner second, but he’s fast and likes to train fast. His joie de vivre is infectious, and having him in the group adds a light-hearted energy to our training. Running with Alain is fun. He has fit in well with our group and gives as well as he takes as we rib one another during our runs. This friendship, too, will be celebrated in Prague.
As I update you on my training in the lead-up to the Prague Marathon, keep in mind that this is not only a race in which I would like to PR—and finish ahead of my training partners (all of us are extremely competitive), but it is also a chance to celebrate the bonds that training has helped me forge with three men who have been invaluable to my performance as a runner, and, in the case of the Jewish Stallion, to my performance as a father and husband. Guerrilla Race promotes groups getting together in hope of combating the ridiculous cost of racing. By doing so, maybe endurance athletes can discover new friendships and maybe, as an extension, the formal races we run will also come to mean just a little bit more than just another chance to get a PR or a medal or a t-shirt.
Everyone going long this weekend, enjoy your time on the roads, trails, or, if you must, the treadmill. I’m going to go 20 miles on Sunday for the first time since the 2010 Amsterdam Marathon, but it shouldn’t be too difficult, as I’ll have Alain and the Jewish Stallion with me most of the way. I’ll be back on Monday with another post.