"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Friday, February 26, 2010

Favorite Pittsburgh Runs #7

I ran this loop in early April 1998. One Saturday morning, all of the juniors on the track team were taking the SAT, so our road groups were fundamentally shuffled. I wound up with Doug Mitarotona, one of the hardest working all-around people I have yet met. I was a little worried, because without a meet that weekend, Doug was going to want to hammer, because he didn't waste a second that he could be working. We left with a few others in tow, and I asked him where we were going.
"It's a secret," he told me.
I knew I was entering a world of suffering when we ran up the path to Washington Road that I had previously only walked. This guy wasn't messing around! We started running a triple loop, which is hard enough when you aren't being pulled along by an achievement-driven maniac. Down onto Mt. Lebanon Boulevard and up Hoodridge. This lunatic who maintained a hyper-competitive schedule his junior year while playing soccer and running cross country and working part time. Clearly, he was a man who had no need for leisure.
He hammered himself into a top-flight runner his senior year, who outdistanced the first finisher from our arch-rival, North Allegheny's team at the WPIAL championships. I had been spared running with him throughout my first two years until now, and I was about to find out why he improved so quickly.
At some point, Doug decided to try to break me. I, being a precocious youngster of 15, didn't want to relent. I hung on as long as I could, as he took me down hills, seemingly only because we would have to go back up. Up Connor Road, down to the Galleria, then along the path through the park to the bottom of Sunnyhill. I think at this point, the rest of the group was far enough back that we had lost them, but I just kept trying to hang. Finally, I succumbed. I started to slow to a walk, but Doug rejected my surrender. He ran back down the hill and started jogging very slowly.
"Run as slowly as you have to, but don't switch over to walking," he said. "The second you switch, you've broken your stride."
So I started running again. I wish I could say I instantly felt a surge of pride and strength return to my legs. I didn't. It was worse than before. Oh God, why? I crawled along, each step of Sunnyhill getting a little steeper. I wish I could remember the relief I felt when I got to the top of the hill, but I was just too tired at that point. We turned down Beadling and I couldn't even enjoy that, because it felt like my body was still tied up inside. I think at that point I gave up all hopes of feeling good again and just pushed to stay with Doug (#133 at right) as he accelerated up Cedar Boulevard back to the track.
When we got back to school, we checked in with Coach A, who took one look at what remained of me- a sweaty, probably bleeding mess that breathed heavily enough to terrify an infant, he chuckled. He knew the medicine that I took. I don't think he gave a thought to the other runners in our group not making it back. The rest of the day was a blur, but the message stayed in my mind, my quads and my back to this day- If you hammer, you deaden the inconvenient pains that get in the way of seeing what you are truly capable of doing. After this, how could I not be confident enough to take on some of the best runners around?
It took me a few years to put everything together so that I could make the best use of what I learned from Doug that day, but the hammering run remains a staple of my training. I subjected a few underclassmen to it in my last two years at Mt. Lebanon, but it rarely took, even if they made it up Sunnyhill. I think something was lost in the retelling when I took the lesson into my hands. Doug had no such troubles.

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