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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….

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About Tung Yin (230 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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