My niece Emma is 6 years old. Every year her parents and their friends throw a Christmas party with a special appearance by the one and only Santa Claus. Now, this Santa is actually my brother-in-law John, a jolly enough fellow, former state champion in the javelin, and currently a powerlifter. He’s a big guy, fills the suit well, and has been doing so for years. As the children at this party have gotten older, and some have realized that Santa Claus is actually John. Last year, my sister in law expected Emma would figure it out, that when she sat on her dad’s lap, told him what she wanted for Christmas, and heard his voice, she would surely realize the truth. So as not to ruin it for the younger kids, she told Emma, “If you notice anything strange about Santa, don’t say anything, but come over and whisper it in my ear.” Well, last year passed, with Emma sitting on Santa’s lap, telling him what she wanted for Christmas, and she didn’t notice anything strange.
But as this year’s Christmas party was approaching, they figured surely she’d recognize him. Her mom gave her the same instructions: if you notice anything strange about Santa, come over and whisper it in my ear. The party began, John was there, but then at some point he disappeared. Shortly after, Santa arrived. All the kids brave enough sat on his lap, told him how good they’d been, and what they wanted to find under their trees on Christmas morning. Emma did the same, felt his strong hands as he lifted her up, talked back and forth with him, looked him in the eye. When she was done, she jumped off and ran immediately to her mom. She knows, her mom thought. But when Emma whispered in her mom’s ear, all she said, “I noticed something strange about Santa….his beard is not attached to his face!”
That’s it. That’s what she noticed. That and the fact that he was wearing his boots over his shoes. She didn’t see her dad, though she’s a very smart little girl and the evidence was all there for her to see. She still saw Santa. With some peculiarities, sure, but it was him. Now my lovely perfect wife tells this story better than I do, but I thought I’d try as well, because every time we talked and laughed about it, we concluded that it just goes to show that: people believe what they want to believe.
Why am I discussing this on my running blog? Well, it’s occurred to me that I might be just like Emma. For my last report, way back in September, I’d just run a 21 minute 5K and was feeling pretty livid about it and was determined to get back in shape once and for all. I was looking forward to a glorious autumn of running harder and getting faster, being myself again. But now it’s January already, and while I did make some improvements, they were not as grand as I imagined. And I didn’t even run another race. I kept waiting to feel good enough, fast enough, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t want to do another race unless I was ready to go at least under 20 minutes for a 5K. “Just get out there and try,” you might be saying. “The best way to get in racing shape is to race.” That’s true, but I guess I am just too fragile in the head to knock myself out and run a heavy, gasping, slow-footed 5K in over 20 minutes again. Because what I’m aiming for now is just a stepping stone. First I need to get under 20 minutes, then under 19, and then under 18 again. Another bad race and I might not be able to keep going. And by “keep going” I mean keep fighting to get myself back in racing shape OR keep deceiving myself to think that I can.
You see, at this point, I don’t know which is the case. On the one hand, there’s no reason I can’t get back in shape. It’s just a simple equation of me moving my body over land at a certain speed for a certain distance. Tantalizing simple. However, I know I shouldn’t have faith in this just because I want to be true. And I know that on the other hand is the fact that I’ve been trying to get fast, haven’t been able to, and maybe it’s not possible. And this is backed up with some pretty solid evidence, the rate at which I can and cannot move my body over land for a set distance. This is why I say I might be like Emma, ignoring all the hard evidence and my own good sense of reality to keep living in my fantasy world, the world in which I can actually feel fit and fast, maintain 6 minutes per mile pace, break 5 minutes for a single mile, run a nice ten-miler at under 7 minute pace just because it’s a nice day for a run, all my crazy dreams.
At some point Emma is going to realize the truth and be none the worse off for it. That’s why we can laugh about it. But if I find I’ve been living in a fantasy world, that I can’t get back to where I want, well, does that mean I’ve been wasting time and energy believing I can? I know it wouldn’t be completely wasted. I enjoy running and enjoy setting goals for myself. But there’s a difference between the experience of a goal-orientated, realistic, satisfied runner and one deluded about his or her possibilities. I think if I knew that I wasn’t going to be fast again, for whatever reason, I could transition to being a gentleman jogger and pay no attention to time or distance or getting faster. I could do it. Live a normal life. But at this point I still want to believe. It’s like I’m saying: who knows for sure whether Santa’s beard is attached to his face? I mean, anything is possible. Well, maybe that’s not true, but lots of things are possible. Lots of things will happen.
Because it’s been so long since I’ve posted, I won’t bore you with all my training info. Like I said, I have improved since September. I attribute this simply to more running. In the 14 weeks since my last post, I have averaged 33 miles a week (with 2 hours a week of cross-training). For the 14 weeks before that, I averaged 24 miles per week (with 5.5 hours of cross training). My knee seems to be holding up to the extra miles and back-t0-back days of running well enough. I did get another cortisone shot in November, and I’m actually just finishing up a week off of running completely (I think I’ll go ten days then start again) because of an issue with the tendons above my kneecap. This is probably related in some way to my injury, muscle weakness or the brace I have to wear, but it doesn’t seem to be directly related to the joint line, the meniscus or microfracture surgery, so I expect it will be fine after this rest. So, even though most of these would have been easy or moderate days in my past life, here are my best days from the fall:
November 3rd: 6 mile loop at 6:56 pace (struggled to run this at 7:25 in the summer)
November 7th: 2.5 miles on the track at 6:40 pace
November 10th: A 6:00 mile in the middle of a long track workout (fastest mile in the three years since my knee surgery)
November 18th: 4 800’s under 3 minutes, last one in 2:52
December 9th: 6 mile repeats (2 minutes rest) on rolling hills, averaged 6:28
December 11th: 6 800’s under 3 minutes, last one in 2:49
December 17th: 5K tempo run on track in 20:34 (6:35 pace)
December 19th: 6 mile loop at 6:49 pace
On to 2016!