Sunday, August 31, 2014

I Will Never Again Claim to Be Back (But at Least I Am Here)

If you’ve followed my writing over the years, you’ll know three things about me
1)      I am a passionate runner
2)      I am a passionate writer
3)      In both running and writing, I have had high points and low points; times when I have been prolific, and times I have been dormant; times when the passion ran over the cup, and times when the cup dried up.

When one has a passion, it is genuine, but not always consistent.  It is a profound truth that passion cannot be faked.  Trying to exhibit passion when it has waned is a futile battle, and not worth the effort.  People see right through it.

After having genuinely felt the passion of both running and writing for years, and after reaching what I felt to be maximum heights in both, the energy that both created left me.  I think that, to some extent, it speaks to my overall personality.  I am the type of person who is very goal oriented, but upon achieving the goal, I move on to something else rather than trying to extend the accomplishment beyond what it already was. I will never run as fast as I did in my 20s, 30s, or 40s.  I will never even come close again.  I have earned all the writing awards I set out to achieve, and have been published in all the magazines I targeted, so I have no other writing goals. But in the back of my mind, I know I will always be a runner and I will always be a writer.

During my dry spells and through my mental blocks, I tried several times to try to conjure up passion when none existed, hoping that proclaiming its triumphant return would somehow box it in a corner and make it happen.  But as quickly as my “return to running and writing” was announced, it disappeared faster than a one hit wonder.  You can’t box passion into a corner and claim it as yours.

It’s funny how research bares out the truth.  In my mind, I say I have been a runner for a solid 30 plus years, until I go through the piles of running logs, and computerized spreadsheets that reveal a slightly contrasting story, one that has many blank pages paralleling the weeks, or months, or even years I didn’t run within the walls of those 30 plus years.  Although it is true that once you are a runner, you will a runner forever be, it does not mean you are always running.  So in reality, though I say I have been running for over 30 years, it includes several years where I either ran very sporadically or not at all.

A page from week two of my very first running log, 1982.  I still had everything to learn.  For the most part, I still do.

During my years of running, though, I have seen some consistencies as well, as enthusiasm waxed and waned within each decade.  I ran PR’s at various distances in my 20’s, 30’s and most recently, a day after by 49th birthday, when a well-trained me ran a marathon PR.  Granted, the marathon was never my distance of choice or highest success.  Until that race, whenever anyone asked me what my marathon PR was, my answer would be “I don’t know.  I haven’t run it yet.”  But that race was still a shining moment, knowing at the starting line I had done my work, and I was ready to do something special.  And now, I know that it will always be my marathon PR.

But that was 10 years ago, and since then, I have been a runner of extremes, with years where I ran very little, years where I ran more than 50 races, and everything in between.  The running years have been dictated by various outside influences, some of a personal nature, some due to professional influences, and some where my body rebelled.

The last two years in particular, has been very difficult for running.  A career change made it difficult to find the time to run, and various injuries have stopped me in my tracks.  It was last September I was diagnosed with a stress fracture and quickly upon my return, I developed a torn Meniscus, which was a relatively minor injury, but it kept me from running and ultimately needed surgical repair, which was done in April of this year.
During that period of time, there was often a very real feeling at times that perhaps I would never be able to run again, and I’d either have to find something compatible to replace it, or find nothing and grow fat and old and miserable.  This was a very real feeling, and sometimes still is.  But I am gaining renewed hope as the healing process continues, a healing that seems to be about much more than just a knee. 

The first thing I am learning during recovery is that walking is not so bad, and in fact, can be just about as enjoyable as running.  At least now, I know I have a viable back-up if running truly does fail.  The second thing I am learning is that running an 11-minute mile can feel as good a running a 6-minute mile once did, because there is an appreciation that running is a gift, and the gift is not defined by pace alone.  As long as running keeps on giving, I will keep on living.  And the third thing I am learning is to never again be so hard on myself when it comes to running, to just let it happen, without fanfare, and without disappointment that I didn’t squeeze a few extra seconds out of a 5K race.  I’m not saying I won’t have future goals.  I already do.  But the true joy is not in the accomplishment of a goal.  It is in attempting to achieve it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Another Top Ten Run

This morning, I ran three miles in a little over 29 minutes, and at this moment, I’m thinking it may just be one of my top ten runs of all time.  I realize that’s saying a lot.  I’ve been running since the early spring of 1982, and I’ve run hundreds of races, more than a handful of marathons, and of course, at some point, I’ve PR’ed at every distance I’ve run.  Plus, I’ve run this course many times before, and often, much faster than today.  So what made today’s run so special?

