22 November 2018


Dearest Spouse rightly corrected my mindset recently. Rarely do I put her on the spot like this, in public, for all to see, but I do so now because she was right. Not that that’s unusual, of course.

Yes, it’s been a rough stretch of late. After a local race in June, aches and pains made me shy away from the word race for a few months, and even coerced me to pull the medical assistance lever. We’ll come back to that later and explain the ghostly image, but for now, suffice to say it didn’t do a heck of a lot to improve things, so what else was there to do but jump back in the pond, at least with my little toe – just a tiny local five-K – back in September, and the result, to my viewing at least, was entirely…Meh. Then, a few weeks back, I dipped my whole leg in, biting off a half marathon, and…Meh. The following week, another small event, and…you guessed it, Meh. (I’ll pass entirely on this morning’s turkey trot, since the twelve-degree air and stiff winds combined to turn my feet into stride-less clomping bricks, so I consider that disaster to be an outlier – at least, I hope.)

Hearing my responses to those races, Dearest Spouse finally laid in and laid it out: You finished third on Saturday (well, a couple of Saturdays ago, as usual it’s taken me a while to get this out the door). You finished second in your age group in the half marathon the week before. And though unspoken, she clearly communicated: You’re more than halfway through the fifties on your way to that next big one. Just stop complaining. You’re still doing fine.

It’s hard to swallow that when I’ve watched my five-K time balloon nearly a minute since spring. It’s hard to accept that when my half marathon just grew by six minutes, and that was on a hilly, but also largely downhill course, and one that was short at that. It’s just plain tough to believe that when just about every run goes through what I now refer to as Phases One, Two, and Three, those being, the knee hurts sharply up front, I get a few miles of bliss, then the deep ache sets in. And it seems entirely untrue when my training pace is nowhere near where it used to be. But DS is right. Even the post-half-marathon little ‘ol five-K still clicked in at a respectable age-graded rating, despite the fact that the time, to me, was, well, that word again: Meh.

Positivity. It’s my job. I have to look at this the right way.

My New York City running buddy, the Brooklyn Barrister, tossed one of my recent moans about aches and pains (with a whiff of fatalism) right back at me with a response that, frankly, inspired me: “Gary, say it ain’t so! You’re the guy I point to when people ask me if I still expect to be doing this in 5, 10, 15 yrs. I say hell yes, this guy Gary ran a better time than me at Boston and he’s got 10 years on me. I feel like you’ve been through so much and it’s only the number (your age) that’s making you think differently about this one.”

And he, just like Dearest Spouse, was entirely right. It is indeed only the number that has me thinking differently about this round. It’s hard not to wonder if this knee thing is the start of those curtains descending. But he’s right, this is just another round.

I didn’t take his comments as a pat on the back. I took them as a reminder that running has multiple purposes. One is to keep me healthy, and though the skeleton isn’t entirely whole at the moment, the heart, lungs, and other random parts – notably my sanity – still benefit from this crazy hobby. Another is to have fun; above and beyond the sanity part, I still love being out there, leaving it behind, time to think, time to not think, time to spin wild yarns in my head, and of course, time with my running buds, some of the best running time of all. But speaking of those running buds, we gather together precisely because we motivate each other, and that same force emanates from all of us to encourages others to join in. We’re on display across our communities. We are engines of positivity.

So yeah, I can moan about the minuses, or I can find and glow in the positives.

It’s true that I only ran two of the New England (USA Track & Field) Grand Prix races this year, and that the second one was pretty much a tragedy. But in the first one, I managed to eke out the fifth man slot for our team, and our team won the senior division for the year’s series, so yeah, I had a very (very) tiny little part in that. (Granted, had I not been there, our sixth man would have been adequate for us to have still won, so it was indeed a very tiny part…hush, we’re being positive here). Positive: I still managed to contribute to the wining Grand Prix team.

