Starting over: a humbling, thrilling adventure

I used to hop out of bed before sunrise and run 20 miles. Now I consider it a victory if I can run 200 yards without stopping.

My goals are modest these days. I chug down the street to the third mailbox. Then I stop and walk for 15 seconds.

I run to the big tree. I stop and walk a little more.

I run to the stop sign. I walk some more.

I feel like a newby runner, not someone who has completed 10 marathons, nearly two dozen half-marathons, a 50K, and more short races than I can remember.

It’s humbling to try to come back from an injury, the blown-out iliotibial band in my right leg.

It takes patience and discipline and hope. And some therapy.

It is something of an adventure. Maybe I can do it. Maybe I can’t. But let’s see what happens.

It’s a sensation I haven’t felt in a long time — maybe since I began training for my first marathon in 2002. Back then, I felt a thrill every Saturday, as I pushed my long run into new territory: 7 miles, 9 miles, 11 miles….all the way to 23 miles, and then the taper, the anticipation, and then the big race, which went just fine.

At the end of the first season, I could say “I did it.” Who knew it was possible? Every week during that year was a new adventure. It was a coming of age, from a couch potato to a running fanatic.

I never became super-fast. But I became more healthy and happy. Like most runners, I kept records of my best races. And I stapled my dozens and dozens of running bibs to the garage wall.

Now, I’m starting over again. Can I do it? Is it possible? Will I ever run a marathon again?

It’s way too soon to answer the question. But, really, that’s the beauty of it. I’m recapturing my first training season all over again — all the uncertainty, the hope, the setbacks, the incremental accomplishments, the aches, the doubts, the unknown, the joy, the journey.

There’s no sense rushing it or trying to leapfrog back to where I used to be. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Yes, I could get frustrated and impatient, and try to start running five or ten miles before I’m ready.

But my IT band will scream, and my legs will shut down.

I know. I’ve tried that a half-dozen times already in the past 14 months. It’s no fun. I end up on the bench again, frustrated and bitter, gaining weight and missing my endorphins.

I have to go slow and steady. Do lots of stretching. Go through lots of ice. Keep patient.

This morning, I did a 1.5-mile run/walk. It was the fourth time in five days I’ve done this.

While I chug around the block in first gear, my mind is flipping back and forth. One moment, it whispers: “Man, are you are out shape. Listen to your breathing. Listen to your heart rate. You call this running? You stink.”

But I keep going.

I run up a slight hill, and then walk for 15 seconds. I run to the “Slow Children” sign (and try not to take it personally), then walk for 15 seconds. Then I run down the hill to the third driveway.

And a minute later, my voice whispers, “That wasn’t so hard. Keep it up. Your leg feels fine, and that’s the important thing. Don’t worry about your heavy breathing. Your fitness will improve in its own time.”

And I keep going.

Maybe I can come back. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to run 20 miles again. If not, at least I tried. Just like back in 2002, when I pulled on my running shoes, headed out of the door, and headed down the road for God knows what.

It’s a new season. Let the adventure begin.

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One Response to “Starting over: a humbling, thrilling adventure”

  1. Hey John, Thanks for sharing the article. Nice reflection on why I run and continue to love it even though after turning 50+ the pain free days are in the past. I hope to be hobbling along a trail when i’m 97 still loving it and still cussing because it’s a hill!

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