The disadvantage of coming of age in the early ‘70s is that there was no such thing as a professional runner. We were amateurs, every one of us. Now, I know what you’re thinking: But seriously, AB, were you actually good enough to run professionally? And of course, that question is completely beside the point. Back then, Steve Prefontaine was tending bar in Eugene, Oregon, when he wasn’t breaking every American record. And as for me, I was…well, never mind.
But those days are long gone, and consequently, a great injustice is being rectified. That’s right: I’ve turned pro.
It all started with the good people at Brooks, who launched
a clever publicity stunt an ambitious talent search a few months back. Brooks offered corporate sponsorship and the cash that comes with it if I allowed them to lure me away from my life of amateurism. And no, of course it wasn’t just a way of getting me onto their e-mail list. The beauty of it is that I’ve been a Brooks loyalist ever since their Ghost shoe was only at #4 and my feet swore they would never slide into anything else. I’ve worn every model number since then, including a Ghost 7 “Kaleidoscope” limited edition that nearly caused seizures at the Boston Marathon starting line.
So no, I’m not a corporate sellout. I’m the real deal, following both my heart and my paycheck to a whole new life.
And speaking of that paycheck, it came with this spiffy contract confirming my status as a duly compensated runner for Team Brooks.
Sure, the teller at the bank smirked a little when he cashed the accompanying check,
but there it was. And it didn’t bounce, either. Now it was up to me to live the life of a pro, and represent the Brooks organization properly.
The Instagram pages of other professionals showed me the way. First, you have to post a lot of food shots to show that you’re eating healthy, non-processed meals and making them in interesting ways. Since I’ve been a few pounds over my optimum weight, I swore off my usual bagels in favor of chia-studded oatmeal to go with my poached eggs, fruit, and black coffee for breakfast.
Pumpkin pancakes? Those will have to wait for special occasions and pre-race carb-loading binges. And speaking of pumpkin pancakes, if I want to make my mark as a pro I really need to publish my own cookbook.
I once stole a spinach-and-watermelon salad recipe from a restaurant in Hood River, Oregon, and I already know I make better roasted brussels sprouts than Shalane Flanagan, so why not?
I’ve also learned that the difference between pros like us and mere amateurs is lots of core and strength training, all of which have to be documented in pictures. So here I am fulfilling my planking obligation.
Planks suck, but those days of taking the easy road are over now.
Of course, being a professional also means periodic training retreats to high elevations.
The irony here is that, now that I’ve turned pro, I can no longer afford Atombuddy’s Deluxe High Altitude Training Center, my go-to destination from years past. It seems the dollar (or in this case, a dollar) doesn’t go as far as it used to. But you also have to post shots of local training locations that are either blissful or badass, depending on your mood. So here’s Gladiator Hill, a merciless climb on the route between the Rose Bowl and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
New gear? It’s all part of the lifestyle. Unfortunately, I still had to pay $119.99 for my shiny new Ghost 10’s at the local running store.
But their awesome midfoot support caresses my high arches in such a loving way that I could really use another pair for proper shoe rotation (hint, hint). I’ve also noticed that the other pros wear colorful socks. So instead of my usual, boring white Balegas, I decided to embrace my inner fashionista and purchase a pair of…gray Balegas.
Balega people, I’m still waiting to hear from you.
With all of that said and done, there was nothing left to do but race. Unfortunately, a lengthy, nagging piriformis inflammation has kept me from doing much of that. But I’ve noticed that my fellow professionals always seem to be injured, or rehabbing an injury, or on the verge of getting an injury, so I guess that puts me in good company. Now I may lack cool pictures of myself on an Eliiptigo or Alter-G, or pool running, or getting a bunch of wicked-looking electrodes stuck onto my lower body parts, because I don’t have access to any of those things. Most of my treatment consists of boring everyday stuff like ice packs and ibuprofen. But I do have the very photogenic resistance-band crabwalk.
This exercise strengthens the glutes, taking pressure off the piriformis. It also never fails to get a laugh from Mrs. AB, which is definitely worth something.
Even at half strength, with mileage remaining stubbornly below 30 per week, the lure of competition has become too strong to resist. This is due, in part, to a pair of colleagues. Since the beginning of the school year I’ve been doing a long-term assignment, subbing for an 8th grade Language Arts teacher on medical leave. Two math teachers at our school—amateurs both—had been training for the Long Beach Half Marathon and frequently asking me for advice. And that’s what we pros do: give our time generously to those who look up to us. Now I know what you’re thinking: If you’re such a professional, AB, what are you doing with a regular job? Well, ever since a realtor, Sarah Vaughn, qualified for the U.S. team at the World Championships, real jobs are all the rage. Besides, it keeps me humble. So once I managed to get my long run back up to 10 miles, I gave in and registered for Long Beach myself, in order to
show up those teachers show solidarity with my fellow runners.
The race was last weekend. On Saturday, I headed down to the expo early, because I had to make a personal appearance for you-know-who.
And on Sunday, I had to make a decision: do I strut my stuff with the elites, or lay low and blend in with the amateurs? Well, considering the poor quality of my race fitness, my complete lack of speedwork, and a piriformis that screams, “Mayday!” when I so much as drop down to tempo pace, I chose the latter. In fact, due to a last-minute port-a-potty stop, I got caught in such a bottleneck entering the corral that I had to start in Wave 2. Not that it mattered: given my recent workout paces, I figured a 1:55—that’s over 14 minutes slower than my 2014 PR—was the best I could hope for. And that’s pretty much how it played out. I settled into an 8:45 pace early, and managed to hold it consistently even when it got tough in the last three miles. My final time was 1:54:42, because I pushed it hard at the end to stay below that 1:55.
I waited around in the beer garden afterwards, listening to the band and hoping to spot my teaching friends. But it’s a big race, and it’s easy to miss connections. I later found out that they ran a 2:03 and a 2:10, so I retained bragging rights at Muscatel Middle School. My piriformis hurt near the end of the race, but not enough to stop me. Now I’m sitting on ice a lot, drinking Bloody Marys and debating whether to ask for a cortisone shot. After all, nobody said that being a pro would be easy.