© Copyright – 2013 – Athletics Illustrated
Sheldon, a co-worker, friend and running partner of mine thought he had a good idea once. I will share that good idea with you, but just indulge me for a moment.
He and I worked at a software company, in corporate sales, pitching to Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies that were scattered throughout the universe. Wal-Mart, Disney, NASA, CSIS, FBI, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, EA Sports, Microsoft, RCMP, Boeing (“Boing” as I referred to them, because of their recurring layoffs and re-hirings), name a company, we liaised with them. Sales was our job, running was our focus.
Endurance training, like the long sales cycles we faced, requires patience and a steady, consistent approach. There are no shortcuts to the top. Sheldon and I ran at lunch every day, five days a week. We often ran to and from work as well. We ran at night, on weekends and in our sleep. We ran in thigh-deep snow, through dozens of rainstorms and baked our carcasses during the hot summers and tropical vacations. After two years of basking in the joys of running around pastoral farmland that offered waterfront vistas, herds of cattle and sheep to pester (“Hey! Daaaaadeeee”), we were violently thrown into a terrible dilemma that required a paradigm shift of legendary proportions. The executives, who possessed only the tiniest of minds, delivered to us the bright idea that we were to move everyone downtown, to smack in the middle of concrete and steel.
Our cows and sheep turned more gormless in the form of suit-wearing, glassy-eyed humanoids who wandered aimlessly through the streets of downtown. And there were the slightly more interesting users who would taunt us by entertaining themselves with their own lunatic brilliance by mocking us with such nuggets as “Run Forrest run” or “let me know if you catch up to my old lady, she ran away last week.” Our riposte, to scatter their drug paraphernalia from the eddying tide of wind that trailed in our wake, as we ran past – reams of fast-food wrappers would flutter around them, as we swept by; fast food trash, a street person’s answer to suburban dust-bunnies. Like the chickens that clucked about randomly throughout our old rural panorama, the downtown street urchins chattered in high-pitched and staccato cacophony and if you weren’t quite listening, your peripheral listening tools would just tell your brain chickens again.
As a defeated and reluctant prisoner will eventually adjust to his tiny cell, he will also find himself waxing poetic of home and of a thousand intimate roommates, you could trust with your goddam life, once he is let out, we quickly assimilated ourselves into downtown. We began to run through the traffic – if you can’t beat them…. The middle finger is the go-to salute when you are weaving in and out of traffic at a six-minute per-mile pace. Together, we developed insane repartee that we unleashed with reckless, machine gun abandon; we often laughed ourselves silly while smiling hysterically at the caged drivers.
Management once again cemented the suspicion that without a doubt they lacked even the smallest morsel of intelligence. The downtown move was illogical. We endured repeated rolling layoffs, saying goodbye to developers, quality assurance specialists, marketing talent, the entire localisation department one language at a time, project managers and fulfillment personal, until there was just sales, one lonely person in HR, payroll and all the executives you need to plan a move to a heritage building. They signed a ten-year lease to boot; brilliant. It was like signing a ten-year moorage agreement in New York Harbour for the Titanic.
We were hanged from a cheap rope by a transient collection of spendthrifts and globe trotters who were always parachuted in from all corners of Silicon Valley with Ph.D.’s in hand. After multiple six-figure buyouts, we eventually got down to the owner’s butler – a 6’3” spindly, mizner of a herringbone-wearing dolt. His personality was drab and as gray as rain. He was an unimaginative hobby photographer and a talentless bass player, in a shitty band. He was a lighthouse’s beacon of hope in a swirling sea with the light bulbs removed. He soiled the night air with the noise he and his has-been collection of castoff musicians played. Unenthusiastic standards: drunken three-chord odes to laid-off developers and coders at your local dive. His name was Franklin, sorta – to protect the identity that he never really displayed. He would disappear into the backdrop of the gray building’s granite rock exterior. It was always a surprise to pick out his silhouette against the façade; creepy as hell and most startling when not expecting it.
