there’s more to life than running, but….

ChainLinks

I was out to dinner with Reader #1 last weekend and she voiced some concerns after my last post, as in:  aren’t you taking this a little too seriously, is running again all that really matters, aren’t there other things in life that make you happy?  Of course, there are other things that make me happy, I said.  I’ve got lots of things in my life that make me happy, such as:  my family, friends, career, and you, Reader #1, especially you.  I’ve got a whole life outside of running.

It’s true I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it again, and I’m writing about that.  But it’s also true that when I write about it, like on a good run, I like to let it fill my whole mind.  Sure, lot of runs are spent thinking about things unrelated to running.  And a run is a great opportunity to think, remember, solve problems, et cetera.  But when I think about it now, I think about those other days–when I’m going fast and staying focused on form and breathing, time and distance; or (though this happens rarely) when I get past myself and reach that “runner’s high,” that magical mix of energy, contentment, and locomotion; or I think about the hard days—when I’m pushing myself down the lakefront trail on a hot summer day–too tired, too sweaty, too thirsty—waiting for it to be done, when there’s nothing easy or magical about it.  These are the ways I like to think about it because these are the runs I hope I can do again.

Still, that doesn’t mean I take it too seriously, does it?  That I’ve got too much invested?  I told myself no, sipped on my margarita, talked across the table with Reader #1, and felt my life was in perfect balance.  But the very next day I had to re-evaluate my answer because my knee (which had been feeling pretty good) was stiff and achy.  I had aggravated it by driving a stick shift home from dinner that night (clutch knee—it’s a real thing!) and it wasn’t the pain that was bothering me so much, it was me thinking to myself, if I can’t even drive across town, how am I ever going to be able to run again?  So much of mood is based on expectations, desire, and that was certainly the case on this day.  If I had just been able to stay focused on what I was doing and not worry about my knee feeling better, I would’ve been so much better off.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about it and was feeling kind of hopeless again.

This led me to really question myself:  would I be better off if I didn’t care as much as I do?  I can say “No” because I love to run, race, train, plan for it, look back on it, et cetera, and some of the best moments of my life have come through running and to a large extent those moments have come because I’ve taken it seriously.  But I can also say “Yes” because life is short and it probably does me no good to spend time thinking about it, and by that I mean thinking too much, as I’m prone to do, about my training, fitness, diet, schedule, and so on.

What would probably be best would be to think about running only when I’m in the act and think about everything else I do in the same way, be fully immersed, be always like a monk in a meditative state.  If I could do that, I’d love to do everything as much as I love to run, right?  Well, maybe not.  Maybe running is the only way for me to get to that state and maybe I only get there because I pay as much attention to it as I do.

Ah, running…what are my chances of doing that again?  Well, maybe I should give a brief update on my progress, because that’s what this is supposed to be about, right?  It’s been eleven weeks since the surgery and I’ve been off crutches for just over a month.  Between swimming (starting to do flip turns now), biking (still can’t stand up on my pedals), weights (mostly core work, but some leg extensions), and Physical Therapy, I’ve been averaging about 60-75 minutes of exercise a day.  Last week I even got on an Elliptical for 10 minutes with no knee pain.  I saw my surgeon last Tuesday and he said in a month or so I might be able to try to run.  He said the pain I feel in my knee is probably just bones still swollen from the surgery, not a sign the microfracture didn’t work, but still, as always, time will tell.  So I’m optimistic, but am going to be patient.  I haven’t run for over 5 months, so there’s no use rushing anything at this point.

It’s funny how I started off writing to make the point that I don’t take running too seriously and kind of ended up saying the opposite.  Of course, both are true, I do and I don’t, but the more I try to explain it, the more I end up writing in circles, further from finding my way out.  But that’s kind of like running–because most days a runner starts and finishes in the exact same place.  Loop upon loop upon loop….but it’s never a matter of getting nowhere.  Something happens along the way, and when it’s done, there’s one more link in the chain, the chain that keeps on growing, that chain that goes to who knows where….

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my last race?

