5 Questions with Jeff Weber

By Rita Farlow, Times Staff Witer
Published February 27, 2008

Jeff Weber ran his first 5K race as a middle school student vying for a spot at track camp. He may have missed that first cut, but the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment sparked by that run set off a lifelong quest for speed for Weber, a first-year biology teacher and assistant track coach at Largo High School. Earlier this month, the 24-year-old won the inaugural Caring Heart 5K Run at Palms of Largo.

1. How did you develop a love of running?

I had heard about the sport of cross country when I was in middle school but had no idea what it was. I had a friend coax me into going to the first official practice at a local park, which turned out to be our home course. My friend introduced me to the coach, who explained that practice that day was actually a 5K race that would decide who would go to Coach's cottage for "camp" the following week, which was a chance to train on some great trails on the coast of Lake Michigan. I had never actually gone "running" before this, so stepping up to the starting line with a bunch of lean, shirtless upperclassmen with racing spikes on their feet was fairly intimidating. Out of 25 or so runners, I ended up taking 13th and missed the cut to go to camp that year by three spots. I remember being completely exhausted after the race, but I had this incredible sense of accomplishment I had never felt before in my other sports baseball and football. I remember wanting to go faster. That desire, to go faster, has carried me up to this current point in my career. I'm still trying to go faster. The truth is, and any runner will tell you, what I'm doing is not a sport. It's my life.

2. How does running make you feel?

Since I consider running to be a central point in my life, I experience the entire spectrum of emotions that life has the potential to give to anyone who does something they love to do. Free and enslaved, hopeful and hopeless, triumphant and defeated; and all of those occur just in the first mile on any given day. (My long run for the week is a 15-miler, so sometimes one of those is more emotional than an entire season of American Idol!)

3. What has running taught you?

Running has taught me a lot about mortality. I'm currently 24 years young, and I believe my best races are ahead of me. However, I know there will be a day, or maybe a race, when I start regressing and my body will not allow me to go as fast as I once had. This is a sad realization of life, at least in a physical sense, and it's not something you can really plan for, so every day is entrenched with the theme "carpe diem." I'm trying to accomplish something incredible within myself before it's too late.

4. What are some of the qualities that a good long-distance runner needs?

I love what Jack Daniels (the coach, not the liquor distiller) says in the introduction to his book, Daniel's Running Formula (also known as my third bible behind the actual Bible and Once a Runner).

"There are four key ingredients for success in distance running - or for any other pursuits in life, for that matter. They are, in order, inherent ability, motivation, opportunity, and direction."

I think that with the absence of any one of these, one should take up playing World of Warcraft in their parents' basement.

5. What do you try to teach your student runners?

The most important thing is helping them understand that running is a lifestyle rather than a sport. I tell my runners that the kids that I went to high school with that "played sports" are now fat and think that walking up stairs and getting winded from that action is their workout for the day.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.