Monday, March 31, 2008

Running Is A Team Sport

Below is a column that appeared in Foster's Sunday Citizen yesterday. Couldn't have said it better myself.

Andy Schachat: Running not a team sport? Think again
Sunday, March 30, 2008

As we begin another year of road races I feel compelled to comment on a recent story involving a couple of high school runners. That's because the message I want to convey from the story symbolizes my attitude about the sport. I also hope it serves as an inspirational message for the upcoming season of races.

In Vermont there is a rule that allows high school athletes from one school to compete for another if the original does not have a program in a particular sport. However, there is a catch: the rule only applies to team sports, not individual sports. Two young runners hoped to get an exception to the rule so they could join another school's cross country team. The two young men were denied their request and won't be able to run cross country in high school.

What does that have to do with us? What kind of "inspirational message" am I trying to convey? The notion that running is not a team sport.

Yes, I know that technically running is not a team sport but, if you are a runner, answer this question: doesn't the camaraderie, support, and spirit of the sport feel like you are part of a team? For those of you who played team sports, doesn't the feeling you get from being in a running club or joining dozens of others at races seem like it did when you played basketball, football, baseball, or hockey?

Running is not a team sport? In running, there is definitely strength in numbers. How many times have your training runs gone a lot smoother and felt a lot better when you ran with others? There is a reason why running clubs host weekly training runs and why club members get up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning to meet their fellow runners for one of those runs.

Every runner you know can tell you dozens of stories about training with others as part of the preparation for a big race.

How about the grueling track workouts? Those repeat quarter, half, and full miles, circling the track while busting a gut. I have tried track workout by myself and believe me, it isn't even close, the difference between solo track workouts and workouts with others.

The races themselves often offer a team spirit, especially during long races. Again, I defer to the stories of the running community. Runners can readily recall the many times a marathon or half-marathon effort was much easier with a partner running side by side.

Shorter distances can also create a team atmosphere. I will never forget one of my first races, the Bunker Hill 8K in Charlestown, Mass. In the second half of the race I wound up running side by side with a runner who was struggling. Then, in the last half-mile I slowed up and fell back. He turned to me and said, "get up here." If it wasn't for him I would have faded down the stretch. On that day, for that moment, we were teammates.

Then there are the intangibles that exist in a sport where everyone supports everyone else.

That famous line in the movie, "there is no crying in baseball" is replaced by "there is no booing in running." Ever see a faster runner taunt a slower runner? Attend a running club meeting, listen to the mutual support everyone offers each other, and you will find yourself wanting to go on a training run when the meeting is dismissed. Believe me, there is an infectious energy that comes from the group mentaility the sport of running offers.Interesting thing to consider when comparing the team sports to running. In team sports some of the team members are playing while the rest of the team is on the bench or sidelines and in most cases it is over half the team that is watching. Not in running. Everyone who shows up gets to participate.

I used to be an avid basketball player. That all changed when I started running and the biggest factor that kept me running and away from the hardwood was the camaraderie I felt from the local running community. It far exceeded anything I had experienced from my local basketball leagues.

So, what is my point? As we kick off the 2008 road race season take time to appreciate the "team" atmosphere of the sport. If you are new to running, take advantage of this atmosphere and soak it all in. You won't be sorry. It will make the upcoming months a much more rewarding and richer experience for you.

Memo to the young Vermont runners: you are welcome anytime.

Andy Schachat writes about running for Foster's Sunday Citizen and Daily Democrat. You can contact Andy at 608 Cocheco Court, Dover, N.H. or email at

Everyone Has A Story

I had my first Saturday off from work in several weeks and couldn't pass up the opportunity to get back for a run with the team -- despite the fact that I had a 4-mile race on my calendar for later in the day.

But the April Fools' 4-Miler, the third in the race series I signed up for, wasn't until 11 a.m. That gave me time to get 6 miles in with the team, then head to Salisbury for the race.

Crazy? Probably. But how else was I going to fill my day off?

Actually, it wasn't that bad. The 6 miles with the team went well. I was glad they were running relatively slowly. Coach Jack ran with us and we chatted for a while. Then I ran with another team member, Shauna, who recently lost 100+ pounds and discovered a love of running.

Her weight loss really triggered a completely new life for her. In fact, people don't even recognize her, she told me. She lost the weight through good diet and lots of exercise. Last fall, she and her sister trained for and completed the Manchester Marathon. Good for them.

