Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The first few miles had gone as well as could be expected for a Tuesday afternoon this time of year.  A mile or so had been spent shaking out the cobwebs that had developed through another day at work, and the Southern humidity had been true to form having all those daring to be out of doors wringing wet within a very few minutes.

Left foot, right foot....

No surprises to be found on the course that so many know so well.  Up the first little rise, dance through the first series of rocks, make the next turn... Even the consistently ordered series of smells found along the course, ranging from the cut grass of the adjacent golf course to the sun-baked organics of the nearby landfill, came and went in predictable fashion.

Left foot, right foot...

Just another run on another steamy day, until, of course, the horsefly made its presence known....

Coming through the last little bit of the course, the buzzing of flies seemed a bit more cacophonous than usual.  At first, this did little more than create a brief note in the already stalling internal monologue.

Soon enough, however, the quick back of the arm sting of one of Creation's miserable creatures snapped me out of my near stupor back into the reality of the present.  A quick swat easily dislodged the beast, which proceeded to harass me until I had vacated his territory, which extended far beyond what one would expect for such an animal.  He returned to his guard post by the bush should I have the audacity to return...

As everyone knows, a horsefly bite isn't life-altering; it's not even really noteworthy most of the time; it's more of just a general annoyance.

But to a runner falling victim to the doldrums of the routine, a horsefly can be an ironic source of enlivenment.  For the next 8 or 9 miles, I was awake, present, in the moment.  The thought of the horsefly had vanished within minutes, but the effect was long-lasting.  It was quite refreshing to be back engaged in the activity.

In a seemingly odd way, this annoyance of nature had reminded me of the joy inherent in running.  It can be so monotonous at times, but the occasional jolt of sensation can remind us of the wonders around us and bring us back to experiencing the run of the moment rather than the mental tire-spinning of a so-called "boring" run.

I just hope I can remember this without having to find any more horseflies...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Simple Question

A friend of mine emailed me this question the other day, and when I got done with my reply, I had written far more than I intended.  I know it's a topic that has been tossed around in various forms time and time again, but I figured I'd put it out there for others to mull over.
The question is that of talent.  If you are so inclined, take a look at the original question and response and chime in with your own thoughts...

Sent: 6/20/2013 22:43
To: John Nevels
Subject: Question.

How much of running is talent. I hear this word thrown around. How much "talent" is there in placing one foot in front of the other?  How much of it is training and dedication. "consistency is key," right? How much of running (from the 5k and on up to ultras) is really dependent on "talent". Just curious. What is stopping me from being a sub 2:30 marathoner besides an extra 150 lbs and Bruce Denton? Feel free to ask around haha.... 

From: John Nevels <>
Date: Sat, Jun 22, 2013 at 4:57 PM
Subject: Re: Question.

