Watching that running scene in the classic Baby Boomer college reunion film “The Big Chill” recently brought to mind a couple of old friends — half-marathoners with vastly different running philosophies.
Mark started out fast and has worked with a coach to get faster, while McCoy is more of a California free spirit. Though he’s accumulated enough finishes to be one of those race-collectors out to conquer the world, he refuses to use a training program.
I caught up with McCoy recently — his first name’s Brian, though nobody ever called him that back in the day at IU — to congratulate him on his son Kerry’s group being named Spin Magazine’s 2015 band of the year. (Deafheaven plays at the Egyptian Ballroom in Indy on Jan. 29.)
Naturally, I couldn’t resist asking about his unorthodox approach to running the half, along with the oddity of having your son grow up to be a budding rock star. What follows is pretty close to the “uncut” version of an interview conducted over a few days via Facebook. (For a shorter version, see today’s “Adventures in Food and Fitness” column in The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.)
Q. So how did you get into running? I don’t remember you doing that when we were back at IU.
A. I got into running about 15 years ago when Leslie, the boys and I were visiting my parents and my brother Kevin’s family in Greeley, Colo. The gym my folks frequented required guest passes and, having already worked through our allotment, Les suggested one afternoon we go for a run.
She was not new to it, having run such events as Bay to Breakers, but I had zero interest despite my parents’ long involvement. They became runners in the 1970s, first in Livingston, N.J. (my brothers and I played in the same Little League with Chris Christie) and continued to do so after moves to Munster, Ind., and the Bay Area. I was careful to avoid all such exertions, however, and my mom to this day ribs me about how they’d be heading out for a late ‘70s 10K in Dyer or Michigan City and their teen children would scarcely acknowledge their departure.
But I digress… So that afternoon in Colorado, I accompanied Leslie on her run, which entailed plenty of walking on my part. Something, however, must have clicked because within a week or so of returning to California I was hooked and remain so to this day.
Q. How many half marathons have you run at this point? Do you have some goal you’re working toward, or do you just like the distance?
A. have completed 23 half marathons, most of them in the past five years and all of them in California, though I definitely want to tackle some out of state (Bloomington tops that list). Certain runs have emerged as staples – Modesto, for example, has fall and spring half marathons that I run each year.
A favorite destination is the Central Coast, that region of California stretching from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz. This fall, for example, I did City to the Sea, which runs from San Luis Obispo to Pismo Beach, in October and followed that with the Half Marathon on Monterey Bay, a November run whose course takes in Cannery Row, the Aquarium and plenty of pounding Pacific.
We (he and his wife, Leslie) hook up at least twice a year to run with a like-minded couple, friends of Leslie’s from Cal Poly, who live in Monrovia near Pasadena. The four of us meet in some picturesque California locale to banter, enjoy fine food and drink and, yes, get up Sunday morning and run.
Q. What’s your training program like?
A. I take a holistic approach to training — that is, if I take one at all. By that I mean I do not follow a specific regimen in the weeks/months leading up to a half marathon. I don’t even taper, per se, but merely skip the road work the week before the event.
I see these highly regimented training schedules in publications like Runner’s World but they have never worked for me. I certainly had to work up to running distances in advance of my first half but the process was purely catch-as-catch-can – “Today, I’ll add a couple of blocks,” “Hmm, let’s try the park for a change.”
The core of my training, such as it is, is long outdoor runs. Ideally, I complete two per week – one on the weekend and one midweek – although work and weather impact that schedule and send me scurrying to the treadmill. I have a route that takes me from my home through a number of beautiful older neighborhoods to downtown Modesto, where I run past a variety of favorite landmarks (farmers market, State Theatre, restaurants and watering holes) before heading back via either College Avenue or the Virginia Corridor, the local Rails-to-Trails project. The route is particularly lovely in late fall, when the leaves finally start turning here in the Central Valley.
This is my basic run and it covers approximately 9 miles and 85 minutes. I am not putting any extraordinary “effort” into it. I am not “pushing” myself, there is no “sacrifice” involved. I have this route, I find running it immensely fulfilling and thus it is no great feat. I understand I am exerting myself and doing good things for my health and there certainly are challenges involved in running the additional 4 miles of the half over less familiar terrain. The bottom line, however, is that I run because it is fun and vastly fulfilling. Otherwise, believe me, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Q. Any other running during the week, or just those two long runs?
A. I am running at least three days per week.
Q. So why not just go ahead and do a full marathon?
A. I have had conversations – with runners and non-runners alike – regarding a full marathon. You’re halfway there, they say, give yourself a couple of months and you can make it happen. They are correct, of course, and perhaps someday I will run one.
