The Penguin Chronicles: The Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

llustration: Neil Numberman

We ran because … we ran. Because not running didn’t make any sense.

For a kid of a long-ago time, summer in a tiny suburb was about as close to perfection as you could get. Summers weren’t structured. There were no soccer camps or “language immersion” weeks. There was nothing. From the day school let out until the day we went back, there was nothing to do. And that was perfect.

That’s not to say that we did nothing. My grandmother would throw us out of the house early; we’d wander back to the house hungry at lunchtime, and run home exhausted for supper. And that was the key. We ran.

We didn’t run because we were worried about our weight or our cholesterol. We didn’t run because it was good for our hearts, or made our legs look shapelier. We ran because … we ran. Because not running didn’t make any sense.

Nearly every game we played involved running of some description. Summers were spent running away, running to, and running with.

My summer running now has some of the same character. In the summer months I often find myself wanting to walk, or run, just because it feels good to do it. I can run along a path, or walk in the woods; it doesn’t matter.

Often, during the summer months, I’ll forget that I’m actually training for something in the fall. An October marathon seems like an eternity away in mid-June. I can’t completely ignore my training schedule, but in the summer I’m less inclined to be so rigid.

In the summer, I’ll frequently leave my watch at home. I know where I’m going to run, I know how far it is, and I have a pretty good idea how long each of my routes will take me. In the summer, if I happen to take an extra few minutes to finish my favorite run, it just doesn’t seem to matter as much.

I’ve heard people who know a lot more about training than I do talk about periodization — the process of having a macro schedule and mini goals and doing more before you do less and going long and hard and short and easy. You get the idea. Variety is the spice of life and training.

It’s also important for those folks to know exactly where they are in whatever period they’re in. If they’re building base, or building endurance or building speed. Every workout, every day of rest, has a meaning and a purpose.

While training for an adventure race with a colleague once, I spent the better part of six months in an intense training cycle. It was a two-day race that included running, mountain biking, paddling and orienteering. The intensity of the training was based on the fact that I wasn’t very good at running or mountain biking or paddling. Oh, yes, and I wasn’t very good at orienteering.

Since the race took place in late September, much of the training took place during the summer months. My commitment to preparing myself as best I could was, at times, in conflict with some very young part of me that kept reminding me that it was summer vacation.

I believe I need a summer vacation as much now as I did between fifth and sixth grade. I need to have some time when the joy I feel in everyday activity is reason enough to be active.

I need to feel the satisfaction of running faster or running farther for no other reason than it’s what I want to do. I need to have permission to stop in the middle of a run and just be astonished at how magical it is to move.

I may not be having a Nat King Cole summer of soda and pretzels and beer — it’s more likely to be an energy gel and a sports drink — but I will wish that summer could always be here.

This column first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.


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