I am not a runner. My legs are too short and my feet are too big. I am not built for speed. I have calves the sizes of cannon balls. I try to remember the joy of running as a child but I can’t. Instead there are memories of being picked last for school yard games and of saving my pennies and dimes until I could buy a pair of PF Flyers. Their advertisement assured me I would be able to “run faster and jump higher.” They lied but I run.
I am not a runner. I am too old and have arthritic knees. I am too heavy because I have spent the past year attempting to get over a clumsy misstep and can’t seem to outrun my diet. When I get out of bed I make the sounds my father made when he was my age. I have a “Rice Krispy” back. I move and it makes a “snap, crackle, popping” sound but I run.
I am not a runner. I didn’t start until I was fifty-six and at age fifty-seven I ran my fastest 5K. Twenty-four minutes and some change. Good for a middle of the field finish…in my age group. This morning I ran-walked hard enough to finish four miles in forty-six minutes. Not very fast but sometime next week I’ll try for five…maybe. I shouldn’t be happy but I am and I will run.
I am not a runner. I am not depressed when I run I am depressed when I don’t run. I am my most creative when I run because I create stories to avoid thinking about the pain of running. The pain of running is not as bad as the pain of not running. I am not a runner but I run.
Eleven months ago I finished my last long run two weeks before competing, wink-wink, in the annual Spinx Fest half marathon. The following week I was a hundred yards from finishing my last easy run before the weekend event when a miss step ended that dream…and others. Later in that week my doctor said in his best doctor voice, “You’ve got a torn meniscus but Early Osteoarthritis trumps that. You are probably looking at a knee replacement down the road.” He continued to talk but for some reason I quit listening and fell into a dark place after the mention of a knee replacement.
I am not a competitive runner, not even in my age group unless I am the only one in it, but I like to compete…even if it is just competing against myself. It may be my teaching background but it seems that when I have a plan and a goal I forget how much I hate the actual act of running. I also like the cheering at the end of the race after following an attractive woman looking fit in her spandex who is running at a rate of speed I can keep up with…but at a distance. Is that chauvinist or just being male? I have missed all of my races and the beer afterwards for the past eleven months as my weekly mileage has yo-yoed all over the place and my fear of being seen running in public has soared. Today it reached an all-time low. Three runs this week for a whopping six miles. There are another twenty-four from walking but it just ain’t the same. There is something that unscrambles my mind when I run while walking sometimes causes a reaction resembling the view from a broken kaleidoscope.
I began to walk and run in my late thirties after taking a look in the mirror. I was active, a coach, but I couldn’t deny that my pants had gotten wider and the long hours on the field had gotten harder so I began to take my health seriously…until torn cartilage and a toe destroyed by psoriatic arthritis sidelined me. After four operations it became easy not to get up and workout and for a year or so I gave in to the temptation of my recliner, tasty steaks, bourbon and cigars. On April 7, 2006 I stood in front of a mirror while standing on my scales and had to admit that two hundred and thirty-two pounds did not look too good on my five foot nine frame. I vowed to fix it but once again providence would intercede. On April 9, 2006, while celebrating my birthday, an elephant decided to sit on my chest signaling the best thing to happen to me since my wedding, a heart attack.
The best thing? Yes the best thing because I survived it along with the four stints that were “surfed” into my heart. It signaled a need for a life style change that I fear is in jeopardy if I can’t run. Between a clean diet, therapy and restarting my running I lost sixty-two pounds, much too quickly and ten pounds too much, before finally settling in at a comfortable one seventy-five and competed in my first 5k six months after my heart attack. I was the “belle of the ball” as far as my cardiologist was concerned but there is a dark side. I still see a fat guy when I look in a mirror and fear I am one step from the slippery slope I was previously on. I am afraid that if I can’t out run myself, everything I have worked for will crumble. There are other forms of exercise but I fear they cannot provide the same peace of mind that I receive from my running. I’ve already seen an increase in the scales, beer consumption and even my cigars. Hopefully acknowledging it will help me battle it but I am not sure I can out walk or out bike myself. Sometimes a “mind is a terrible thing.”
Honestly this did not take place on the Swamp Rabbit Trail but it occurred while running…sorta. Generally I don’t run in the afternoon. I just prefer to run in the morning, sometimes even before daylight. Before daylight I can’t see how far I’ve gone or how much longer or higher the hill is but this morning it was raining. Sometimes I run in the rain…that’s a lie, I never run in the rain unless I happen to get caught in a rainstorm when the weather people lie. Despite my displeasure of running in the afternoon, providence reared its head in the form of a three year old that Linda Gail offered to baby sit. Linda Gail offered so I felt no remorse when I decided it would be a great time to do a five mile run/walk, actually more walk than run with my bad knee.
