By Christopher Cudworth
One of those mindsets has plagued me for years, and it’s time to be free of it.
Here’s how it worked.
Back in high school and college it was common to run some summer miles in preparation for cross country season in fall. Practice usually began in early t0 mid August. So there was always a Back To School component to summer training.
Of course if you didn’t suck at your sport, the track season did not end until late May or early June. That meant the 21 days between the end of May and the true beginning of summer around the 20th of June was a decompression period. You did not race. You trained easy.
It seems silly to think that a mindset built that long ago could rule your brain 10, 20, even 40 years later. But it happens.
The dreaded turning point was 4th of July. Back to serious training. Start plugging away at the base miles in the heat of summer. One high school coach warned me that training through July was miserable but necessary preparation for the pending cross country season. So I dutifully tried as a fifteen year old sophomore to run during the summer months. But the shoes back then were almost useless in terms of padding and summer road training. So I often did not run. Not in the traditional sense of summer training anyway.
My high school teammates did. Some logged 500 to 1000 miles over the summer months. I always marveled at their focus and dedication. All through high school I typically blew off much summer distance training. I played basketball and baseball and tennis and golf and rode my bike for hours at a time. I had a paper route at 5:30 in the morning that involved 5 miles of cycling. Pretty much I was a perpetual motion machine.
And when cross country season came around I dove into fall training for 3 weeks and rounded into shape relatively quickly. As a freshman I made varsity and ran a sub 17:00 3-mile. As a sophomore I led the team in points, ran a 3-mile in the low 16:00s and helped lead the team to its first conference championship. As a junior I moved to a new school and was first runner for a team that won a district championship. As a senior I barely missed qualifying for the state meet in the most competitive sectional competition in Illinois.
But that whole summer training thing never registered well with me. Could I have been a better runner with more summer running? I’m not so sure. Typically most seasons wound up being a struggle against burnout. We had so many duals and triangulars and invitationals that by season’s end my body was running on fumes. I’m going to be radical and state that I think summer running is in some ways overrated for high school runners. Yes a small base is helpful to keep fitness up. But I did that on my own. It wasn’t necessary to be chased by farms dogs to get me to run. And that’s pretty much what happened back then.
Of course now most high school programs have a much more communal approach to summer running. Athletes get together for morning runs and support each other. It did not help that the first two years of high school were associated with a school district covering the largest geographic territory in the state. Teammates were scattered around 6 different towns feeding into the district. Summer training together? It wasn’t going to happen.
It was my lazy-assed fault, however, that I did not immediately join the summer track club in St. Charles when I moved there. But baseball was my summer sport. I was 7-1 as a pitcher. No regrets there.
Even in college the summer psychology was a bit twisted toward pressure rather than joy in summer running. By the time I was a senior I had it down a little better but again, we started hard training in early August and did not finish until November. There was 13 meets in between. 80-90 miles were common.
Upon graduation the whole schedule finally started to shift. Summer road race season was where the action happened. And at the age of 24 I raced 24 times and won 12 of those races. I learned to train hard through summer heat and race in June, July and August rather than confining those efforts to spring and fall.
And of course now that cycling is a big part of life, the summer months are treasured for their calmer, less windy days. Long rides in the heat of summer can be taxing, but you live for that.
Old habits die hard
That should have cured my scholastic dread about the summer months. But not completely.
Now I’m more than 50 years old and still running and riding. This weekend my plan is to compete in a hilly criterium bike racing even. In a few weeks there may come a duathlon and then a team triathlon.
Yet that feeling of falling off a shelf of sorts after the 4th of July still holds. And it’s ridiculous. That old habit of mind needs to be discarded. It’s an Independence Day of a different sort. There are two whole months of summer to be enjoyed. Running. Riding. Testing the limits.
And come fall the fitness can be put to use all the way through October.
Yes, it’s a Happy 4th when you finally decided to liberate yourself to look ahead without the burden of some old scholastic mindset coloring the season. It almost makes you wonder about other old mindsets that might be holding you back somehow. Doesn’t it?