Monday, March 12, 2012

Doing war with the Roads

After a particularly challenging run the other day I was taking inventory of all my aches and pains and I came to the realization that the roads had declared war on me, and I was losing. It wasn’t obvious at first, they were using a stealth program that was primarily a war of attrition but last week that changed. Now that the war is declared it’s “game on” and I intend to win, although at times it clearly doesn’t look like it.

I used to view the road as my friend, leading me places I’ve never been, rising to meet me as I easily stride up the hills, smoothly gliding down the far side and out onto a country road that winds through forests, farms, or neighborhoods. It was the weather that could be the enemy and the road and I were allies fighting against it.

But as I’ve gotten older I begun to believe the road has switched sides.

I know, you are thinking “while I may have questioned your sanity before, you’ve totally lost it now”. Well, before you call the men in the white coats (Pam keeps their number handy) bear with me a bit.

The roads have begun a subtle but relentless conspiracy to undermine my running through a complex combination of changes designed to wreak havoc with my joints, muscles and psyche. The assault started with tilting the road surface towards the side of the road so one knee was always twisting to the side. Then there are uneven surfaces and frost heaves designed to simultaneously twist your ankle in multiple directions and strain the hamstring. And we won’t even discuss the wear and tear of running on cement roads and dealing with sand and gravel. But the mother of all assaults, the roads’ secret weapon of mass destruction is the pothole. Which brings us back to my earlier realization; I’m at war with the road.

I was out for an early morning run in San Francisco and as luck would have it, in the rain. It’s dark, wet, cold and I’m particularly happy to be finishing up my run when the road launched its attack. I was crossing a street, looking up to watch for traffic and splashing through puddles when the road disappeared below my foot. Hidden in the puddle was a trench slightly smaller than the state of Rhode Island.

As a disciple of the book “Born to Run” by evangelist and author Christopher McDougall, I’ve totally bought into the minimalist/barefoot running technique which has the runner leaning forward almost to the point for falling forward and with the foot striking below and behind you. This works really well when you have control of your feet but when your foot gets sucked into a vortex it has the tendency to launch you forward at an accelerated rate of speed.

Thus, as my foot caught the far side of the pothole I found myself in full flight with no chance of getting my other foot under me. I’d like to say that I watched it all happen in slow motion but the only thing that seemed to be slow was my reaction. First to strike was the right knee followed in quick succession by the left hip and elbows. The hands came up just in time to avoid needing dental repair, although sliding across the road I contributed a significant share of skin to repairing the surface of San Francisco roads. Clearly given the aforementioned pothole, they need it.
I of course did the immediate crazy runner thing, rolling back onto my feet and yelling “I’m OK” as I’m limping off down the street to the amusement of the bystanders. I don’t get embarrassed by these things anymore having had my share of public displays of unusual behavior over the years. But I have to admit I was a bit uncomfortable walking past the doorman back at the hotel leaving a trail of blood droplets on the lobby floor.

As I’m patching myself up I decided to take inventory on where I stand on the battle with the road. In addition to the road rash, half a dozen cuts, and bruised left hip, there’s the swollen and black and blue right knee. Add those to two blacken toenails (and a third that might just vacate the toe altogether), a hamstring that screams on uphills and any distance over 12 miles, and the beginning of a blister and bruise on the ball of my foot. Clearly it looks like I’m losing the war.

But it’s not as bad as it may appear. Talk to most marathoners and they will tell you that somewhere along the months of training, wrestling with pain and injuries is normal. Granted, not usually this many and not at the same time but if the road thinks it’s won it is sadly mistaken.

I’m back out there and I will be at the start on April 16th to take on 26+ miles of “the road”.

I’m redefining the meaning of “Road Rage”. Watch out road…I’m coming for you.

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