It’s true that my training through the summer and fall has been pretty much horrendous, with my mileage cut in half and my racing fitness eroding steadily. But all that time not running offered up the possibility of alternate adventures like hiking Baxter (previous post) and subsequent to that, topping out Old Speck with Dearest Spouse to complete that New England Sixty-Seven list. And though my marathon might have slowed, that running fitness gets me up mountains at a pretty decent clip. Positive: A life goal achieved, a new patch for my pack, and even a chance to overcome my fear of ladders and heights by ascending the fire tower up top (took two tries, mind you).

It’s true that I sagged low enough to pull the medical lever. The pain and weakness in the left knee and leg drove me into the hands of a new Dr. Bone Doctor (we’ll call him Dr. Bone Doctor III). It’s true that his assessment was stark: “You’ve got issues here.” The cartilage under my kneecap, he reported, is roughed up pretty well, and no, scoping and scraping wouldn’t really help. But he was mildly comforting in his insistence that this wasn’t caused by my running but rather by some possibly even unnoticed alternate injury. He was clear, knees issues arise from lateral stress, not compressive. Positive: OK, so at least I didn’t really do this to myself intentionally. Oh, and he says I have great hips. (Hip hip, hooray.)

And it’s also true that his efforts, and subsequently the efforts of my latest Physical Terrorist, have yet to truly cure anything (though wishful thinking never fails to twist one’s perception of pain). But a couple of rounds of medical imaging (which long-time readers know I truly dig), including a bone scan where billions of Technetium 99 atoms jumped to their death for my benefit, have at least eased my mind by proving that while yes, there are bright spots in my knees (but like golf, it’s backwards here, bright spots are trouble spots are bad), no, I am not running on a broken leg (which sounds absurd, but the feeling on that side had me seriously considering a stress fracture in the femur – not so, pleased to know). And thanks to an overachiever in the
nuclear medicine department, who figured that if that stuff was floating through my whole body that he might as well run the camera (really, a glorified Geiger counter) over my whole body. Result: Not only the first and only true picture I’ve ever seen of all of me, but also proof that my head is quite empty – that first ghostly image of this tale. Positive: Things may hurt, but I’m not broken beyond function and am cleared to run on. And another Positive: Any physical therapy is good cross training, so soak it up.

Further, I’ve got one more lifetime story to tell about having had Dr. Bone Doctor III inject 10W-40, or more precisely, an extract of a rooster (really) known as Synvisc into my knee to try to smooth its crunchy ride. It didn’t work, but it was worth the try, and adding that to the horse that Dr. Foot Doctor sewed into my foot ten years ago, I can now claim greater coverage of my Barnyard Bingo card. Positive: Any amusing story is positive, right? Even if it involves needles.

And finally, it’s true that those races I mentioned came down on the Meh side from my perspective, but for anyone outside of the Grand Prix set, they were respectable outings. In the first one, given no speed workouts all summer and a three-month-plus gap since last racing, I still managed a consistent effort, a respectable age-graded time, third overall, and a Slightly Fossilized Division win (if against a small local field). In the third one, though slower than the first, the outcome was the same, and that time on tired legs having run the second, a half marathon coupled with an introductory mile, only six days prior. Positive: An old guy can still finish well in a race.

That second race, sandwiched between the two five-Ks, was the Red Baron Half Marathon in Corning, New York, which popped up as a family event since Darling Offspring the Younger wanted to run a half, and her college-town Syracuse Half was, in my view, overpriced. For half the coin – what a deal! – the Red Baron offered up a visit with Sis (who lives in Corning) as a bonus, and as it would turn out, ideal weather – a rarity for Upstate New York in the late fall – with spectacular foliage to boot. And for an extra five bucks, they threw in a pre-half mile race – the “Smile Mile” – and a bit more swag.

This was not a target race since I had no fall target race. If anything, for a Fall Feat I’d considered opting for the Incredibly Stupid and jumping into the Baystate Marathon on no training – in pure survival mode – just to snag a Boston 2020 bid rather than roll the dice in April. But a test-the-waters fifteen miler that was less than confidence-inspiring and some rather incredulous scolding from my PT ended that idea. Then along came the Red Baron and a chance to see if I could still race at least the half marathon distance without the knee falling apart and the leg descending into agonizing aches. Still no real training, but not Incredibly Stupid.

