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.

06 January 2014


The fact that today’s run was a shorts-and-one-shirt affair at a ludicrous fifty-six degrees in a New England January was notable enough, considering the contrast to yesterday’s thirty-five degrees. But it was entirely absurd compared to only one day prior, when there was a complete lack of degrees. Yes, zero to fifty-six in two days (which oddly is about equivalent to the typical acceleration of my Prius), and we’re going back down close to zero again tomorrow night. I was thinking of that old tune Red Rubber Ball by Cyrkle (seriously, who remembered that band’s name?), trying to come up with an image of something bouncing wildly, until I listened to it again and remembered it’s mostly about recovering from heartbreak. So let’s just stick with a yo-yo.

Saturday was more of a missed opportunity than a notable adventure. Yes, when a few of us looneys departed at eight in the morning, the car’s (quite accurate) thermometer read nothing, none, no degrees whatsoever. And that was, in fact, a modern record, my previous being four above, but on that day it had been windy and I’d been foolish enough to run to the ocean’s edge, whereas Saturday was sunny, still, decidedly inland, and, while extremely crunchy underfoot from the latest frozen precipitation, quite pleasant. Not to mention that it rocketed up to eight whole degrees by run’s end. No, the missed opportunity was that my running companion that day had gone out forty minutes earlier to pop in a few miles beforehand to boost his day’s total, and his caromometer (new word, just invented it, remember you saw it here first) reported that he owed the world five degrees. Should’ve joined him. Now that would have been cool, since my all-time record going back to the days of youthful yore was a youthful minus four. Ah well, next time…

All of this pales, of course, to what our friends are experiencing in Minnesota, you betcha’, but whatever… Even for them, that's different. (No, not the best interweaving of Minnesotan-speak, but I tried…) I’d say my heart goes out to them, but if it did, it would freeze solid before it reached them. I’ll concede that twenty-below is a good excuse to use the hamster cage.

The yo-yo lens of ups and downs is apt for the tale of a race that frankly has few of them (that being, it's mostly flat save one small hill at the end). For the sixth New Year’s Day of the nine New Year’s Days I’ve been running, I dropped in on my old neighborhood, or at least a mile or so up the road from my old neighborhood, for the Freezer Five. It’s notorious for its in-your-face west wind on the outbound leg that never seems to come back to help on the return trip (no exception this time), and occasionally for its wild weather (this year’s was cold but otherwise well-behaved), but it’s always good for a decent dozen-plus solid competitors among the three-hundred or so brave souls, and a great spread including – yes – donuts afterward to toast in the calendar rollover.

This being my first foray into the world of racing since Boston – yes eight and a half months! – I wasn’t expecting much. Having put in my first run with anything approaching speed only two nights earlier at the pub run, all I really hoped for was to hit that night’s three-mile pace and hold it for five. Baby steps. This was, after all, the first attempt at an up after an exceptionally long down.

Cutting to the spoiler, it was good that I didn’t have high expectations, because no magic appeared. The best assessment would be to say that my expectations were in order. It was an up, but only a slight up. I hit that target pace – ducking under by a whopping two seconds per mile – but there was no engineering involved to end up there, nor was the process pretty. The irony was that being fifty for the first time at this race, this slightly anemic run – in fact the slowest of my six Freezers and almost my slowest five-miler race ever – was still enough to snag the fifties division win as well as the fifties division club five-miler record. That too was an up, but the down was the clear message of how far I’ve got to go, with Hyannis, Boston, and some March event yet to be decided looming soon.

While I love this race, my usual complaint is that they (our friends who put this one on, the Central Mass Strider) aren’t very good about marking splits. This year, it wasn’t the case that they weren’t very good about marking splits; they were downright abysmal about it. Nary a one. Now, I still run without GPS, and typically I want to see those markings. But I have to admit that on Wednesday, I didn’t really care that they were missing. What they would have told me would have likely been rather depressing. I can best describe the day as a one-mile race and a four-mile fade. It wasn’t a strong performance (and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the day before, we’d stopped and dropped for push-ups so often on our New Year’s Eve Day club run that my upper half was not at all cooperative in aiding the last-mile effort). Being utterly oblivious to the splits was a blessing, and it made the fact that my resulting pace was spot on what I’d aimed for that much more amusing. Still, three minutes off last year’s time was a pretty serious down.

But the whole thing was a pretty serious up. I was over the hump. I’d raced again. I’d started to rip out those cobwebs. Mentally I felt I’d turned a corner, even if physically, that darned ankle hurt pretty bad as I jogged out the warm-down to reel in Darling Daughter the Younger, running this one for her first time. A couple days later, damn the torpedoes and the Achilles, with Boston only a season away, I hit the roads for fourteen at a decent clip. And today, childish joy, splashing through inches of slush in the nearly sixty-degree post-rainstorm-snow-remnant-mess, feet soaked to the gills and simply not caring about it, because things are starting to feel just a tiny bit more normal again. The darkness is starting to recede, and I’m thinking there may indeed be more up down the road.

Of course, I could never really keep that yo-yo going when I was a kid. Bad metaphor, I suppose.

Shocker Department: Those of you who know me and don’t already know this may be shocked to know that I’ve finally gone and done it. As of New Year’s Eve, yes, I’m on Facebook. Scary, I know. What’s the world coming to and all that. But it’s true. Relish it.