24 February 2009

Airline Syndrome

It’s like waiting for my company (or anyone else’s, I’m sure) to get new products out the door. Sorry, we’ve pushed that date another 3 weeks. And then another 2 weeks. And then… Call it the airline syndrome. We’ll be underway in only 30 minutes, at which point we’ll tell you 15 more. And so it goes with the recovery. My foot, that is. I’m not making any predictions on the economy.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and sometimes it just flies. Today marks four full months since my last run, logged on the 24th of October, 2008. It’s been so long I feel the need to add, “A-D”. But tomorrow I see Dr. Foot Doctor, who already said via email that he’s ready to clear me to return to the streets – taking it easy of course. With that email, my heart leapt like bad Shakespearean prose on a stormy summer night. No, I don’t really know what that means.

And, he added, it’s time to get aggressive on the rehab and do some physical therapy to get those crusty joints moving again. Recall he’d held off on that till now, taking the conservative approach to assure tendon healing, an approach that I agreed with then and still do. And so off I trundled this fine windy morn to embark on this next chapter of the adventure.

I’ve never done PT before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect, especially when we’re dealing with such a small bit of bodily mechanics. Indeed, my friendly physical therapist, who we’ll call Lady Healer on her request, and not Ms. Physical Terrorist, as her colleague suggested (a colleague who, I was told, was quite jealous of Lady Healer’s new patient assignment as she is apparently smitten with a fetish for unusual foot problems, but I digress…uh, where was I…) right, Lady Healer had a bit of difficulty measuring my foot’s current range of motion with the arm-sized angle measurer thingy, as I think she’s used to dealing with larger body parts. At least until it came to measuring the range of motion of Mr. Big Toe, which was easy, since it’s essentially zero.

In any event, Lady Healer struck me as competent and confident she could transform Mr. Big Toe from frozen to toe zen (c’mon, groan, I put at least 30 seconds of thought into that pun), and she even enjoyed my stories of The Great Wineglass Tragedy in Three Acts (now appearing on stage, Broadway here we come), so what’s not to like? Well, just one little thing: her admonition to wait just a few more weeks before running.

Arrgh. Just when you thought it was time to fly. Another delay. Might as well be on the airlines.

She’s right, and I know it, and I’ll listen, but I sure don’t like it. My plans to re-emerge by jogging the local Whitney Memorial 5K this weekend are, at the moment at least, off (though that can’t prevent me from popping down to the famed Horseshoe Pub – 75 brews on tap! – for the event). Instead of a mile or two tomorrow, it looks like it’s a few more weeks to loosen up the joints, further loosen my mental marbles, and loosen my belt a bit more till that fabulous carb burn rate returns.

I know it won’t kill me, I’ve survived the airlines.

16 February 2009

The 60 Day Challenge

I’ve got twisted logic about winter. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty I love about winter. What’s not to love about daring the elements for a few miles, earning the respect and/or pity of passing motorists? Still, spring is the best time of year, so I get myself there mentally as fast as possible using The 60 Day Challenge, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Marathon Mentality.

The two things that bother me about winter are the dark and the fact that no matter what I and my roofer friend have tried, my roof leaks. Since there’s nothing I seem to be able to do about the latter, I’ve focused on the former and have mentally defeated the dark with a simple mind game.

And why is it so dark? Put it simply, we’re really in the wrong time zone. If Greenwich UK – the prime meridian – is 0° longitude, and time zones are, on average 15° wide, GMT -5 hours (Eastern time) should start at 82.5°W (5 time zones at 15° each plus the half of GMT time zone west of the prime meridian). But 82.5°W puts you around Detroit. The whole country is shifted for the convenience of fitting into four neat time zones. And even taking that as a given, if you look at your map of the US time zones and match them up to lines of longitude you’ll see that even with that shift, Atlantic time (read: New Brunswick) should start at the Maine border, putting Boston, even in the best case, on the easternmost edge of its zone. Which means…

…Enough engineer-speak. Come the winter solstice, it’s dark at 4 PM, and that stinks (OK, I don’t need to hear from you arctic readers claiming this is kids’ stuff, go back to your igloos). It stinks for evening runs – effectively, you can’t, and since it’s cold, you often don’t want to go out at the crack of dawn. It stinks in general, because we’re creatures of the day, an whether the economic stimulus package works or not, we live for the fact that the sun will come out tomorrow, or at least within a few days, weather permitting.

Winter is a mental game, waiting for the light, and it’s a game easily won with The 60 Day Challenge. I thought this was pretty obvious to everyone, but when I reeled it off to a friend at church yesterday they found it unique and surprising and told me I should write a blog article on it. OK, I made up that last part, but they did find it a unique and surprising way to think.

The premise is simple: The darkness sets in with a passion once daylight savings ends, but you’ve got Thanksgiving and Christmas to keep you occupied. Nothing says “I don’t care if it’s dark” like putting up the Christmas tree. Before you notice, you can celebrate the winter solstice with the best of the pagans and hail the coming light, even though it’s a long way off. Next thing you know it’s New Year’s Eve, and then….

