Monday, December 15, 2008

Mile 0 - 8 years old:

I sucked at athletics as a child. I tried soccer and sucked at that and I was generally the kid who was picked last for kickball, dodgeball, or don't-trip-over-your-own-feet-ball. I recall when our elementary school started to participate in the Presidential Fitness tests, which sought to measure our fitness using a variety of exercises. There were three levels of accomplishment and I failed to reach the lowest level on almost every test. There was only one test where I could reliably reach the lowest rung of achievement: Running.

I wasn't a fast sprinter, but I had just enough endurance to run a mile in the allotted time. It wasn't much, but it was the first modicum of athletic ability I had ever displayed.

This was an interesting data point and I took note of it. It was, however, not compelling enough to make up for the general unpleasantness of running. I would have preferred to show some ability at baseball or girls.

Mile 10 - 16 years old:

Like any sane person, I shunned running as a form of exercise, preferring instead to play video games. However, something during my junior year of high school convinced me that I needed to join a school sports team. Maybe it was the pressure of needing to have something non-academic on my college applications or maybe I was just a dumbass. I don't recall really, but I signed up for the cross country team, as did a few of my fellow nerds.

We weren't very good, certainly not good enough to make the varsity team, so we languished in junior varsity, which is wholly unimpressive for someone in their third year of high school. It was even less impressive during our senior year of high school when we still failed to make the varsity team.

HOWEVER, among the junior varsity runners, and among my little nerd clique, I was one of the fastest. I found the races exhilarating, which made up for the drudgery of the practices. I was delighted to find that despite my general lack of athleticism, I could attain mediocrity at running with plain ol' hard work. This was a remarkable accomplishment for me. I had never before believed that I was capable of mediocrity in a sport.

Mile 500 - 24 years old:

I didn't run much in college and soon I was working a job that put me sitting in front of a computer 8+ hours a day. I realized I needed some form of exercise and after a few failed attempts at building visible muscles in a gym, I turned back to my old standby. I picked out some local 5K and 10K races and started running again.

It still hurt and I still hated each step of the practice runs, but the races were energizing and I consistently amazed myself in races by beating most of the other competitors.

Mile 1500 - 29 years old:

One of my work buddies suggested that we run a half marathon together. It seemed like a ludicrously long distance, but he was a persuasive guy. Week after week I ran distances that were further than I had ever run before. Each week I was astonished that my skinny computer programmer legs were able to do this sort of thing.

The race went well and I couldn't help but start planning for a marathon. What was once an unthinkable goal now seemed in reach. I knew there was a good chance that I'd never be in that good shape again, so it was then or never.

I talked to a few people and devised my own training plan. Training got broken up by a broken collarbone at one point, but I persevered through it. Marathon day came and when I crossed the finish line, it nearly brought a tear to my eye. I hadn't finished as quickly as I wanted, but I completed a marathon dammit!

Daisy was born the following year, which put a hold on my running for a while. I ran a couple more marathons after a few years, but none went as well as the first.

Mile 4500 - 35 years old:

I had plateaued in my running ability so I joined a coached running program. I started doing strength training before my marathons and I ran every training run with a goal. I didn't run a lot of miles, but I ran them hard and purposefully.

My times dropped significantly and I found myself generally finishing in the top 5 or 10% of the races I entered. I ran 7 marathons. I qualified for Boston twice and ran it once. I ran half-marathons in less than 90 minutes.

I was still an awkward runner, but suddenly my expectations of what I could do were much higher. When people asked about my life, "runner" was one of the tags I applied to myself, just like "computer programmer" and "dad".

Mile 10,000 - 40 years old:

So, I've got this knee thing. For weeks now, each time I try to go for a run, my knee starts hurting. I've tried pounding the Advil, and I've tried icing, and I've tried taking multi-week breaks. Nothing seems to help.

I fear this is one of those injuries, like maybe my knees are worn out. Maybe they only had 10,000 miles in them. Maybe I'm done.

I'm kind of crushed by the thought. I haven't gone to see a doctor yet, so that's high on my to do list, but I'm worried.

Running has been my sole source of fitness for my entire adult life. It has given me competition, satisfaction, and the ability to eat as much junk food as I wanted. It has shaped how I see myself.

I honestly hate running, but I need it. It helps me sleep. It keeps me fit. It lets me look at my world as a series of hills and miles that I am capable of conquering. It helps me convince myself that the descent towards old age and physical deterioration is still off in the distance.

But now I'm worried that it might be all over. Hopefully I'm panicking a little prematurely here, but I'm a little freaked out. I was kind of hoping for another few tens of thousands of miles.


Siôn said...

