Back in my early 20s, I went balls out in trying to be the best runner I could. For a couple years, I didn’t even take a full-time job. That was a convenient choice, because the economy rather sucked at the time. So I worked in a running shoe store, managed a sports complex and ran my skinny little ass off.
The results were pretty good for a journeyman or “sub-elite” runner. I ran 31:10 for 10K and about 14:45 on the track for 5K. Won a bunch of races. Lived on waffles, eggs, pizza and frozen peas.
But when I got married, I knew things had to change. I had a full-time job, for one thing, making it a bit more difficult to train 80-100 miles a week. Then came kids, and a mortgage. And I was happy about all that. So don’t get me wrong. As I turned 30, my goal was to put more of my energy into life outside the world of running. So I installed a mental device in my head that changed my priorities about how to live life day-to-day. I installed a governor in my brain.
“What’s a governor?”
The first time I heard the word “governor” in relation to a control device on a motor was in middle school. I knew nothing about engines, by my motorhead buddies knew a lot and were always tinkering with mini-bikes and go-karts. They wanted them to go fast.
And I recall them complaining when they realized a g0-kart engine they’d stolen somewhere had a “governor” on it. I asked what that meant, and they all looked at me like I was the most stupid kid on earth. Whatever, I thought.
Eventually I learned what a governor meant by riding that go-kart. At a certain point the gearing would kick in and the motor would slow down, or “govern” its output. You’d go fast to a certain point and that was it. Disappointing in some ways.
Yet it made sense if you think about it. Some go-kart tracks are just not designed for all out speed. An engine without a governor on it might send karts flying over the barriers into the cornfields. So a governor has its purpose.
Installing a governor
So I installed a form of governor in my head when it came to running, or the commitment to it. That meant that running did not take top priority over my work or family life. Sure, my 10 times dropped from the low 30s to the mid-30s by the time I was 35. And by the time I was 40, my 10k time was 36:00-40:00. And that’s where it stayed for a couple decades.
Now I run 42:00 for 10K, and ran a 5K at 7:00 per mile pace last year. And that’s all fun and good. Competing in duathlons for the last couple years, I’ve made progress learning how to go from run to bike to run. Won my age division in the Batavia Duathlon, and placed in the top three for my age group out in Galena. My first sprint triathlon saw me finishing 10th out of my age group.
And while those were fun results, they don’t make me want to strip the “governor” out of my brain. Not in terms of shifting all my priorities and trying to become some sort of Senior Savant in the triathlon. Like I just shared, I already know what training like a maniac involves. I installed that governor for a purpose, and the purpose still holds. Fitness is an important part of my life strategy. But it is not the most important thing in my life.
Fast up to a point
That does not mean that I cannot train hard. When I do go out for runs, especially speed work, my goals are clear. I run as fast as I can. Then, there are long runs for endurance. Shorter runs for recovery. All these add up to a form of racing fitness. So when I step to the line each time, I accept where I am, and where I am not in terms of peak fitness. No nerves. No anxiety. Just excitement to see what I can do.
It turns out the governor is not such a buzz kill after all. Perhaps I could have installed it much earlier in life, but it just wasn’t in fashion. Back when I was a training maniac, it was commonly accepted that sub-elites threw themselves at the sport of running. Your whole goddamned identity and self-respect seemed to hang on how you ran the week before. At least, it did for me. But I also know that I am not alone in that. Conversations with many runners from that era have affirmed that we were all a little nuts about our running. It’s what you did.
And to that end, I’m not sure there are as many people willing to do that whole sub-elite commitment thing. The race results these days don’t suggest there are a whole lot of those anachronistic running nutcases left in this world. The winning times at 10k and 5K races are typically 33:00-35:00 at local races. 5Ks are even won in 17:00. So perhaps people have more common sense and now how to have fun in running at least.
Not so sure the same thought line yet holds true in the worlds of triathlon or cycling. I’ve seen what it takes to train and complete an Ironman. Lots of training.
Yet last summer a friend of ours named Glenn did a lot less training than the rest of the people in our triathlon circles yet he not only finished, but came out just fine. And seeing results like that, one wonders if the psychology of Ironman and the triathlon community is not in process of maturing and undergoing a change as well.
Then there’s Kona
The obsession with making it to Kona requires that you probably throw your training governor into the gutter. It flat out takes hard training to drop your IM time that low. But those without lofty goals like that may be choosing a different course of training.
The early days of Ironman competitions with Dave Scott and Scott Tinley and Mark Allen paralleled the intense running boom of the early 1980s. Dave Scott was a seven-time champion, with a best time of 8:10 when he finished second to Mark Allen, with whom he “enjoyed” a competitive rivalry. There’s nothing like a rivalry to make you throw the governor in the gutter and just go for it.
According to the Wiki site on Ironman, “The current Ironman Hawaii course record was set in 2011 by Craig Alexander (Australia), whose winning time was 8 hours 3 minutes 56 seconds. Mirinda Carfrae (Australia) set the women’s course record in 2013 with a winning time of 8 hours 52 minutes 14 seconds.”
When you read times like those, it tends to put your own efforts into perspective. I know it happened for me in my late 20s when I realized that I could not train forever at the levels I’d sustained since high school through college and beyond. At some point installing the governor was simply the right and sensible thing to do.
I just attended an organizational meeting for a cycling team that races throughout the spring and summer. There were guys like me and men my age and older in attendance. My new bike has raised my interest in racing again.
And frankly, cycling is changing as a sport in some ways. There are more bike racers ignoring the rules of leg-shaving, for example. It’s becoming more about how fast you can ride than what you look like. So the governor there is more about so-called tradition and appearance than it is about performance. And isn’t that interesting?
Again, nothing says we can’t train hard and try out best at what we do. But perspective is critical in all endeavors. Especially so in our avocations.
So we’ll see you on the race course, governor.
TRAIN HARD • COMPETE WELL