The tradition began 30 years ago. Norman Blair, fresh out of college, began meeting with a few other elite runners for a weekly track workout. Over the years, the group has met at tracks all over Asheville, including those at Christ School, Asheville School, T.C. Roberson High School and Asheville High School. Nowadays, anywhere from 30 to 50 runners show up at Blair's store, Jus' Running, every Tuesday evening to get a challenging workout. The group is no longer just a club for elites, but now caters to all manner of serious runners.
Now 52, Blair leads the pack on the one-and-a-half mile warm-up down to the track at the University of North Carolina Asheville. Like clockwork, everyone circles around Coach Blair when he slows to a stop before the real training begins. With hands on hips in drill-sergeant fashion, Blair barks out the evening's plans. He's so consistent in his no-nonsense approach that group members began calling themselves "Norm's Maggots."
Although Blair is retired from professional racing, he runs the track workout along with everyone else. With a lifelong commitment to running, Blair never ceases to amaze: By the end of this month he will have recorded 130,000 miles in his daily mileage log, which has taken him 38 years and 10 months.
When asked what these workouts are all about, Blair says: "Workouts are partly for the social aspect and partly for the competitive aspect. Anyone who is consistent with the workouts will improve their PRs [personal records]. Not only do you have camaraderie, but you've got people here that will ensure you do the workout. A lot of people have a hard time doing a faster [session] by themselves. You have a support group here."
By the time runners are finished with their laps, they've usually logged about five miles. Add that to the warm-up and the return trip to Jus' Running, and the night's mileage totals around eight.
Most workouts are average in difficulty. But, says Blair: "There are some workouts that are epic out there from the standpoint that they're totally different than what people are used to."
Take, for example, the Newton workout: Run 200 meters, rest one minute and repeat the set four more times; then run 200 meters, rest 45 seconds and repeat this sequence four more times; now run 200 meters, rest 30 seconds and repeat four more times; finally, run 200 meters, rest 15 seconds and repeat four more times.
But no matter how grueling such sessions get, "Norm's Maggots" are devoutly loyal, as participants below attest:
Frankie Adkins, 36, tells Xpress: "It's one of the pillars of the running community. It's something that keeps me connected. Even when I'm running a lot of my runs on my own, I still bank on connecting with other runners at the track workout. I gauge what kind of progress I'm making just based on how I'm doing at the track workout. For instance, when I first started six weeks ago, I couldn't finish the whole workout. Now I'm at a point where I can finish. I'm also starting to get close to Gary [Curran] and some of these other guys when I started out way behind them."
Gary Curran, 42: "I've been coming for 13 years. I do it because it keeps me regular. I know the people here. I know I'm going to get the incentive to run fast that I don't get on my own. I don't have the discipline to run speed on my own. Anybody who's running four or five days a week and is trying to do a 5K or 10K could benefit from this. We're not all people winning races. It's mainly about if you want to get faster. It's people who have a goal of racing faster regardless of what pace they start at. Anybody can come out here and do half the workout and nobody is going to think any less of them."
Jay Curwen, 43: "I've been coming out for 25 years. If I could only do one workout a week, it'd be the Tuesday-night track workout. It's a building block. You get that piece of quality in and you can build the rest of the week around that."
Danielle Deines, 28: "I've been doing this since I was 16. It's easy to come out here and have somebody tell you how to do the workout and have all these people pull you along and hope that you can keep up. Doing workouts with people like this is what helps you get new PRs."
Matt Roane, 39: "I've been doing this for 11 years now. I enjoy coming out and seeing my friends. There's a big enough group that there's always someone to run with. It's a concrete part of my week. I know what I'm doing every Tuesday night. Over the years, I went from a 22-minute 5K to a 16-minute 5K — and from 230 pounds to 180."
After the workout is over, it's pizza and beer. Where do they go? "Anyplace that'll take smelly, sweaty runners," Blair says.
To join Norm's Maggots, simply show up at Jus' Running (523 Merrimon Ave., Asheville) on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., and be ready to run. For a YouTube look at the Maggots in action, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjqX51vp-OY&feature=youtu.be&a.
[When he's not writing, Jonathan Poston runs the trails of WNC.]