Breaking Away

While ZAP was in Greenville this winter I saw “Breaking Away” again and have been meaning to write about it ever since. I encourage everyone to watch it again or for the first time as it is a classic that I defy you to watch and not be excited to go out and train. There are other important themes in the film but I want discuss the running relevant ones for the purposes of this blog.

It is currently streaming on Netflix so check it out!

The boys!

The boys!

“Breaking Away” is a 1979 coming of of age film based around four friends who, as the original movie poster tagline says, are “somewhere between growing up and settling down.” Each of the boys are recent high school graduates who come from working class families and are not affluent enough to go to college. Instead they spend their summer days swimming at the local rock quarry and talking hopefully about their plans and bemoaning their missed opportunities.

Mike, played by a young Dennis Quaid(!), often laments what he could have been while also inciting conflict with the richer college students at Indiana University in nearby Bloomington. There is a distinct inferiority complex that the entire crew is dealing with as they fight against feelings of defeat before their lives have even truly started. To further the divide between the college kids and themselves, the college fraternity guys disparagingly refer to the group as “cutters,” a name derived from their families employment background at the local rock quarry. Dave, Cyril, Moocher, and Mike are all tough kids who fight against a prevailing feeling of disenfranchisement that permeates their daily lives.

With all this class tension as a backdrop, Dave Stoler emerges as the bright-eyed and optimistic protagonist of the story. He is an avid cyclist who loves any and all things Itlaian, especially the professional cycling outfit Team Cinzano, who are the best in the world. He idolizes them to the point that in addition to training really hard, he also speaks with an annoyingly (or endearing, you decide) fake Italian accent, much to his father’s chagrin, to fully create the world of being like they are. Dave is a talented athlete who simply rides because he loves it. He is constantly training throughout the film because Team Cinzano is coming to town for a road race at the end of the summer. He prepares with a singular focus that is eerily similar to a distance runner.

There are several scenes in the film that show his immense joy when riding his bike and I absolutely love them. It is a vivid reminder that training is fun and that if you cannot enjoy the process of all the miles run (or cycled in Dave’s case) you will never be that good. Here is a picture of Dave taking a lovely easy ride on a beautiful summer day in Bloomington. He is sweaty, dirty, but enjoying the hell out of it.

Enjoying the process.

Enjoying the process.

Also, check out this scene of Dave riding behind a semi on the interstate as he fights to keep up. His drive and passion are palpable as he pushes his limits! This scene gets me pumped up every time I see it. (If link doesn’t work go to and search “breaking away highway scene”)

As the movie progresses Dave’s father becomes increasingly agitated with his son for his lack of focus on finding a job (and his Italian-loving antics) so he hires him to wash cars at his used car dealership.   There is a neat interchange that father and son have after Dave’s first full day of work that I found very profound. The sun has already set and Dave has a dirty rag over his shoulder as his father talks to him:

Dad: How you feeling?

Dave: Tired, Pop.

Dad: Exhausted?

Dave: Yeah.

Dad: Good. Get used to it. Tomorrow will be more of the same. Now let’s go home.

Dave: (no hesitation) I have to train…the Italian race is next week.

He has to train regardless of what the day held; regardless of how tired he is. Put in the work and don’t ask any questions. This scene provided me with yet another reminder of how ZAP allows each of its athletes to train without distraction. I don’t have to put in 8+ hour work days and then run 100+ mile weeks. But realizing there are people out there that do makes the miles sweeter because you realize they are an absolute gift. Like many of our ZAP adult campers who visit every summer, they get up at ungodly early hours to get in their miles before their jobs, before the kids wake up,  or before their spouse wakes up. It is the fabric of their lives. It is not strange to them what they do, it is not strange to us what we do, but it may be incredibly odd to everyone around us who sees us running all those miles.

Normal is subjective, normal is what you create. And in the effort to create your “normal” existence it has the potential to become special. The repetition of training can sharpen you and the repetition can mold you into something you never thought was possible when you started. The seemingly mundane can warp into something great. In distance running, fall in love with the process because the process is the goal.

Lastly, near the end of the film Dave is contemplating not racing against the Italians. He is upset because his father has just had a minor heart attack and he feels he is responsible. The weight of his father’s expectations begin to plant themselves firmly on his shoulders and that childlike exuberance for cycling seems to be fading. But his always encouraging mother Evelyne(a great foil to her curmudgeonly husband), swoops in and saves the day when she offers this advice to her forlorn son:

“So you see I think you should really go [to the race]…I think you should come home singing… with a trophy…I think you should do all those things while you can.”

So here I am, living on Blackberry Road, doing all of those things now. While I still can.

Here is my last week of training (4/20-4/26):

Sunday: AM: 20 miles (Boston)

Monday: AM: 10 miles (Boston)

Tuesday: AM: 10 miles   PM: 6 miles

Wednesday: AM: 12 miles(8×20 sec accelerations post run)  PM: 4 miles

Thursday: AM: 14 miles

Friday: AM: 11 miles   PM: 6 miles

Saturday: AM: 11 miles

Total: 104 miles, 10 runs