25 May 2013

Yeah, There Was That

When you anticipate something for a long time, it seems rather odd to miss it.  Especially when it’s not something that you have to look for, but is instead something that’s right there on the calendar and staring you in the face.  You know when it’s going to happen. But you space and it’s past.  Perhaps that’s age setting in, or maybe it’s just the toxins from that spray paint I used on the deck furniture hard at work, rotting neurons.

When last we checked in, I was hobbled. And true to form, the best cure for an injury is to wait it out till you can’t stand it anymore, then write about it.  There’s something magical about that process in that it somehow triggers healing, or at least snaps you out of the mental funk that said wound induced which caused the writing in the first place.  It’s a circular thing, of sorts, like a circle.

In any event, shortly after airing my woes, I reached my mental breaking point and simply couldn’t stand any more days of slow three-mile healing recovery jogs.  The heel was definitely not healed (and still isn’t), but it had improved enough to ignite the foolish idea of ramping back up again, getting back to the miles that sooth my obsessive brain.  Over the course of last week I turned the knob back up toward normal, with mixed results, leading to last Saturday, when my desire to rejoin my club for their morning donut run came into sharp conflict with a planned later-in-the-day memorial fund-raiser run for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.  Turning the dial back up was one thing; turning it back up to a double workout, even when both consisted of easy, laid-back miles, seemed another, far more questionable.

This seems trivial to the normal person, but for me it presented a perplexing situation:  balancing healing, training, and social desires, because after all, aren’t we spoiled enough to think we can have it all?  Deciding that if done gently enough, the body could handle it, I figured I’d hit both events, and happily joined the club last Saturday morning for an easy five.  More focused on the condition of my lower left appendage and the social glee carrying on around me, it never occurred to me to take note of the three-mile point when that long-awaited, highly anticipated, and certainly not surprising moment arrived and I hit two solid years of my streak.

Yeah, there was that.

It occurred to me only later.  I missed it entirely.  Ah, well, seven-hundred-thirty-one days is an odd number, anyway.  But there it was, and it was undeniably satisfying:  two years, never less than three miles each day.  Some of them awesome days, some pretty dog-slow, but something on every one of them.  Begging the question, of course, what next?  The answer, as always, being obvious, that so long as the body can stand it, why quit?  It’s an awesome motivator.

Having already chalked up the milestone, the afternoon’s event was mere ceremony.  Created by a fellow Strider, the plan was to run twenty-five quarter-mile laps, thankfully around a grassy field rather than simply on the track, representing the first twenty-five miles of the Boston Marathon, then gather everyone for the twenty-sixth lap to be walked in silence, in remembrance of the victims.  A grand idea save for the fact that the time allotted was generous even for a walker, so even arriving late – with Darling Daughter the Younger and Dearest Spouse along to partake in the day – I still needed to burn off some of that excess time.  Thus was I was pleased to find another club-mate looking to log ten rather than six miles, taking advantage of the organizer’s promise that nobody would be counting our laps.  We didn’t do a very good job counting them ourselves, realizing later that in the time it took us to reel off forty counted laps, we must have covered several more that we missed, but hey, who’s counting, right?  Plenty of munchies, a solemn last lap walked, a fine short memorial, and another three grand into the OneFund for those folks who really need it.

Two runs, each with their special joys, a highly enjoyable day even though the heel still hurt, though in a bearable way.  And two years running, though I missed it when it happened.  Yeah, there was that.  Guess I’d better pay closer attention at the next big milestone.

Geek Moment:  Finally, a side note from the “I can’t make this stuff up” department.  A few days back I headed out and covered a nine-plus mile circuit on our local rail trail, then as I often do, upon returning home, tacked on an extra lap around the block for good measure.  I checked some splits on the marked rail trail, to check my status in returning from the land of the hobbled, and was reasonably pleased at the unremarkable though not horrible numbers.  Leaving the trail, though, other than clicking the watch when passing home, I didn’t look at it till I wrapped it up following the extra block.  To my amusement, it registered exactly seventy minutes, 70:00 to the second.

Yeah, so, what’s the big deal?  In a completely random world you’ll hit a ten-minute boundary like that once every six-hundred timed runs, and I was, after all, about to hit two years in the streak, over seven-hundred runs, and I’ve been running eight years, so yeah, it’s going to happen.  So?

The next day:  I almost never run the same route twice on successive days, but mental distraction found myself mindlessly heading out the same way, and about two miles out I gave in and decided to take a second lap around the same loop.  This time, however, I had no concerns about pace.  Simply didn’t care, didn’t look at the watch once.  I did, for kicks, click it passing home and then tacked on the extra block again.  And when home came by the second time and I clicked it off to finish up, you guessed it:  exactly seventy minutes, 70:00 to the second (that's the 1:10:00 on top, not the last around-the-block lap in the big numbers).