During one sleep-inducing meeting in his office, he delivered a dreary proposition, pointing to a whiteboard that mapped his hand-scrawled plans to separate portions of the valuable software we developed so we could sell each segment separately. Meanwhile, the competition loaded their software with the very features we were removing, in effect driving the Titanic reverse into the iceberg.
He thought salespeople should not be rewarded for selling products. As is customary in IT workplace culture, we had table tennis, full-on kitchen, gym, shower, bike lockup and foosball. Franklin saw Foosball as the downfall of the company. To him, it was an evil, time-wasting exercise. We found it to be great therapy in the workplace, saving the payroll department thousands of dollars in medical costs.
We moved into newly renovated offices that were located in the hub of downtown, to a heritage building that is older than the city itself and as gray as Franklin and the low-pressure system that followed him. The building was built in the 1800s. You know you are in an old building when you spend your lunch breaks exploring every haunted nook and hallway for old-engineering magic. That lasted for a while, as we returned to running around downtown and through the city’s main park – a 255-hectare rabbit warren and flower refuge, but you know what I mean, it was old like Franklin was bland.
Sheldon was a keener. He demonstrated his keenness when the company first hired him, before my time. Apparently, the company was fairly big and stacked full of lunchtime runners. Sheldon, having been a good athlete in golf and hockey wanted to fit in, so he began to run at lunch too; he was the proverbial, but atypical newb. For example, two kilometres south of the old, pastorally-set offices is a hill, that is rocky, rooted, steep and wends its way into a myriad of various paths that can lead you to any of hundreds of heavily forested directions if you are busy watching your feet.
Watching your feet is a requirement, so you need telepathy on your first few runs to avoid tripping while at the same time navigating your way back to work. Sheldon didn’t understand at the time that the lunch runs were social in nature, that they were not races. He would take off in the vague direction of the hill and disappear into the pine and fir forest, running full-out until he completely fell apart. At this point, he would emerge from the woods and find himself in the fortuitous position of being the lone hitchhiker on a back road. On more than one occasion he was a passenger in a drive-by provocation of his fellow workmates as they jogged along. Arriving back earlier than everyone else, he scored the shower first. Perhaps there was something to his tactic.
By the time I started working for the doomed enterprise, Sheldon, knowing I was a student of the sport, would visit my desk in the mornings and ask me questions about training. I often spoke enthusiastically and for very long periods of time, like a man living with Asperger’s Syndrome. During one-sided conversations about the finer points of training, Sheldon’s eyes would begin to roll into the back of his head and his eyelids would droop. His answers would truncate to single tourrets-like bursts of “yah” and “okay”. Sometimes I let the Asperger’s put him to sleep. It was all good information, should he choose to embrace it. He appeared to listen, but he didn’t really hear a thing. For example, he arrived at this “good idea” of running to work from home, then run at lunch with me, and then run home again at the end of the day, to “triple” as it were. I believe he needed to run with the Buffalos, sort of speak. He was thirsting to train “heavy” like the elite – to discover yet to be tapped greatness that must surely lie within.
To pull a triple, is to dull the body from recognising the burden you are exposing it to, providing a great training effect or at the very least one numbs thyself, (if it won’t cooperate). So one Friday, Sheldon came to my desk (for the millionth time) and as per usual spoke very enthusiastically of his latest genius plan; his eyes were ablaze with fire. Keep in mind he now lived 25kms away from work – we were downtown after all. This sounds adventurous for an ultra-marathon runner, I mean add in the 8-to-10k lunch runs and Sheldon was planning to run around 60kms every day for five days, plus the requisite weekend training including Saturday workout and Sunday 32km long run, totalling something around 352kms per week. In addition to this running, we met late Tuesday nights for a 90-minute hill run. This is good if you are a Tarahumara Mexican who is high on crack and completely lost some three thousand kilometres south of the Copper Canyons, you know, just wandering around Guatemala or Belize countryside, but when you average 60kms-per-week at the most, this sudden turn of the mileage screw was the stuff of dementia (or caused it) not to mention suicidal – totally and completely reckless and legendary. Instead of responding with the usual long and drawn-out diatribe about Arthur Lydiard’s logical, well-planned and gradual increases in mileage or Percy Cerruty sandhills and free weights, I thought to myself, this ought to be entertaining.
