One of the things I enjoy most about what I do is the broad range of interesting and eclectic characters I encounter on a daily basis. Truly, runners are a fascinating breed. However, the most interesting character I encountered recently wasn't a runner at all despite the fact that he may have wanted to be.
I received a phone call a few weeks ago towards the end of an exhausting day. I didn't recognize the number, but for whatever reason I still answered the phone. The man's name was Nathan and he was calling me on behalf of his son, Max.
I was tired, frazzled, and looking for a parking spot. Needless to say, I wasn't exactly fully engaged. Nathan started talking about the Coastal Trail and Max's desire to run the Coastal Trail from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
I immediately thought something was wrong with the connection. I couldn't possibly have heard Nathan correctly. Confused, I asked Nathan a few cursory questions about Max's training.
'What's the farthest distance he's ever run?'
'Oh...about 6 miles.'
'How many times a week does he run?'
'2-3 times a week.'
'And..how far does he run?'
'About 3 miles.'
'Well...I've got to tell you...this is one of the worst ideas I've heard in a long time, Nathan. The only person on the planet who might contemplate something like this is Dean Karnazes. A few other ultrarunners might as well, but Max is in no shape to attempt something like this.'
'So...when he's out on the trail, what's the plan? Is he going to run a few miles and just pitch a tent somewhere?'
'Yes...or he might stay at a hostel or with some friends.'
Absurd is one adjective that came to mind as I spoke with Nathan. Extraordinarily dangerous was another. At this juncture, Nathan wanted me to talk to his son. I told him I couldn't talk to his son right now, but if he and his son wanted to meet for coffee tomorrow evening we could chat then.
I sent Nathan a follow up email later that evening and told Nathan that if his son was interested in running, he'd probably be much better served by signing up for the half marathon training program I was launching. The training would be thoughtful, progressive, and systematic. To boot, there would be minimal chance of serious injury (or death!)
The next evening as I was wrapping up my workout with my half marathon group, I saw an older man with a kid who appeared to be about 19 or 20. I knew right away it was Nathan and Max. We segued to a coffee shop to discuss what Max was going to attempt to do in 2 days!
I spent a considerable amount of time talking about how long it takes to train for a marathon, the physiological adaptations that have to occur in order for your body to attempt something like this, the time required for your body to heal/recover after a run, and how his body just simply isn't adapted to this kind of activity right now!
I really was taken aback by the seeming lack of respect Max seemed to have not only for his own body, but for the work that runners have to do to get into the kind of shape to run long distances. Granted, he was only 20 years old and clearly swimming in a sea of youthful invincibility.
Above and beyond attempting to explain the high level physiology of running, I told Max about my own experiences as a runner and the kinds of injuries I had incurred just from normal training runs and I've been doing this for over 15 years.
Max seemed to comprehend what I was saying, but I got the distinct impression that he was still going to try to do this anyway. I left the table hoping that I had managed to reach Max somehow and he would spare himself the inevitable physical pain/discomfort that awaited him on the coastal trail.
The following week, I noticed that Max had not signed up for my half marathon training program and could only assume that he was stranded out on the Coastal Trail somewhere. It was a few weeks later that I would find out exactly what happened to Max.