Life’s about choices, and choices have consequences.
-Lt Col Parko, USAFA Professor
In any profession, being a generalist can be a blessing and a curse.
In the Air Force pilot community, we’re expected to maintain expertise in a primary aircraft alongside the responsibilities inherent to being an officer, such as managing people or overseeing the unit’s administrative work load. Not surprisingly, doing both things well at the same time is extremely challenging, especially when consistently changing aircraft and administrative jobs is the norm. Thus officers who are successful pilots and effective at their additional duties are generally a rare breed.
For me, balance is important. In my professional life, I have tried to split my efforts equally between flying and being an officer and more than often, I have had to deal with consequences inherent to my choices. Through the journey of flying three different aircraft, I accept that my niche is to be a professional generalist, not a specialist.
Like flying, runners can choose to either specialize in one thing, or branch out. Many runners I know will push themselves until they complete a full marathon, and then move on to triathlons as the next logical progression. I can understand the appeal of competing in multi-sport events, the suffering of movement from one stage of physical activity to the next, and especially the small community that joins in to celebrate one another’s accomplishments. Triathlon is in all reality a competition of generalists. All this preamble does have something to do with my race schedule logic.
As a runner, I want to excel in more than one forum, but not triathlon. At this point, my focus will remain on running, but this doesn’t mean I’m necessarily choosing a specialist path.
In September 2015, I ran four races in the space of four weeks: the Air Force half marathon in Ohio, then a local 5K the next week, a high altitude 12 mile trail race in Santa Fe the third week, and finally a 10K eco run on Capers Island, South Carolina. All of these events were extremely different. The road half marathon was massive with probably 1000-2000 runners in humid and windy conditions. The small 5K was put on by our local cross country team as a fund raiser. The trail race had about 140 runners and has been a long run event by the Santa Fe Striders running club. The 10K was probably the most podunk of all four events since we travelled to the island on a small boat and the race director rode ahead of us on a mountain bike to mark the course (I ended up getting in front of him and then had to rely on the integrity of my GPS watch to ensure I ran the correct distance). This little slam probably indicates the kind of running I want to continue.
There are many various kinds of running events I want to pursue, namely road marathons and ultras, but at the same time I don’t want to turn my back on the shorter events which I’ve developed a base in. This mindset informs my plans for 2016 – it is my race schedule logic.
Ryan Hall, the U.S. marathon Olympian, announced his retirement last week at age 33, less than a month before the Olympic trial qualifying race in Los Angeles next month. Ryan Hall is the American record holder in the marathon and half marathon distances, 2:04 and 59:43 respectively. This guy has done amazing things in the running world and I really admire how his faith influenced his approach to training and racing.
Unfortunately, years of incredibly intense competition, and many believe the singular focus on marathons since 2008, led to the injuries and other troubles which hindered Ryan Hall’s professional longevity. Undoubtedly, someone could argue that mixing up his racing distances could have enabled him more years of racing dominance, but I suspect that accumulated years of intense training effectively blocked him from varying his competitive distances. In the end, props must be given to him. Running times as fast as his, and being such a good representative for the professional running community demands nothing but the highest respect.
Ryan Hall’s narrative forces me to reflect on many things. How do I want to live a balanced life? Who do I want to be as a runner? In all reality, I only returned to running competitively in the past couple years, and I want nothing more than to pursue goals as a life long runner. I will never be an Olympian and likely never an elite, but as I reborn competitive runner I think it’s worth trying to get as fit as possible amidst the constraints of life, and then see what happens over time.
My main goal for the first half of 2016 is to compete as well as I can in distances longer than the half marathon. Plans for the Fall season are still coming together, and there are races I’m interested in at that point in time, but here are the races I plan to run in the next six months…
24 January – 3M Half Marathon in Austin, TX. I tried to race here a year ago and scored a DNS (did not start) because of extreme fatigue. The course is net downhill in January, so the conditions are ripe to gain a personal record which is my goal. Existing PR: 1:23:00
Side note: The half marathon will remain a personal favorite. In the 13.1 mile distance, a competitive runner can cruise anaerobically at full throttle pace. Anything longer, you’ll face the wall. Anything shorter, you’ll invariably lose to Kenyans or high schoolers (in reality, you’ll lose to Kenyans in any distance). My long standing goal remains breaking the 1:20 threshold and doing this requires an average pace of 6:05 minutes/mile. Getting to where I’m at in the low 1:20s required an intense and sustained training approach last year. Therefore, I intend to race a half marathon every year because of the sheer fitness required. But continuing the half marathon as my specialty doesn’t appeal, much like only focusing on one thing in order to do it really well for an entire career. I’m just too curious.
5 March – Sierra Vista 50K in Las Cruces, NM. This will be my very first ultra marathon. In other words, 31 miles will be my longest distance ever raced and I’m going to have to show that distance some sweet respect. The trail course follows along the picturesque Organ Mountains just north of Las Cruces, and I’m expecting desert terrain with lots of rocks. Even though this is my first ultra, I intend to run this slow and steady in order to finish, and I’m going to need to be very restrained to make it happen. I expect I’m going to be hurting a lot once I’m on my feet past four hours. Hopefully I’ll be finishing around five hours, but if I just finish I’ll be happy.
24 April – Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in Oklahoma City, OK. This will be my focus race in the spring. Many of the other races are ones I mainly want to finish, but this one I want to run hard to compete. March 2007 was the last time I ran a marathon which happens to be my only marathon. In that event I scored a Boston qualifier without really knowing what I was doing. Qualifying for Boston requires a 3:05 at my age, but in the OK City race I want to aim for an automatic entry time for New York. That happens to be a 2:51. Therefore, my goal in this race is a 2:50. Existing PR: 2:58:30.
21 May – Jemez Mountain 15 Mile Trail Run in Los Alamos, NM. I have two desires with this race. First, it’s a preparation race for my trail marathon in June. Second, I want to scope out the course and race management. Jemez is a race I’m eyeing to run one of their longer distances (50K or 50 miles) down the road. From what I’ve gathered, the Jemez 50 miler is one of the hardest courses around.
18 June – Leadville Trail Marathon in Leadville, CO. Running a marathon between 10,000 to 13,000 feet on trail just seems appropriate to finish the season out. Honestly, I love Colorado and I’ll look for any opportunity to take Anna up there. Leadville’s economy thrives on the tourists who fuel its endurance sport scene and I am interested to see what the race management is like. I know a lot of people keen to race the Leadville 100 race in their lives, but I personally have some mixed thoughts.