Will I ever race again?

October 2, 2022

Different aspects of running are enjoyable to different people. My favorite encapsulation of this basic fact comes from Don Kardong in the essay “Collision Course” as published in his 1985 book Thirty Phone Booths to Boston. Kardong, a Stanford alum, recounts a “fun run” at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), where electrons are brought remarkably close to the speed of light, the one true speed limit in the universe.

(As a side note, I have a family connection to SLAC: my cousin Knut is an engineer there, as his father Knut was before him.)

Here is the key passage:

“…I thought of something that had once happened to me at a Sunday fun-run back in Spokane. The organizer had always stressed health, cardiovascular fitness, and easy running, and was dismayed at those of us who ran fast.

“On that morning he cornered me after the run, striving to be good-natured, and said, ‘What are you doing, running like that? This is a fun-run, you know.’

“I looked at him, and said words that came back to me as Brook and I sprinted along the electron path at SLAC.

“‘It’s fun to run fast,’ I told him.”

Yesterday while running, I found myself thinking about Kardong-running-at-SLAC thinking about Kardong-running-in-Spokane. It was almost time to drive up to my son’s ultimate frisbee jamboree in Burlington, but I had time to run 3.5 more miles. I could take the blue loop, or I could take the red loop.

OK, I’m being melodramatic; the blue loop and the red loop are the same loop. What I really mean is, I could do the loop slowly, or I could do it hard.

In the context of my current casual training schedule, this might have been just about the least consequential choice imaginable. There was no yesterday’s run to analyze, no tomorrow’s run to worry about, no race on the horizon.

Nevertheless, as I weighed the options, I found myself interested in the outcome. If there was no incentive whatsoever to run fast, aside from fun, would I choose speed over comfort?

Reader, I chose red. To be specific, l opted to time-trial the 2.2-mile Jackson Park perimeter loop, with 0.6 miles of jogging on either end.

On the tough Jackson Park terrain, recovering from a mild respiratory infection, I struggled through the lap in 15:14 — barely under 7-minutes-per-mile pace. Still, that was 44 seconds faster than the 15:58 I had managed three weeks earlier. I jogged home depleted but happy to have made the effort and to have gotten encouraging-under-the-circumstances results.

It’s this sort of experience — infrequent these days, but still recurring — that makes me think that someday — maybe next year, maybe the year after that — I will once again toe the starting line of a local “fun run,” determined to make the fun as concentrated and as brief as possible.


  1. Interesting. Life is filled with decisions.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Great piece on the pleasure — incomprehensible to most people — of running hard. Greg, you’re a fabulous writer and runner and I look forward to the day when you have time to train more and start winning your age group.

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