07 October 2017

Opting Out of Immortality

Until quite recently, the Meh dial has been turned to eleven. (I hate to digress right after my opening statement, but if you don’t get that reference, go here, it’s worth it, it’s a classic.) My trusty Ironman POS (Plain Old Stopwatch) gave up the ghost a while back. It decided I’d run a seriously long workout and simply stopped cold. Not died, as in, dead battery, no display, kaput, no, it just stopped (it was, I suppose, a stop watch, right?). No combination of rhythmic button tapping would budge it from its assurance that eighty five hours earlier I’d started to do something.

An odd combination of events including a credit card hack, an incompetent bank, and the phase of the moon conspired so that its replacement (another thirty-dollar Ironman, I just don’t need the maintenance chores of a high-falutin’ GPS watch) didn’t arrive for about three weeks. Three weeks of glancing at my wrist and remembering that I did not, in fact, know what time it was, but more importantly, three weeks of untimed runs. I have to admit, it was rather freeing. Run slow? Whatever. Miss a day? Call it healing. Racing? Why pay money to run slow with other people, I can do that for free?

It occurred to me that if time really stopped, as my ex-watch insisted, that would make me immortal. But as those three weeks of timelessness drifted by, I had to admit that immortality is overrated. Going down that path means there’s no need to work hard to stick around, but the topic of staying on this planet a lot longer inevitably turns political, so I’ll skip it for now. Suffice to say I can’t just give it up like that. I’ll opt out of immortality and keep up the fight. Meh be damned.

The fight has been notched up to full swing of late. There’s a line in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (utterly brilliant) musical Hamilton where Hercules Mulligan raps, “When you knock me down, I get the [f-bomb] back up again.” Getting back up again is never easy, but I’m trying (some of my co-workers would concur with that statement, though perhaps with a different meaning). So while it’s been a Summer of Silence in the blogosphere, all has not been silent in the background. Doctor Number Three has me working hard with a new Physical Terrorist, and last week it was time to go public, so to speak, and hit the race course again.

Race? For real? Calm down, these are merely baby steps. Start small, start local, start with the Forrest, our local three-point-two mile five-K, a race with almost more medals than people, as well as plenty of burgers and beers afterward. And, as it happened, complete with eighty-five degree heat under intense sun, in late September. Fall, global warming style.

The result? A Personal Worst. Worst ever on the Forrest course, even adjusting for the long course and for that new pesky traffic island they mistakenly sent us around. Second worst five click race ever. Though, if you slap on the age-grading tables, it only hit the bottom quartile, and after all, it was hot, he said, knowing that the heat really didn’t have much to do with it. So I guess you can pull out some redeeming qualities for the first race outing in many, many months.

Whatever, I got back out there. It never felt fast, but it felt solid. It was only three miles, but I didn’t fade. Once we’d done the sorting of the first mile and settled in, I just aimed for a consistent and half-decent pace, and even managed to pick one off along the way, catching the young lady leading the women’s category atop the last hill. Chiding her, “You’re not going to let an old fart beat you on the hills, are you? Let’s go!” I fully expected she’d slaughter me on the down, but instead I put a half minute on her by the end. Lay that on her, not on any heroics on my part.

This was not a race-to-the-death. This was a race to remember what a race was; after all, it’s been since May, and Gate City wasn’t exactly a speed festival. Baby steps. Solid, not crazy, since there wasn’t any crazy in the tank, and no reason to spend it if there was. I wasn’t going to win it, and there weren’t any old farts around to threaten the masters category, so just drive it in, keep it steady, be happy with solid, don’t do anything stupid. Heck, I didn’t even look all that bad at the finish. I’ve really got to work to re-polish that Death Warmed Over look back to perfection.

Not that Death Warmed Over is a goal, but if I can regain that look because I have managed to fill the tank with some crazy, I guess that will be progress. Meanwhile, just to start warding off the Meh, I’ve gone back to the medical world to let them practice some more, since they hadn’t nailed it on the first two tries. Both Doctor Number One (who I very much like) and Doctor Number Two (who I was rather wishy-washy on) insisted there was nothing wrong with that left leg other than inflammation! inflammation! inflammation! Doctor Number Three, looking at the very same image as One and Two, not only saw the sub-kneecap cartilage flaw (which he insisted was not caused by running, thank you very much, it just happened, stop telling me how running trashes knees), he also saw the notes that the radiologist had apparently appended to the image that neither One nor Two had pointed out. Howzat? Three’s theory is that the discomfort that flaw creates may have been making me subconsciously disfavor that leg for a long time, bringing about the atrophy all have detected. His approach is all about strength. Inflammation is an afterthought.

The odd thing is that it’s been a really big hiking summer with lots of new summits from Maine to Washington State including a rather humorous ‘trail run’ at Mount St. Helens, in hiking boots and hiking sun hat, when, a mile out, I realized I had no extra batteries and had to run back to retrieve them.
Not to mention a bunch of chances to really fall off cliffs on some of the steeper Acadia trails we’d shunned for twenty years for fear of losing our kids over the edge and being labelled Bad Parents (and, let’s face it, just for fear, too). You’d think all the ups and downs would have strengthened knees off the charts. But that hasn’t been the case – or perhaps things would be even worse without those vertical workouts.

In any case, my new Physical Terrorist Masochistic Mike (who should be labelled Sadist Mike, but the dual M-M sounds so much better) measured my left quad a full centimeter and a half smaller than my right (Aha! So that’s why I keep walking in circles!). And he’s got me working; this is a guy who can stretch his body and hold poses with unearthly strength and ease that would make a Yoga PhD blush. I, meanwhile, try to do this stuff and my legs just quiver while my fingertips hang ten inches from my toes, like they have since I was eight. But now he’s got me doing everything imaginable standing on one bent leg on my newly acquired balance ball, which lives in my office for instantaneous use whenever I’m inspired. I‘ve got to say, it does liven up conference calls.

Is it working? I’d like to think I’m sensing a bit more strength, my mileage is up the last couple weeks, my pace is improving, and I’ve even had a couple of hard training runs that felt pretty darn good. Yet fatigue still hits early, I’m nowhere near ready for hard core Grand Prix racing, and just finishing Boston this spring seems like the daunting goal that most normal people view it as. But as Masochism Mike rightly points out, it took me a long time to get here, and it’s going to take a long time to get out. Living in one dimension, he calls it, and it’s true, we runners are very good at going forward, but really could use a lot more strength in other directions to keep things strong, in line, and happy.

Immortality would make these struggles entirely unnecessary. But immortality would be a cop-out. If we don’t have to keep fighting for it, what’s the fun?

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