Monday morning, at roughly 7:50, whilst driving my son to high school we happened upon a laterally moving object. The pre-coffee fog was beginning to lift so we were able to identify Sheldon as he ran across the road in front of us, waving very enthusiastically. My son laughed at the site, there was Sheldon running at 7:50 AM, happy as a lark, “runners usually look focused,” my son said, laughing. Well, this was Monday, day 1, run 1, kilometre 18 of 25. This was an epic beginning.
I arrived at work, where I found Sheldon sitting on the corner of my desk supine and prone to nothing, “As you saw I ran in this morning, 25kms done, man. That is 25kms in the bank. I am so fit, yeah, baby,” he announced royally. Back to his desk, he cantered to commence about to bring on the day.
During our lunch run I grumbled that Franklin decided that our skeleton company was in need of cleansing from the evil that spoiled its ultimate progress, he was steering it towards. He sold the commercial foosball table to a staff member for a song. In testament to Franklin’s level of intelligence, we informed him that similarly used models were selling for five times as much. And in deference to his weak tactic, going forward, we took our foosball breaks three blocks away at a pool hall. “Has anyone seen Chris and Doug”?
Anyway, our workout consisted of a 2 x 4km time trial-like-thing at 8km race pace, plus warm-up, warm-down and 10 minutes of jogging between the two 4 km efforts. See at the end of Sheldon’s projected 350-odd km week, he would be racing (not doing a long run). The workout went well; I nailed them, right on 8km pace. I stressed my system enough to feel stimulated, but not grasping the knees afterward. Sheldon was still as happy as hell.
At the end of the day, Sheldon put on his running gear (not sure now if he was wearing his morning gear for the third time this day, but it was entirely possible, therefore it is likely that on the way home, the flies would have avoided him). He ran home and was fine, 60kms done, including a workout. All was good, so far.
Tuesday morning, while driving my son to high school at the same intersection there was Sheldon crossing our path. He was like a metronome that accidentally found itself in the same precise rhythm due to a miraculous set of serendipitous dumb-luck eventualities, sorta. He waved, my son laughed, the sun also rises, or the fog also sets in.
During Tuesday’s lunch run, I had to break it to Sheldon that the pop machine was being removed. Franklin found that even though it was filled with healthy beverages and the company kept the empties, the machine was part and parcel of the evil makeup of what was killing productivity. Franklin was now aimlessly wandering the halls. Through keen observation and mapping his behaviour on a whiteboard, freehand, we found the low-pressure systems that rained on Victoria, affected his outlook on everything; he had mental problems. If it was raining and gray outside Franklin was raining inside and would wear his herringbone jacket with gray slacks, shoes, socks, belt and his hair was like the colour of the navy fleet. The man, who steered the company, was CPO, Chief Poltergeist Officer. His latest display of brilliance sent us out all over downtown, seeking beverage refuge.
Tuesday’s lunch run was an easy 12kms, but I thought I would take the legs out of Sheldon purely for my own entertainment, by running 6:20 miles for a while instead of the usual 7:30-plus mile pace we kept, after all, he was numb and unaware and happy as hell. He probably waved to people. At the end of the day, I patted Sheldon on the back as he headed out the door, fly-less and still happy, but just a little less enthusiastic. “C’mon Sheldon,” I said, “This is your BIG WEEK, do it for the pop machine or the foosball table.”
Wednesday morning on the way to school, we saw no sign of Sheldon. I assumed that this time, he just didn’t get metronomically fortuitous and was still on route. At the office, I waited at my desk and Sheldon wandered in with his archetypal and enthusiastic grin and an apocalyptic missive that only he could muster, “guess what happened on my way home, last night.”
