Easing slowly back into running after what feels like a million years away. The strained calf just wouldn't heal, so I had to shut it down entirely. With the exception of cross-training visits to the House of Pain (which Sedge has glossed up and given the snazzy brand name Train-X) it's been a quiet month for training. Nowhere was this more significant than last week at the New York marathon. Took the redeye on Friday night after league finals, on my way to the expo. But instead of the usual post-redeye rejuvenating run in Central Park, which works wonders for banishing fatigue, it was a quick breakfast and a short nap before walking down to the expo. Felt a little groggy until about mid-afternoon, but by that time I was on a train down to Baltimore to see my son at school. All of which is a very long way of saying that I missed the daily run.
But the comeback, as with all comebacks, is not so simple. When you work out on a regular basis the body gets used to the pounding and the rhythm of the run. The breathing comes naturally. The arm swing is loose. The stride is supple and unhurried, finding its way up trails and over creeks without being told what to do. But you take a month off and suddenly all that is lost. It's not like going back to zero, but the fitness baseline feels compromised. You can hear the sound of your own breathing. The stride feels a little stiff. The legs hurt afterward, as if after a ten mile run on pavement.
So I'm going slow. Just this morning I headed out to O'Neill Park for a short run up to the lookout that I refer to as The Palm of God's Hand, for the shape of the land around it and the sweeping view. I kind of waddled down the street, feeling my shorts ride up. My brand new Kayanos were too clean and white, and my shorts and running shirt matched, which is the exact opposite of the grubby casual look that feels so at home in the woods.
Hit the trailhead after five minutes. The light was flat and the air was damp, as if rain is on the way. This is still, technically, rattlesnake season, but I didn't see any slither marks in the dust. Something tells me they're laying low as winter approaches. My stride was careful, because I didn't want to aggravate the calf. But that, in and of itself, called attention to it. A runner shouldn't be thinking about his stride. It should be as natural as a stream flowing over and around rocks. But I was thinking about my stride. And thinking about how the pace felt so lazy. And how I should probably looked completely out of place on the trail, with my shiny white shoes and designer running gear. And how, quite frankly, I didn't really want to be out running, because starting over is hard.
And then I forgot about everything. I started thinking about my team's training mileage, and which specific workout I want to do next Monday. Then it was on to thoughts about their race strategy for Saturday. And then I didn't think about my stride anymore, and I was suddenly a mile up the trail, climbing to the Palm of God's Hand. It wasn't fast. It wasn't pretty. But I was running. And that made me feel great.
I think a lot of things in life are like that. Every time we have to start something all over again, there's this realization that what once seemed so easy is now very difficult. Mental and physical muscles have gotten rusty. Emotional pathways have grown over. Anxieties and fears about failure or the daunting nature of the work to come resurrect themselves, after having been so thoroughly vanquished the last time around. Writers, for instance, have this saying that "you have to get out of your way" in order to write well. The critical parent looking over your shoulder must be told to go away. The tendency to get cute and pretend to be Hemingway or Thompson or anything other than yourself must cease. I think I wrote the opening chapter to CHASING LANCE about ten times because I was so intent on infusing it with some Gonzo voice that had absolutely nothing to do with my own. Finally, I resorted to that Hemingway quote about "just write the truest sentence you can think of" and I was off. I'm researching a new book on presidential history right now. Soon I will begin writing. I have a pace in mind. I have a stride, so to speak, with the way the words will flow onto the page. But it will take a few first passes on that first chapter before I get out of my way and start rocking and rolling.
So that run this morning was me getting out of my own way. I stopped at the view point, said a quiet prayer of thanks for the simple fact that I was out there, then pointed those new Kayanos down the hill and made my way slowly back home. And, wonder of wonders, I am about to stretch. Apparently, this is some newfangled way of preventing injury. Who knew?
Keep Pushing... Always