Sunday, March 29, 2015

Maybe I need Runners Anonymous

Image result for addicted to running
I can’t count the number of times I have had conversations with runners who never intended to be runners yet found themselves religiously out pounding the pavement.     All of them have two things in common; none of them would think twice about stopping and all of them have stories about injuries, sore muscles and suffering through unusually cold morning runs.   And they are quick to tell you about them if you are unfortunate enough to suggest you are the slightest bit interested.

Some of the best stories are how they got started.  Lost bets after imbibing too much in the local bar,   a challenge to  one’s manhood or womanhood by a lifelong competitive “friend” or sibling,  an attempt to stave off the aging process (I can verify this one doesn’t work),  or just simply the goal of losing weight.   Some are the result of life changing events; an illness, a death in the family, a divorce or a near death experience. 

I find the people in this latter group tend to be the ones that stick to it and ultimately join the ranks of us regular street stompers.    Regardless of how they started, the process tends to be similar; a small goal starts to blossom into larger goals and before they know it they are hooked.   It might start with making a mile without stopping and when they cross that hurdle, two miles doesn’t look so daunting.    Before they realize it they are asking other runners questions about shoes and injuries, which leads to an invitation to try a 5K (3.1miles).    I’ve had people tell me they could never make it through a 5K and months later they are doing a 10K and talking about doing a half marathon (13.1 miles).    Many of the first time marathoners I’ve met never though they would run a half marathon but after busting through that barrier it only made sense to go for “the big one”.  

To non-runners this “chasing the next goal” makes no sense at all and thus the frequent suggestion that these runners need intervention.  Suggesting to these runners that they should stop is likely to get you an eye roll or an incredulous “you can’t possibly mean that” look.  Taking away their shoes, running clothes or watch are likely to get you physical harm (and justifiably so I might add).    What really drives the unenlightened non-participators crazy is when runners start complaining about painful injuries but refuse to stop running (this makes my wife go apoplectic…bug-eyed, drooling, strange noises coming out of her mouth).    The truth is, if we stopped running every time we had a little ache or pain we would never be running.    When it comes to injuries, there are three types of runners: those that are injured, those that are getting over an injury and those that will shortly be injured.   There is a fourth category, those that have stopped running or are dead but we don’t count them.  

Given all this, it is understandable that anyone who is not a runner would think that running looks an awful lot like an addiction.  The  sense of loss when a run is missed, the passion for escalating activity to further and faster, chasing the runners high, and the willingness to keep doing it even when it appears detrimental to your health might be reasons why it has been suggested to me that maybe I need outside help.   

I may be in denial but I believe the reason there is no Runners Anonymous is because no one would come.   Those that are running don’t see a need for it and those that are not, aren’t candidates.    Any gathering of runners would simply be an excuse to go for another run (which is of course why we have road races).

Maybe what we really need is group therapy sessions for the spouses, family and significant others of runners.   They can share stories on how to cope with the stinky running shoes and clothes, being alone in mornings during long runs, feeling left out at running events, and cheering 101 for those occasional road races they attend.   They could learn valuable skills, like muscle massage, first aid for knee injuries, and how to tape an Achilles.

For me, I found a better answer.   I just cooped my children into running at an early age.   We are now planning our next family vacation…around a running event.

Four weeks to go till Boston.  This one promises to be really interesting.  More on that next time.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sometimes a little help goes a long way

Back in ancient times when I was a young runner, I often had the opportunity to run with other athletes some of whom took their competitive running very seriously.  While I enjoyed the competitive aspect of the runs, it was really the camaraderie that I enjoyed the most.    Working out with other runners made the time fly by and often we would talk through issues of work, life and family.    No matter how good you are, everyone has good days and bad and often the difference between the two is just having someone alongside helping you along.     

Fast forward to the last decade or so and I run alone pretty much all the time.   Work schedules made it hard to find a convenient time to schedule regular runs and moving separated me from the few close running friends I occasionally would catch for a weekend run.    While I don’t mind running alone, especially when I’m trying to work through particularly gnarly problems or trying to come to grips with issues like grief,  there is no question that 2+ hours  in your own head can get pretty old (unless you are particularly narcissistic).      

This weekend I had the pleasure of spending time with my sister and brother and their families.     There’s nothing like family to remind you what is important in life (and to let you know when you are screwing up).     But what I love most about my family is their willingness to give of themselves to help others. 

 I had a longish run scheduled for Sunday morning that I dreading.  I’ve been nursing an injury for several months and as a result, every run starts with the question “how far will I get before the leg gives out”.     Some days I make it, some days I don’t.   Despite the distance I had planned, my sister, a triathlete, offered to keep me company on the run.   We chatted non-stop over the entire run, catching up on family issues, reminiscing and just plain joking around.    I had forgotten what it was like to have a running partner to help make the miles fly by and take your mind off injuries.    There was nothing particularly memorable about the distance and certainly not the speed but this will go down as one of my most memorable runs; sharing some really special quality time with my sister who gave up her Sunday morning sleep to help her brother through a tough spot.

It reminded me why I’m running Boston again this year and why we started Help in the Nick of Time.    It’s pretty amazing what small gestures can do to help someone when they really need a kind word, an offer to share their load, or just a sympathetic ear.    And while this blog gives me an opportunity to moan about getting old and complain about the cold and injuries, what it really is all about is finding a way to inject a little bit of hope into the lives of others, just when they need it.    We all need help now and then and today was a good reminder for me to remember to look for opportunities to Pay it Forward.

Till next time….

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cold and Old....a nasty combination

Image result for run in the snow
The other day I was limping through a run in 2 degree weather and it reminded me of my first car.   My first car was a second hand VW Square back (picture a stretched mini coup), standard shift for those that may remember.    The engine was air cooled, so the heating system in the car worked simply by opening up the vent to the air blowing through the engine so that it blew into the car.    I’m sure it worked great when the car was new but by the time I was the owner the vents to carry the air into the car (which ran under the car) had rusted out.   On a good day you could get enough warm air to keep the windshield defrosted and a half decent job of doing the same for the feet of the driver.  However if you were in the back seat it was like a scene from Frozen.   As luck would have it I carpooled with 3 other people.  They drew straws for the front passenger seat and the others got blankets.   Cold and old are a nasty combination.

That brings me back to one of my recent runs.   It’s a cruel reality that as I get older it just plain takes the body longer to warm up.   By “warm up” I mean the years of accumulated aches and pains of shortened muscles and ancient joints become pliable enough where my running doesn’t resemble the Tin Man after a rain storm without his oil can.      Local teenagers at their bus stop in the mornings have an interesting way of putting it in perspective with comments like “nice Frankenstein imitation” and “are you trying out for a part on the Walking Dead”.

Fair enough…it ain’t pretty getting old as a runner, but what makes it even worst is the cold weather.   I’ve put together a basic formula that goes something like this: 

-          For every decade over 40 it take at least a mile to warm up

-          For every 10 degrees below freezing, double the distance to warm up

At 60 years old and 20 degrees outside that’s 4 miles just to reach the point where little kids walking to school don’t pass you.    At 2 degrees (like it was the other morning) you can actual finish your run before you ever warm up.    The icicles hanging from your hat bear witness to the fact you barely got warm enough to work up a sweat.

I really shouldn’t complain as I really don’t mind the cold that much and there isn’t a darn thing I can do about getting old.   In fact I should be thankful that most days I can still get out and shuffle along a few miles without falling on my face or ending up in the hospital.   My running may not win any awards for speed or how it looks but at least it reminds me I’m not dead…yet.