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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 6, 2001

Life's lessons learned while on the run

By Mike Tymn
Special to The Advertiser

The marathon is more than a foot race, more than a sporting event, more than a recreational endeavor, more than a physical challenge, more than a "happening." More than anything else, it is a teacher, an educator, a learning experience.

These learning experiences are often contradictory or paradoxical. Sometimes, they are downright oxymoronic.

Although I have not run a marathon since 1980 and have not participated in a road race of any distance since 1995, I often look back to my first track meet in 1950 and my first road race in 1956 and see what a great teacher distance running was.

To begin with, I learned that I could far exceed my expectations as to what my body was capable of. I could run faster and longer than I had ever imagined. And yet, upon accomplishing what I could never imagine, I learned that I could never live up to my new expectations.

I learned that I could work a lot harder than I had ever realized possible, but then I learned that I could work too hard and actually be worse off than before I started.

I learned that a lot of running leads to a high level of fitness, but I also learned that too much running can lead to disability and not being able to run at all, sometimes not even to walk.

I learned that you can go out too fast and never finish, and you can go out too slow and never catch up.

Veteran runner Mike Tymn says distance running has been a great teacher, though its lessons are often contradictory.

Advertiser library photo

I learned that winning can be fun and fulfilling, but I also learned that winning can bring unwanted pressures and harmful stresses.

I learned that being a good loser is better than being a poor winner.

I learned that running can result in many friendships but that it can also hurt close relationships by taking away quality time with loved ones.

I learned that too much success can instill pride, but I also learned that running can bring an abundance of humility.

I learned that if you are muscular and athletic looking you're not going to run very fast and that if you look like a wimp you can do well.

I learned that racing short distances is often more difficult than racing long distances.

I learned that it was often easier to run fast than it was to run slow.

I learned that rest is critical to peak performance but that too much rest is harmful.

I learned that losing with a fast time can be more satisfying than winning with a slow time.

I learned that stretching is important if one is to maintain flexibility and stride length, but I also learned that too much stretching can take the "snap" out of your running.

I learned that the best awards often came from the smallest accomplishments and the worst awards from the biggest accomplishments. I also learned that the most treasured rewards come from within and have no monetary value.

I learned that your fiercest rivals can be your best friends.

I learned that to run fast in a race you frequently have to run slow in training.

I learned that a lot of variety helps maintain motivation, but I also learned that too much variety causes one to stray from the disciplined path.

I learned that my best workouts came when I was pressed for time and my worst workouts came when I had time on my hands.

I learned that you can get slower with age but faster with adaptation and experience.

I learned that the people I tried to impress most could not have cared less.

I learned that I did my best when I started with a somewhat pessimistic attitude and did my worst when I was overly optimistic.

I learned that the popular races can be the least enjoyable and the unpopular ones the most enjoyable.

I learned that the "best" courses in our so-called tough sport are the easy ones, while the really tough courses are considered the worst courses.

I learned that fast runners make some of the worst coaches and that slow runners often make some of the best coaches.

I learned that most physicians know very little about physical fitness or running fitness.

I learned that if you want your heart to really put out during a race you have to condition it to be especially slow when you are resting.

I learned that if you have too many fast-twitch fibers you'll be slow in the long run and if you have a lot of slow-twitch fibers you'll be fast in the long run.

I learned that the most expensive running shoes often produce the slowest times and that the cheapest shoes result in the fastest times.

I learned that it was often easy to recover from the hardest efforts and difficult to recover from the easiest efforts.

I learned that being super fit in the short run can leave one super lame in the long run.

I learned that candy and other so-called energy foods can rob you of energy.

I learned that there are a lot of contradictions in running and that the key is a balance mixed with just the right amounts of patience, persistence and perseverance.

Isn't that the way it is in the rest of life?

Mike Tymn has covered the Honolulu Marathon for the Advertiser since 1978. He ran the previous four and observed the first one.