Then why toss in the mile beforehand? I guess that amidst all of my bemoaning of what condition my condition is in, the theme of this post still lives inside: Positivity. It’s just a mile, I said. I’m not going to kill it. It’s a warm-up. To me, perfectly logical. To others, a bit crazy. But still, a message of positivity: Don’t think of these things as undoable.

I had nothing to achieve in that mile (really one-point-oh-four, but who’s counting) other than to not embarrass myself and to get loose enough so that mile one of the half would seem casual. Our lead pack of four sauntered off the line to circumambulate the campus of Corning Community College, perched in the uplands, seven hundred feet above the river valley where the half would end. Half way around, I let the two young ‘uns go and focused on holding off the only one who looked (and was) about as ancient as I, which resulted in yet another third-place finish and division win, bringing with it the oddest and perhaps cutest little glass medal I’ve seen (look closely, there’s a smile in there), on little effort. Later, when I faded a mile short of the finish of the half, proponents of simple math would claim it was because I’d raced a mile beforehand. I non-concur, running math just doesn’t work that way.

To my mind, the strategy worked. An hour later (or fifty-four minutes, really), the half kicked off, and mile one – a repeat circuit of the campus – did indeed feel casual. But the mildly ancient-looking one I’d held off in the mile pulled away from me as we pulled away from the school, and it looked like the age group would elude me right from the start. In the end, it did – I’d have to settle for second in the division – but not thanks to him. I took him back by mile three, but by then another fossilized specimen had already gone by to do the drubbing.

This was not an easy half. Once off campus, the next seven miles rocked and rolled, culminating in a killer climb at mile eight. After that, those seven hundred feet to the river valley (actually more by then, thanks to the climb) spilled out in just two or three miles, sometimes at a rate that required serious work just to fight gravity. It would’ve been interesting to know just how quickly some of those miles clicked by, but unfortunately the weak point of this event was measurement: the splits were wildly inaccurate (and old-school here doesn’t carry GPS), and the course seemed to land about a tenth of a mile short, adding a mild slap to having already clocked in six minutes slower than New Bedford back in March. Still, a top ten percent finish, second in the age group, and decent age-grading – on no focused training – well, not too ugly. And that knee held up surprisingly well. So, let’s say it again: Positive: It’s not all gone. The old guy can jump in a half not embarrass himself.

Oh, and a bonus: Darling Offspring ran the whole thing non-stop – a first for her. Huzzah.

So yeah, a lot of positives. Dearest Spouse – who, by the way, works out at least five times a week herself – reminded me with her comments that I need to take seriously the mission of staying positive. For me that means not only accepting that I’m still kicking, but letting those around me – running friends, work colleagues, family, whoever – see that they don’t have to give up either. Positivity isn’t always easy to pick out from the debris of life, but it’s our job to find it.

Well, That’s Interesting Tidbits Department: It’s been a few months since the last post, so here’s an oddity worth a snicker. A funny thing happened while I wasn’t racing: I appeared in the paper in a race. The local fish wrapper ran an article on a local race with a fine photo of me dashing off the line. Only problem: I wasn’t there. Old picture. So much for fact-checking.

And speaking of a snicker, there’s that Snickers ad on TV that makes me laugh even though I’ve seen it a zillion times. Concerned doctors sit around the patient, who, it seems, has had the doctor’s cell phone left inside his abdomen in surgery. The phone then proceeds to reply to the doctors’ conversation. Well, I walked into Dr. Bone Doctor’s exam room, thinking my phone was off, and mine did the same thing. “Gee, I said, every time I come here I’m led into the same room. It’s like you only have one.” “No,” the nurse replied, motioning down the hall, “We have those three.” And my phone blurted out, “Those Three,” and started describing some movie I’d never heard of. OK, you had to be there. But it was funny. Really.

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