Jamey Harris, of Santa Cruz Running, leads group runs along with his partner Rod Heskett twice a week. (Photo by Chip Scheuer)
The national bestseller Born to Run by Christopher McDougall couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. I was feeling doughy. I longed to be like the Mexican Tarahumara in McDougall’s book: chomping chia seeds for energy and blissfully floating over the land in sandals and a loin cloth for miles on end.
Instead of ultramarathons, though, my goal was (and is) a nice five-mile sweat. Just enough for my mind to work out the daily kinks and my body to grow taut. There was only one problem: I hadn’t run, I mean really run, in years. Let’s face it, when you’re out of shape, running sucks. I plodded through three exasperating miles of run-walking. I needed help. And though I couldn’t find any Tarahumaras in Santa Cruz, I did find two men who might as well be running shamans.
Jamey Harris, 41, and Rod Heskett, 44, are the heart and soul of Santa Cruz Running, a six-year-old organization that brings runners together every Wednesday evening in Capitola and every Sunday morning in Nisene Marks, all levels welcome.
They are a lanky duo, all lean limbs and banter, topped with two plentiful mops of hair which I imagine haven’t changed much since they met 23 years ago running track at Fresno State. Combined, they become a massage therapist, exercise physiologist and wellness consultant all rolled into one motivating force that can “see people without skin.” Harris and Heskett also give private coaching sessions, which is how I found myself awkwardly bounding alongside the two athletes.
“Slow down,” they urged me, right off the bat. Were they kidding? Trying to make me feel better? No, even world-class athletes need to warm up. The next piece of advice was epiphanic, though: “Sleep from the knees down, and just get your feet to relax, all the time, and feel those toes spread out,” said Heskett.
By holding your back straight and letting the “big muscles” drive your movement, it’s easier to relax, said Heskett, which is all I’ve wanted to do since reading McDougall’s words. “Relax enough,” he writes, “and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget you’re moving. And once you break through to that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s when the moonlight and champagne show up.”
Moonlight and champagne: the elusive runner’s high. Heskett and Harris whole-heartedly believe in it. In fact, they seem to live in it perpetually. “That happens when you’re in an efficient burning mode. It just opens all capillaries and lets it all flow. Your whole body is awake right now,” Heskett explained to me. I was tomato-faced and drenched after a puny three miles. Harris and Heskett had barely broken a sweat, and, bored, suggested beer—most runners love beer, they said.
“There’s times when I’ll be running on a trail, and I feel like I could run down some kind of game … and eat it,” says Harris. That primal running instinct is another reason Heskett and Harris like to run in packs, and never listen to music while running: they want to feel connected to the forest, their breath. Alert and alive.
Our conversation revealed that taking a day off is good, since your body repairs, rebuilds and adapts to your running during sleep and rest. When it comes to pre-workout meals, eat whatever your body responds to best—everyone is different. (A King-sized Snicker has 600 calories, they informed me, if you’re looking for quick and easy fuel.) “I’ve seen guys run great off of a chili dog. I’ve had some of my best runs off of a half gallon of ice cream, or an apple fritter, or just really, really, really hung over,” said Harris. Best hangover cure? “Run for at least an hour.”
Before even asking, I knew that running for Heskett and Harris went far deeper than size 6 jeans. A healthy addiction, a way of life. But I asked anyway. “So how long before I get hot?”
His answer was not the easy one I was looking for, but gave me a tingle of empowerment:
“What you do with your physicality is all yours. Because nobody’s gonna do it for you. And nobody’s going to be able to take it away from you. Nobody’s going to be able to pay for it. Nobody’s going to be able to barter for it, say, ‘OK, I’ll give you this and you give me a little fitness,’” said Heskett.
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