My Running Career: Proof That Anyone Can Be Fast

Anyone can achieve athletic improvement and maintain good physical fitness. Here is my story.

When I entered high school, I was a typical kid that was nervous about moving into that larger world. The one thing that wasn't typical about me was that I had been home-schooled during middle school, and that left the amount and kinds of people that I was in contact with a bit less than the average student. So when I enrolled in high school (at Jackson County Comprehensive High School in Jefferson, Georgia), I would say that I had less personal confidence than the average 15-year-old. I had never been on a sports team before, but my frame pretty much dictated what I would be good for: I started my freshman year at 5'5" tall and 95 pounds (soaking wet and after eating a giant cheeseburger). Yes, I had an ideally thin running frame (with the exclusion of my height), but I did not do sports in middle school. I was in for a big change.

When I was walking around the activity fair on the day before high school was supposed to start, I noticed a coach beckoning me over to his table. This coach was Bob Roller, the director of the Cross-Country team. When he invited me to try out that August of 2001, my mother thought that it was a great idea and that I should go for it. Thus began my journey in the world of running.

I have seen a lot of people struggle with exercise routines in the military, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot think up a memory that is more pathetic than me in the first two months of Cross-Country. On the first day, I showed up in heavy Vans skateboarding shoes and black jeans. I had no idea that I would be needing running shoes and workout clothes, so I ran in that for the first day. Keep in mind that, in Georgia, August is the most murderous part of the summer. I'm glad I don't remember much about that first day, because I'm sure it was a pathetic sight watching me struggle along in my improvised workout uniform.

The first time we timed something was another exercise in patience and pain. About a month or so before the first race, Coach Roller took us to Montgomery Shores subdivision (the place where my friend lives) to run a timed 5 kilometer trial. 5 kilometers, or 5k, is approximately 3.1 miles. My friend's subdivision is full of monster hills, and coach thought it would be a great idea if we ran that beforehand so we could get I time to improve a lot from. I struggled in at a time of 30:32, which was slow enough to place me behind not only all the guys, but yes, all the girls.

I started about as bad as one can start without being particularly overweight. But I worked, and worked, and I was even pulling up memories of The Little Engine That Could to keep me going through the rough times. My first true meet (at Athens Christian High School) I posted a 24:50, knocking over 5 minutes off of my time. I continued to work and improve through the end of the season, and at the Region 8-AAA meet at Winder, I ran a 22:56. I can't seem to find that time recorded, but the closest that I can find is a time in Athens during the middle of that summer, when I ran a road 5k in 22:21.

By this point, I had become used to the idea of running. I ran a great 2002 season and finished with a time of 19:43. I ran Track the next spring for the first time, and that was another adjustment process as I got used to the speedier workouts. I had acquired a reputation by this time as a fast runner (me, can you imagine it?), and by the end of the '02-'03 year, all our old talent either left or graduated, and I remained the fastest runner. For the next two years, I improved another 30 seconds or so, clocking a 19:17 at my final high school Cross-Country race in the International Horse Park (built for the 1996 Olympic Games) in Conyers. This was the 2004 Region 8-AAAA championships. When Jeremiah Boozer and Tony Hamre showed up my junior and senior years and posted some pretty fast times (and beat me a few times), I knew I had some good friends to pass the torch on to. I ran an 18:55 at the Gold Rush 5k in Dahlonega that fall of 2004, and I was on my way to college at NGCSU the following summer.

During the Spring 2005 track season, I posted some of what I still consider my best times: I ran 3200 meters (about 2 miles) in 11:13, and 800 meters (1/2 a mile) in 2:14. I have never yet beaten those times.

I continued Cross-Country in college, and I posted an impressive 30:13 in my 8k debut (4.9712 miles) as a college freshman. As I would many times in my college career, I beat my 5k personal best in that 8k race. Though I struggled later that first season, I finally felt established as a decent runner. It was about this time that I also started doing Army Physical Fitness Tests (APFTs), and my two mile times for those events generally hovered somewhere just over 12 minutes. I also typically finished first or second in those tests. The key difference between pure running and a P.T. test is that the test incorporates core fitness (pushups and situps) before the run, and it can be somewhat exhausting.

I was not able to run Cross-Country my sophomore year, because I was at Basic Combat Training (BCT) in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, but I came back to run again my junior year. It was during this season that I posted a 29:05 at the Auburn Invitational (I am incorrectly listed as 28:56; that was my teammate David Beall's time). This event is without a doubt my best time in my running career. The next year, I would post an 11:19 two-mile in a P.T. test, thus setting the run record at the 310th Psychological Operations Company in Fort Gillem, Georgia. As far as I know, it has not been beaten.

Near the end of college, I stopped running and gained weight up to 157 pounds, but I have since re-discovered my love for the sport and am back down to 140 pounds (and much healthier for it). How did I improve myself to such a degree? There was no magic to it at all. The first summer after the 2001 cross country season, I went out and ran 25 or more minutes every day. I followed the summer workout down to the last run, and when I went back for my second season, it showed. Running, like any other sport, only requires consistency and practice for improvement. When I have run consistently, I have consistently improved and posted better times. When I have been lazy, my running has reflected this. Once you get over the initial hump of adjusting to running or swimming or bicycling, the sky is truly the limit. My immediate goal is to break all of my old records, and to do that, I am increasing my running mileage and consistency. Never give up on your goals! I am currently 23, and I plan to continue improving all the way to the end of my thirties. Below are the records that I intend to beat, and once I do that, I will post my all-time goals for the events, as well as my successful and unsuccessful attempts at beating my records. I encourage you to seek the best performances you can! You never know just how fast you can go if you push yourself.

400 meter: 58.5 (high school, 2005)

800 meter: 2:14.6 (high school, 2005)

1600 meter: 5:12 (college, 2007)

3200 meter: 11:13 (high school, 2005)

P.T. Two Mile: 11:19 (Army, 2008)

5K: 18:55 (high school, 2004)

8K: 29:05 (college, 2007)

10K: 41:25 (college, 2007)

Half-Marathon: 1:41:37 (college 2009)

SOURCES

Picture is my own; photo of me and a fellow North Georgia athlete at a track meet

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Dustin LaBarge
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