27 January 2014

Einstein Was Wrong. Maybe.

According to the globally-accepted epitome of brain power, doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Sorry, buddy, but on this one, you’re wrong. Albert Einstein never met my left ankle. One could easily say that I keep running and it’s still not healed, so why would I expect any different outcome, and therefore the man was correct. But I look at this on a more micro scale. The reality is that on any given day, whether I run or not seems to have no bearing on real or perceived pain. I run, it hurts. I run again, it feels better than before. I run yet again, it’s no longer swollen. I run again, it hurts. And just to add an exclamation point to that point of exclamation, here I sit with fifty miles on the legs in the past week, and at the moment, all feels fine. At the moment, at least.

What, you were expecting logic?

Doctor Foot Doctor said run on it, it’s under three months to Boston, and I’m still sucking wind and carrying more pounds than I hope to propel from Hopkinton to Boylston Street come April, so I continue to bet on the weakness of Herr Einstein’s theorem. But it’s now five months post-surgery, and I am dismayed. Not defeated (never!) but dismayed. Further, it’s four months post-clot, and I am admittedly wondering if my wind-sucking is simply lack-of-fitness-based, or whether in fact I’m down some lung capacity from that arterial traffic jam. But if that’s true, there’s nothing I can do about it other than work hard to build that capacity back to the extent possible. So, damn the nuclear warheads, full steam ahead!

In that spirit, a couple weeks back I announced to my Greater Boston buds that I was re-entering the land of the living, come hell or high water, and to my surprise found myself out with them the very next morning for eighteen on the marathon course. Fourteen of those miles were actually pretty decent, then the wheels fell off, but we had a seriously New-England-style sloppy-road-grungy-it-took-two-wash-cycles-to-get-the-grime-out good time (complete with a selfie). And hey, though the last four were at slug pace, I had an eighteen in by early January.

Not to make it a trend, but this weekend we did it again, this time with less grunge but some serious wind, back onto the course, this time to the summit of Heartbreak Hill and back. The wind made our return a grind despite the downhill, and whether due to that or for whatever reason, once again, fourteen was the un-magic number. Again, the wheels fell off, this time so badly as to warrant a tourist stroll up a particularly sharp grade before slugging it back at a nearly embarrassing pace. Unfortunately, this did seem to constitute a trend, and not a good one, but hey, I now have two eighteens in, and it’s still January. Perhaps there’s still time to be ready for Boston.

Agony and kvetching aside, the beauty of this sport, er, diversion, er, lifestyle, is that no matter what woes we suffer, there are always throes of fun and joy mixed in. Saturday’s eighteen to the summit of Heartbreak may have been heartbreaking, but how can you not enjoy spending a few hours with friends who are so in tune with you that three of the four of us showed up not only wearing Boston Marathon shirts, but actually wearing the same year’s (2011) shirt. We titled the photo, “3 x 11s” (OK, I admit, I was cold for this pre-run shot and didn’t want to take off my shell, so yes, I look like a hunchback. Whatever.) And what other gang would hang out afterward, sweaty and chilled, on a cold and windy day in a school parking lot chugging chocolate milk? You’ve got to love this crowd. These guys know how to tailgate.

The day was only half over so far as running events were concerned, though, as Dearest Daughter the Younger, track & running’s Certified Superfan Numero Uno, insisted we make the trek into Boston to catch Galen Rupp’s attempt on the American indoor two-mile record. Admittedly, the prospect of driving into and out of the city on a night of worsening weather, not to mention hunting for overpriced parking, just to watch a race and leave, made me understand why our sport doesn’t draw the big crowds. But into the night we did go, shockingly finding a free spot a mere fifty yards from the front door (an omen, obviously), and once inside, a standing room spot right on the rail a mere few feet over the finish line (another one, clearly). You can’t beat that for front-row action.

I was a little less excited about this one than last year’s excursion where we watched him break the mile record. A sub-four mile has a cachet. The two-mile? Frankly, I hadn’t heard of anyone racing this distance since my First Lap days in high school. Back then, my goal was to break ten minutes, and I finally pulled it off – just once – and just by the skin of my teeth, with less than a second to spare. But Galen was shooting for something closer to eight. More or less unfathomable.

Make no mistake, this was a manufactured event, an engineered attempt at the record. Led by three pacers, with the announcer calling each two-hundred-meter split, the only real question was why there was a second pack of a half-dozen other runners well off the pace enjoying their own pleasant run. (The answer, I believe, was that all of Galen’s pacers peeled off entirely, not just backing off, and had there not been that other pack, it wouldn’t have been a race and wouldn’t have counted.) Yet despite this carefully controlled environment, the excitement built lap-by-lap, and with sixteen laps of building, the house was at fever pitch by the time the last pacer hauled off and died and Galen fought off his late race agony.

I’d thought that DDY had said the record was 8:07:42, and to me, it looked like it was going to be close. When he crossed the line and the clock read 8:07.43, I had a moment of agonizing disbelief. To miss it by a hundredth! When the scoreboard then reported the official time of 8:07.41, I had a moment of gleeful disbelief. To get it by a hundredth! As it turned out, our recollection of the previous record was off by two whole seconds. There was no doubt. He shattered it. And the fact that it happened ten feet from our noses made me rather glad that our sport doesn’t draw the big crowds.

We capped off the evening by snagging Galen’s attention long enough for DDY to get an autograph, then hung out by the track watching in awe as he proceeded to run a workout – as if setting a record wasn’t enough – clicking off mile repeats around four-twenty before capping off the last one close to four-flat. There’s something downright disconcerting about that, but I’ll settle for inspirational and pure joy.

So the formula appear to be that I run and it hurts, then I run and it doesn’t hurt, but I run, and it’s always in some way, shape or form, a good thing. And I expect that to happen pretty much every time. OK, perhaps I have to concede that Einstein was on to something.

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