|Ghosts from the past: running in 1980 with my college teammates.|
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.
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.