Have you ever thought of (or do you have) inserts in your running shoes? I hear they can make a world of difference to painful knees.
I had some when I was a child - and though they feel weird as hell to start off with - it's almost impossible to stand, let alone run! - they certainly help with certain leg joint pain.
Get yourself to the doctor or some kind of orthotic dude. It's not time for you to retire yet.
(I should probably add here that I'm not a runner - nor have I ever been one. I've just got some f**ed-up legs)

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling ya, Mike. I don't run but I walk (fast) and my left knee has been giving me problems for about the past year or so. Nothing I do seems to help -- laying off, meds, icing, Ben Gay, bracing. And I really can't afford to be down for the count with knee surgery, in more ways than one.

My mother has had both knees replaced and frankly, the spectre of that hanging over me scares the hell out of me.

Mike said...

Siôn, so far I've done pretty well with off-the-shelf inserts, just to add some extra cushioning, but I'll keep that in mind as a possible solution. I just have to drag my ass to the doctor's which I'm never good at.

Mox, yeah, I kind of hope that if I put off this sort of thing long enough, science will get good enough to just solve it. I'm ready for my bionic body now, please. Or just upload my brain to the Googlatron. That works too.

Meg said...

It might not be as bad as you think if you get it looked at by the proper people asap.

Sort of like when I went to my Dr in tears with "I'm cranky, I'm mean, I'm tired, I can't sleep, I overeat, I can't get on top of anything, I make lists and lose them, I can't remember anything I'm afraid I have early onset Alzheimer's. What are my kids going to do without me? How soon until I need to be in a Home?" She looked me straight in the eye and said "You are almost 40 years old with a teenager, toddler, and a newborn. This is totally normal". I said thank you but though F-you in my head. This can't be normal! I'm usually a very together person. I MUST be falling apart. Well, I'm much better now, she was right. It wasn't a big deal. The kids are older and I almost feel like Meg again, not just Mrs. T or Mom or Hey Lady.

It was a few years later I thought it was a good idea to take the Razor scooter and the new puppy and the preschooler out for a spin. Surprisingly, this turned out BAD for all involved. Mostly for my jeans and what was left of my pride. I totally overdid it. I forgot my age.

So here's my late nite free advice and worth every penny. [momrant]
If it were Daisy -- what would you do?
Get thee to a sports doctor or some sort of doctor who knows about bone and sports injuries. (I think I told you this before???) Call TOMORROW. Write the number on a sticky note. If you have a PPO you can self refer and you don't have to go through the general practitioner BS. Either way, get it done. It may be something minor that a simple in office cortisone shot or laser treatment or sound treatment thingie might help if it's spurs. Nip it in the bud so to speak. You could be better in a week! If you wait too long, maybe not.

Don't be afraid to ask for help, because you need it,that's what health insurance and doctors are FOR. Take care of yourself for Hank and Daisy's sake. They don't need you all grumpy and gimpy. Don't pretend it doesn't hurt and over do it. We ARE 40. Things shift and metabolism and hormones change, and you need to see a doctor before going out running again. [/momrant]

But that's just me. Everyone's mom since '91 :)

Avery Gray said...

I'm acquainted with knee things myself, so I feel you. When we started riding again this past spring, my knee was killing me for days after every ride. It turned out that my seat was about two inches lower after I got it back from the bike shop, and I never noticed. I thought for sure that I'd screwed it up somehow, too. My point is, you may be doing something, even something small enough that it doesn't register, that could be irritating it. You won't know for sure until you see the doctor, so go already! I hope everything turns out okay.

Mike said...

Meg and Avery, Okokokok! I'll call a damn doctor. Next week.

meg said...


You know, I may still have your parent's number around here somewhere in a yearbook or something.

Kevin said...

Sorry about your knee -- it is never fun when something hard (potentially impossible) stands between you and the thing you do. The upshot is you get a chance to find something you might like better. The downshot (it's a word... now) is all the failed attempts between you and your goal.

Fingers crossed for a knee recovery. If it doesn't come around there is always sweet, sweet push-ups. Or pull-ups. Or other armesque (it's a word... almost) exercise.

Buenos Pechos! Or was it Patos...?

Mike said...

Hey Kevin! I'm pretty sure it was "buenos pechos" because "good ducks" makes even less sense, even for us.

I saw your update on the high school site and was glad to hear that you're doing well and enjoying life. Now, only if your user link here actually went somewhere accessible. You, sir, need a blog.

Kevin said...

I thought there were two or three ducks standing around on Kim V's sweatshirt and everyone thought it was fun to say "Buenos Pechos" because "Patos" and "Pechos" sounded similar and you could point to her jugs. Maybe I am misremembering... I took French rather than Spanish so those jokes tended to breeze airly above my curls.

I did think pointing at boobs was fun -- still do but I have evolved to be more inclusive and use both the index and middle finger while pointing for maximum crassness.

Other memorable words of note:

Hominid (Doesn't he mean humanoid? Heh -- we knew it all...)

Mike said...

Kevin, man, you remember WAY more of this than I do. That hominid thing does ring a bell, and Kim V. probably did wear ducks as often as not. I suppose Buenos Patos makes as much sense as anything else we did.