The Portland Marathon is today.
I have a nostalgic-hate relationship with marathon – or any race, for that matter – days in the cities I live in.
I used to be a runner. I don’t think there is a harder existence than that of a used-to-be-runner. The exercise is so ballistic. It’s a great way to burn calories. Clear your head. Literally work things out.
You can take a nice, easy run.
Still a workout.
You can go balls out and run like a bear is chasing you – choose your own breed or species of bear, whichever motivates you.
Definitely a workout.
You choose the intensity, you get a direct result that varies depending on the intensity and duration of your run.
Other exercises? Not so much.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “I yoga-ed so hard today”?
You can certainly yoga longer but not necessarily harder. Don’t try to tell me you can do balls out yoga. Well, ok, I’ve heard of some yoga classes where you can do balls out yoga, but I was speaking figuratively…
Don’t get me wrong:
I was never a great runner, ask my mom…she’ll tell you. I used to give her the humiliating parenting experience of seeing your kid get bested by the loser neighbor kid in public. I’m not kidding about this kid, either. “Loser” is such a pejorative and judgy term, but let’s call it an adjective in this case and let it lie.
Anyway, in addition to not – what? you won’t let it lie? Ok. This kid was an obnoxious and toxic kid. The kind of kid in the neighborhood that blows up soon-to-be-dead things with fireworks.
How’s that? Feeling better about my choice of descriptive phrasing?
No? You are a sensationally inquisitive bunch. It’s a virtually unknown and unremarkable blog, not TMZ, people.
This oughta do it for you. I hope so, anyway because my other examples tend toward the salacious…not that I’m not getting the idea that you may be a slightly prurient audience…when I moved back to Portland the first time back in 1996 – back before the turn of the century – I was in the break room at work and the news was on TV. “Coming up next, a local man takes police on a low-speed chase through Oregon City”. Yup…the mug shot was a blast from my past. I shook my head and walked away. Loser.
Ok, so as I was saying, I wasn’t a great runner, but I loved running. I had been a short distance runner for 30 years of my life. Once a week, a few times a week…I would just crack out (that phrase reminds me of my neighbor kid…) three or five miles and my world was set right. And I could burn off whatever food sins I had lingering from the day or week. I used to fantasize that the impact of my feet hitting the pavement just bounced any body fat right off of me. It was a good visual and a great feeling.
So, in my 40s I decided it was time to up my game and get some distance running in. I would pull the odd 10k over the course of my running career, but generally kept it to 5k races when I would “compete”. I enjoyed the motivation of finding a nice butt and following it for the duration of the event. Or until a nicer one came past me and I decided to follow it.
Hey, you motivate your way, I’ll motivate mine.
No, mom…I never won a race. LOL. But my PRs were always a self-gratifying experience for me. As was the beer garden, but I can’t think about that now…if I have to consider the curtailing and eventual elimination from my life of two of my loves at the same time, well…<sniff!>
So, I start making my runs more structured as well as longer. A 5 mile run was a shorty. I was routinely running three or more times per week and edging more consistently toward 10 mile runs. My goal was to compete in the Seattle Half Marathon that year. I think it was 2012? Maybe 2011. Definitely not 2013. I had devised a three month training routine to get me there.
I was surprised to develop shin splints along the way.
I attributed it to the increased duration of my runs, with a respectful nod-slash-pat-on-the-back toward the consistent frequency. Nonetheless, it was a first for me. They were bothersome, but I was happy that I was only suffering the right shin.
I bought a compression sleeve.
And new shoes.
And got massage.
I didn’t realize shin splints were so persistent. But I was only five weeks from completing my training goal, so I powered through. I would hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head saying, “You’re only cheating yourself” when I would consider quitting or shortening a run.
I still hear that when I’m at the gym. Don’t know why…dad and I were never sporty together. It was totally little, old, gay me’s fault. Regardless, I hear his voice now as the coach in my head. That’s sweet, right?
Here’s the thing:
Shin splints don’t last six weeks. Who knew?
My doctor hates me. He really does. I self-diagnose without even bothering to google my symptoms or check WebMD. I’m the worst type of hypochondriac. When I told him I had been suffering from shin splints for six weeks, he started out with what is probably a semi-practiced speech about how to remedy the injury, stopped himself – remembering who he was speaking to, no doubt – and verified that I’d said six weeks and not six days. Explosive exhalation and an eye roll that should have required surgery to repair and he taps out a referral on his computer as he tells me, “You need to make an appointment with this Foot and Ankle Specialist. Now.”