I am used to seeing wildlife when I run even on the Rabbit. The overweight guy running bear chested in tight padded bicycle shorts, the girl in the sports bra that fits way to loosely…wait, that’s the wrong wildlife. When I run around my home I see a plethora of animals including snakes, turkeys, deer, foxes, the occasion stork or even a bear. Yes, I do stop to help turtles across the road. Luckily I saw the bear before he saw me. As I started to run behind a tree an elderly gentleman sitting on his porch across the road yelled, “You might want to wait a minute I just saw a bear and her cub go up that drive.” A mile and a half from home…yeah I can wait.
Today was a first. I have never seen a crawfish the size of a small lobster scooting across a road. In fact this is my first crawfish of any size scooting across a road. Don’t crawfish breathe with gills? I know we have had a lot of rain the last few days but seeing this guy on the road makes me want to look for high ground. Where was the boiling water and Old Bay when I need it! Oh yeah, “pop dem tails!”
They won’t leave me aloneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Who has a bike race on a rainy day like today? Okay, I did go out running but it wasn’t raining when I left and I have a lot better traction than bikes do. I was determined to erase a bad memory from yesterday! Instead of running the Swamp Rabbit it would be up and over the hill on Chinquapin down to Cherokee Valley and then up and over the hill back home. Easy! A mere seven hundred feet in elevation gain and that one and a half mile “Hill from Hell!” Easy! It is in the bag. I just hope it’s not in a body bag.
Up at five and lets take time to make sure our legs are in fact attached to our feet. They were but I thought the same thing yesterday before losing a duel with a very pregnant lady pushing a double stroller. Out at six thirty, wait what is this falling out of the air. According to the weather map there is no rain in the area. Maybe it is just a glitch in technology? The little voice in my head said “I think the running gods are going to frown on you if you go out that door.” I should have listened to my little voice but instead I decided to just wait it out. An hour and a half later no rain is falling and no rain is showing in the area. Out I go and forty seven minutes later I am a very large, drowned rat. Thank goodness I put my IPhone in a plastic bag but I sure wish I had packed that poncho.
The “gods” of running were frowning on me. I believe that if you believe in the Holy Spirit, which I do, that an argument can be made for the existence of “unholy” spirits. Not the devil or evil incarnate, just little ah…I don’t know…gremlins or what I call gods with a little “g.” Football fans understand what I am talking about. A little imp called a “football god” that made the field goal kicker miss two easy field goals after breaking the record for consecutive field goals. What about the “scrum” on fourth and less than a foot with just a little more than a minute to go? I am sure the little gremlin moved the ball one centimeter in the wrong direction as in “the football gods were frowning on us tonight.” Please understand I am not worshiping these gods. I have already broken too many commandments to break that one. I just believe that they might exist. Just in case they do exist sometimes I pray to God and ask him not to let the “little g” gods interfere. My little voice whispers to me that I should realize that God is really too busy to intercede on my behalf in such trivial matters.
As I made my turn around in the rain and began my seven hundred foot ascent to the top of the small mountain that Chinquapin Road runs over I saw a sign that read “Bike Race Today.” Okay it must be left over from the last one, because only an idiot would race today. When I got to the Baily Mill Road crossroads I found out that I was incorrect. There were about five hundred idiots on the road besides me and they were moving a lot faster than I was. Not just the cyclists were out in mass but their fans, pace cars and police were also present. As I ran weaving through Baily Mill on the wrong side of the road, I knew the cheering fans were not cheering me. I was amazed how fast the cyclist came screaming down the “Hill From Hell” while making the turn on to Baily Mill. All of those cyclist with their hideous colors and spandex were going so fast and leaning so deeply in to their turns I worried that they might drag a pedal and cause a dozen bike pile up. I was terrified for them and worried about the little “g” gods causing a blowout. As I continued my snails pace up Chinquapin they kept coming and kept coming. Flight after flight flew by me, each group a little slower than the last. I think I feared for them more that those who were obviously the elite riders. I hope the cycling gods were kind to them. At least it quit raining.
I made it home safe and sound albet quite wet. Considering the conditions and the hills, 11:30 miles were pretty good. Suddenly I feel that what I accomplished was not very important. As I type this I hear sirens heading up Highway 11 toward the race area and I say a little prayer for whatever has happened. I hope that the cycling gods were smiling today and not frowning. Please be smiling.
From a suggestion from a friend, Linda Collins, I decided that I would call these rants: Tails of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Tails is spelled exactly the way I want it. Also, don’t expect a weekly “tail.”
I had a great run Saturday if anyone moving that slowly can actually claim to be running. After much work I appear to have perfected the art of running slowly. There was less congestion, no pack riders and very little spandex. What spandex was seen was on people who should not be wearing it outside of the solitude of their homes.
Due to so much uncluttered time I was forced to do something I rarely do…think. What I thought about was how thankful I was to be on the trail this beautiful if somewhat humid morning. What made me thankful were the large numbers of people who appeared to be, like me, refugees from a geriatric ward. These were “seasoned” men and women who were trying to outride, outrun or out walk the grim reaper. I was particularly motivated by the much older couple who strolled up the slight incline using walking canes while holding hands. There was a young man who came screaming up the incline on his low slung hand powered bicycle, useless legs just along for the ride. AMAZING AND MOTIVATING!