What happened to Sheldon last night while on his way home required nothing short of sheer animal survival, even a honey badger would have snuck in a power gel along the way. Sheldon got to a suburban – well more like sub-rural marketplace named Mattick’s Farm. He was 10kms from home and 15kms into his run, when the proverbial bonk smacked with a vengeance. He walked into a local retail store, pale as winter, jaw unhinged; he was passively absorbing moisture from the air. The owner noticed him circling the honey display like a small, vertical bear fresh from the den. Out of sheer concern for her own safety and perhaps morbid fascination, she offered him the sustenance he salivated for; heck cardboard would have tasted like sourdough to him at that moment.
Satiated (and probably giggling to himself) he continued homeward. Arriving, his wife a little panicky (and likely very domineering) demanded that this madness ceases at once and that she take him to the hospital. “It was hilarious, man, she sees me walking in the door and freaked out because I was super-pale and walking funny. I didn’t go to the hospital, but for safety, I didn’t run in this morning, but I am good to go for lunch and home again tonight,” he said. “I just need a nap”.
Thursday and Friday:
Franklin laid off a couple more workers. The mood was dark. The poltergeist had gone from gray to a blackened shade of dust. Dust is made up 90% of human skin, so we ascertained Franklin was doing the slowest ever recorded auto-vitiation, to slowly peel into the atmosphere. But nothing could dampen Sheldon. He was good on his word for Thursday and Friday, tripling up a storm.
Saturday, he ran again, this time with some strides. “Gotta keep the speed up, man,” he announced snapping the heels hard.
Sunday morning there is Sheldon on the start line, ready to roll. Now any ordinary person, who averaged 60kms-per-week (at the most) for two years, would not make it past Monday on this routine; it was a week, that Monday. Here was Sheldon standing on the cusp of greatness, about to embark on an 8km race, to cap off his biggest month ever, done all in one week even without a long run.
The Pioneer 8k is a fast course, but it does offer up one 800m hill that will drop a 3:00 kilometre paced effort to 3:30, plus a 1km long hill that steels the edge off your rhythm, from 7 to 8km, right when you don’t need it. Typically about 600 people take in this event, the winner usually finishes in 24:00, and the course record is 22:58. Sheldon’s personal record at this time is roughly 31:30. After the pre-race countdown happened, a shotgun sounds and just like any other race that Sheldon has entered, he took off faster than necessary. He felt numb and after all, he has tripled his week away with about 75% of that mileage run on asphalt and concrete. In the parlance of “ignorance is bliss” he, thought of nothing and ran his week away completely oblivious to whatever deterioration the training was causing his body, mind and soul and his personal poltergeist.
The skies were clear and the rains having dissipated left the air salt-sea fresh and teasing of an early spring. Upon arriving at work, I discovered that the word through the offices was that Franklin successfully vaporized. The dust cloud disappeared and with him went the Vice-President of Finance, a handsome devil of a man that could do no wrong. He wiled away company time managing the finances of a once-mighty enterprise that was now generating revenue primarily by two ace salespeople and some online orders – like casting your fishnet, you chance that some fish will swim into it, but we knew we generated the bulk of the dough, the ray and the me, we were the proverbial master closers. The sun also rises.
Monday morning I found Sir Sheldon sitting on the corner of my desk supine and prone to nothing. His chin was up, blue eyes ablaze with fire and brimstone enthusiasm and just like any other day; he had no idea what he hadn’t quite accomplished if it wasn’t anything at all. “So, my man, I just about ran a personal best at the 8k. It was awesome. I was so tired and kinda numb, but I just put my head down and let it roll. There are parts of the race I don’t even remember. I was up with the guys who finished in 28 minutes, for a long time and just hung on for dear life. So I didn’t pb though, I was about 20 seconds off,” he announced, laughing, to my utter disbelief. That was his first week over 90 kilometres and since has rarely eclipsed 100. Sheldon thought he had a good idea as he ran 286kms that week, forever exorcising his personal poltergeist.