Saturday, September 4th – Friday, September 10th ……Ahhhh…..is there anything better than a 3 day weekend? Survey says….yes. A four day weekend is better. A week off – even better than that. However, a three day weekend trumps my usual work week – so my grin was a tad broader as I rested my head on the pillow Friday night. My foot wasn’t bothering me. The Tool was burning the midnight oil in his little library of negativity, looking for some other weapon to use against me. Well as my eyes closed and I drifted off to sleep, the little 4” schmuck must have felt like he was working under a horribly tight deadline, because I felt fantastic.
Saturday morning began with a rather different experience: I was able to walk – not hobble – to the bathroom to get ready to run. This was odd. Truly odd. I always hear about professional football players having a hard time getting up each morning sore, stiff, battered and bruised. They wake up simply expecting the pain. It’s a foregone conclusion, and they are used to it. Well with this heel injury, in some VERY small way, I can understand what it must be like. And if I am miserable from this little heel injury, can you imagine how some of the pro running backs must feel after getting pounded 28-40 times a game by 250 + pound linebackers with 7% body fat and 4.5 speed? No wonder they earn great money – their threshold for pain must be off the scale.
As I tied my running shoes, grabbed my Iphone and strolled out my door, I felt a sense of nervous excitement wash over me. It was like buying a new car and taking it for its first real test drive. I knew I had built up my endurance and lost some weight already. I knew that I have improved my running form and my speed has shown glimpses of improvement. However this was the morning I hoped to but it all together. Gentlemen….start your engines.
When I arrived in Central Park, I couldn’t wait to start my watch and take off down the west side drive. I set up a marathon playlist that was chock-full of classic rock, motivational instrumentals…and the them song from Rocky, of course (I mean, do you remember how fast that dude was as he made his way through Philly in a ratty pair of converse all-stars? Stallone released his inner Kenyan in those scenes). I started down the road with the theme music to the movie The Transformers blaring in my ears (I’m telling you – it’s some great stuff! Give it a quick listen – the French horns in the forefront of the body of the music give each track a sense nobility whilst the strings underneath provide a sense of urgency – it’s my version of running crack). As I turned left and began the trip to the east side along the south drive of the park, I check my watch: 10:10 pace. And it felt easy. The arms were swinging back comfortably. My lungs weren’t burning. I did a quick mental role call (I mentally focused on one portion of my body at a time, trying to judge how each felt):
“We’re both fine. Shut up and don’t jinx it.”
“We’re fine. But listen to your feet and don’t jinx it.”
“We’re both fine – thanks for asking. You focus all of your concern on your feet and you completely ignore us. And we’ve grown quite sexy-looking over the past few months I’ll have you know. We both think you should….”
Oh shut up. Knees?
“Yes. Present. We’re busy bending a lot right now. No time to chat.”
“Step on the gas, dude. We’re ready to go.”
“Listen to your quads – let’s turn this up a notch.”
Abs? Hello? Oh screw it – I ignore you guys anyway.
“We’re firing like pistons on a racecar baby….I agree with quads – let’s step on it.”
“Dude – will you shut up with the roll call already and light it up?”
…and with that, I kicked the tires and lit the fires (I’ve been DYING to use a Top Gun reference! Nice – I finally fit one in.)
Up the east side. Up Cat Hill (right near the Boathouse on 72nd Street). Up the west side drive. Past the Engineer’s Gate. A little nod of respect to the Fred Lebow statue. I finally check my watch: 3.8 miles in, 9:40 pace. Crusing.
Past the 102nd Street transverse. Now the true test: Harlem Hill. With the arms pumping, I downshift a bit and reach the top without missing a beat. The reward came next: a wonderful downhill. At the bottom, I checked my watch: 5.2 miles in, 8:55 pace. Holy crap.
The rolling hills of the west side drive running from north to south along the asphalt can be quite taxing – and they were. The pace slowed slightly, but everything felt….wonderful. I never thought I could maintain this pace. As I reached my starting point, I realized that I clipped off 10 kilometers in under 58 minutes. A personal best for me. My second lap was run with the largest shit-eating grin (yes – I just cursed – I was that happy) on my face. Before I called it a day, I finished 16 miles at an average pace of 10:20. Never before have I come close to this. The feeling of exceeding my expectations for the first time in….well…..Lord only knows how long…..felt wonderful. The rest of the day was spent in an in an ice bath, relaxing, and basking in daydreams of NYC Marathon finishing times.
I ran with the team on Monday and Wednesday. Again, no pain. The coaches noticed the change in speed. I was running with confidence. Our speed work session felt like a piece of cake (chocolate mousse, to be precise). The renewed sense of confidence translated into more robust gym workouts each afternoon. It’s amazing how a little success breeds a lot more success. Go figure.
Friday evening I decided to enjoy a quick, light run. Possibly fit in a bit of speed work. About a mile in to my planned 5k run, my ankle initiated a conversation with me….
“….I’m busy. This better be good.”
“ummm….well…..I wanted to let you know that something feels a bit….weird.”
“Is that a technical term?”
“ummmm…well….not exactly. But I feel weird. And its all your heel’s fault.”
“ummmm….uhh…..well….you remember all those times where your heel pissed you off?”
“…..yes. Get to the point.”
“Ummmm…..well….because the heel hurt so much, you changed the way you ran. You stopped landing on your left heel and started landing on the pad of your left foot. Now I didn’t bring this up before – but you had other portions of your leg working overtime. We didn’t mind at the time, because the heel was really being a jerk. However – now that you’ve silenced the heel for a bit, you need to address us.”
“Wait a second – who is ‘us’?”
…and then my left knee blurted out, “remember me? I’m your knee. The one that got pretty beat up playing high school football. The one that took a pounding whilst rowing in college. I’m not the strongest link in this chain by any stretch of the imagination, and yet you asked ME to work overtime just because the heel hurt? Dude – I’m pissed.
I shut down my run early and plopped down on a wooden bench near Tavern on the Green, in order to properly fill out a mental damage report. As I flexed and rolled my left ankle, it felt a bit sore to the touch. The back of the left knee felt like someone tied my tendons in a small knot. As I got up to begin my trip home, the pain didn’t cause me to adjust the way I walked. However…..both my ankle and my knee chose this bright, sunny Friday evening to formally introduce themselves. “Hello Joseph. We’re here. We’re pissed. Get used to us.”
As I placed my head on the pillow that Friday night, I closed my eyes and could not get the feeling of concern I had in my mind. Tomorrow morning was my first of 3 20 mile runs scheduled for my team. 20 miles…and now this. I did not sleep well.
…….and somewhere, deep in the recess of my rather insignificant cranium, The Tool lifted his sour-looking face that had been buried in his hands for a solid week and uttered, “YES…….YES!!!!!!!!”
Other people may not have high expectations of me, but I have high expectations for myself. — Shannon Miller