Editor’s Note: ‘Shut Up and Run, Midwest Miles’ is part of an exclusive Undo-Ordinary series based off UNDO co-founder Robin Arzon’s book, “Shut Up and Run.” Through this 8-part weekly series, 27- year-old midwesterner, runner, writer, father and husband, Dallas Peterman, takes us through his transformational journey inspired by Robin’s book, and reveals how his life was reshaped through running. Start at the beginning here.
“The running widow is real, people. When you’re logging hours of miles a week, especially for endurance races like marathons and ultras, it’s a lot of time away from home, and your friends and family may feel like they lost you to your hobby.” -Robin Arzon, Shut Up and Run
The look in his eyes said it all. Every time he lined up at the starting line, his intensity was not just seen but felt as well. At no point would he ever let up, and from start to finish it would be war. Many runners believe in running a negative split, or conserving energy until the second half of the race. This was not how he operated. He pinned the throttle from the starting gun and ran his hardest until he crossed the finish line, every single time. This was the mentality he brought to the track and his opponents knew that unless they could summon a fire deep from within, that they never had a chance.
Although I never had the honor of meeting Steve Prefontaine in person, his impact on my life has been profound. He was fearless, tough and seemingly delusional about the limits of the human body. Competitors feared him and said the chants of his name were so deafening that it made them want to quit. Never before him or after his death has there been a runner so influential to American running culture.
When I returned to the sport of running, this mentality was the philosophy I lived by. I’ve always had an addictive personality and Pre did too, but it was deeper than that. He was sure that if he put in the work, day after day, that he was not going to lose, and he was right. Not only did he bark, but he bit as well. He went his entire collegiate career at Oregon without a single loss in every distance from 2,000 to 10,000 meters and set American records in all of them along the way. I wanted to feel that kind of power within myself. I wanted to believe in myself unfailingly in the ways I hadn’t allowed myself before. I wanted to be like Pre.
I was a long way from being anywhere near his level, but I knew that if I applied that same mentality to my life that great things would start to happen. Running one mile turned to two, two to three and so on, and within a period of two months I was able to run five miles without stopping. Although this new level of fitness was pleasing to achieve, one goal remained at the forefront of my attention: Beating my previous record at 1600m.
As I stated in a previous article, I once ran a mile in 4:52 to place 2nd at the state track meet when I was 13 years old. Despite the fact that this record was accomplished half of my life ago, I refused to look back with nostalgia and knew that if I put in the work I could set a new record. I found college training programs online, watched YouTube videos and started implementing intervals and hill sprints into my routine.
As my training schedule lengthened, my cardio became more and more refined, and with the addition of intervals and other speed drills, I felt myself becoming faster. My near 7:00 miles became 6:30’s. From there I moved down to 6:00 and then 5:45. Each week I seemed to be shaving off seconds at a time, counting down the remaining seconds I had until I was staring at a new record on my Garmin.
As I got closer and closer to 5:00, my improvements became less noticeable. Instead of shaving off 15 or 20 seconds at a time, it was 2 seconds, 3 seconds. Although the improvements were still encouraging, it was at this time that I had to dig deeper than ever to find the courage to keep going.
My running schedule had started to take its toll on my relationships and the hours I spent training not only took time away from my family, but brought on a new level of exhaustion that I had never experienced before. It was often that I found myself daydreaming of naps while I was at work and falling asleep in the opening credits of movies. Maybe I was too old after all.
Through all of these new changes, some good and some bad, I tried to remain focused. I tried to remember why I started this chapter of my life, and how I would feel if I let myself quit. I tried to remember what it felt like to be aimless and scared, to live a sedentary lifestyle full of regret. As I looked myself in the mirror, I knew I could never go back.
In order to devote more time to my family but still move forward in my training, I made it a habit to wake up at six every morning to do my workouts before anyone else was awake. I would roll out of bed and shuffle to my closet like a zombie, throw my running gear on and head out the door. This was always the toughest part for me as I’ve never been a morning person, but I knew that if I could get outside and take that first step, that I’d be happy I woke up.
As weeks went by, I broke the 5:00 mark and realized I was only seconds away from setting a new record. All of a sudden it dawned on me how far I had come. That I had woken up day after day and pushed myself to achieve something that I originally thought was absurd, and that with just a little more effort, I would be the proud owner of a new PR.
On a Wednesday in March, I drove out to the local high school and laced up my Nike’s. As I laid on my back stretching my hamstring, I looked to the sky and knew this was my day. Just like Prefontaine, I knew I would not lose. I had put in the work and brought my best effort day after day. Although there were no competitors there to scare off, I imagine I possessed that same fire in my eyes that his opponents saw at the beginning of every race.
With my confidence at an all-time high, I lined up at the starting line. As I relaxed my body, I remembered a quote that I had read online months before. “You’ve got what it takes, but it’s going to take all that you’ve got.” I clicked start on my Garmin and took off. As I settled into my pace, each step felt effortless. My stride, my cadence, my breathing all seemed to be working together in the spirit of breaking down old barriers.
As I approached the final straight away I glanced down and saw the note I had scribbled on my hand before I left home, “What would Pre do?” The answer was clear. I dug deep, changed my stride and sprinted the last 100m as if it were the only distance I was running that day. I took my final stride across the finish line and clicked stop on my watch. While I did my best to walk it off and catch my breath, I looked down to my wrist and saw the product of all my effort. 4:47. A new PR.