From the Horse’s Mouth

This weekend, I finished reading the 2001 New York Times Bestseller Seabiscuit: An American Legend. Yes, I realize I’m 11 years late to the table with this one. I’m also still listening to Napster and investing in Enron.

A captivating read about a knobby-kneed racehorse that was transformed into an icon of the American Dream during the Great Depression, Seabiscuit is also chockfull of lessons for the non-equine athlete. So without further ado, I bring you the much-anticipated special report, “Everything I Know about Running I Could Have Learned from a Horse.”

The importance of speed training

I hate speed training like the rest of us, preferring to log controversially named “junk” miles at an 8:45 clip instead of tempo runs at race pace. But if “The Biscuit” and/or every running article I’ve ever read has taught me anything, it’s that the only way to get faster is to—shockingly—train faster. Trotting may cut it during recovery runs, but every athlete with an eye on improvement really needs a good, hard gallop once a week to keep in top shape. When it comes to improving your VO2 max, pace runs, hill workouts, fartleks and pulling a Central Park carriage all count.

Take your recovery seriously

No athlete likes to be sidelined with an injury, but toe the starting line with anything more than normal aches and pains and you may find yourself out of the running for the entire season. Take a page of out Seabiscuit’s book: any time his gait betrayed even an inkling of strain, he was scratched from his scheduled races in favor of compression bandages and weeks of rest. I’ve decided to follow in his very wise, four-legged footsteps. Feeling the early stages of plantar fasciitis after my Saturday long run, I swapped out hard cross training yesterday in favor of an afternoon at the Central Park Zoo. I’ll choose bear watching over the elliptical any day.

Make time for friends

As I approach my first 40-mile week, I’m finding it harder and harder to squeeze in time with friends. But if I’m going to survive a summer of marathon training, my mental health demands I find a way. Any time Seabiscuit arrived at a new racetrack for an event, his handlers knocked down the wall between two adjacent stalls so his best horse friend, two dogs and a spider monkey had room to roost and keep him company. Most of my friends aren’t spider monkeys, but they do wear obnoxiously bold 80s outfits, and I intend to see them, looming marathon or not.

I may not win in a road race against War Admiral, but I think these are some rules I can live by, especially if I’m rewarded at the finish line with a carrot. Or carrot cake.

I like to finish my posts with thought-provoking questions to generate dialogue and community, but today, I just want to generate new book recommendations for myself, because I’m very, very selfish. So now that I’ve finished Seabiscuit, what should I pick up next?

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