Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Baseball and Being Faster Than Frank

As I've mentioned before, I've been covering minor league baseball as a beat writer for the Kane County Cougars for 15 years. During that time I've seen hundreds of games and hundreds of players who went on to play in the big leagues, while the same time discovering I still have a lot to learn about baseball.

I'm also a Cubs fan, and the last two years the Cougars were a Cubs affiliate, meaning I have been lucky to see several players who may someday be Cubs. Covering them was fun, especially this last season when they went 98-49 (including the playoffs) and won the Midwest League championship.

Over the course of those 15 years and 600-odd games, the one phrase I've constantly heard is "player development". Meaning, all that the players go through is a developmental process that hopefully someday makes them ready for the major leagues. In fact, Mark Johnson, who managed the Cougars the last two years and will someday be a big league manager, told me once that it takes 1,000-1,500 at bats in the minor leagues to figure out a player's true talent, and another 1,000-1,500 in the bigs to see what they offer at that level.

When I was a high school sophomore in 1984 I was fortunate enough to play against future Hall of Famer Jim Thome. When I played (and batted) against him he was far and away the best player on the field, but from that day it was 9-plus years and eventually 1,700 minor league at-bats before he got to the big leagues for good, and another 1,000 in the majors before he became an everyday player.

I believe in that process because I have seen it. When I covered a skinny Miguel Cabrera in 2001, he hit .268 with seven homers, since getting to the show he has a .320 career average and has hit 390 homers. I never saw it coming with Miggy, but lots of other scouts did, because their assessment of him at the time was spot-on.

So where am I going with this? (I bet you ask yourself that a lot when you read my stuff) Well, the point I'm trying to make is that when it comes to running and meeting our goals we have to love the process just as much as the end result, and to also believe that whatever we are doing will in the end get us to our goals. We have to be in "runner development" mode all of the time. As runners, miles equal at-bats, and while perhaps a goal race or a dream -- such as qualifying for Boston -- might seem so far away, if we trust ourselves and put in the miles we will get there.

I keep that in mind whenever my goal of running faster than Frank Shorter at the Indy Mini Marathon looks like a pretty high mountain to climb. To beat Frank I will have to run 2:04:39, which is a 9:30 pace. Right now I'm running 7 1/2 miles (just over half the distance) at about a 10:45 pace.

Some days, I really wonder if I can do it. Now, it's not going to be some sort of tragedy if I don't, but it's a goal and I want to try and reach it. Where I'm at now, it sounds like I won't.

But that's where I have to take the "runner development" mentality as my mantra. The race is just under five months away! In that time I will run close to 500 miles in training, including 20-25 speed sessions, I'll stretch my weekend long run to 13-14 miles and my mid-week run to eight or nine, and I'll have run some races, including (hopefully) the Viking Half Marathon in Greenwood, Miss. just five weeks before.

Not only that, if I keep up with my current pace of losing five pounds a month, I'll be down to a weight where I've broken two hours for the half marathon before. If I did it once (or twice) at that weight, I can do it again.

Of course, knowing to trust your "runner development" takes experience. It's hard for a newer runner to understand it -- remember how you felt when you ran your first marathon? "How in the world am I going to run 26.2 miles if I only run 20 in training????" If you have a couple under your belt, you know how it works, right?

The one thing I have in this journey is experience. I've started from Square One so many times in my running career I know how this works. I've been heavy and out of shape (in terms of running, not in how I look) lots of times, and in a matter of months I've been able to reach my goals. My PR of 1:42:38, set in 2007, was the result of starting over in January, losing 35 pounds and running 100 miles a month.

I have to get back to that mindset. I have to feel it again to trust it. Saturday in my 5K, I dug deeper than I had in a long time -- truthfully I was kind of scared of it for a while, and even wondered if I could do it again to that level. Now that I know, I feel like the dominoes can start falling, because I'm starting to get into familiar territory again.

Now it's just a matter of moving forward, and knowing that if I focus on my "runner development" I'll be right where I want to be on May 2, 2015.

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