National Pastimes

Springtime is finally upon us. For many sports fans, that brings thoughts of our national pastime: The crack of the bat (or the ping of aluminum), the “thunk” of a pitch into the catcher’s glove, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” while root, root, rooting for the home team.

Like clockwork, Little League practices have sprung up all over the place lately. Given the huge number of kids who play baseball, we often wonder about the relative fitness value for the children involved, especially when compared to our own favorite “pastime” of running.

Baseball’s a great sport - but it’s definitely not the most active game in town. It’s a game of tradition, and of handing down lessons and memories from one generation to the next. We’ve both participated in this tradition, but we feel that running offers many of the same benefits that draw people to baseball.

In some ways, we think the sport of running is preferable to baseball, especially when we compare our races to typical Little League gatherings.

We’ve all seen Little League games where kids in the field wander aimlessly, pull daisies in the outfield, scuff their shoes in the infield dirt, or yell out repeated choruses of “Hey Batter Batter!” while chewing on their mitts. Those are the kids who are IN the game.

The kids in the dugout have lots of time to eat snacks or create catchy contests like seeing who can blow the biggest bubble, or who can take off and put on their jacket the fastest. Clearly, it’s not wall-to-wall action after the umpire shouts “Play Ball!”

Luckily, many of the kids who play baseball are generally athletic types who also enjoy playing catch in the backyard, or chasing after balls in the outfield during batting practice. Baseball players strive to maximize their skills and coordination that only come with constant repetition.

But what about kids who don’t enjoy chattering in the infield, and dislike the taste of chewing on leather? There’s no reason for kids to be inactive this spring simply because they don’t like baseball. Even those who play Little League could still use a bit of extra physical activity.

That’s where running (or any aerobic activity) comes in. As a matter of fact, you are probably better served by taking your kid on a 30 or 45 minute jog or bike ride several times per week, than shuttling them to three pee-wee practices and games. Your exercise time can double as family bonding time, and you can do it in any of the wooded trails or city parks or school playgrounds that our area offers.

Springtime is a great season to introduce children to running and racing. At school, they can get involved with JUST RUN, the award winning youth activity program that the Big Sur Marathon provides free to schools and other youth organizations. If your child’s school doesn’t already have the program, the website www.justrun.org has all the information you need to get started. Or you can call the marathon office at 831-625-6226 and ask for Susan Love.

On weekends, there are several fun races for kids in the weeks ahead. They are family activities where every child feels like a winner afterwards. They’re also great opportunities to create traditions and memories with them that are just as strong as flipping through a game program in a crowded baseball stadium.

Over the next four months, you have at least four chances to start just such a tradition:

1) The Big Sur Marathon 5K on April 29th is the biggest children’s race of the year. The course is the most beautiful around, starting in Carmel and traversing trails and beach roads before crossing the same finish line the marathon runners use. Get more information at www.bsim.org.

2) On May 19th, the Heart and Sole Races sponsored by Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital have the best events for the littlest runners. The children’s races include a one-mile run for kids 9-12, a ½ mile run for kids 5-8, and even Toddler Trots for those under 5. Call the SVMH Health Promotion Office at 759-1890 for more information.

3) On June 9th, the city of Marina hosts a series of children’s races at Freeman Field (at CSUMB) called JUST RUN Marina. There will be age appropriate races for boys and girls on the track for children from 1 to 12. Call the Marina Recreation Department at 384-7547 to find out more about this great event. Ask for Dan Gibson.

4) During the summer, the annual Spreckels 4th of July festivities include a one-mile race for children. After the race, be sure to stay for the barbecue and parade afterwards. It’s a wonderful family holiday with “good old days” attitude.

The catchphrase from Field of Dreams was, “If you build it, they will come”. It’s a great line from a great baseball movie – and we’re going to steal it. After all, these spring and summertime children’s races have already been built by people who care about kids and have a passion for running. All that’s left is for you to come and enjoy them.

That way, you can make running and health your family’s National Pastime.

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How Lucky We Are!

Like other long-time runners, both of us have suffered through our share of injuries. And like other runners, we become anguished and upset when we’re unable to run.

But occasionally we get reminders that our problems aren’t really as traumatic as they seem. Sometimes these reminders come from unexpected sources.

We were exchanging e-mails last week and catching up on the events of the weekend. Mike had traveled all the way to Redding for a race that he ultimately had to skip because of injury. He planned on taking several days off to recover, then resume his regular training routine.

Our e-mail exchange went like this:

*

Donald: How are you feeling? Still injured?

Mike: Still injured. Very very depressed. Angry.

*

Mike’s emotions and response were very typical of an injured runner. Particularly a runner that knows his injury was his own fault by over-training. But after Donald read the reply, a funny thing happened: he immediately thought of the Cat in the Hat.

The previous weekend, the Buraglio family attended the MPC presentation of “Seussical, the Musical”, based on the collective works of Dr Seuss. The plot is an amalgamation of several stories, starring Horton the Elephant, the Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz (who, by the way, is much cuter on stage than in the book), and the residents of Whoville.

The tales are intertwined and told concurrently, and reach a dramatic crescendo just before the close of Act 1, when almost every terrible thing imaginable starts happening to Horton.

He’s lost the clover he was protecting (where all of the Whos live) after it was stolen by a group of vigilante monkeys and flown 1000 miles away by a black-bottomed eagle. He’s stuck on a nest in a tree, waiting on the return of the deadbeat Mayzie bird who tricked him into hatching her egg. He’s about to be captured by hunters and sold to the circus. Worst of all, he is oblivious to the affections of Gertrude, who undergoes a dramatic tail augmentation procedure just to gain his attention.