I want to apologize to the three older men I met. Not for what I thought but for the fact my jaw went slack and agape when I saw the large expanse of white skin from their shirtless bodies. Guys I know it was hot and humid but you should not run without shirts. In fact anything you might do without shirts should be privately contained. My tee shirt had gained about a pound of sweat but I would never take it off in a public place. I am in pretty good shape but have reached the age that I now try to sneak up on mirrors when naked or partially naked. Despite all of the bicep curls I do, my arms are stick like. Pushups can’t keep my chest from falling into my stomach, sit ups and planks can’t keep my stomach from collapsing into my rear, and I don’t know where my rear is going. I guess into my feet because they are still growing to. Guys, I apologize for my facial expression but you looked like three very pale Mr. Potato Heads.
Finally to the cyclist I stepped out in front of, I am sorry. It was my fault but I was at the end of my LSD run. It is supposed to be LDS for long duration slow speed but due to the hallucinations I was having at the end of my ten mile run and walk, I call it an “LSD” run. I was not paying attention, thinking instead about the cool air conditioning of my truck and a glass of chocolate post run milk when I reversed in front of you. I did not hear your whisper quiet machine and I am sure you were just too busy to say “on your left.” I should have seen you. Who would have thought about putting all of those colors together on the same jersey? You actually reminded me of one of my grandmother’s patchwork quilts but I guess I thought I was in one of those LSD light shows. I also agree that I was a “damn idiot” but am somewhat concerned. First, physically I just could not accomplish what you asked me to do and I am really concerned about your eye sight. I was running and not riding a horse. I don’t think horses are allowed on the Swamp Rabbit and again why would you want me to do that to myself and a horse?
I am a realist most of the time. I know I still believe that the Cubs will play in a World Series and our government will actually…well…ah…govern. I also believe that these events will occur before I leave this world and go to meet my deserved rewards. Really…most of the time I am a realist especially as it relates to my running. I am enough of a realist to grimace a bit when I use the term runner when describing what I do. I just have too much going against me to be more than an average runner, even in my age group. Look at me. No really look at me and say with a straight face, “Now there is a runner.” It can’t be done with a straight face. When I look in a mirror I see a gourd with shoulders. A mesomorph from the waist down attached to an ectomorph from the waist up. My gene pool did not assist me in my running endeavors. Now, sitting in my recliner keeping my greasy pizza hand separated from my remote hand…that I got.
I didn’t beginning running with any regularity until I was in my forties and didn’t commit to it until after a heart attack in 2006. Soooo, realistically I just want to set an attainable goal, work at it, train effectively, stay healthy and attain it. A sub nine minute per mile 5K ain’t gonna happen. Maybe one mile might be run in a sub nine minute time. Now I do think sub ten’s are possible or at least I did until today. The Ache Around the Lake is just around the corner. Last year I ran it’s up and down five mile course in 50 minutes and some change. All I need to do is shave less than a minute off each little ole mile. 49:59 sounds so much better than 50:00…but it ain’t gonna happen.
Since I retired from teaching I don’t even like to set goals. There is something to be said for wandering through life without a road map. How can you get lost if you don’t know where you are going? Running is different. I knew where I was going today. A nice slow, long for me, nine mile run on the Swamp Rabbit as I move toward the mileage needed to run a half marathon. A nine mile “Jeff Galloway” run averaging around eleven minute miles. Easy, I did eight and a half last week. Just a little long run from the railroad car at Furman uphill through Travelers Rest for five miles and then back again. Bull hockey! I knew I was in trouble during the first mile and a half. Half mile walk to warm up and a one mile…jog. I know my legs were attached to my feet when I put on my shoes but where are they now? Physically I see them but for some reason they have become very large strands of over done pasta.
Miles two and three of the course are actually the hardest part of an easy course. After mile two I said to myself “Firetruck it” I am going to gut this out. Too bad my guts weren’t listening or doing the running. For some reason I am singing an old Dave Dudley song in my head. Actually I was hearing “Six Days on the Road” over my IPod. There is a line that says “my rig’s a little old but that don’t mean she’s slow, there’s a flame from her stack and that smokes blowing black as coal.” I decided I was going to be Dave Dudley’s Rig. I was gonna bring it home tonight! It worked…for about a half mile. I really tried to believe it but then she passed me at the three and a half mile mark. If I was Dave Dudley’s rig she was George Jones’ Corvette and she whizzed by me on the incline like I was rolling backwards. I am used to being passed by young ladies and it really doesn’t bother me. Nubile twenty something’s wearing spandex and going fast are usually motivating. So are thirty or forty year olds. Fifty…well maybe…oh yeah! This twenty something year old pushing her baby stroller with two year old on board really bothered me. Worse than that, she was really–really pregnant with another child. The tires on my rig just went flat! A nice little three and one half mile walk back to the railroad car on flat tires. Yeah I can attain that goal.