I am not using “nerd” in a denigrating fashion here. Rather, just the opposite. To nerd-out is to truly embrace whatever it is you're nerding-out about. In my case, it's my own personal running journey.
I just returned from a conference in Houston, Texas (at Rice University – yeah, it’s a real college) hosted by USA Track & Field. The class was part of USATF’s continuing education programs for coaches from middle school and younger to Olympic Developmental-types, and focused exclusively on (get ready, runner nerds…) CROSS COUNTRY!
Now, who spends hours upon hours talking about cross country (XC to those in the know)? Why, running nerds do, of course. And there I was, sitting in a room of 140 or so other running nerds. A few were there because their athletic directors had drafted them to coach XC, and a few were there because it was a part of a USATF requirement to maintain certification (like me). But MOST of us (definitely me) were there to nerd it up in the world of off-road, off-track.
The two lead instructors were top of their fields: Joe Vigil, nearly 90 and one of the fathers of modern-day training protocols, as well as owner of at least three dozen national championships at the collegiate level and coach to two dozen or more Olympic athletes, and Scott Christensen, 36-year veteran of high school coaching and two-time head coach for USATF’s World Cross Country teams. NERD-TIME!
As we worked our way through topics from mental toughness to VO2-max, from hydrogen ion tolerance to tapering, I had to sometimes pull myself back into the moment as I would start mentally implementing topics to teams or individuals or even myself.
Speaking of nerd-ness, I finally finished a project that I’d started nearly 18 months ago. If you’ve read my columns before, you know that I have run at least five miles in 34 different states, including AK and HI (you go figure out those two). But until now, I never knew which states I’d run the most mileage. Now I do. My top three are Delaware (35,487), Pennsylvania (18,174) and Virginia (9,577). The bottom three are Washington (5), Iowa (7.5) and Michigan (8). I know this because I’ve kept every running log since I started in August, 1978. Yeah, you can put this into the NERD category, too.
Most runners never look beyond the immediacy of the simple act and joy of running and exercising. Their purpose is their purpose alone (and quite frankly, nobody’s business). It almost has a nerd-like quality about it.
And please don’t misunderstand me, I am not using “nerd” in a denigrating fashion here. Rather, just the opposite. To nerd-out is to truly embrace whatever it is you’re nerding-out about. In my case, it’s my own personal running journey, which includes learning about how the body does what it does and all the places I’ve ever run.
Sometimes, we want to know more, or embrace it more, or dress the part more, or find that unique hook of our sport, and own it. Being engaged with the activity is a good thing, so long as it doesn’t preclude you from showering at some point, or you don’t start neglecting the dog. Then you’ve zoomed past nerd into obsessive.
Wanting to embrace running oftentimes leads us to places we never even imagined we’d get. A marathon might seem far-fetched, until we do a little reading or attend a seminar at a local running store to engage with an expert or coach. Breaking 30-minutes in the 5k might seem like an impossible task, until we review how much running we’ve done over the past two, three, even four years. And getting excited at the prospect of a new big-screen movie provides you with a view of the sport that may be different from your expectations (McFarland was the last runner-hype movie released – yeah, I went and yeah, I own it).
If you don’t hyperventilate at the prospect of learning your VO2-max or your lactate tolerance pace, don’t fret. There are lots of other things about running to embrace. And being a nerd about it is pretty cool, unless you keep calling it Rice-a-Roni University. Then you’re just goofy. Oh, which reminds me, state of Texas – 32 miles now.
I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails.
Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.