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The Road to Waldo

When a speed trap's not a speed trap

By Hal Higdon

A friend warned us about Waldo. "It's a speed trap," she said. "Go more than one mile an hour over the speed limit, and they'll nail you! It's been on national TV."

Waldo is a small town a couple of dozen miles north of Gainesville. I was scheduled to deliver a speech to the Florida Track Club. We would need to pass through Waldo driving south from Jacksonville. Forewarned, I shifted speeds as signs warned me of changes in the limit from 65 to 45 to 55 to 35, then back up to 65 mph. Every few miles, the limit moved up or down. You didn't dare miss a sign for fear of getting caught.

Approaching a school zone, we were instructed to drive 15mph if the yellow light was flashing. Remarkably, all the cars in front of me were going exactly that speed! How often do you see that happen?

Bad Rep

I'm not sure Waldo deserves its bad reputation as a speed trap. Maybe its citizens merely want to slow down crazy drivers. University of Florida students pass through Waldo coming from and going to home. Had some of them thoughtlessly driven too fast in the past? Gotten caught? Do students post signs in the dorms warning friends to slow down? Can you think of a better form of speed control.

Back in Illinois, I sometimes travel I-65, the main route for students from the University of Illinois and Illinois State University traveling to and from Chicago. Students often rush past, driving 90 mph, talking on their cell phones, weaving in and out of traffic. Not quite as wild as the Autostrada in Italy, but close. Perhaps Illinois needs a Waldo. Perhaps a lot of our highways do.

During the question-and-answer period of my talk in Gainesville, one of the runners asked: "How do you avoid injuries?"

I suggested that you needed to determine the precise amount of training (how many miles, how much speedwork) that permits you to maximize performance without getting hurt. Then you do slightly less that amount, except for occasional and cautious pushes above to see if you can nudge your training and fitness upwards. Maximizing performance depends on balancing speed with distance, hard work with rest. Get the formula right, know when to put on the brakes, and you won't have to waste money being seen by sports doctors.

The ultimate speed trap

Driving back to Jacksonville later that evening, I realized that I had been speaking of Waldo, the ultimate speed trap. Just as signs on the roads through Waldo show shifts from 65 to 45 to 55 to 35, then back up to 65 mph, we also need to shift levels of training as we seek to maximize performance and avoid unnecessary injuries.

We all need a speed trap. We all need a Waldo. Finding one is the great challenge.

This essay originally appeared as a Bell Lap column on Runner's World Daily, May 2, 2003