On Sunday, Shauna took at left at the Old Mobil to get 7 miles in for the day. I took a right and finished up the 6-mile loop. I was concerned about time and that my legs would be too tired for the race.

I made it back to my car in plenty of time, stopped for a bagel and drove to the race.

Once at the registration table, I picked up my number and another long-sleeved T-shirt (another something to wear to bed, I guess) and searched for the Starting Line, which wasn't visible from the registration area.

I spotted a couple of older ladies wearing jackets with the logo of the running club who was hosting the race. I figured they would know where to go.

So I walked with them -- discovering that one of them had just turned 87 years old. Yes, 87 years old and walking to the chilly start of a 4-mile road race. Oh, by the way, she had cracked a rib a few weeks earlier, but thought she'd be well enough to finish. And finish she did. (I looked for her on the results page posted on Good for her.

Near the starting line, runners huddled up against a big building that blocked the wind. I struck up a conversation with the runner next to me -- a young woman from Scarborough, Maine, who signed up for the race series with her husband.

As we chatted, she told me that she's in training for an Ultra Marathon --- 50K. That's 30+ miles.

Her big run is coming up in a few weeks. On Sunday, she was planning on running a 20-mile race from Maine through New Hampshire to Massachusetts. She's run the Disney Marathon for 9 years with her husband and this year did the Goofy Challenge, where participants run the Half Marathon on Saturday and the Full Marathon on Sunday.

To look at her, she didn't look like a super-athlete. She just looked like anyone else in the crowd for the 4-miler. We ran together for the first couple of miles of the race. I asked her a lot of questions about an Ultra Marathon -- mostly trying to understand what would drive a person to do such a thing.

She liked a challenge, completes three or so marathons a year and was looking for something new. So why not run 50K? Well, good for her.

I finished the race in 37 minutes, 40 seconds - averaging a 9:20 mile. I was very pleased with the time, especially considering the race actually made for 10 miles for me for the day. Good for me.

It's really interesting to meet to people and hear their stories. Everyone seems to have one: the runner who lost 100+ pounds and decided to train for a marathon, the 87-year-old woman who's still running races, the Ultra-Marathoner... and me.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wake Up, NH!

It's officially spring in New Hampshire.

Despite morning temps in the teens and the threat of snow showers on the evening news forecast, the calendar says spring. We have longer days, stronger sun and can walk comfortably from the parking lot to a building without being whipped by winter's wind.

This winter has been particularly long and cold. Our first snowfall on December 1st was a doozy, and it just got worse from there. We've endured snow piles higher than I can remember and have teetered on breaking the record for the all-time snowiest winter. In New Hampshire, that's quite a feat.

When we finally change the clocks to make for longer evenings, feel the slight warmth of the sun and even see a hint of grass under the melting snow, we know spring is upon us.

As I ran my long run on Sunday, I couldn't help but notice something new -- signs of life.

I saw children playing in their driveways, passed a few walkers and bicyclists, heard the sounds of water running in the once-frozen brook and saw a handful of robins hoping along in the yards. Rebel was even able to take a drink out of the melting lake that we pass about five miles into the run.

For the past few months, it seems, I've been the only one crazy enough to be out. I can't remember the last time I passed a bicyclist or someone walking their dog.

I've endured some pretty cold temperatures, snow and anything else winter could throw at me in order to keep up with my training.

As the rest of my neighborhood hibernated inside their cozy homes, I was out there putting one foot in front of the other. At times I could smell their fireplaces and pictured them sipping hot chocolate in front of the fire while they curled up on the couch on a Sunday morning.

Part of me wanted to be like them -- relaxing in my PJs in the warmth of my house, not having to worry about whether I was wearing enough layers.

Instead, I ran, the wind and cold hitting my face so hard at times that I ran with my gloved hands against my cheeks. I pictured them looking out their window thinking, "There goes that girl and her dog again."

Some might have thought I was extremely disciplined and dedicated, but most probably just thought I was crazy.

There were plenty of times I didn't feel like going out, but I knew I had to if I wanted to run the Disney Half Marathon. So I did. And then I kept going.

The funny thing is that I actually came to enjoy it. If I missed a few training runs, I didn't feel as good during the day, I probably ate more than I should and I even felt a bit guilty at times.

I figure if I made it through the winter training season, the warm weather might help me enjoy running even more. I won't be something I have to do, but something I want to do.

As satisfying as it is knowing that I toughed it out through the winter while everyone else was inside, it was nice to see signs of life along my running route this weekend. There's only more to come.

Wake up, New Hampshire. Spring is finally here.