As I was thinking about the subject of top ten runs of all time, I found it very difficult to limit my list to ten mere runs out of the thousands I’ve done over the past 32 years. Many runs quickly came to mind., far more than the ten that compete for the top of the pile.  Some runs were races where I exceeded my expectations, and in some way, exceeded my abilities for a brief moment in time.  These were not always the best races in my life, but sometimes, they were the races that built the confidence that I could rise to the next level.  Other runs were runs that were overshadowed by the story surrounding them, like jumping a fence and suddenly finding myself on the front lawn of the Biltmore Estates, or running around a place called Goat Island and unexpectedly being face to face with Niagara Falls.  Yet other memorable runs were punctuated by  something simple, like catching a shooting star, or a bright rainbow, or a fox crossing right in front of me. 

Yet other runs were memorable because of the people I did them with.  My first marathon with Kelli was almost an hour from my fastest, but will always be remembered as a most memorable one.  Helping my father to PR times thirty years ago still burn brightly in my mind.  My thrill for his accomplishments are equal to or greater than for my own, and I still smile when he glowing recalls a specific 5K race in under 24 minutes all these years later.  Then there was the Reach the Beach 200 mile relay race in New Hampshire, with a team if Internet friends who all pulled together and had a real bonding experience in the process.

So in reality, my top ten list is probably comprised of at least 25 runs. Once a run achieves top ten status, it can’t be pushed out by another run, so the list grows.  But before this morning, it’s been years since a single run achieved such status.  So what made this morning’s innocent-looking, seemingly uneventful run so special?  More than anything else, it is the history behind it.

The last year and a half has been a painful period of time for this runner.  A new job slowly knocked me off of my running routine, so much so that it switched from a lifestyle to a sporadic occurrence.  The passion left me, and what remained was a lack of desire to do what had become a habit over the years.  There had been times in my life when I didn’t know how not to run.  It was a main fiber of who I was.  But now, every time was an effort, and felt more like a chore than a desire.

Then, my running body started to fail me.  First was a stress fracture of my big toe that disabled me for about two months, followed by a torn meniscus in my left knee, which was finally surgically repaired in late April.  I felt like I was never going to run again.  My feet and legs hurt almost all the time, and even walking and standing were painful. But I did not give up.

After the surgery, I started walking, and found I liked it more than I had expected. It provided a lot of the same benefits as running, such as a sense of well-being and accomplishment, and I found I had the same desire to walk farther and faster each walk, just like I had experienced with running three decades earlier.  Slowly, I gained confidence to start mixing running back in with my walking, first a minute at a time, then extending from there.  I won’t say it was nothing but forward progress, because there were minor setbacks along the way, but I stayed with it.

About three weeks ago, I decided to start getting up early again to run before work, something I had not done since I started this job a year ago January.  Getting up at 5:00 just to beat Atlanta traffic to get to work was daunting enough, but I decided to get up at 4:40, run three miles, and sit in traffic due to my later start to work.  I had ultimate goals in mind when I started, but the runs started very slow, and sometimes involved walking.  Runs of 32 minutes or longer were not uncommon for my 3-mile runs.  My three immediate to short term goals were to find the passion again in running, to break 30 minutes for three miles, to drop my weight from 180 pounds to 170 pounds by the end of September and to run a 5K in under 28 minutes by the first weekend of October.

This morning, I woke up thinking that today might be the day to run under 30 minutes for three miles.  The temperature was a little cooler and drier than it has been, and I was rested from taking yesterday off.  My normal 3-mile route is mostly downhill for the first mile, and mostly uphill for the second mile, with the third mile relatively flat.  I usually know by my 1-mile split how the rest of the run is going to go.  When I hit the 1-mile mark in 9:52, I was actually doubtful I was going to make my goal.  My recent experience has been that if I run my first mile under 10, I’m already tired and slow badly the second, uphill mile.   But I felt better today than I have been, so tried to keep the pace on the uphill and see what I had left for the last mile.  I ran the 2nd mile in 9:50, a very nice surprise, and still felt strong, so I knew I had my goal.  I picked it up the last mile, finishing with a 9:26, and still felt good at the finish.  I felt like old times.

So, top ten run of all time?  OK, maybe not, but it did get me thinking about the past and the future, the elements passion is made of.  I still have two goals to go.  My weight is now 174, so I’m 60% of the way there with a month to go. And on October 4th, I’m going to make my attempt at a sub 28 5K, a time I would have been embarrassed to have publicized for most of my running life, but now, could very well be my next top ten run.  I’m looking forward to September training in cooler weather, and hoping my knee, which feels pretty good right now, will stay that way.

Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Looking ahead to 60

This weekend, Kelli and I are visiting Mom and Dad in Asheville, NC.  While we’re there, we’ll be running the Maggie Valley Moonlight Run.  It’s a fitting combination.  I can’t avoid but to think about dad and running in the same entwined thought.  Our history dovetails with running, or at least it has  for the last 32 years. As for the race, I can’t say I’m ready for it.  Far from it.  The furthest run I’ve done since my surgery is three miles.  I’ve gone longer, but not without walking.  But I’ll be at the starting line, and I’ll cross the finish line, and somewhere within, I’ll navigate the five up and down miles in between.  And this race will represent a starting point in my running rejuvenation.

I have found that establishing running goals have become more challenging as I have gotten older.  I’ll never run as fast as I once did, and I’ll probably never run as far either.  Every year sees me slipping further and further back in the pack, and the reasons are two-fold.  It is partly because my priorities have changed, but it is at least partially due to the fact that I’m just not as willing invest the hard work as I did when new goals were fresh, and PR’s were still in front of me.

But a couple of days ago, I became newly inspired by something that happened close to 30 years ago.
My father turned 60.

Why is that inspiring to me?  Because a year from October, I’ll be turning 60, and when I do, I want to be just like him.  Let me explain.

Dad and I first started racing together when he was in his mid 50s and I was in my mid 20s.  We were both still in New York then, and Dad and I used to meet in Central Park to race once or twice a month.  I used to pace him often, and pulled him to some very impressive age group times.  I never appreciated quite how good his times were until years later, when I started to slow down, and realized I couldn’t run the times he ran in his 50s when I was the age he used to be.  But back then, I was young and ignorant, and still thought I was the one who was going to beat this age thing and never slow down.  In my mid 20s, I could run run 7-minute miles without much effort, so I thought dad’s 8-minute miles were rather pedestrian.  I was sure I’d still be running 7-minute miles in my 50s.   

Boy, was I wrong!

The other day, I was playing around with the web site and came across some interesting data regarding my father.  Fortunately, the New York Road Runners Club was ahead of its time when it came to computerization, and was spitting out electronic results long before most races.  And some of these results make it to the database.  My jaw dropped when I saw some of dad’s race results from when he was 60.  They were impressive, to say the least. 

NYRRC Computer Run-5 mile- 40:27
Perrier 10K- 49:43
Staten Island Half Marathon- 1:50:52

In comparison, I have not run a 10K as fast as that since I was 54, and I have not run a half marathon faster than that since I was 49.  I was 48 the last time I was close to dad’s 5 mile time at age 60.   And my times in all distances have only gotten slower since then.  I have not broken two hours for a half marathon in several years, and I’d be hard pressed to break an hour in a 10K at the moment. 

But as I studied his times from when he was 60, and thought about it, I found myself getting excited at the thought of making my goals when I’m 60 match his achievements when he was there.  Could I possibly still whip myself into shape to run a 50 minute 10K or a 1:50 half marathon when I turn 60?  It would take a dedicated effort, and probably the help of a good coach.  When I used a coach 10 years ago, I ended up running my marathon PR a day after my 49th birthday.  It seems like a lifetime ago now since I was in the shape I was then.  It was 30 pounds ago, and my resting heart rate
was under 40. 

Can I do it?  I have a year to find out, and it’s going to be a fun one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top 5 reasons to Run in the Rain

Every day now, I seem to be taking additional steps to shake the softness that has crept into my running life the past few years.   It started far before the surgery, and every day seemed to pull me further and further from the athlete I used to be.  For what seems like a long time now, I had been finding every excuse to NOT run, and I was settling into a life of comfort and leisure.

But the last few weeks, a spark has been ignited, and I am working my way out of this comfort zone and back into the life of a runner. The knee surgery was a success, and I've worked my way back to being the runner of passion that I used to be.  It was very hard at first, a quarter mile peppered into my walks, then, as I tested the waters more, the running started to come back slowly.   I've been answering the 4:50 AM call to hit the roads about every day, and though I have a long way to go, I am now going to bed every night expecting to start the next day with a run.

This morning, I added a new level to the discomfort, doing something I once never thought twice about, and in fact, looked forward to.  This morning, for the first time in forever, I did a run in the rain.  It took me by surprise.  I didn't even know it was raining until I opened the front door to go for my run.  I didn't even reconsider for a fraction of a second.  I was out, playing in it right away.

I have written about the virtues of running in the rain in the past.  I love doing it, once I'm out in it.  It's invigorating, refreshing, and it always leaves a warm memory once completed.  SO while I was running and thinking, I came up with the top five reasons for running in the rain.

5) You don't have to carry water

4) You don't need to take a shower when you're done.

3) Your running route is suddenly your triathlon route

2) No worries about getting a Farmer's Tan

And the Number 1 reason to enjoy a run in the rain.

1) You don't have to hold your pee until you finish.  Who will know?

Think about that the next time you try to talk yourself out of a run in the rain!