Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thoughts of Reviving an Old Love

As much as I enjoy biking, there's something that I used to enjoy even more: running.

It was late summer 1983 and I'd recently been exiled to Huron, South Dakota working for the FAA at the Flight Service Station there. I remember being in my car one afternoon on the north end of the city and noticing a runner appearing to move effortlessly alongside me as I slowed for a stop sign. There was something about that image that both intrigued me and stayed with me. In the summer of 1984, the seeds planted in my subconscious from seeing that runner one year earlier began to take root.

I'd sometimes go for walks at night to sort through whatever thoughts may have been troubling me. They were typically thoughts of how I'd ended up in Huron. On one of those walks, I decided to throw in some running. I'd run for a block then walk for a block and repeat that several times. It didn't take long before I'd built up enough fitness to run most of the two-mile route. Then, one fall afternoon I had a breakthrough run. I started out on my usual loop to the west, out of our apartment on Ohio Ave. I felt strong and when it came to the point in the run where I'd always turn in the direction of home, I didn't. I pressed on.

I headed east through the city past Memorial park then climbed 4th street beyond the James River. By the time I'd made my way back to the apartment, I'd covered 9 miles. I had never run anything near that distance and I was so excited but my quads were also showing signs of wanting to cramp once they were no longer being worked. I remember soaking in the tub afterward, basking in the glow of the having-given-it-all-I-had tiredness I was feeling. I knew I was on to something.

Over the next few months, I'd fully fall in love with distance running. It became my passion. Shin-splints would slow me but they couldn't stop me. My bikes would get very little use over the next many years while I indulged in my addiction.

Running would be my focus for the following 7 years but in that time I'd also see the debilitating effects of what routine 50-65 mile weeks can do to a runner's knees. I would run my last marathon in October of 1991. I dug out my running logs from the months leading up to my final race to refresh my memory. I took my running seriously—maybe too seriously. Highest weekly total: 76.4 miles; highest 30 day total: 275.6 miles; 6 miles in 36:57 for a 6:10 pace in the days leading up to the race. I'd prepared myself the best I could given that I had (have) a bad right knee and couldn't do as much speed work or hill work as I'd wanted. Still, I was chomping-at-the-bit for race day.

My parents were staying with us for the week and when I awoke early on the morning of the race to a sleeping household, I found a note from my dad with words of encouragement. They stayed with me throughout the race.

Reading from my running journal:

Sunday, October 6th, 1991

26.2 miles in 2:55:42 (284th out of 6400 runners)

First 20 miles in 6:30 pace. Last 10k in 7:18 pace. Developed a severe blister on my right heel that caused me to slow at mile 19. I have the ability to do a 2:48 but I'll need to do more distance work. I'll have to do a steady diet of 65-75 mile weeks. I'm very pleased with my effort. My weight before the run was 152.

I'd go to the medical tent after the race to find that the skin of my entire right heel had blistered and would eventually peel off. The inside of my shoe was a bloody mess. I had problems with my racing flats and never got enough miles in them before race day. Big mistake.

I didn't know it then but it would be my last running race. Within a few months, I'd have arthroscopic surgery on my right knee to repair damage from years of abuse on the roads. My orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Richard Schmidt, was the same doctor who had recently performed surgery on famous marathoner Dick Beardsley when he was nearly killed in a farm accident. After my surgery, he told me that I could continue to run and do marathons but his advice to me was to cut my mileage in half and slow my pace otherwise I risked going into my later years with knees crippled by arthritis.

I got back on my bike.

I toyed with running again 10 years ago but after a few months, I stopped because I didn't want to do more damage.

But are there more running days ahead for me? Possibly.

A friend at work is being treated for very crippled knees from a lack of cartilage due to sports injuries years ago. Barry heard of a much less radical treatment than typical knee replacement surgery—a treatment that is very much in its infancy but not at all invasive compared to the alternative. The company is called Regenexx and their treatment involves injecting stem cells taken from your own body to the site of the injury.

Barry had his treatment two months ago and is making steady progress. He's likely going to have to go in for another round of injections to get the full benefit of the procedure which isn't at all uncommon. Another friend at work is also going to have one of his knees treated.

I'm content to wait and see how Barry and Jeff make out with their reconditioned knees before I look into it much further. The thought of running again does intrigue me. If I'm given another chance I'll not abuse it, I'll run much smarter—or maybe I'll simply be content to be able to push myself much harder on my bike than my knees will now allow. I would love that.

Check out this video recorded a couple weeks ago from The Doctors. This is the same doctor that performed Barry's procedure. It looks promising.


Marielle said...

Just wanted to say that this was fun to read. I'm not a runner but kind of want to be after this (except for the knee problems). You describe it so well. And I feel like i'm out there myself...

Great writing, Kevin!


Kevin said...

Thanks for your comments, Marielle.

Running used to be such an important part of my life but reading my blog you wouldn't know that. Once I started writing about those days it became difficult to decide what to leave in and what to leave out because I had so much that I wanted to say.

One thing I left out was how when I quit running in 1991 I used to have so many dreams where I was running. I'd wake up sad that running was no longer a part of my life but I'd also be happy for the time spent running in my dream because it seemed so real.

rob said...

Have you considered just a brisk walk? Hiking with a camera for instance? I think there is a happy medium between the extremes you enjoy and the sedentary American any case I agree with Marielle your descriptions are well done, to the point where I will never even trot, never mind run.

Take care


Kevin said...

Actually I have been considering doing some lengthy walks this summer to occupy all this excess time I'll have...but in addition to that I've also got one more trick up my sleeve that I'll hopefully be blogging about next week...oh, I'm such a tease!