The TOP GUN Guide to Running

Tom Cruise is...Maverick!Everything I need to know about running, I learned from TOP GUN.

Okay, so maybe not everything… such as the finer details about tempo runs and track workouts and how to properly hydrate for a marathon. But those are technicalities. I’m talking about the heart and soul of the sport. The psychology of running. The essence. So cue Kenny Loggins. Start singing “Highway to the Danger Zone,” preferably at the top of your lungs. TOP GUN is the I Ching of running philosophy.

It’s all about the hardware.
Sure, we talk about love of the sport, the joy of running, the satisfaction of completing the course. But we’re not fooling anybody. It’s all about the hardware. The finisher’s medals. The age group awards. The trophies. The plaques. It’s pretty telling that the first thing Maverick does when he arrives at TOP GUN is tell the head instructor (Viper, to be exact) that his name will be on a wall reserved for the best of the best. Maverick wasn’t there to make friends. He was there to win.

There are two “O’s” in Goose, boys.
And speaking of names on plaques, the last thing you want on your age group award (or bib number, for that matter) is a misspelling. Not only does it complicate things during race result searches, but it’s highly deflating to see that “Jenny” won the men’s 30-34 division when Jerry thought the crown was his. When it comes to registration forms, you can’t be too legible.

Cougar lost the edge and turned in his wings.
So don’t be Cougar. We all have off days, those workouts and races when our bodies obstinately refuse to stay on pace, even though Merlin (our RIO) is yelling at us from behind. And, yeah, sometimes it takes a Maverick and Goose to fly in with us for a tandem finish. But don’t let a bad run cause you to turn in your wings. It happens. Suck it up and get back out there. After all…

…You have two options: Show up with your class and graduate, or quit.
It’s simple, really. There is no “almost” in running. You complete the workout or you don’t. You cross the finish line or you don’t. Every day, every mile, every step, the sport presents us with two options. And with every day, every mile, every step, we make our choice.

Out there, you gotta push it. That’s your job.
Don’t let fear or pain hold you back. If you’re comfortable, you’re not reaching your full potential. You have to suffer a little to be your best. Make those hard workouts count. Push the pace. Run to the point that it hurts and then run even harder. It’s supposed to feel that way. As Prefontaine said, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Which leads us to the next point…

If you hit the brakes, they’ll fly right by.
Logic, pure and simple. If you want to keep the people behind you behind you, you’ve got to run like your life (or age group award) depends on it. Because it does. Otherwise, as Merlin, our somewhat whiny RIO, so frenetically warned, they’ll get a missile lock on you. Bad news. (Unless, of course, your strategy is to pull them in closer so you can then shoot them after they pass you. However, this is generally frowned upon by the running community and, really, by society in general.)

There’s always time to squeeze in a run, even if it means you have to skip a shower.
If Maverick can find time for a sand volleyball game between training exercises, riding his motorcycle, and romancing a certain high-heeled instructor, you can make time for a run. Even if it means you have to show up for an event or two sans shower.

 When you’re too close for missiles, switch to guns.
Different distances require different strategies. A marathon and a 5K are not the same. Be tactical. Be smart. Go for the kill, whether that means pacing yourself for a marathon (missile) or running like a crazed banshee in a 3K sprint (guns).

If you think, you’re dead.
Don’t take yourself out of the game before you even begin. Once you start analyzing how motivated you are or how confident you feel or how much you do or don’t want to run, you’re hosed. There is a reason Nike’s slogan is “Just do it” and not “Stop and think about it.” The next time you’re facing intervals from you-know-where or are staring down the throat of a hill workout that just might spell the end of you, don’t think. Just do it. Because “Stop. Think.” is the slogan for Tylenol.

Buzz the tower.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Running is mental, and if you want to be your best, you’ve got to think like the best. Nothing exemplified Maverick’s cavalier confidence more than his unauthorized flybys. Smug in the cockpit, oxygen mask unhooked, seconds from landing, he’d request permission for a flyby. The control tower would decline permission. He’d do it anyway, causing the guy in said tower to spill his coffee—and a few expletives. Yes, buzzing the tower was Maverick to a T. When the miles and pace and pain threaten to deny you your goal, be Maverick. Do it anyway. Buzz the tower. Make someone spill his coffee.

Even if you crash and burn the first time, give it another shot.
So you didn’t qualify for Boston your first time out. Maybe you missed a PR. Perhaps you blew up. No matter. Sometimes even the best need a second (or third or fourth) chance. Sometimes you have to fall a few times before you succeed. After all, running to avoid failure guarantees mediocrity. So pick yourself up, dust off those split shorts, and try it again.

When you stay in the dogfight, remaining MiGs will bug out.
Fear. Insecurity. Self-doubt. Inhibition. They’re obstacles along the way, not the end itself. So keep flying, keep firing, and don’t disengage. You can beat them. It’s simply a matter of staying in the fight. Run on.

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