Long distance running requires a certain attitude and determination that is rarely found in most people.
Picking up long distance running in your 30’s? Now that's something people may just call crazy.
For Covington resident Brent Fields, the notion of “lifelong” running isn’t a crazy one; it’s a goal he’s trying to perfect.
Fields will run his fourth consecutive Atlanta Half Marathon tomorrow afternoon in one of the largest half-marathon races in the United States. The event, which draws thousands each year on Thanksgiving Day, is a race that Fields knows well.
Fields has been seriously running since 2001, but got a running start in the sport early in his childhood.
“When I was young, my mother was a runner,” Fields said. “This is going back all the way into the early '80s. I got away from it, but I started to get back into it in 1998. About 2001, I started to see that I could do some distances and I could do them pretty well. That’s when I started really getting serious and realizing that I could compete in long-distance running.”
Fields began running, as many runners do, to cope with difficult family issues. But, as of now, he’s molded himself into a successful competitive runner.
In October, the 41-year-old placed third in the full Atlanta Marathon in his 13th run in the event, finishing the 26.2-mile course in a net time of 2:52:19.
Fields recalled his first race at the Peachtree Road Race, and how circumstance led him to compete.
“My sister usually ran the race, but she had just given birth to my nephew,” he said. “She gave me her race number and I was entered into the 6.2 mile race. I was intimidated, but, after I finished, I realized that it wasn’t that difficult for me. It was a blessing I had been given.”
Fields found a passion for long-distance running, but, early in his career, he wasn’t as knowledgeable about the sport as he thought he should have been.
Fields’ family changed that, and his entire approach to long-distance running, in late 2001.
“I was running and I loved it, but I had no education in running,” Fields said. "I just ran. I hadn’t pursued anything more than that.”
Fields’ family introduced him to Zap Fitness, a non-profit training center for post-collegiate, Olympic hopeful distance-runners located in North Carolina.
Fields began following Zap’s training regimen, and he saw a difference.
“What Zap did for me was educate me on how to run and train properly,” Fields said. “They taught me about the importance of rest, the importance of fueling my body and how to set up structured training. Eventually, I was set up with a coach, and that’s what really helped me reach my full potential.”
Fields said that as his training kicked into high gear, so did his confidence.
“That’s what really changed the most,” he said. “Before I trained at Zap, I would be on the line and feel unsure about myself. It was a mental barrier. After Zap, I felt much more confident because I knew I had done everything they asked me to do and I was going to succeed. It was an incredible feeling being at the starting line and feeling confident.”
Now, Fields wants to help educate others who are beginning to pick up the sport of long-distance running.
“With running, the great thing is that almost anyone can go out and do long distances; you just have to train properly,” Fields said. “You can’t just get out there, if you do not run regularly, and run three miles. You have to start out slow.”
Fields suggests that new runners start with half-mile increments and work their way up.
“Get up, go run around the block,” he said. “Go out and do a half mile and build your base. You do that a couple of times a week and you start building. Push it to a mile and continue to add on.”
Fields also endorses other pre-race habits that can help race day.
“I always suggest getting lots of water and eating a good carb dinner,” Fields said. “Your clothing can also make or break you on race day. You have to have good shoes and socks and you have to stay comfortable. A good, light material is necessary. And (during cold weather) you want to keep your extremities warm.”
Fields also said that new runners need to maintain a steady pace on race day.
“When you’re racing, you want to be careful,” Fields said. “I didn’t take it very seriously the first time I ran a marathon. I thought, ‘A full marathon? What’s the big deal?’ I didn’t realize how hard it was and I didn’t train properly. I didn’t know what I was getting into and I paid the price.
“When you’re running, you want to keep a good pace,” he said. “Start slow and maintain speed. It’s easy to get out there and go way too fast and get caught up in the moment. You’ll pay for it later and you’re not going to do so well that way. In a long-distance race, you don’t succeed in the first few miles; you
succeed in the last few miles.”
As for tomorrow’s race, Fields said he seeks a strong start but an even better finish, and wants to continue to improve, overall, as a runner.
“Any time I race, I want to do better than I did in my last one,” he said. “I try not to get too wrapped up in what anyone else is doing. I just want to run the best possible race I can. My goal is to run strong throughout. I want to start well, and finish with an even better pace.”
The Atlanta Half Marathon will get underway at 7:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning on Capitol Avenue just outside of Turner Field in downtown Atlanta.