End-of-the-RoadIt’s occurred to me that the last race I ran may have really been my last race.  Even though my knee is improving, and I’ve joked since that race that it may have been my last, it just hit me that it may be true.  I’ve always assumed I’d move from runner-training-to-race to runner-just-running at some point, but thought it would happen when I decided.  It’s not that I was waiting to get slower to make the transformation–that happened a long time ago.  I was waiting for the point when I knew I’d enjoy running more without it, and that’s not the case yet.

Why do I like racing, even though I’m slower than I used to be?  Well, I like the racing itself, most times.  Competing against other runners—tracking them down, holding them off, cruising in a pack, fighting to the finish.  I like the chance to test myself, to see what I can and cannot do.  I like the challenge, the fact that it’s hard, the opportunity to lose track of myself in the race—forgetting everything else and just thinking about putting one foot in front of the other.  I like to go to the starting line with the hopes that it will be one of those days–when I’ll feel light, fast, strong, and in control, when my body will do what I want it to do and say, “Gladly, no problem, let’s maybe turn it up a notch, huh?”  When it’s going well, there’s a sort of split between body and mind and it’s like I’m just along for the ride.  That doesn’t happen on bad days–fatigue is all-encompassing–my body and me are all of the same.  But energy seems to come from somewhere else.  I like racing because sometimes I can tap into that.   Those days don’t come often, but when they do, there’s nothing like it.

I like training to race too.  I like planning ahead and saying to myself, for example, on a morning eight months from now–rain or shine, hot or cold–you’re going to line up to run 26.2 miles and all your training from this point to that one is going to be designed to make that happen in the shortest amount of time possible.  Having a goal gives my training a sense of purpose, and maybe my life too.  I do a lot of other things besides run, and I’ve got ambitions, set goals, and work hard, but I’m much less deliberate about these other things.  I kind of go with the flow and grow and evolve and succeed and fail as nature and the world allow.  But with running, I’ve got clear goals and I don’t let nature or the world dictate when I’ll race, how fast I’ll try to go, what workouts I’ll do to get myself in shape.  I like mapping things out months at a time, with mileage goals, workout goals, race goals.  And whether I succeed or not, I like to think I’ve done my best and I accept the results.  It gives me a sense of peace I don’t quite get from anything else.

And if I’m just running-to-run?  I’m afraid I’ll feel like I’m in some kind of vacuum, like I’m wasting my time, and I think runners know the value of time as well as anyone.  Like I said, I expect one day to make this transformation to the next phase of my life, but I’m not ready yet.  I feel like Rocky in his last movie, Rocky Balboa, when he tries to explain why he wants to fight again by gesturing to his midsection and saying, “There’s still some stuff in the basement.”  I feel like that.  It’s not a matter of regrets.  It’s just a matter of still more to do.

When I set out to write this I was going to describe my last race, but I’ve already said so much.  Well, maybe a short recap…it was a marathon last October.  I missed my goal time by just over a minute.  My training leading up to the race hadn’t gone great—I was coming back from a knee surgery in April, so my goal wasn’t real ambitious.  The race itself went well:  I felt strong at the start, ran a little too fast between miles 8 and 14, and was still on goal pace until the last few miles, when I fell slowly and painfully just a little behind.  It was a point-to-point course and there was a slight headwind.  If anyone asks, I like to tell them I finished the race with a torn meniscus, stress fracture in my femur, and damaged cartilage, because that sounds pretty heroic, but I really didn’t feel it until about two minutes after the race when my knee stiffened and began to swell.  When the race was done, I wasn’t satisfied with my time, but I was satisfied with myself because I knew I couldn’t have gone any harder.

As in the immediate aftermath of every marathon I’ve run, I questioned whether or not I would run one again, but I never thought it might be my last race.  It was just another race, another step along the way, not the end, not even close to the end.  Because I’ve still got more races to run.  I’ve still got some “stuff in the basement.”   I’m working hard on my rehab, in the pool, on the bike, because I like it, I enjoy the workouts I’m able to do, but I really hope I get the chance, like Rocky did, to get that stuff out of the basement.  Will I need one more race or years of racing to do this?  I don’t know.  I don’t know, but I sure hope I get to find out.