It’d be one thing if I’d consciously tried to do this, even if I hadn’t looked at my watch, but the fact was that my head was in a very different place on the second day and I was just running without concern for anything in the realm of performance.  And you can easily say, “So what?” and be entirely right.  In the big scheme, it’s entirely irrelevant.  But it’s undeniably cool.  That just doesn’t happen every six-hundred days.

12 May 2013


I never contradict myself except when I do.  Having gotten that statement out of the way, I’ll tell you that I always preach looking at the long term, assuring that you’ll be running ten years from now, and not worrying so much about next week.  I found myself echoing that approach last week when queried by the parents of a cross country protégé I’d coached through her middle-school years, now worried about a high-school injury.  Take the time, heal, this is only one season, you want to be there over the long run.  But it’s a lot harder to adhere to that good advice when you yourself are the patient.

I find myself hobbled of late, and stuck on precisely that contradiction.  My brain knows that the long run is important, but my heart doesn’t want to stop running.  With the two-year anniversary of my run-every-day streak approaching, it would be a significant disappointment to turn it off now, thus forever (or for at least another two years) having to say that I made it almost two years.  As we half-Polish folks always say (because you’re always free to insult yourself) almost only counts in horseshoes, darts, and Polish brain surgery.

But do I hang on, hobbling through pained three-mile jogs, just to hit that two-year mark?  Does that impart additional injury?  Does that only extend, or worse, prevent, my recovery?  Or will this too pass, and will my strategy of reducing training intensity to something just above slug-speed in fact succeed in bringing about healing and wholeness?  Will time tell, and if so, how much time?

What’s going on is that the Pesky Achilles that’s been on-and-off annoying for over a year suddenly decided to be on in a major way, causing downright alarming discomfort even for someone accustomed to pain and agony.  Alarming enough to make me worry about things that could but aren’t likely to happen, but would be really bad if they did.  Tendons do tear, as I know from personal experience, but there’s no strong reason to think this isn’t anything more than inflamed and perhaps bound up in its sheath again.  Tendons do separate from their skeletal anchor points, as I know from a close friend who managed not to actually rip his Achilles off his bone, but rip the bit of bone that held his Achilles out of the surrounding bone.  Ouch.  But lots of things can happen every day in every aspect of our lives, and we don’t stop living.

So the game becomes determining how serious this thing really is.  Short of going in for a full MRI and finding a tear, highly unlikely given no loss of strength, any medical assessment will likely result in the phrase, “It’s inflamed”, with the usual treatment recommendations.  But I wouldn’t be writing this if it hadn’t gotten bad enough to make me drop my mileage to its lowest level since that presumed stress fracture in the fall of twenty-ten.  Maybe this is ugly.  Ugly things can happen.

On the flip side, as much as I tell myself this wasn’t related to Boston, a statement made in defiant defense by an old guy determined not to let his Half-Century Club status appear to be a limitation, it more than likely is.  No, it didn’t reveal itself till a week after the race, but the utterly shredded state of my muscles for that first week pretty much disabled my ability to feel anything else, let alone stress anything else.  And if I shredded the muscles, what would be the surprise of other bits standing up in protest when given their moment in the sun?  In a way, believing this is a result of Boston is a comfort.  It didn’t just decide to go south, it had a very good reason, and therefore my demise is not at hand.  Or as GBTC buddy Doug put it, “An Achilles is a small price to pay for a huge lifetime PR!”  Let’s just call this the defiant defense determined to deny demise.

And on that assumption, I haven’t broken the streak, I’ve only broken my training intensity, which in reality is a healthy thing to do now and then, at least physically.  Mentally, a week and a half of daily three-mile snail-outings has me crawling up walls, especially considering the perfect May days I’ve been largely missing out on,  Today I simply couldn’t take it any longer, and stretched out a longer, though easy-paced, amble.  It wasn’t healed, (I’ll avoid the bad puns about getting an Achilles heel to heal), but I’d like to think it was better.  Or perhaps my brain is also hobbled into wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, any thoughts of a second spring race went out the door long ago.  No trying out new venues like Burlington’s Key Bank or that interesting small marathon I heard about in southern Vermont, nor a repeat trek to favorite Buffalo.  The Clinton Tribute passed, unraced, as did a few other local races.  Time ticks away, but by backing off, by not racing this week or next, I hope to be racing in ten years.

Maybe I don’t contradict myself after all.