My knee is feeling okay. I’ve been adding more weight-bearing exercises to transition back to running. Most days this goes well, but some days my leg aches. Swimming is still my go-to workout, because I can get my heart rate up more easily and really tire myself out. In other health-related news, Reader #1 and I watched Forks over Knives and are trying out a strict diet for six weeks that is not only vegan, but restricts oil, sugar, and salt. I’ve always watched what I’ve eaten, but this has been tough. When people ask me how I feel on the diet, I say, “Hungry.” Still, I like the idea of challenging myself and figure if I can get down to my running weight before I start running again, it’ll be easier. I’ve decided when I can walk up and down stairs and not feel any pain or weakness in my knee, I’ll try to run. Though sometimes I tell myself if I’m out for a walk and the mood strikes me, I’ll break out into a run, that my body will know when it’s time.
It’s been two and a half weeks since the Boston Marathon bombings killed 3 people and injured over 250. Many are still in the hospital. At least 15 of the victims had to have amputations. That little ache in my knee, it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, doesn’t seem that bad any more.
Boston marathon day, I watched the race, then tracked the runners I know as they made their way along the route. I got updates on their pace every 5K, their projected times, and could even watch little running figures spinning their legs along the map of the route. I was happy for them, but jealous too. Since my surgery, I’ve done a good job keeping myself from thinking about how much I want to run again. And I’ve told myself if I can run again, it’s going to be different—less mileage, more cross-training, no more marathons. Maybe I’ve been telling myself that’s all I need so the running gods will see I’m not greedy. But watching the race and tracking my friends that day I got a little greedy. I not only wanted to run again, I wanted to run another marathon, and not only that, I wanted to run the Boston Marathon again!
The guy in the picture above, Jeff Bauman, was at the race to cheer on his girlfriend. He lost both legs below the knee. A newlywed couple both lost part of their lower left legs. A professional ballroom dancer lost her foot.
As you know by now, I love running. I think everyone should run. I think it helps people learn about and appreciate themselves, others, and the world. But I also think it’s a very self-indulgent activity. When a runner runs, it’s for him or herself. All the miles, workouts, and races are for the benefit of the runner and no one else. I think we can admire runners for their toughness and dedication, that we can be happy for them when they reach their goals. But we shouldn’t glorify any of them for running, even the best runners in the world, who train the hardest, who do things the rest of us can’t do, because all that time, all that work, though it’s hard, it’s not a sacrifice. It’s just part of the equation, part of being a runner. They do it for themselves.
I only bring this up because the people killed and hurt by the bombs were not running in the Boston marathon–they were there to watch–and watching someone else run is a selfless activity. Watching a race, especially a big city marathon, takes a lot of time and energy. It usually means getting up early, skipping breakfast, then standing and watching and waiting; tired, hungry, thirsty—all for the sake of the runner, who is out there having the time of his or her life–I know that’s what it is, especially now that I can’t wait to do it again. But these people stand and watch and wait, sometimes in the cold, sometimes in the rain, for a glimpse of their runner, maybe a wave, a quick “Thanks” afterwards. What they get is nothing close to what they give.
But don’t get me wrong–I think runners are great. Most of my best friends are runners. I hope to become one myself again soon. I’ll run as much as my body allows and know it will all be time well spent. Engaging in a self-indulgent activity doesn’t mean person is selfish or narcissistic. The runners I know are friendly, generous, and compassionate. And like I said earlier, I think the habit of running helps make people better. I was talking to a college professor recently and she said when the Admissions officer sees “cross-country” on a student’s application, it goes to the top of the pile. I think that’s a good call, and that runners are more likely to be good students, good workers, good friends, good people. But still, the running, the actual running—that’s all for themselves.
I also don’t mean to say that people watching races, like the victims of the marathon bombing, don’t want to be there. They do, and that’s makes it even more impressive. Because I like running, I like to go watch races. I went to one last weekend. But I know that for non-runners, watching others do it is not the kind of thing that takes one’s breath away. Still, so many people that don’t really care about running want to be there to support their runners. And of course, they do have a good time on race days. Because that’s what the best people do—make the best of whatever situations they’re in.
In many ways, running is a solitary activity. Some of my best and favorite workouts have been done alone—around the track in the evening, hitting my times, talking to myself the whole time, stretching out afterwards as the sun goes down—I wouldn’t have wanted anyone there to interrupt my reveries.
But it’s different with races. I want the people I care about to see me then. Some moments I remember best from my years of racing are when I’ve seen my people out on the course, cheering me on. I remember when my dad showed up to watch me run the best race of my life, a 20K Labor Day weekend when I was just out of college. I didn’t even know he was going to be there and didn’t see him until about the 4 mile mark and got a sudden boost of energy. When we looped back and I saw him again at 6 miles, I was in the lead. The course followed an old railroad path which spectators couldn’t get to, but one thing that kept me in the lead was knowing my dad would be there the next time the path crossed over the road.
More recently, I remember Reader #1 standing with my brother, and nephew shivering at mile 16 of the 2009 Chicago marathon as I cruised by running my best race in years. I think this was the first time she’d watched me run. I remember my brother the year before that leaning out his car window whooping encouragement as he drove beside me on the final stretch of the Lakefront marathon in Milwaukee. I could go on and on. From all my miles of racing, why do these moments stick out? Maybe it’s because, as Chris McCandless of Into the Wild wrote just before he died, “Happiness is only real when shared.”
It occurs to me I haven’t done enough to let the people who’ve come to watch me over the years know how much I’ve appreciated it, what an essential part of my running life they’ve been. Is it too late to do so now? For some, it is, and I’ll have to figure out what to do with that.
After the Boston marathon, I didn’t feel right about blogging about my rehab, my nearly perfect knee, on my leg that stretches all the way to the ground. I also didn’t want to write about the bombing itself because others, who were there and could say more, have done so already. But I wanted to keep this blog going, so I had to write something. In life, as in running, you don’t get anywhere by doing nothing. And as Jeff Bauman, the guy who lost both of his legs said, “I’m pissed, obviously, but it’s in the past, you know; you can only look forward.” So forward it is, and much easier for me than for him….