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Old Dog, New Tricks?

Posted Apr 17 2010 8:35am

They say you can’t teach ‘old dogs’ new tricks.  There is a ring of truth to this cliché for us runners.  That is, until we push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

One of my good friends—also an ultra runner—is one old dog.  With no disrespect to his 30 year running career, when ever I ask him to run a trail outside of his regular repertoire, I’m quickly rebuffed.  “No, I’m just going to do two loops of the xyz trail”.  XYZ trail being the same trail he’s run a hundred times before.  With him I’m now convinced of one thing: if it aint that dog’s hunt, that dog aint gonna hunt!

Which brings me back to this old dog.  I used to believe that I would never be a morning runner during the workweek.  I detested getting up early, rushing to get ready, then throwing myself outside to get though a workout.  Knowing I needed to be at work before 8 am, I always felt rushed, with no time to warm up or cool down.  The result?  For the last 20 years, most of my training during the week has been in the evening hours, after work.

Enter Family--The Great Teacher of New Tricks.  Last week I was on spring break with my family.  Since we were in the mountains to snow ski, I had to make a decision.  Should I run after spending most days on the slopes with my daughter, or get my training done before hitting the slopes, like early in the morning when the temperature was pushing 22 degrees?  With several hours of running per day on my plate, I opted for the morning.  The first 30 to 45 minutes of these runs where challenging, but manageable.  Though while making my way along the solitary Pacific Crest Trail during one of the coldest mornings, the nozzle on my Nathan hydration pack froze solid.  Uhg! 

I also used to think training for ultras was a sacrosanct affair.  Once I registered for an event and had my eye on the prize, nothing could take me away from my beloved trails on southern cal. 

This week I was summoned yet again to the east coast for work.  Business travel and ultra training aren’t natural companions.  But I’m learning they can co-exist.  When I woke up in Portland, Maine at 7 am, I knew I needed to put in 10 miles before my meeting.  Not a big deal, but when my return trip was re-routed on account of a last minute meeting in Columbus, OH, it meant tacking on 7 miles in New York City the same night.

Hell, I thought to myself as I was running through Times Square at 9 pm amidst throngs of tourists, why don’t I touch the Hudson River, then run across Manhattan and then touch the East River?  Determined, I made my way over some rickety steel pipes hovering above the dark, foreboding Hudson.  Hidden below me was an abandoned pier.  I leaped across a wide gap, then made my way to the river’s lapping edge.  As I reached for its cold touch, I couldn’t help but smile as my mind wondered.  If not running, where would I be?   

New tricks?  No, not for this old dog.  It’s just my own hunt. 
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