18 September 2015

Out of the Water!

I’d been swimming in the river, and the call came to get out of the water. That famous river, De Nile, and yes, the water was fine, but let’s face it, most everyone looks better soaking wet – that sheen hides oh-so-many flaws. Eventually, though, it’s time to face the music.

This is supposedly a column not just about running, but running through aging, running through the challenges that life and a slowly declining body inevitably line up in one’s path. The life challenges are the fun parts, calling for creating creative ways to notch your runs while exiled to the swamps of South Florida, for example. The aging and declining body parts aren’t always as much fun. It’s a trick to balance those mounting limitations against the motivation to defeat or minimize them as long as possible. So we push and we push and generally carry on, until there comes a point where perhaps we really shouldn’t.

And therein lays a quandary. I often advise that it’s more important to be running in ten years than it is to be running next week. I’m just not very good at following that advice. It’s inconvenient. It gets in the way of preparation for races. It interrupts consecutive day running streaks. It torpedoes mileage goals. And yes, I know that two out of three of those are meaningless OCD-style drivers, but they’re drivers just the same, and drivers deliver motivation, and motivation keeps getting us out there, and getting out there keeps us alive just a little bit longer. We hope.

All of which is how I found myself once again dog-paddling in that famous quasi-Egyptian waterway. With my current streak pushing toward the two-hundred-day mark, having not missed a day since February, and being on track for a personal highest and nicely rounded number annual mileage accomplishment, it was drive, drive, drive toward my fast approaching fall marathon. But I really couldn’t ignore the signs of overtraining – leg fatigue, slowing pace, and worse, I just couldn’t shake the chronic trouble in that left knee – trouble that typically didn’t rise up during my runs (though of late had started to), but that made stairs far more of a chore than they should be.

August closed up, two thirds through the year, two thirds of the way to that nice round number on the odometer, but only just two thirds – no buffer for tapers, time off, or anything. Any training interruption would mean falling behind. But I began to question whether I’d hold out even till the fall marathon, let alone till New Year’s Eve. I really had no choice but to follow my own best advice. Out of the water, son, you need a break.

One would think a week off, coupled with a hit of my favorite anti-inflammatory, would set things right in the world and let me return rested and ready to rock. Sadly, it hasn’t worked out that way. To my dismay, the time since that week off has been ugly, hindered by quads that feel like I just started running, legs that are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Einstein’s publishing his theory of general relativity by sucking up energy and converting it into leaden mass, and worst, a hamstring that pulled itself for no reason (if you pull a ham, does that make it pulled pork?). Since these woes came on from not running, I’ve taken the approach of trying to cure them by running, and slowly, oh-so-slowly (which has included lots of miles taken oh-so-slowly), I’m starting to move a bit toward normalcy, with big jumps backward like today’s seriously tortoise-like wind-suck-fest. Once again I ask, is this the beginning of the big slide downward?

Saturday’s local five kilometer jaunt, a race that I won last year, might not even get off the starting line. Game-day decision, as they say. And if it does, it will only be through the luck of the no-shows that any respectable placing shows up next to my name. Then again, there’ll be burgers and beers, and even amidst self-doubt and angst, you’ve got to keep your priorities straight, right?

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