By Adam W. Chase, Atlas Team Captain
Adolescence is an intimidating enough period of life as it is, especially for runners, who tend not to “blossom” until much later in life . . . like our 40s or 50s. Add to that the awkwardness of growth spurts, cracking voices, acne, hair or glandular sprouting, and the angst of Holden Caulfield or Napoleon Dynamite the fact that we had to take the Presidential Fitness Award tests in junior high or middle school gym class and you have a veritable crescendo of humiliation.
I can’t say that I had really begun puberty by the eighth grade, or the eleventh grade for that matter, but I did suffer the embarrassment of having that delinquency made all the more apparent by forced showers every first Monday of the month, following the mandatory “20-minute run” in gym class. One first Monday we didn’t have the usual run. Instead we got to go through a battery of tests for the Presidential Fitness Award. Our gym teacher, who was the quintessential gym teacher who was only there to coach football and wore the obligatory polyester shorts, knee socks, polo shirt, whistle, and baseball cap, announced that we would be doing eight different tests and that would be scored against National standards. Before you read the next paragraph, quiz yourself to see how many of the tests you can dredge up from those awkward days.
The tests were: the mile run, 100-meter dash, shuttle run, curl-ups (sit-ups), push-ups, pull-ups, sit and stretch, and vertical leap. Girls did the “bent arm hang” in lieu of pull-ups. How would you fare if you were to perform those tests today? They will likely throw you right back to junior high or middle school days and make you feel humble. Hitting the 90th percentile or above in each of the seven graded tests – for some reason, the sit and stretch isn’t counted in the final tally – is a worthy goal because to do so locks in the Presidential Fitness Award.
As a runner, meeting the standard is relatively easy in the mile. The pull-ups, curl-ups, and push-ups may be more of a challenge. For push-ups the rule requires that you touch your chest to a three-inch pad for it to count and the women are allowed to do them with their knees on the floor. The shuttle run is harder than you’d think. The trick is to wet the soles of your feet for greater traction on dusty gym floors. Long-distance runners may be challenged by the 100-meter dash.
But, for endurance folks like me, the sockdolager of the Fitness Challenge is the vertical leap. Is this a test for basketball players? Hell, I skip rope and do squats on a regular basis. As a snowshoer I have to regularly leap over logs, small dogs, and other obstacles that block the path. And I’m not a heavy guy either. What’s the story?
I was bemoaning this fact to Nikki Kimball, who was on the podium back at the first snowshoe National Championships and was a member of Team Atlas, and is a physical therapist, and she told me that the book she was reading had the perfect explanation. Bernard Heinrich’s Why We Run, does indeed put it quite nicely: “One cost of aerobic running fitness is loss of explosive muscular strength. When untrained, I normally bound up three stairs at a time, but I know I’m becoming trained for long-distance running when I can do only two at a time.”
Well, I suppose that after more than 30 years of training my body to run long distances, there just isn’t much spring in my skinny little legs. At least my voice doesn’t crack, I don’t have zits, and unlike some of the big guys out there for the Fitness Challenge, a mile run is merely a warm-up.