But here’s the thing – that actually would require following one of those aforementioned schedules, pushing myself, carving significant amounts of additional time out of my week, tapping into some hitherto undetected pool of mental toughness … in short, training. At present, I have no desire to do that and really don’t see myself ginning any up in the future.
Q. Any advice you’d give someone who was preparing to tackle their first “half”?
A. I run because I enjoy it and I feel no need to push myself beyond that. Running is personal; I am not in competition with anyone else or any larger expectations. In a sense, that is my advice to all runners, including those preparing to tackle their first half. Don’t feel you necessarily need to follow some strict training regimen to build up your endurance; do it in whatever way feels natural to you.
Likewise, during the half: Relax, take in your surroundings, revel in the communal nature of an organized run and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Running, like writing, is a Zen experience – the joy and exhilaration reside in the process, not the product. I may bitch for a moment if I’m dissatisfied with my time but those numbers are smoke, wisps of human measurement that soon fade while the sensations of the experience itself continue to resonate.
I reiterate: for me, running is fun and fulfilling and try as I might I see no reason for it to occupy any other role in my life. This perhaps sets me apart from most runners; if so, that’s fine. I am content to sit in my own corner of the running universe, sipping a beer in the California sun, running my half marathons.
Q. You’ve commented in the past that you often wind up on the treadmill during the hot summer months. Any tips for staying sane while running indoors?
A. I believe runners everywhere can agree that treadmills are an expedient at best and the bane of their existence at worst. That includes my region of California – the Central Valley’s triple-digit summers (although it is a dry heat) mean lots of treadmill between June and September, although even in those months my schedule and the elements occasionally align so as to enable an outdoors run. I am willing to run outside if it’s in the low to mid-80s but no warmer. Winter poses its own challenges – cold, blustery storms like this week’s and early sunsets. (Bear in mind, my last actual winter was Bloomington 1985-86. Thirty years later, I see some of the fall-winter conditions you and your family run in and shake my head in awe and admiration.)
The only way I can function in the gym is distraction. On Stairmaster, that means reading material; on treadmill, it’s television. My overall strategy, then, is to make sure I am focused on anything but the exercise. Out of sight, out of mind.
When I arrive at the gym, I pick up a small towel at the desk, head for the treadmills and stretch for a few minutes. When I am ready to start, I pull a bottle of water and a Gatorade out of my bag so I can sip both as needed during the run. I put in my headphones and then punch all the buttons to start. I then use the towel to cover all the readouts – seeing them would only serve to remind me I am running on this machine. I lift the towel on occasion to adjust the speed and wipe my face.
I specifically chose the gym I run in because each treadmill has a TV screen with about a dozen channels. The goal is to find two engaging programs that you can toggle between for the next hour or so. Sports are a natural (the other night I ran 6 miles while watching the IU-Wisconsin game on ESPN) or a favorite movie (“Hey, it’s ‘A Few Good Men’”). News channels with compelling, breaking stories (Boston, San Bernadino) will do and I am not averse to a little HGTV (“Flip or Flop”). The goal throughout is to divert attention from the tedium of running in place and keep at hand the fluid you need to make sure you feel as comfortable as possible in the process.
Q. Are you surprised by Deafheaven’s success? Rolling Stone has called Kerry a budding guitar hero who’s “redefining black metal” (not that I have any idea what that is.) Where does he get his musical ability?
A. Yes, Kerry is doing quite well these days with Deafheaven, with the critical acclaim, bigger tours and the like (they are back at Coachella this spring). Most importantly as a dad, after his dicey adolescence, I have a great relationship with Kerry and Tim, his younger brother with whom I have run two half marathons.
Suffice it to say, there has been a learning curve involved for me getting to the bottom of this genre of music … and I devoted 25 years to arts reporting. I always supported Kerry’s efforts but was very realistic about it with him — the odds are long, you are unlikely to be one of those who actually makes it, pursue it but get your education. Well, it turns out he never finished high school but he is making a comfortable living nonetheless doing something he loves. Also seeing the world! So that gives you some idea about how brilliant my insights might be regarding anyone’s future.
The musical talent comes from his mom, if it comes from anywhere. Marti (McCoy’s first wife and a fellow Indiana Daily Student staff member) was quite an accomplished flutist growing up and did much while we were at IU to introduce me to classical. That said, Kerry grew up in a household where much of what his dad did was review concerts and I more often than not took the boys along. He and his brother saw dozens of shows with me and would often accompany me to the newsroom afterward and hang out while I wrote my reviews.
Q. But haven’t I seen you on Facebook, jamming on the guitar?
A.. Yes, but I just (know) the basic chords and play Beatles tunes.