Saturday, October 29, 2011

Confessions of a Born Again Racer

A Dhia,
deonaigh dom an suaimhneas
chun glacadh le rudaí
nach féidir liom a athrú, misneach 

chun rudaí a athrú nuair is féidir,
agus gaois
chun an difríocht a aithint.
O Lord, 
grant me the Serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change the courage

 to change the things I can,
and the wisdom
to know the difference.

Driving home from my 10k this morning I had the uncomfortable, though necessary, realization that I will have to work a lot harder to accomplish what I want to accomplish than I had to work 20 years ago. Perhaps my memory is skewed. My recollection is that in my 20s I did not work super hard for a sub-40 minute 10k. Now, I know I did work for it and I raced a lot, but I didn't work really hard and my training was somewhat haphazard. Now 20 years later I feel just as strong physically, and stronger mentally - but it just seems that I'm falling short of what I want to do.

I took a long hiatus from racing - from about the time I was 27 until 45! I still ran a lot, but I focused my athletic energy on rock climbing (which, quite honestly, I'm probably naturally better at). The truth is that I got burned out on racing in my 20s. I put too much pressure on myself. I started to hate racing and the anxiety it brought with it. And just like that, I quit. I never looked back...until my mid-40s.

After having my daughter (at the ripe old age of 43) I developed a tenacious case of calf tendinitis which didn't seem to respond to any sort of treatment (my theory is that it came from pushing the baby jogger 50+ miles a week). My PT recommended an MRI to rule out any tears - and the results of the MRI were grim. I was told by the very nice nurse on the other end of the telephone that my running days were over. Bamm. Fini.

Like that, I'm standing in a store and someone tells me that my life as I've always known it is over.  Like that, I am no longer a runner. Like that, everything around me begins to blur, literally, and I think that I might just collapse, right there in the store - and I don't care what anyone else might think. Like that, I am thrust deep into an identity crisis. Like that, some central part of me is given a terminal diagnosis.

I am then told, very matter-of-factly, that there is nothing that can be done for me. "You're too young for a knee replacement" the nice nurse assures me. Knee replacement! Knee replacement! I've never had a bloody ache in my knee, ever! Not ever! I want to scream at her - This can't be. But an MRI is an MRI - and so it must be true. Oh my God, it must be true.

Immediately, it occurs to me that there are many, many (running) things I have put off until later. I always had a picture of myself running until the day I die - or at least way into my senior years. There were races I always wanted to do...someday. But now what? Someday would never come. I always wanted to run New York - since I was a child - but now I can't, ever.

For the next few months I vacillated between feeling inconsolably depressed and resigned, to feeling stubborn indignation, determined to make sense of what made no sense. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking, I chided myself. But the fact remained: My knee didn't hurt.  And so I set off to find some answers that did make sense. However it turned out, I just wanted it to make sense.

What the orthopedic surgeon at Stegman Hawkins in Denver told me, is that my knee wasn't the problem. Oh sure, my knee was/is not perfect. Sure there's small tears, and some thinning of articular cartilage, and delamination (yum) etc. but those things are asymptomatic. He said that after the age of 30 most of us don't really want to know what's going on in our joints: Our knees, our backs, our shoulders, our hips - because those changes aren't causing problems, and they may never cause problems, but knowing about them can cause problems because we worry.

Ten months after this all began, I was running again - slowly. I had, quite by accident, stumbled upon a treatment (dry needling) that finally worked for me. The diagnosis that made sense: Tendinosis. The reason it made sense is that it was consistent with my symptoms and it responded to appropriate treatment. 

And yet I feel I am running on borrowed time. I do worry.  Every time I feel the tiniest twinge in my knee I think: There it is, I'm done. It does cause worry, but it also drives me to do what I can while I can do it. And so I realize that I must work harder - and perhaps harder than I did when I was younger because, well, I'm older but I'm really not satisfied with using that as an excuse. I really do want to see what I have in me - what I can do. I never really pushed myself when I was younger, and so I must now or perhaps lose my only chance to see what I have in me. I am racing no one but myself and time and the desire to do what I can do while I can still do it. I will never again take this for granted. I wish I could have made my younger-self understand this. But perhaps that's just one of the lessons we learn along the way, if we're paying attention. Better late than never.

And so 2012 is the year I will run Boston and NYC. I've qualified for both. Now's the time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Running or Jogging



I ran up the road toward my house finishing up a 10 miler and the obligatory two mile steady uphill churn that ends all my runs from home. A strange looking character walks toward me. As I get closer I realized that it is a guy with a parachute wrapped around his shoulders and bundled in a bunch in his arms. He weaves about, looking this way and that. He's on a cell phone and it becomes clear once I get closer that he has just landed and is trying to tell his pick-up crew where he is. As I pass him I hear him say; "Yeah, I see you,  I'm right ahead. Do you see a jogger?"

