Usually I like to share the articles I’ve written with my blog readers before they come out in print. However, I kept my latest article a "secret," because it’s pretty cool – at least to me. In each issue of USATF Minnesota’s magazine, they include an article titled; My Best Day Ever. It’s written by local runners in the community and usually talks about the time the represented the U.S. at some race or their Olympic Trials qualifying performance or some life-threatening obstacle they overcame, etc. It’s always interesting to read how everyone interprets their “best day.”
Anyway, the fine folks the put the magazine together were hard-up, so they asked if I’d write the article for the latest magazine. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to spew on-and-on about myself. I encourage everyone to try and write a similar article, even if it’s just for yourself or your blog. It's an interesting topic that will force you to think about your great running experiences. Anyway, here’s my article;
My Best Day Ever
By Chad Austin
With nearly 28 years of running under my belt, there’s almost no way I can pick a single “best day ever”. Along the way there haven’t been any major accomplishments. I’ve never won a race, let alone a national title. I’ve never met the women’s Olympic Trials qualifying standards, let alone the men’s. I’ve never encountered some unforeseen obstacle that required all my strength and determination to overcome. However, what I have acquired along the way is a lot of great experiences. Below is a recap of some of my most memorable experiences, all of which lead back to one “best day ever”.
I was fortunate enough to be introduced to running at an early age. I ran my first race when I was 10 years old. It was a 4-mile race and I finished 2nd overall (out of 3 runners). Looking at photos from that day is still amusing. I’m wearing basketball shoes, red cotton sweatpants and faux letter jacket – in October. I had a lot to learn and apparently “dressing for the conditions” was at the top of the list.
At the time I had no idea how much the sport of running would impact my life, I was just happy to finish without walking. “Training” at this age was difficult. Luckily my parents were caught in the middle of the running boom and they had no problems letting me tag along with them whenever I wanted to.
A couple of years later I would be exposed to Grandma’s Marathon for the first time, as my dad began to make the yearly trek to Duluth every June. In 1984 he ran 2:59:52 – his only sub-3 hour marathon. The following spring I took my first airplane flight ever to Boston to watch him run the marathon. Even as a kid, I knew these were special events that I wanted to be a part of in the future. And although I’d have to wait a dozen years before I actually participated in Grandma’s Marathon, there were enough great experiences along the way to keep me enthused about the sport.
While my high school cross country team made it to State my sophomore year, it’s our Sectional Meet that stands out the most in my mind. Heading into the meet, we were seeded third behind two teams that we hadn’t beaten all year. During our warm-up I had a really strong sensation that we were going to qualify for State. I can’t explain it and being the sixth runner on the team, I didn’t really affect the outcome. However, our entire team ran great and we won the meet by seven points, while the two teams seeded ahead of us tied for second place.
Although I didn’t run much during my four years in the Navy, I can say I had the unique experience of running on the flight deck on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean. During those four years I also experienced my only multi-day team relay event. It was the first-ever Black Sea to Ankara, Turkey Orphans’ Run. The roads along the 284-mile trek were described as “treacherous as the scenery was beautiful.” Now I’m not much of a run-for-charity guy, but in the end I was happy to be part of this 37-hour event that raised over $7,000 for a local orphanage.
It’s probably no surprise that my time in college provided many great experiences. As a fan of this sport, many of these experiences involved me being a spectator. During my first year at UW-Eau Claire, a teammate came out of nowhere to place third at our, always tough, conference meet. The following year a gal on our team nearly won the conference title, placing second. Then there was the road trip from Eau Claire to Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996 to watch alumnus Dan Held run in the Olympic Trials Marathon. We had two carloads of college kids, brought our bikes along and were able to follow the race up close and personal. I think the rental company is still trying to figure out how we put 2,000 miles on their cars in three days.
College also proved to be my best running years, at least in terms of race times. My first ever 10K on the track is still my most vivid race to this day. It was one of those days where everything clicked. The more I tried to hold back, the faster I ran. And even though I ran progressively faster throughout the race, I never seemed to get tired. I ended up running 35:08 that day, beating my best road 10K by over two and a half minutes. Having not broken 6:00 pace for 8K during the previous cross-country season, running 5:39 pace for 10K was truly a breakthrough. Even though I would eventually break that PR, no race, before or since, has had the sensations I felt on that day. Of course, running the Nude Mile in college had its own set of sensations, but I’ll save that experience for another article.
After college I finally got around to running a marathon. As any marathoner will tell you, each marathon is unique and memorable in its own special way. As with most other milestones, you’ll always remember your first marathon. The 1996 Twin Cities Marathon had perfect weather. Unfortunately, this was easily offset when I combined woeful training with poor tactics. There were many reasons for me being under-trained; I was no longer part of a team environment and I was stressed out about finding my first job after college. Plus, I had no idea what I was doing, as my longest run leading up to the race was 17 miles. To make matters worse, I went out way too fast for my training – or lack thereof. At mile 19 I saw a buddy of mine and I wondered why he was walking. A mile later I knew why, because I was doing the same thing. I struggled the final 10K and didn’t even care that I missed sub-3:20 by four seconds. I was just happy to be done.
After a couple more lackluster attempts at the marathon, I finally started to figure things out a little. For my fourth marathon I actually followed a program, which resulted in a 14-minute, Boston-qualifying, breakthrough performance. Little did I know when I took my first flight to Boston to watch my dad, that nearly 20 years later my daughter would take her first flight to Boston to watch me run. For me, the Boston Marathon lived up the they hype; the hallowed ground in Hopkinton, the women of Wellesley College, the mystique surrounding Heartbreak Hill, etc. All these things made for another great experience.
Finally, there was my first sub-3 hour marathon. I’m sure it would have been special no matter where it was run. However, having grown up in Ashland, Wisconsin made breaking three hours at the Whistlestop Marathon all that more special. With two miles to go I knew sub-3 was in the bag and I was able to enjoy finishing along some of the roads that I trained on as a kid.
When I think of all these great experiences over the years, I keep coming back to the one thing they all have in common; October 2, 1979. That’s the day it all started. The day I became a runner.
My best day ever.