June 21st, 2011
04:20 PM ET

Letters to the President: #883 'Keeping the pace'

Reporter's Note: President Obama is scheduled to make a big speech about Afghanistan and our progress there. Seems like a good time for me to write about my progress on a different path.

Dear Mr. President,

Lately I’ve been cheating during my runs. I know that sounds strange. I mean, after all, I’m running through the woods by myself, how could I possibly be breaking any rules?

When I was younger (in the years B.G.P.S.) it was easy to fool myself about those long, dreary training miles. I would come home from work late, it would still be hot out, so I’d run two miles and estimate that it was more like three. And, if I ran six, then I’d write down eight. A few marathons that ended with me wheezing like a concertina made me abandon that particular piece of self-deception.

What I am fighting now is the tendency to pad my times. Although I have a lot of good trails near my house, I still have to run across a few fairly busy streets where I often must wait for cars. This complicates the task of calculating your pace per mile later. On a four-mile run, for example, if you wait for cars for two minutes, that will show up in your pace as an extra half minute per mile. And I’m not about to take that without a fight, considering how much work I’ve put into my running over the past nine months.

So what I started doing was adding what soccer players would call “stoppage time.” When I come in from the trot to check my pace, I’ve been subtracting those pesky minutes spent standing around. After all, it’s not my fault! The problem is it becomes very tempting to subtract too much for every distraction. “How long did I talk to that lady with the dog? Must have been five minutes. Looking at the river? That took another three, easy!”

I realized it was getting out of hand when I returned from an eight-mile run and my adjusted numbers suggested I’d been cranking fast enough to peel the sneakers from my feet, and I knew that just wasn’t true. So now, unless I do something egregiously time consuming, like stopping for a cold soda and a chat with a neighbor, I’m just measuring the run honestly - starts, stops, and everything in between.

There is, after all, no substitute for hard work, and there is no substitute for being honest with yourself especially when it comes to measuring your progress. Something worth keeping in mind as you prepare your big speech about Afghanistan, I suspect.

Meanwhile, of course, call if you have a moment.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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