Argggggg. What did he just call me? A 'jogger'? A 'jogger'? I am not bloody jogger chump-face!

My husband and I have a little game we play whenever we see someone running veerrrry slooooowly - we instantly turn to each other and ask:  "running or walking?". Then there's the "running or jogging" distinction that's even more challenging to discern. I will say, from the outset, that I am NOT a jogger. Never have been, never will be. But what really separates the runners from the joggers? Is it speed? Is it running races? Do runners run everyday? Do runners have to be obsessed with running? Is it high tech fabrics vs. cotton sweats? Is it 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers and piles of old running shoes filling up the closets? Is it one's own subjective definition of one's self?  Is it attitude?

Is it speed? I say 'No'. When I run slow I'm running slow, not jogging. Or, perhaps I am a runner who's out for a jog. But does that then make me a 'jogger'. Ooooff. I hope not. Likewise, do I need to be running a 7 min/mile pace to be a runner? I once read, years and years ago in Runner's World, that running started at an 8 min/mile pace. I can't remember who said it, but it was someone (a running authority!) who should have "known" what "running" truly was and wasn't. For some reason this stuck with me like a tiny thorn in my foot. At the time this pace wasn't difficult for me to maintain even on easy runs. But today - well let's just say, most of my 15-24 milers (and plenty of shorter and easier runs) must qualify as jogs according to this (bogus) definition. Hey, what do you say we go out for a nice 24 mile jog ;) Piffle I say.

Is running about racing? I say 'No'. I ran for years without racing. I ran 50 miles a week, and never ran a race for probably 10 years. I was still a runner because I ran. I was not, however, a racer at that time. Not racing just meant I was a non-racing runner. However, runners usually know that a marathon is 26.2 miles, not 5k or 10k, even if they haven't run one.

Do runners need to run everyday and be obsessed with running? I say 'No'. I take a rest day most weeks. And, I have a life besides running. Running is ONE of my  many interests and pursuits. Yes, it is important. Yes, I make an effort to fit it into my life, but it isn't my whole life. It's part of a full life. 

Is it running in high tech gear? I say 'No'. I spent many, many years running in tattered old t-shirts and a dorky vintage 1980s colored nylon wind jacket that I bought for 15 bucks at a discount store. My husband delicately encouraged me to update my wardrobe, cringing each day as I ventured out into public. Hell, it worked fine. Why replace it. Last year I finally broke down and purchased a tasteful, sweet GoLite wind shirt at a warehouse sale that I absolutely love to pieces. It will probably work for the next 15 years. (I still have the old dorky one and it's awesome on sub zero days). Conversely, strutting around in spiffy running duds and the latest minimalist shoes, doesn't make you a runner.

Is it 26.2 and 13.1 bumper stickers and piles of old running shoes? I say 'No'. Um, anyone can buy these things. I have to admit that I've got a few telling stickers on my car, but that's a relatively new thing for me. Stickers don't make the runner. And I also have an embarrassingly huge collection of old running shoes. These things are indicative of something, but they don't make me a runner. All those shoes could just indicate that I have a thing about running shoes (which, admittedly, I do), or perhaps a hording problem.

Is it attitude? I say 'Yes'.  I think it's all about attitude.  Running is not speed, attire, racing, - it's attitude. There's a level of commitment and a desire to make running happen even when it's difficult. Runners want to run. Runners enjoy running. Oh, we all have those days when we just don't want to do it - but we do it anyway - and once we do, we usually (but not always) love it. Runners run as an end in itself, not as a means to an end only. Sure, some runners run to lose weight, or for their health - but true runners keep running after they've lost the weight and feel healthy and strong. Runners sometimes run when they're sick or injured, even if they shouldn't. Runners run in the rain and the snow and the cold, and realize that it's actually always great weather for a run. Or, they might suck it up, and run on the treadmill, if there's no other way to get their fix.

I think that some runners are worried about calling themselves 'runners' - like it's some sort of elitist claim. Some seem to feel that they aren't fast enough, or they don't run far enough, or they're too new to running, to call themselves runners. I teach philosophy and think about philosophy and write philosophy - but I am very reluctant to call myself a 'Philosopher". It sounds so high falutin. Perhaps some runners feel the same about calling themselves runners. But runners don't care how fast or far you run.  Runners are runners because they make running happen. Runners call themselves runners because they know they're runners.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Get Chronic: T-Shirt Contest

So Here's My First Contest!

If you like my blog become a "follower" through 12 noon (when I should be getting home from my Turkey Trot;) Thanksgiving Day and you will be entered into my custom T-Shirt contest (M/W/Y).

This is my way of thanking you for supporting this site.

That's it. That's all. Easy peasy!
But, don't just follow for the t-shirt ;) All current followers are already entered.

The winner will be announced on Thanksgiving!

Now, go run...far... 


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