The Bad Leg Blues: Praise The Lord!
I’ve just been looking back at my Bad Leg Blues posts and can see how badly I needed to vent. That’s what these sites are for sometimes, the opportunity to just let go and wail at the world. When I was down in the city for a few days after July 4, essentially getting some serious r&r&r (recreation & rock & roll) before dealing with the joys of moving house again, several friends asked about my knee, which proves: a) that people actually wade through some of my unedited posts, and b) that those people do care. Thanks.
I’m still struggling to find the moral or lesson of my whole adventure with the health system and the different doctors; it was just a maze of confusion, uncertainty and hellish bureaucracy for a couple of months. Ultimately I guess I’m glad that the good professionals around me outweighed the one very bad one, that those good people encouraged me to get a second opinion, and that that second doctor provided the confidence and assurance necessary for a physical therapist to then push through the physical blockage, which turned out to be nothing worse than scar tissue. I did surely tear my ACL back in February, and no it’s not a smart thing to do, and yes it could have crippled me, or at least put me out of action for almost a year, but I definitely did not tear it enough to need surgery, and I can’t excuse the doctor in Hudson who wanted to operate unnecessarily, presumably just for the insurance payoff.
Anyway, after training for, braving and pulling off the local one-mile Grand Prix race just over a month ago, I decided to jump back in to the scheme of things with the two series of summer races up here. To my own surprise, I’ve completed three races in the last eight days, all of them cross-country, and fortunately for my healing body, each building in distance, from roughly 2.8 miles up to something like 5 miles. All have involved hills, woods and trails, and at least one of them – this past Monday’s Grand Prix run near the Mohonk House – started with a view from the Shawangunks, looking north back to the Catskills, that was of just stunning natural beauty. A camera would not have done it justice, which is why the fine art of painting will not go out of style until we run out of colors to express things with.
Anyway, all these runs have also been excessively humid and, perhaps predictably, the Grand Prix race was the only one I struggled with: my right leg feels about 85% back to normal but neither my strength or speed are back up to usual peaks and I’m definitely feeling it during the last half-mile or so of these races. I caught a shin splint coming down the hill Monday to the finish line and pulled back rather than risk another injury; I had to let three people shoot past me in the last hundred yards, but those are the breaks.
Running locally, in relatively small groups such as we have here, is an amusingly familiar process. This wiry little guy called Abidi wins every single race, without fail, usually by a minute or two even at short distances. The only time he didn’t win this year, to my knowledge, was at the Kingston Classic, which drew some pros from New York City for the money pot. There’s a woman called Jacqui who is absolutely the best in my age group, and I occasionally best her: on Monday’s Grand Prix race in the ‘Gunks, I stayed side-by-side with her through the opening uphill two-three miles; when we went over the top and back downhill, she took off like a rabbit and finished thirty seconds ahead of me. (If I can get her just once this year, I’ll be proud!) There’s a guy called Pat who’s in his mid-fifties, but with his white beard looks much older. He’s been a fast runner all his life and usually finishes exactly two minutes ahead of me almost regardless of distance; at the last two Wednesday runs, as part of the Kingston Summer Series sponsored by Keegan Ales, I’ve found him already drinking from the beer keg by the time I cross the finish line, a little like Bugs Bunny in one of those old cartoons. (I would love to rehydrate myself with beer; I just don’t see how it’s possible!) There’s my one all-round pal Jimmy, who has joined the summer series with a vengeance given that he had to blow out running a 95-mile race in the Scottish Highlands. (Yes, a 95-mile race.)
And there’s my pure running friend Rich, almost ten years older than me and, though very fast for his age, not quite as fast as me. Generally I let Rich go out ahead and then chase after him, as I like to start slow and finish strong and he seems to be the other way round. Last night, down at the Hurley Rail Trail, we instead ran side-by-side for the first three and a half miles, playing a game of ‘Name That Tune’ along with anyone else who would join us for company; as we turned into the woods for an uphill climb, he let me go ahead, knowing that I do uphill better than most. Sure enough, I left him for a kind of dust, only to find that on the downhill to the finish line he made up almost every yard. And as usual, I beat him by just a few seconds. Like I say, it’s an almost eerily repetitive syndrome, but no less enjoyable for it.
A week on Sunday, most of the people I just named will be running the Escarpment Trail. I wish I could join them; doing the race last year may have been the greatest physical achievement of my life. My leg is basically better and will continue to heal, but there’s no way I’m up for five hours running up and down six mountains, not for several months yet. Still, I’ll be thinking of them. Better yet, I’ll probably be out there helping them get through the race. One thing about running in these smaller groups of around 75-200 competitors, as opposed to the vast races back in NYC is that you learn to see these people as your friends, even if you only ever get to see them in their running clothes. And so you root for each other even as you try to beat each other. It’s a great sport and I’m thrilled to be back in it.