Sunday, July 8, 2012

Exercising Ghosts

Ghosts from the past: running in 1980 with my college teammates.
Well, last week I thought that things were starting to go my way for a change, unfortunately this week was the complete opposite. I went against my better-laid plans of the past few months and did too much, too soon. By the middle of this week, I was at the point of just giving up for good. I know what I want to get out of my running and I am just not getting there, no matter how much energy and thought I put into it. I would think that 95% of the people placed in my shoes would have given up long time ago or chosen another sport or hobby or maybe just have resigned themselves to sitting around the house watching television and hobbling back and forth to the refrigerator (it is tempting).

I keep asking myself, why do I keep trying to get back to being a competitive runner? It is at those times that I remember why I love to run. It certainly has nothing to do with talent, speed, or some quest to win races (or age-groups these days). I just remember the little feelings through the years. It is hard to put in words, but it is like little ghostly images that remind my of some simple ingrained pleasures from years ago. When I run, I do not picture myself as a 53 year runner lumbering stiff-legged down the road as I do now, I still envision myself with the legs and heart and lungs of my much younger self. Running to me is going shirtless and sockless on a steamy summer day, wearing nothing but some thin nylon shorts and a pair of well worn Nike LDVs with my thin longish hair being being blown back and bouncing behind me as I stride alongside the blue oceans of Vinyard Sound. Running is a long group run with high school or college teammates, the chatter, the feeling out of each others strengths, upping the pace, and sometimes on a good day a long 2-3 mile sprint back to school with a couple of other antsy runners running faster, it seems, then we would later have the energy to put into that weekend's race. I know-not smart- but the surge of power when you are running at your best tempo alongside other inspired teammates, well that is running! Running is, when I became smarter about training, pushing a training run out to 2-3 hours, going 20 or more miles, and realizing that whether you are bundled up on a freezing cold day or pushing through a hot summer afternoon that your body can handle any distance thrown at it. Running is a Wednesday night track workout with the speedsters on my running club, flying though intervals on a hot muggy evening and feeling a determined effort in your legs and lungs, pausing for a short bit, then doing the interval again and again until it seems your bones turn floppy with exhaustion, but your spirits soar, because you have hung on to some faster younger guys pace far longer than you should have. These are memories that I don't want to give up.

I remember an essay Personal Record: Shirtless Days written by Rachel Toor in the March issue of Running Times back in 2010 that captured my feelings perfectly: how could a female writer write so convincingly about the young male distance runner and his thoughts as he gets old?
When he runs he becomes that floppy-haired loose-limbed boy again. When he is in motion, he celebrates himself in all the ways that words fail, especially on hot days when he glides shirtless through summer streets, unselfconscious, unaware, wearing nothing but side-split shorts and the pride and pain of making himself run as hard and as far and as fast as he can.
Yeah, that is the ghost that keeps haunting me. I want to be that runner again...well except I'll keep my shirt on! Unfortunately, Rachel points out another truth about us runners who are just trying to hang on to what we once knew so well.
He fears--but will not admit--that at some point he may no longer be able to run. He knows that he will continue to slow, to be felled by injuries from a lifetime of doing his body little good. He knows that time is not on his side.
It is then and now that I sometimes admit those feelings and say to myself, "Really, what are you trying to accomplish? Just stop the madness."

Uta Pippig with my daughter Emily
at the 1988 Falmouth Road Race.
I have been reading the book Running With the Legends: Training and Racing Insights from 21 Great Runners and was reading the chapter on three-time Boston Marathon Champion Uta Pippig, Her coach, boyfriend, and later husband Dieter Hogen, once a promising 1500 meter runner whose career was cut short by injury, said that the injury formed the philosophy of his coaching, "If you make a big mistake, then it is over, and it never comes back. You have just this one body, and you can't change parts." I am sure Dieter was talking about elite world class runners, but what if he is right about the rest of us? 