I think if I didn’t piss my doctor off his eyes would never meet mine, most of our interaction during my appointments consists of him taking blood and vitals or notating my medical record, so it’s these rare moments of frustration that give me a chance to look directly into his eyes. I think he’s a nice guy, but occasionally I think what I consider to be laugh lines around his eyes are really wrinkles I caused by making him squint at me for being so stupid.
He tells me to find something else to do for exercise and be prepared to “retire” from running. I smile optimistically and tell him that I’m sure everything will be alright.
This foot guy sees me pretty quickly, like the following Monday. I immediately dislike him. But he examines my shins simultaneously by squeezing them as he works down the length from knee to ankle.
He finds the spot.
He refers me to another location for more detailed testing and tells me I would probably hear from him in a couple of weeks because he’s pretty busy and it might take a while for him to get back to me with results.
Where you going on vacation? Because, I’m essentially a dick, but I like to sugar coat that and call myself a smart ass. Also, I told you I didn’t like him.
Nuclear Medicine is something so boring that you can only make it slightly more exciting by having super hot techs in scrubs performing the procedures. For that reason, I am glad they got me in the next day, Tuesday.
First, you go in an get injected with a dye.
Then they kick you out for a few hours to let the dye circulate.
You can’t eat before the injection or during the time it takes to – what? – saturate your system with the radioactive agent. They actually asked me when I wanted to come in. Really? This fat kid has to not eat for a prolonged period of time and you think I’m going to ask for an afternoon appointment? I can be there at 7:00 a.m. Ok, 9:00, since that’s when you lazy bastards open.
I go back and they strap me onto a table and start scanning my leg, taking several scans in different positions. I just lay there, doing what they tell me, hoping I can get the song Radioactive out of my head. The one by The Firm, not the one by Imagine Dragons…I don’t think that had come out yet.
Boom. Done. They’ll have the results to my physician in a couple of days. I grumble internally that I won’t have a call from my doctor for a couple of weeks, even though he would have the results by Thursday.
I leave the office humming, because even though I call myself a grumpy, old man, I’m still an essentially peppy person.
Saturday I get a phone call from an unknown number that in a fit of uncharacteristic curiosity…I actually answer.
It’s my specialist. He’s immediately apologizing for not getting back to me sooner, he had wanted to call me Friday, but he was so busy. Gosh darn it. I chuckle, telling him that I wasn’t even expecting a call for another week, so no worry.
He keeps falling all over himself talking about how he hopes I haven’t been exercising or running or anything after he told me to take it easy. I assure him that I’ve just been socially eating and drinking my way around Seattle, but ask why.
I’ll take “Questions you shouldn’t ask” for $300, Alex.
He’s moved on to saying stuff like, it’s good we caught it before the dreaded black line appeared. So it’s not terrible.
Hey, doc…I’m not sure what this dreaded black line is, but this isn’t 60s Alabama and you’re starting to freak me out a bit.
Oh, when a fracture sits too long without being set, your bone starts to rot, basically. That’s all, it shows up like a black line on your bone in the scans. He’s apologizing. He’s hosting a party in his back yard and just snuck in to call me real quick.
Sheesh. That really puts my mind at ease. For a fracture, you’re saying?
Yes, well, we need to get it immobilized ASAP before the black line sets in, because that’s really bad. He tells me to come into his office on Monday.
I do, naturally. I like to think I’m pretty good a doing what I’m told, even if I’m not always good at practicing common sense. The reality is that I am good at doing what I’m told as long as it’s something I want to do. He shows me my nuclear…photos? x-rays? and then gives me a boot and tells me he’ll have a nurse come in and show me how to use and adjust it.
This is just until I get a cast? Do I need to have surgery? Even vocalizing that question gives me the heebs because I’ve made it this far without surgery in my life. Not even having my Wisdom Teeth out. Yup, I’m the owner of 31 teeth, I got one yanked for braces, but it didn’t require surgery, just pliers.
No, he scoffs…we just need to keep your Tibia immobilized until it heals. The boot will do that when used properly. No offense, doc, but you really built this up for a…boot. It seems to me that legs, when used properly, don’t just fracture…you sure a boot is going to fix me up and get me running again?
You need to start swimming. You’re done running.
Lalalalalalala…I can’t hear you. Or see you, as you’ve just up and left apparently. Guess I’ll wait for the nurse.
Right. My urgent medical need can apparently be corrected using a boot that I hobble around in/on for six weeks. I don’t feel cured, I feel ridiculous.
But…I do it. As directed, because I am kind of good at following directions.
And, I heal.
And, my hips are totally out of alignment after six weeks.
And it’s tough walking normally.
I get some more massage. Hey, it might help. Probably won’t hurt.
And, after a few weeks of trying to walk normally, I discover that I also cannot run correctly. My gait is all janked up.
