THE RIGHT WAY TO MEASURE YOUR RUN!
SOME RUNNERS, OR THEIR COACHES, MARK TRAINING INTERVALS ON THE ROAD WITH CHALK. THEY’RE LIKE LOVE LETTERS TO OTHER RUNNERS.
THE LINE IS chalk, white, with fading edges that disintegrate into dust, and it floats upward as it approaches the edge of the paved path. Just below it, there’s a large uneven ‘0’. As I pass over the line and run on, I wonder where the next one will be.
When it comes, it announces itself as the line for ‘400’, confirming that these are markers for workout intervals. Now I’m curious to see how many track quarters are marked; or if the maker, like me, enjoys reaching a line in the distance and turning around to go back to ‘0’ again and again, not really going anywhere, but covering a distance within a confined space.
I imagine a runner, bent over, carefully writing the numbers. Under the chalk,
gravel loosens, the bumpy surface disrupts the drawing. Road marks are not perfect, not aesthetically pleasing, but beautiful in their own right – a symbol of work, of tenacity, dedication. A coach draws a line, a symbol to the athletes. It says: I believe in your ability to hit your paces, to run at threshold. I believe that this will make you better.
And I’ve seen them everywhere. In every city and small town. We’ve all stomped over them, knowing what they were, but rarely thinking much about them. I remember reading about the legendary Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff, Arizona, where so many elites train. The road is a thing of beauty: a wide shoulder, the lake with mountains rising from it on either side. I’ve never been there. But I know from an old friend who now lives there that it’s marked every 400 metres for 25 kays, and that it’s been chalked and spray-painted, in metres and kilometres and fractions of miles, for years.
Here on this flat, lonely trail I’m currently running, there are no more markings. When I’ve turned around and again encounter the (now upside-down) 400, I think, why not? I pick it up into my 1 600m pace. Drive my knees, pump my arms, breathe in rapid and rhythmic beats all the way back to zero. A single rep is nothing; but the chalk was like a love letter from another runner, a whisper for me to fly, and so I did.
Later, I speak to my friend in Flagstaff, who tells me that most recently it’s Ben Rosario, famed coach of the NAZ team, who has marked Lake Mary Road. So I call him to talk about marking roads. And it turns out he doesn’t think my interest is so bizarre. He wonders about them, too. “You don’t know who made them, or what year,” he says. “But you use them. Someone has taken the time and put in the effort – they think highly enough of that road to mark it.”
Weeks later, on holiday in the country, I’m getting in a run just outside where we’re staying, foothills warning of the mountains up ahead. I turn onto an uphill, and I see an orange line over a 200. Uphill! In 200m increments! I cross the 400, which is drawn so the ‘4’ resembles a capital ‘A’ and the zeros are small dots, then the 600. The blobs of the 800 at the top have a rounded arrow above, telling me to turn around. Someone in this small town cared enough about their training – or someone else’s – to take the time to measure and leave a code in the runners’ language. And I listen: even though it’s not the route I’d planned, I turn around.