GIBSONIA, PA — When he ran cross country in high school, the best time Neil Janowitz registered was 18:07 on Saratoga, New York’s three-mile woodland track in the final race of his prep career. Earlier today, as Janowitz slogged along a 5K course that meandered through Treesdale Golf & Country Club in suburban Pittsburgh, that time popped up yet again. Only this time, appearing as it did at the two-mile marker of the community’s Turkey Trot charity race, there was nothing “best” about it.

“I’m more than 50% slower than I was seven years ago,” a worryingly out-of-breath Janowitz bemoaned, shortly after crossing the finish line in a time of 28:49. “Back then, my splits were right around six minutes. Now? Look at it. What—nine, nine-and-a-half minutes? Christ, I can’t breathe, much less do math right now.”

It was a bitter day of reckoning for Janowitz, who uses an annual 5K run to gauge his fitness. Immediately after his 2004 college graduation he tacked up a 23:09 in Rochester’s Ten Ugly Men 5K. But his time dropped to more than 27 minutes in November, 2005’s Turkey Trot, and has slipped by approximately 30 seconds in each of the two Trots since.

“When not engaged in any kind of physical activity, I feel great; no different than when I was 18,” explained the runner, whose visible shaking was attributable to frustration, as well as the shorts and t-shirt he was sporting in 23-degree weather. “But the moment I start participating in a sport, I switch into a gear I didn’t know I had; one that’s two or three times less efficient than my everyday setting. It’s really annoying.”

It also proved to be limiting for Janowitz, who described 2007’s Turkey Trot as “less of a 3.1-mile run, and more of a 2-mile run, then a .1-mile cool-down walk, then a .1-mile warm-up walk, then a .9-mile run.” He cited a “vengeful” bowl of oatmeal, eaten just 30 minutes before the race, as one obstacle; “Near-paralyzing” tightness in his calves and back was another. But the latter was to be expected, for after having little success with pre-race training regimens in the past two years, Janowitz tried a new approach to this year’s event; namely, he didn’t prepare at all.

“Last year, I ran a couple miles a few times in the weeks leading up to the race, and what good did it do? None,” he griped. “So this year, aside from an indoor basketball game on Halloween, and maybe half a soccer game the next week, I did nothing other than think positively and hydrate well after late-night drinking. Did things work out better? Clearly not. But at least I felt better about the results, because I didn’t waste any time getting ready. As I like to say, ‘Where there’s no preparation, there’s no disappointment.’ I believe that. I really do.”


Neil Janowitz's athletic ineptitude is thoroughly, albeit infrequently, chronicled over at