My Year Of Magical Running

Relics of running

2002. Exactly twenty years ago. We were still reeling from 9/11. Our soldiers were fighting in Afghanistan, but not yet in Iraq. The world was changing. And a switch flipped inside of me. I became The Running Man.

Running was not totally new to me. Either alone or with a couple of friends, I had laced up my New Balances and gone for a 2 or 3-mile run a few times a week for years. I would have some 5K runs marked on the calendar, and once a year I would struggle to finish a 10K race through the ravines of Highland Park.

But I had a few internal “rules.” If I started a run and in the first quarter of a mile it didn’t feel just right– too windy, or too hot, or I was just too sleepy, I would put on the brakes and walk home. And I NEVER ran on consecutive days. It just seemed too tiresome.

What changed in 2002? I don’t really know. Early in my running season, I stopped my slow warm-up trot in front of a neighbor’s house, barely managing 200 yards from home, and decided I had enough for the day. I walked back to our driveway ready to go inside. But before I reached our backdoor a thought came to me. “This quitting is bullshit.” I turned around, tightened my shoelaces, and went for a 3-mile run.

From that day, the urge to run just grew and grew. My “no consecutive days running” rule fell by the wayside. I began to run almost daily. A handheld CD player, loaded with old rockers like “Born to Run” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” downloaded from Napster and burned to disc, became my soundtrack and companion. A beat-up running cap and a belt with two water bottles were my other accessories. And after each run, I made a notation in my spiral notebook

On many workdays, I would spend a half-hour before lunch in the Rehab Department of the hospital striding on my favorite treadmill. I pushed and pushed until I made 4 miles in those 30 minutes. That felt like just the right goal for a not particularly athletic 46-year-old.

The miles added up as I began leaving my running friends in the dust. My racing schedule grew with lots of 5Ks that were now not much of a challenge, as well as longer runs at Northwestern University and Oakton Community College. One race in Des Plaines had to be temporarily halted and restarted after an unscheduled freight train blocked the course. The extra miles didn’t bother me at all.

The Highland Park 10K was looming in September. I knew that this would be the year I would be ready for it. And I was. A long treadmill run the day before had left me loose and energized. I zoomed from the starting line and blazed my way through the first half of the race.

And then it happened. Sharp pain in my right leg. Something I had never felt before. My pace slowed; gingerly, I switched to a walk. I nodded to my friends as they ran past me, puzzled looks on their faces. In the recovery zone, while downing bananas and Carol’s Cookies, I let them know I was in pain.

An exam and bone scan at the hospital the next day revealed two stress fractures in my leg. I had overdone it; I was running on empty, and a winter of rest was in order.

I didn’t totally quit running. But the distances became shorter and the intervals between runs became longer. Last year I finally threw in the towel and gave up running for good. You may see me darting around on my new bike, but my running shoes have been retired. They are in heaven somewhere along with that cherished old CD player. I will listen to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” no more.

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