05 July 2010

Growing Older? Or Not?

I could be forgiven for thinking that old age advanced a few steps toward my doorstep in the past few weeks. But a pleasant surprise hit me the other day which reminded me how my running habit is smacking at Father Time with a fly swatter. Father Time will win in the end, but I’ve given him a few bruises to make him drop back ten and punt for the moment.

At last, after a good two months of torment, my errant right hamstring is starting to behave again. It’s been a few weeks since I admitted to myself that this was more than a typical muscle pull and must have indeed been a decent-sized tear, based on the longevity of the injury and its steadfast refusal to heal. I thanked the time I spent penning a running log, since with it I was able to at least sort of unravel the this wound’s mysterious origins. Best I can figure it was that rippin’ 400m on the track with my middle school track team star (so much for being a player coach!), piled on shortly after unwisely racing Groton and hammering my body a mere six days after the Boston Marathon. All in all, not the most prudent combination of efforts, though I certainly had fun at the time. The hammy’s not completely healed yet, but it’s finally starting to feel better every day, and I’m finally able to cover five miles without irritation.

At about the same time, that nagging left Achilles is also showing signs of hope. Six weeks of yummy anti-inflammatories, courtesy of Dr. Foot Doctor, may or may not have helped – there are no control experiments in life – but a week with a handy Cho-Pat Achilles strap (recommended by a friendly Physical Terrorist) combined with some self-administered deep tissue massage has conspired to bring this bugger under control. It still hurts, but not so bad.

All this hopeful (certainly not confirmed) progress aside, these little warnings haven’t gone unnoticed. These injuries undoubtedly got in the way of my running life. I deferred my entry for the Buffalo Marathon (and missed the amazing train incident!), blew off several June races and – amidst great weeping – am bagging out of next week’s Boilermaker. Not to mention I’ll probably only jog Tuesday evening’s local 5K. My training is off, my speed non-existent at the moment. Aging can’t be denied. It’s happening. Or is it?

Just as with global climate change, you can’t judge the big picture by this week’s cold snap. (Cold snap? It’s 97 degrees out there as I write. But you get the idea…) Look at the big picture. Or sometimes, a couple of pictures that reveal the big picture, like this:

My clan and I just spent returned from a heavenly week in Acadia National Park in Maine. Heavenly because, to start with, unlike last year, it didn’t rain all week. Heavenly because the wild blueberries were out early this year, which cut our average trail speed considerably but vastly boosted our antioxidant intake. Heavenly for seeing old friends, hanging out on the rocky beach, and finally getting out for a run on the famed Acadia National Park carriage road system; a true delight on any day, and a complete joy on a brilliantly sunny cool morning in June.

But this year we went with a mission. We’ve been hiking Acadia as a family for fifteen years – and yes, that with our oldest daughter not yet fifteen; both girls’ first trips were on dad’s back. Ten years ago our family Christmas card featured us lined up with our miniature hikers at a spot off Acadia Mountain where a large rock provided a convenient camera mount for that family picture. Several times we’ve tried to re-create that shot, only to return home and realize that we’d forgotten which order to stand in and somehow always got it wrong. This year, for the 10th anniversary, we wrote it down (duh) and made our way to that same spot. Conveniently, we didn’t need to fiddle with the rock, as another hiker took a great series of shots, expertly leaving varying amounts of green space on various edges so that we could edit in the original as a comparison (those of you placing bets on the 2010 Cattarin Christmas card photo, here’s your tip…).

We knew we finally had ourselves lined up in the right order, but when we got home and uploaded the pictures, we still got a bit of a surprise. Ten years changed the girls in obvious ways – toddlers to teens. Ten years had no apparent effect on my lovely wife (am I lucky or what?). But ten years, five of which have been spent running, made me, if I may say so myself (please activate the humility fogger here, I know, I know, but really, it has to be said), look at least a bit healthier than before. To badly misquote B. B. King, the fill is gone. No more jowly look. No more filling out the bottom of the T-shirt. Either better fitting shorts, or a lot less in them (come on now, mind out of the gutter) – in reality, both. And oh yeah, and I got a new hat, but it’s pretty much the same as the old one, some habits die hard.

Seeing the comparison of those two pictures revealed the big picture like Al Gore and his famous PowerPoint slides. Our climate is changing, and running does make tangible positive changes. Sure, I’m nursing some wounds these last couple of months, and sure, time will win in the end, but five years of running has been kind. Take that, Father Time, and get out of my way, for a while at least.

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