Katie McCafferty
The current August 2012 issue of Running Times is a real good issue with the articles on Kenyan runners and Don Kardong's advice to our Olympic Marathon team. There is also an article by Linda Flanagan called "Decoding the Signals." She writes about the confusion that runners face when they have to decide whether to "listen to their bodies" or to the "no pain-no gain" platitudes. That is where I am. Do I go easy and not push things or do I force the issue and do everything I can to get my running back on track. She mentions a Georgetown runner Katie McCafferty who pushed through pain to keep doing the racing she wanted despite the "painful throb in her hip and lower abdomen." Upon reading these words I knew exactly what was going to be wrong with Katie. Sure enough, she had a torn labrum in her hip. The article said she is still recovering a year after her surgery. Well, the end of this month marks the one year anniversary of my surgery. While at first it seemed I was going to have one of the easiest recoveries in the annals of labral tear patients  (I did 8 miles less than two months post surgery) the recovery is taking much longer than I hoped for and expected. It certainly looks like it will take more than a year for me, too!

So, I guess I must still go on! Two weeks ago, I did 28 miles including three 8 miles runs. I thought I was getting somewhere. The 8 milers may have been my mistake. I had been working on building up slowly and then with the slightest hint of success, I started pushing things too far!

This week I did 20 miles which is quite an achievement when I realize how bad things were at the beginning of the week. After running a 5k race on Monday, I watched the 5 mile racers finish. They descend down a hill from a winding trail onto the finishing roadway where they make a quick turn on the pavement to the finishing chute. As I watched, I realized I don't or can't run with that reckless abandon anymore. There is no sprint.  There are no quick corners. There are only carefully measured out and humble footsteps. As I watched former training and racing partners dash to the finish, it dawned on me that I am not that kind of runner anymore.

Monday: 3 miles As I said, I did the Mine Falls Trail 5K for the second week in a row, however I hadn't recovered from the hard 8 miler the day before. I also put on the Donjoy S.E.R.F. strap too tight. I couldn't warm up as I was limping on my left hip, but raced anyway. My coordination was off due to the strap and I was exhausted from the previous day's run. I ran 15 seconds faster than the previous week, but I should have been in better shape. Put it this way, I am running almost 5 minutes slower than two years ago when I was dealing with my bad hip and, well, the last two weeks an 8 year old boy has finished right in front of me in the 5k races. So is my goal for the year to get just a bit faster in order to beat an 8 year old runner?
Tuesday: exhausted and sore-no run
Wednesday: back and hip is off - about the worst it has been in a long time- no run.
Thursday: 2 miles: thought I felt OK and went for an 8 miler, but my muscles were all stiff from stretching to get out of pain the previous day, had to stop and walk home.
Friday: 5 miles slow
Saturday: 5 miles slower - I did not use the S.E.R.F. strap on Saturday and Sunday
Sunday 5 miles again- maybe this is a good distance- With a mile to go I saw a runner ahead and decided to pick up my slow pace and catch up. I saw it was a lady, then I saw that she was a somewhat overweight lady jogger (although running smoothly and at a good pace). I couldn't get fast enough to pass her before my street so I added a 1/4 mile so I could run her down (sad-I know) and took another road back to my house. I did go faster for the workout despite the additional blocks then I had run on the previous two days.

So I guess I am still in the running game, although my targets are now to pass an 8 year old kid and attempting to outrun overweight joggers! All in all I salvaged 20 miles for the week. Not once during those miles did I feel like that "floppy haired, loose limbed boy." Pardon me, I've still have some ghosts I have to catch up with.


Anonymous said...

Jim - I had to re-read this post twice. It seemed like you were talking with the same voice and mind that I had, but been unable to put into the words that I wanted.

I am a 55 year old runnah who it seems is trying to recapture some of that tousled headed youth that I lost many years ago, by continuing my running.

I enjoyed this post and hope that you can continue your progress back to where you want to be :-)


Jim Hansen said...

Thanks Harold, Keep at it and never give up. I guess some day in the future I will look back and joyfully recall the days when I could hobble through a 5 miler!

Jim Hansen said...

I think you have written to me or posted here before. I saw your blog today and I like your staying, "Run while you can and keep smiling" on!

Anonymous said...

Someone has to figure this thing out soon, and help one of us. And then all of us will have the answer.

Also, 8 year olds are fast. :)