steel rail finish line in 2016

Sports editor Mike Walsh at the finish line of the 2016 Steel Rail Half Marathon.

I got a text earlier this week from my buddy saying he wasn’t sure what happened the past two years, but he couldn’t get under 8-minute splits for the life of him.

mike walsh runs steel rail half marathon

In 2016, life had a lot fewer variables when it came to training for the Steel Rail Half Marathon.

J and I have been friends since we were 10 years old and were cross-country co-captions our senior year at Marlborough High. Since I got back into running six years ago, we’ve run a handful of half marathons together, and he’ll be joining me on May 22 at the Steel Rail Half Marathon.

J got me pretty good on the South Shore and on his home turf at Hampton Beach, before I took the belt back up in Portland, Maine the summer before COVID-19. We haven’t really run together since, and when we went bowling with some friends in Lowell the night before Hoosac Valley’s state title game, we lamented our lack of training over a tower of Harpoon IPA.

His text hit me two ways.

First off, I just thought, ‘yeah, no kidding.’ Given my goal of beating my PR of 1 hour, 44 minutes, 51 seconds, I thought back to when that race occurred.

In the spring of 2016, here are some of the things I didn’t have that now, gratefully, take up space and time in my life: A wife, a child, a dog, a mortgage, a management position at The Eagle, and yes, the knowledge, experience and fear of a global virus. I ran that Steel Rail in Wal-Mart Asics, snowboard socks and, gulp, wired ear buds.

So, I’m going to cut J and myself some slack that we’re not quite cracking the pace we want just yet. Life has happened and we’re not in our 20s anymore.

That said, there are things we have at our fingertips now that we didn’t then, and that technology, knowledge and experience is what I’m going to be leaning on over the next 50 days.

Six years ago, I think I remember copying down a Hal Higdon training calendar from the internet and just pounding pavement with my head down and little regard for anything else. In 2022, I’ve got the experience of a great many more races of varying lengths, better equipment and recovery experience and just more knowledge of my body and what it is and isn’t capable of at certain points.

Which led me to my other thought upon receiving that text on Monday afternoon. With more than six weeks to go before the Steel Rail, I’m just not concerning myself with speed right now. I’m carrying more weight than I want to be come late May, so I’m focused on the things I’ve talked about the past two weeks — finding a balance between dad life and training, and maintaining momentum and motivation — and shedding some of those pounds. That should alleviate some of the stress my knees have been feeling, and make it a lot easier to build up speed as race day gets closer.

Of course, this was only accentuated by me receiving the text while coming down from a bachelor party weekend in the woods of New York State, where nutrition and training was limited to a whole bunch of meat and a few rounds of backyard bocce ball. To say nothing of the whiskey and cigar I tried to shake off when I beat the family home on Sunday afternoon and logged 3 particularly painful miles around Silver Lake.

Knowledge and commiseration of J’s struggles helped motivate me to get out for 5 miles Monday night and for some hills on Tuesday as the early-week weather cooperated. On Wednesday, the rain held off and I strode through Springside Park, treading trails for the first time this year. And here I am, just back from 4 1/2 miles around some plaza parking lots — maybe doing some eye-spy to try and find Berkshire Running Center’s future digs — to cap my first 20-mile week in I’m-not-sure-how-long.

At the bachelor party, as it tends to happen at every bachelor party I imagine, the conversation topic drifted to the Rocky films.

In 2006’s Rocky Balboa, his trainer Duke has this quote: “To beat this guy, you need speed. You don’t have it... So what we’ll be calling on is good, old-fashioned blunt force trauma... punches that will have to hurt so much they’ll rattle his ancestors. ... Yeah, let’s start building some hurtin’ bombs.”

So, that’s what I’ll be yelling at my calves for the next week.

Mike Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@berkshireeagle.com or

413-496-6240. On Twitter:

@WalshWrites89.

Sports Editor

Mike Walsh is sports editor at The Berkshire Eagle. He's been with The Eagle since 2017. Walsh also authors the NENPA-winning Powder Report column. He's an avid snowboarder, runner, homebrewer, and he used to play a pretty mean sousaphone.