This is where most people groan and settle in for the long dark winter. The obsessive compulsive number-driven engineer, on the other hand, looks at it my way. In my world, March 1st, is spring. Yes, the equinox doesn’t come for another three weeks. Yes, I know that in New England, wintery misery can persist till May (I recall getting 14 inches on April 30th!). But it will melt! It just doesn’t matter! And it’s light outside! Under my brand of mental self-medication, March 1st equals spring.

January 1 to March 1: 60 days. You can survive anything for 60 days. This is the Marathon Mentality. It’s mile 24, I can do anything for another 15 minutes. Or, it’s mile 2, and I can do this 24 more times. I can survive anything for a day. What’s a couple of days? Six days pass in a flash. Do that 10 times? Easy. We’re 20% there. 30%, 40%, 70% whaddaya’ know? It’s spring.

I’ve been using The Challenge for many years, long before I started running again. It’s weird logic like this that reminds me I was cut out to run marathons. It also reminds me I should find a good therapist, too, but I’m good at denial.

This year brought several twists to the usual 60 Day Challenge. The New England ice storm in mid-December broke the usual rush toward Christmas and reminded us just how damn dark it was that time of year, since we couldn’t turn the lights on, making it harder to get to the starting line. Being largely immobile made my trek to the starting line tougher as well. The inevitable roof leak hammered home the reality of winter, as usual. The Challenge was off to a rocky start.

But then a serendipitous thing happened, the kind of event that makes the Challenge really work. Early February warmed right around the time I could put on a shoe and go for a real live walk. The 10-day forecast bode well, hinting we’d get through mid-month without a blizzard. Suddenly the horizon changed. In the twisted logic of The Challenge, I knew that if we could make it through mid-month before it snowed again, well, March 1st is just around the corner, and we all know that March 1st is spring, so we’ve made it.

That’s why spring has already arrived for me. And have you noticed? It’s light outside. See? It works.

And, as they say, in other news, in light of it being spring, I just couldn’t stop myself, and I jogged two house-lengths down the street yesterday. It felt awesome. OK, truth is, it felt horrible, but it felt awesome. Really.

05 February 2009

I Smell Spring Thaw!

It’s ugly-like cold today, but the days are longer, the weekend was warm, and I was able to generate some good self-induced pain for the first time in months. It’s like a spring thaw. Normalcy is just around the corner, I can smell it.

A warm spell this past weekend gave me the opportunity to get out and do some good old fashioned ice chopping on the driveway, and for the next couple days my hands were sore and my grip a little weak, the usual result of a good whacka-whacka session. It’s the first time since October that I’ve imposed pain on myself and man, and it felt good. I’m not averse to the cavalry of neighbors showing up with their big machines to help out in a blizzard, and I’m extremely thankful they’ve been helping my wife during my incapacitation, but I’m a shovel guy at heart. Snow shovel, push mower, and marathons. It’s a consistent mindset, if nothing else.

Along with finally getting a bit active, the other sign of the impending spring thaw is that emails are arriving from all over about spring and summer races. My running friend Ron goaded me to join him at the Pineland Farms Trail Challenge, which might be a little too much too soon for my horse-assisted tendon, but sounds like a lot of fun, and that’s even before you consider that they give out cowbells. Another friend sent word of the Tri-Valley Front Runners Boston Tune-Up 15K. While I don’t expect to be doing anything particularly fast for the next few months, that one has more of a realistic shot of landing on my slate. Besides, I have a fondness for the distance, and 15Ks are few and far between anymore.

The grand-daddy of them all is, of course, the Utica Boilermaker. Or so I’ve been told. I grew up a mere hour and a quarter from Utica yet have never run it. It’s rather funny to look back now and think how, in the First Lap days of my youth, we turned our nose up at the fine city of Utica, considering we lived in (or at least near) the fine city of Binghamton. Oh, our self-centric views. How we needed to get out and see the world and get a little perspective. Today, the Boilermaker is on my list of ‘must run some day’ races.

Meanwhile, we had our own 15K back home in Binghamton, the Forks XV, which I’m pleased to say is still being run today, and is on my list of ‘must go back and do that one again’ races. It’s nothing on the scale of the Boilermaker but it’s got a great and long history. The course record is still held by my old friend Tom Carter who smoked the course at sub-5-minute pace, and the women’s record is still held by my old school-mate Cindi Girard. Not to be outdone, it ranks as the best race of my First Lap days, when I semi-smoked the course at 5:33 pace. That’s well beyond my Second Lap capabilities, but then again, I didn’t burn sub-3-hour marathons back then. Or any marathons for that matter. Times change, focus changes.

And my focus now is to get back on the road at any pace. Dr. Foot Doctor and I exchanged emails this evening and I’ve got the green light to cautiously work away from the air cast more than just around the house. I managed to get a real shoe, rather than just a sandal, on my foot today for the first time in two months. It’s time to loosen up the bolts with some cautious activity and get ready for some leisurely March Mileage.

I smell spring thaw!