Then just before the close of Act 1, as all of those awful things are happening, the Cat in the Hat starts singing a tune called “Think of How Lucky You Are!”:

When the news is all bad,
When you're sour and blue,
When you start to get mad
You should do what I do-

Tell yourself
How lucky you are...

When your life's going wrong
When the fates are unkind
When you're limping along
And get kicked from behind
Tell yourself how lucky you are...

Why decry a cloudy sky
An empty purse
A crazy universe?
My philosophy is simply
Things could be worse!

So be happy you're here.
Think of life as a thrill
And if worse comes to worse
(As we all know it will)
Thank your lucky star
You've gotten this far...

How lucky you are!
How lucky, how lucky you are!

So Donald cut and pasted the lyrics into an e-mail, and sent it off to Mike, with the following comment: This song probably doesn’t help but your depression reminded me of it. Hope you’re feeling better soon.

When runners get injured, we feel like the sky is falling. We get depressed and feel inadequate and our problems take on irrational dimensions. Yet those are precisely the times we should remember just how lucky we are.

We need to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to have relatively good health and strong bodies. We should be thankful for the friends and families that support us, and grateful for every day we get to spend in this beautiful area we live. The rest, as they say, is just small stuff.

Of course, in the second act of Seussical, everything works out just fine (it is Dr Seuss, after all): the Whos are saved, Horton and Gertrude find happiness, and children are encouraged to think whatever kinds of wonderful things they can imagine. In real life, it’s not that simple.

Some things will continue to be difficult, and tough times of one sort or another certainly lie ahead. But occasionally we need a reminder of how much we have in relation to how much we lack. And if that lesson has to be delivered by a 6-foot cat with a striped top hat for us to understand, so be it.

On the athletic front, most running injuries recover more slowly than we would like. Unfortunately, a cute song is insufficient to fix an injury; we also need things like self-restraint, perseverance, and a healthy dose of patience.

But the next time your running life starts going wrong, or if you have to start limping along, try this tactic: think of the Cat in the Hat, think of the other things in your life that make you feel happy or secure, and remind yourself how lucky you are!

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The Circle Back

Here’s a common problem many runners encounter: if two people want to run together, but their speed is significantly different, is there any way for them to be compatible?

The short answer is, yes – if it’s done properly. But there are some guidelines that must be adhered to. Believe it or not, this topic has been thoroughly examined by one of our very own Monterey County running experts.

Dr. Jay Cook is a local running guru. He is a West Point graduate and a respected chiropractor, and was a blazing fast marathon runner in his prime. He runs and races for enjoyment now, and most people know him as a wise mentor in the ways of running and life.

Healthy runners seek Jay’s advice on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Injured runners go to Jay’s office for treatment, and usually get back on the road as good as new.

But perhaps Jay’s most unique contribution to running is his landmark study of “The Circleback”. This scholarly treatise has possibly saved some central coast marriages, and preserved friendships between runners of different speeds. (Honestly - we’re not exaggerating as much as you think.)

Many years ago, Jay identified the problem of “pace compatibility” amongst runners. The solution to this problem is known as the “circleback”, where the faster runner will run ahead for a period of time, then retrace his or her steps to rejoin the other person a short while later.

It’s a simple premise, but fraught with psychological landmines as one or both people may get their feelings hurt, or feel the shared workout wasn’t worthwhile. So Jay came up with some ground rules:

1. The faster runner always gives advance notice. "Stay comfortable, I'll circle back" is a good phrase to use before surging ahead. Sometimes, the circleback location can be agreed upon, but this is not an imperative.

2. The faster person breaks clean and runs ahead until feeling “worked out,“ then doubles back toward the slower person, or runs out and back on a side trail/road until meeting up with the slower person again.

3. The faster runner returns to the main trail/road behind the slower runner and gradually matches the pace to allow resumption of conversation.

4. When rejoining the slower person, the faster runner should never, NEVER make witty comments about the slower runner's pace. Trust us - your best-intentioned remark is sure to be interpreted as a put-down. Don’t even make eye contact with the slower person, which may be interpreted as demeaning.

Don’t give the slower person advice. Don’t give him a phony complement. This is the most delicate part of the entire process, so be very cautious. If in doubt, just shut up and keep running. The slower person will talk when he’s ready.

(As an added caution, the aforementioned rule is twice as important if your slower running partner happens to be your spouse. Just take our word for it.)

The circleback process can be repeated as many times as desired during the course of a run. But as a general rule, the fewer times it happens, the lower the risk of interpersonal tension.

There’s another variation to this theory, which is kind of an inverse circleback. Occasionally, a faster runner will allow the slower runner to run ahead, while they hang back for some equipment adjustment (such as tying shoelaces or taking off a jacket), or, um … other types of “equipment adjustment” (such as a bathroom break). Sometimes the stop is legitimate, other times not. If you’re the slower runner, don’t question it – just keep running, and be thankful for the company when the faster runner returns.

The circleback theory is versatile enough to be proper etiquette for larger groups of runners as well. The main idea is that with a little flexibility, everyone can enjoy each other’s company, and each runner can still have a satisfying workout.

If it helps you maintain a friendship or avoid an argument with your spouse, so much the better. If that’s the case, the next time you bump into Dr Cook, be sure to thank him.

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