Monday, July 24, 2006


Happy to be the designated driver this time around

As most of y'all know, Our Woman in LA and I are currently training to run the Disneyland Half Marathon this September, and as part of our work, we're raising money for AIDS Project LA (APLA). It's a terrific cause - APLA delivers services and care to people with HIV and AIDS throughout the Los Angeles area. Since there are currently enough people in LA with HIV/AIDS to fill Dodger Stadium, it's a necessary cause, too.

When you're training for something like this, it changes your focus. In part, that's because you think about the service centers, and you think about the money and help that goes to people with this terrible disease. But you shatter other kinds of myths, too.

Take this for example: the designated driver.

Here's the skinny. In training, you run in pace groups, based on how fast you run an individual mile. You might be in an 11 minute pace group, or 12 minutes or . . . well, you get the picture. Every group has a pace leader. He or she makes sure that the group doesn't go too fast or too slow, and that they take walk breaks at the right time.

There's also a designated driver. This person stays at the back of the pack, making sure that nobody falls too far behind. If someone doesn't feel well, or gets hurt, the designated driver stays with that person. Why? Because nobody gets left behind.

Given that I hadn't done much in the way of group athletics since high school gym class (and the occasional dorm football game), this sort of attitude seemed pretty strange at first. Hell, in high school, you spend as much time competing with the other people on your own team as you do playing against the other guys. Nobody wants to be the one who can't finish. Or the one who finishes last.

I guess it's a pretty LORD OF THE FLIES way to look at things, but that's high school.

In half marathon training, it's the opposite. We're working together. There really is a team atmosphere. Finishing ahead of your team - being the star - it's a negative. So it becomes a lot more fun. And look, when you're running 7, 8, or 9 miles, you need all the fun you can get.

I served as my pace group's designated driver this weekend. If you're on the Wieland family's e-mail list, you probably know the specifics: 7 miles, hottest day in LA history, 119 degrees in the Valley in the afternoon (and 90+ degrees while we were running at 8).

Not an easy day to finish a long run, but everybody in my 11-minute pace group did it. When somebody started to fall behind, it was my job to make sure they were OK, to walk with them and jog with them until they could get back in the pack, or until they finished on their own. It took about an hour and 20 minutes, but everybody crossed the finish line.

I won't always be the designated driver. Teams are supposed to rotate them. But I'm glad I did it this week. We're about halfway through our training - six weeks or so from the half marathon.

When I head down to Anaheim next month to run the race - which goes through Disneyland, Angel Stadium, and around the Pond of Anaheim - I'll know that there's someone there to run with me, no matter how tired I get, no matter how hot it is or how hard the course.

We should all be so lucky.

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