Shut up. I said I was “pretty good” at following directions.
I just wanted to see.
And I totally didn’t want to not run.
And I’m totally keeping it to 5 miles runs and under, once a week. Which after six weeks of eating and drinking is more challenging than it sounds.
Pish. These MDs with all their book smarts are kind of soft. I’m no Tough Mudder guy – don’t like to get dirty! – but I can get behind the “rub some dirt in it and walk it off” mentality.
A few weeks later, I’m pulling an “Are you SERIOUS?!?” face when I realize my left Tibia is exhibiting the same symptoms. I call my specialist.
Round 2 of Nuclear Medicine. In an effort to keep The Firm at bay, I openly pronounce it like George Bush would: Nucular Medicine. It doesn’t help much. I just can’t enjoy it. On top of that, the cute tech is straight. Ruined the whole day. Not even the post-fasting-for-science trip to Honey Hole for a tasty sandwich can cheer me up.
Round 2 of boot follows shortly thereafter. Delayed only by a stern conversation with my doctor to make sure I’m not running.
What? It wasn’t a lie, I thought the word “much” at the end of the sentence. Totally counts.
Besides, what am I to do to get my mind clear? I never mastered swimming. I’ve cycled on and off over the years, but never really loved it.
It’s running or therapy, I tell myself. I dial my activity back to only running on the treadmills at the gym to absorb and reduce some of the stress on my legs. You’ve heard of the five stages of grief, right? Bargaining…that’s where I’m at. Probably a little Denial, too, if you bothered to put it on a Venn Diagram. Acceptance is nowhere to be seen.
Round 3 of the boot follows a month later, bypassing the doctor in a fit of self-diagnosing. It’s a pass-time. For a little variety, we’re back to the right Tibia.
I’m actually a little disappointed in myself. Not because I refuse to follow a doctor’s recommendations. No. I’m frustrated because in the pill culture America has become, I am not seeing “immediate” results after about a year of taking Calcium supplements. Still injuring myself.
I buy a new bike in 2013. My ass hates me. It feels like hamburger…I’m certainly not going to look.
My arms get numb on my longer rides, but I find the caloric offset to my diet is equalling the results of running, so I’m kind of happy. If only it didn’t take 10-40 mile rides several times a week to earn the same offset I got from running for 30-45 minutes several times a week.
I get gear. Recommendations courtesy of my favorite Vander Kitten, a friend from Junior High and practicing triathlete and IronPerson. She starts with the important stuff: jerseys and glasses, and how to wear the glasses when not riding. Eventually she gets around to better butt cushioning options and gloves.
My ride game improves.
My free time diminishes as it does.
My Facebook universe gets annoyed with my “enthusiasm”.
I pack my bike from Seattle to Sunriver, OR for my family’s semi-annual or bi-annual vacation. I usually run when on vacation and bike recreationally as a form of transportation around the village, but this year…no running, so must have bike.
It turns out that cycling on paths in profoundly annoying.
Plus, there’s American-normal people pedaling on those paths and they use cycle paths like the use sidewalks…in their entirety. Unsurprisingly, people who meander down the street in large groups of two or three talking and failing miserably at a straight trajectory behave pretty much the same way when barely maintaining an upright position on a bicycle.
But, I come away un-fractured.
Fast forward a couple of years to present day.
I still cycle. Not as often as I dust my bike, mind you.
I also still run. Just in times of extreme mental or emotional distress.
But less than 3 miles, I tell myself that’s intentional, but running kills my lungs now. It’s hard to get the same endurance impact from 30-60 minutes on an elliptical at the gym that you get from hitting the pavement. Additionally, hauling my olive-shaped body around a ten-minute or less mile on my little chicken legs is hard work.
Three or four years down the road of still taking a daily horse shoe sized Calcium supplement, I am still prone to a slight fracture here or there after stepping off a curb or getting out of bed wrong. Sometimes it’s the leg, sometimes it’s the foot…oh, variety.
I now have a matched set of boot and shoe immobilization-wear.
This is my life. I define my condition as “Original parts wearing out”. Still have never had a surgery. I wonder sometimes what the universe has in store for me there. I’m in no hurry to find out.
And on race days, sometimes you’ll still find me in the beer garden at the finish line, others, enjoying the fact that 10000 Portlanders aren’t trying to eat breakfast at the same time as me. Still other times you can find me completely oblivious to a race, like today, when I didn’t find out about the Portland Marathon until Facebook reminded me of it this morning. All those poor bastards up at 4:00 and me just turning in for the night.
Love and pizza, people. I’m on a roll, three blog posts in three days? It’s like the world is ending.