 Generally, by and large, "talent" is a copout word used by people who don't want to put in the work.
That said, there are definitely some anatomical and physiological advantages to be had when it comes to running, some of which are determined by genetics, and some by environmental factors outside of your control.
To be sure, and I can't emphasize this enough, 85-90% of running aptitude and success is up to the runner and can be affected by your aforementioned habits of training, dedication, consistency, etc.  It's that 10-15% that makes amazing running feats possible and separates the Olympians of today from the rest of us.  I fully believe that, if I trained like Galen Rupp, I could push my 5k down from my current PR (16:36) to around 14:30-15:00, maybe even faster; I just don't know.  However, I fully believe that just the right ratio of dimensions of legs and body, just the right functionality of lungs, just the right muscular response to training and baseline vascularity (all genetic predispositions that cannot be altered through training), coupled with just the right environment growing up, like, say, spending the first 18 years of life living at 7000 feet (environmental factor out of runner's control), that amazing things are possible.  With an influx of interest, money, and attention to running (like what Rupp, Ritz, Webb, etc. have gotten), then such phenoms that have all the right puzzle pieces will be found.  Also, when an aptitude is seen as a way out of poverty and desolation, such as what the Kenyans have found, incentive will be present as well.  They've all got just a tiny percentage better functionality in a very small subset of their anatomy and physiology, that, when multiplied by 1000 steps or 1000 heartbeats or 1000 breaths can actually add up to something.
That said, I think that the farther you go, the more training takes precedent over "talent."  An aptitude to be in the Olympic 100m dash is determined at birth, and the rest of us just have to suck it.  I'll never be able to do what Usain Bolt does, and I couldn't even come close, regardless of how much I tried.  On the other hand, I fully believe I could be in the same ballpark and competitive with, say, Anton, if I were willing to put in the work he has.  I'm not, and most people aren't.  Obviously, Bolt and Anton are the extreme ends of the spectrum, and I think there is a full continuum of training vs talent in between, but I really think that the vast, vast majority of it all is training.
As some anecdotal evidence, I weighed the same at age 11 as I did at age 20 (a rather substantial height difference, though).  For being over 6 feet tall, I've got relatively short legs, and I'll never be as lean as the Kenyans.  I started as the slowest person on my XC team (like, girls and all) and have finished DFL more than once.  My freshman year, my 5k's started around 27 minutes (which was much faster than when I was in middle school, when I was thrilled beyond measure to hit a 28:xx, and the slowest 5k I remember being a 45 as a kid).  I would have been a prime candidate to play the "no talent" card and give up.  With this as a background, it almost personally offends me when people claim no talent, and it DOES personally offend me when most people tell me that they would love to do the running I do, but that I'm clearly far more talented than they are, so they're not going to beat me; I've put in too much work to attribute this to a simple natural gift.  I worked my butt off over the rest of high school to end up with a high school PR of 16:57 and be on the still-standing school record 4x800m team, then keep on going to do this ultra nonsense.  I understand that a 400-pounder is probably not going to beat me in a 5k, but a large part of this is due to previous choices that have lead to the current condition, as well as the mental state that is generally present in such instances.  I understand that some people have huge frames and don't respond as well to training, but this discrepancy in purely natural aptitude gets smaller as the distances get larger.  As a point of note, I should probably state the fact that I'm NOT a fast ultrarunner; based on relative results, I'm a far better 5k-er and 10k-er than ultrarunner; the simple fact that I've finished certain events and distances (read: been willing to complete) makes some people *think* I'm a good ultrarunner.

 Talent in the (distance) running world is USUALLY used the same way that luck is used in the rest of life.  A copout.  People don't want to recognize that they can do these things, run these times, cover these distances, accomplish these cool feats, because once they recognize the capability, it's entirely on them.  They can't blame it on talent or parents or luck.  They have to own up that they aren't willing to put in the work.  I take full responsibility for not being like Anton or Meltzer or Roes.  I think most people would rather blame their knees.
All that said, running, like you said, is a simple act.  One foot in front of the other; how bad could it be?  The paradox is part of the beauty of the challenge.  It's something so simple, but so difficult.
Dang... I didn't mean to write a dissertation or a sermon there.  My bad.... ( was at this point that I realized I shouldda just said, 'yeah'...)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Slow Down

It was a beautiful, sunny day.

Temperatures were in the upper 80's, a few wisps of clouds hovered high in their ever-temporal fashion, and an oh-so-slight breeze danced through the city streets.

The pace was pretty relaxed; a friend had sent a message earlier asking about the possibility of a run after work, and such an idea sounded marvelous, even after a tiring day.  Truth be told, the lack of speed was an unexpected blessing, allowing the true nature of the day to soak in and replace the wearisome tenor that various circumstances and revelations of the day had caused it to assume.

Sometimes we need such a slow down to get us back into a disposition that allows us to take in the marvels of the world around us, to seek refuge from the brooding outlook that is all too often forced upon us.  Often times it proves difficult to reign in the speed of our runs, much less our lives and our world, even when we nominally make the effort; our slow runs paradoxically turn out to be yet another chore through which we rush in an effort to get to the next item on the list.  Our overly-filled, scheduled, planned, and regulated days have all too often caused us to miss the true benefits and beauty of the slow down.

A few easy miles on a warm, clear day can work wonders that are beyond the understanding of an air-conditioned mind working at 100 gigabytes per second.

Lessons of the slow down are easy to pick up, if we'll only take the time to try.

Friday, June 14, 2013


Sometimes it's fun to step out there and show the new(er) runners that there's still a little fire left the furnace.

That fire doesn't necessarily burn in any one particular hue.  Sometimes it's the color of a fast run; sometimes it's the color of long run; sometimes it's just the color of accrued running wit and wisdom.  Every time it's the color of hard fought shades earned over the course of miles and miles and miles.

We've all had these little flashes.  Sometimes they are more noticeable than others, and sometimes they only serve to remind us that perhaps we should stoke up the flames again.

The ways in which we burn are specific to each one of us, but all of us put forth a radiant energy.  Sometimes it's noticed, sometimes it's absorbed, and sometimes it's even reflected by others.

Sometimes we just need a reminder of the fires that burn within...