The Obsessed Ex-Fortysomething Runner: Running, Ultimate, and sport specifity

It’s hard to believe, but I used to hate running. I managed to stay fit in law school thanks to Ultimate, which, like soccer and lacrosse, involves a lot of running but seemed tolerable because I was chasing the disc (or the person I was covering).

After law school, however, I was forced into the real world, and I stopped playing Ultimate. Eventually I found my way to running, and my story there is a pretty common one – fortysomething learns to like running, gets into the local race scene, and joins an awesome run blog. Recently, however, I got the itch to try Ultimate again, so I signed up for a co-ed spring league with Portland Ultimate.

I haven’t played in over 20 years, so I knew my disc throwing and handling skills would be pretty rusty, but I figured that cardio-wise I would be able to hold my own.

The first set of games was on a weeknight in the middle of April. It’s an indication of how underprepared I was that I didn’t have cleats, just running shoes, although I still had one of my discs from my law school days. Prior to the first evening, Portland Ultimate had asked each of us to rate our own ability on a scale of 1-5 and to state whether we could play “handler or cutter.” (I’m guessing that if you didn’t know what those positions entailed, you were probably a 1 or a 2 on the ability scale.) Back in my law school days, I was maybe a 3 or a 4, depending on how high up you were scaling the 5s – i.e., nationwide, or campuswide. For the pickup games that we played, though, I was typically a handler. Given the 20+ years of rust, I wrote back “3(?)” and explained how out of practice I was.

So I had some trepidation as I walked on the field at the (massive) Howard M. Terpenning Recreation Complex in Beaverton (right near the Nike campus!). Would I suck completely? Or would my being in much better cardio shape now than I was in my 20s prove to be a boon?

Warming up with throws felt okay. My flick (i.e., forehand) needed work, as it started to flutter once I tried something beyond medium length, though it didn’t precess at least. My backhand was okay, and I could still throw hammers and reverse hammers. But I was able to tell that compared to some of the other players, I definitely should not be handling (which is the closest thing to a quarterback that there is in Ultimate).

I was particularly curious about how much running actually takes place during Ultimate. Back when I played during law school in the 1990s, there were no GPS watches, so I had no idea how much distance I covered during our 2-3 hour pickup games. Now that we are out of the dark ages, however, I would be able to track distance. I kept the watch running whenever I was in the game, but paused it when I was on the sidelines.

The results? In game 1, I played 10:04 and covered 0.64 miles, for an average pace of 3.8 mph, with a peak speed of 13.6 mph. In game 2, I played 26:27 and covered 1.61 miles, for an average pace of 3.6 mph, with a peak speed of 15.7 mph. If you add those together, it’s 2.25 miles in 36:31.

Basically, around 3.7 mph on average. That’s walking, and not a particularly brisk pace. So it should have been a piece of cake, right?

No way! I wasn’t completely gassed when I went to the sidelines, but I wasn’t going to complain about the rest either. And the next day, wow, was I sore! My right arm, of course, but also my upper legs. It just goes to show how running may be foundational for most sports, but sport specificity still reigns supreme.

Coda: And then 3 minutes into my second night of playing, I strained my left hamstring and right Achilles tendon….

About Tung Yin (278 Articles)
Law prof by day, runner all the time. Got off the couch in January 2011 and have been obsessed with running ever since.
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