Saturday, March 13, 2010

Miles, on the ground and in the air

The thing about marathon training is you need to stick to your schedule. The thing about being a baseball reporter is that your schedule is often thrown out the window. Trying to combine both can be frustrating and satisfying, sometimes all at once.


There was no way around it. I was down to log five miles and it was now or never. But, the sun was still hidden below the horizon and I was dead tired from putting in a full day of work the day before. The alarm kept going off on my phone. I stayed in bed, trying to talk myself out of this.

I had a plane to catch in a couple hours. Maybe I could squeeze in the run after I get to my hotel in Pittsburgh -- before I head to the ballpark for work. That was my only other option. The game against the Pirates was a night game, meaning I would not be done working until at least midnight.

Now or never, Jordan. Get out of bed.

And if there are any delays with my flight, forget about it. I'd have to head straight to the ballpark after dumping my stuff off at the hotel. Lunch? If I run in Pittsburgh, I could forget about a decent lunch. I might just have to skip it, even though that is the last thing you should do in marathon training.

Ugh. Get out of bed. NOW.

I flipped open my cell phone and shut it quickly, killing the alarm. I slipped out of bed and into some workout clothes, grabbing my hotel keycard as I headed out the door. A few minutes later, I was running along a park through downtown Milwaukee, closing in on the lakefront (if I correctly analized the free map the desk clerk gave me).

When road ended at the lake, I turned left and cruised along the water. As I ran, the sun began to rise and the water below glistened with dancing light. The path eventually took me through another park along the lake and there -- only a few steps from busy streets and tall buildings -- stood a deer, watching me as I ran by.

I was glad I went running this morning. It turned out to me a memorable trip.

I turned around and headed back the way I came, slowing to a stop at the doors of my hotel to end a good five-miler. With that out of the way, I could go on with the rest of my day without worrying about when I was going to get the scheduled run in. I might even be able to take a nice power nap before work.

My plane touched down in Pittsburgh a few hours later and I turned my phone on. It began to buzz with activity. What could possibly have happened while I was in the air? I listened to my voicemail and learned that the Blue Jays' manager had been fired. We needed a story on the site as soon as possible.

I would have rushed to my hotel, but it was out of my control. It's not like the plane will speed to the gate for you. The airport workers aren't going to rifle through all the luggage to find mine first and then sprint it to baggage claim for me. The cab driver isn't going to speed through traffic just because you... wait, yes he will.

In my hotel, I hopped online and banged out a quick story, made some calls and wrote some more. Lunch? Yeah, I got that run in, but lunch was not an option. I worked right through the time I had to go to the ballpark and, once I was there, the work only piled higher. I ended up being at the stadium well beyond my usual exit time.

It was just that kind of day. I was awake for nearly 24 hours. Man, did I ever wish I had just kept hitting the snooze in the morning. I was tired, aching, hungry and exhausted by the time I finally flopped down into yet another hotel bed in yet another city.

Did I regret the early-morning run? Not at all. It was the best part of my day.

But, thank God the program called for rest tomorrow.


A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to train for my first marathon. I began on this journey in the offseason before my third year on the beat and I wanted to do it right. That meant sticking to my training program without fail. Giving up alcohol. Eating right. I even stopped drinking pop.

Life on the road and in presbox dining rooms does not make this easy.

When people find out I run marathons (I've completed four now), the usual response is that I must be partially insane. If the conversation moves beyond the "You're crazy" stage, I'm typically asked why I started this all in the first place.

The short version? I have seen pressboxes and newsrooms filled with people who could not balance this type of job with staying healthy. Being on the road and stuck behind computers as much as we are, it is not always an easy to put your health first. Taking up marathoning might seem extreme, but it was my answer to this problem.

(The longer version includes more about me putting on a ton of weight once I started working at a newspaper in college and struggled with no longer playing organized sports. Since I began running and training for marathons way back in October of 2007, I have dropped around 40-50 pounds and am lighter than I was as a high school athlete.)

A few years into this now, I have regular running routes in most Major League cities. I love heading out along the Charles River in Boston, through a forest outside Seattle, up and down hills in San Francisco and beside the bay while staying in St. Petersburg. Along the way, I have logged more than 2,000 miles and have discovered so many cool places that I would have never found otherwise.

Why am I writing about this? Mainly because I just completed the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa on Feb. 28. The marathon there was my fourth and my best yet. I finished in 3:43 for a new personal best, shaving more than 20 minutes off my previous mark. It was a gorgeous course along the water with perfect weather, and a great way to begin this baseball season.

It can be tough to balance life as a beat reporter and life as a runner, but I have found a way to make it work. And taking up marathoning turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Next on my schedule? A fifth 26.2 in November.

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