Topic: Story time

The Essential Run

I run for many different reasons. Some days I run to solve problems, to think things through. Other times it’s to burn off steam after a particularly long or frustrating day. I run to escape, for privacy. I run off excess energy. I run so I can eat more ice cream or have another beer. I run because I have a little extra time. (Ok, yes, it is more likely I forgot to do something. I’ll remember it in a few miles. It’ll be too late. May as well finish the run.)

Each run is shaped by its motive. It feels different, I perceive the world differently, the intensity of my effort varies. I’ll run further for beer, run faster if I’m angry, longer if I need to think. If I’m lucky, every now and then, the run becomes something else. It becomes that essential run that is more than any other reason why I run.

The Essential Run is a mythical creature. It is a run I cannot simply choose to go on. It cannot be conjured or forced. It starts as some other kind of run, born out of necessity or will. After a mile or two, without warning, it emerges. I find myself in what I can only call a meditative state. Thoughts gently come, light as leaves. They settle, barely touching the surface of my consciousness. As ripples on a pond, they well up, ebb and fade. Nothing, big or small, requires my attention. All things are equal. All is nothing. A body moves across the earth effortlessly, it is not mine. I am not compelling it. I am not a passenger, merely a passing thought. I am a breath, that is all.

I close my eyes and I am the cosmos, expanding with the beating of my heart.

I open my eyes and I am home, a sweaty man… oh, right, I forgot to do the laundry.

RESET

When I started this blog, the title intentionally began with an ellipsis.  I meant for it to be a Zen thing: life, and all that other stuff …and running. Running for the love of running. By the time I started writing my first blog post, it was too late. You can’t have “…and running” when running is everything. I was stuck. What could I write about? And when did I have time to write, anyway?

I had to run.

My weekly mileage log had become an obsession. I had to hit certain numbers, everything else was secondary. The obligatory number? Of course it just kept getting bigger with each passing week. The necessary time investment for running was gradually increasing but there was no real return on the investment. I’d be in great shape at half those miles. I knew this. I knew it was getting out of hand. I told my girlfriend I was going to cut back. (Probably on my way out the door for a run…)

March 5, I was getting a bit of cabin fever and something felt off with my right foot. I blamed the treadmill and ventured outside. Halfway into my run, I lost stability on a patch of uneven ice and something gave in my foot. I grunted, “Oh, that wasn’t good…” I finished the run in pain.

It was all down hill from there. I took a few days off, but only a few. I was a runner, so I had to be able to run. I hopped on the treadmill to test things out. My right foot was not improved. Halfway into a bad movie, my left foot started to hurt. I kept on running, right into a compensation injury. A few days later, I made things worse by forcing another test run. At this point, I couldn’t tell you which foot hurt more. (I learned the term compensation injury from Kyle. I turned down his offer to coach me because I wasn’t trying to win any races. I know, reading this, he’s thinking I should have hired him to hold me back. Yup. Rookie mistake.)

I do not claim to be a wise man but I do learn eventually. Yes, by this time in the story, I’d figured it out–I need to rest, for real. Perhaps ironically, at the peak of my mileage chasing, I hit the lowest mileage month since I started running again.

While I was anxious about my mileage, there was an immediately obvious silver lining: I had so much more free time. I was able to do more around the house. I put a lot of miles on my bikes. I GOT ENGAGED! I moped around, whined and learned some important lessons about motivations, priorities and… possibly hypocrisy. I very, very cautiously tried and aborted a couple of test runs. At some point, I became aware that my prior anxiety about missing runs was a bit silly. While I missed running, I hadn’t completely lost my mind without my fix. I was still in good shape, not suddenly fat. Nobody had pulled me aside and accused me of not being a runner.

Like before, I wasn’t going to win any races. Unlike before, I’d come to peace with myself as a non-running runner.

April 13, I was ready to run. I felt it deep down. Not a nagging to update mileage log, but a stirring hunger. My body was telling me “we’re good.”. I was excited to go, but anxious about how it might turn out (those last test runs were bad). Besides, I had a lot to do after work. I considered I might not be able to find the time and I was okay with that. That revelation was a victory in and of itself, but that’s not where this story ends. I did find time. I found it right where it was supposed to be, after everything else was done. It wasn’t going to be a long run, because there wasn’t a lot of time left but I’ve recently come to understand that’s okay, too.

I stepped out onto the pavement, tentatively at first half expecting another abort… but my feet were eager to find the road, again and again. I relaxed, my mind cleared and surrendered as my body took over. I ascended, moving through the world unaided by machine, uninhibited by walls. I felt the spring in my sinews as I took flight between steps. My senses were alight: the world a tapestry of movement and color, a chorus of leaves, birds, voices, cars filled my ears as the wind caressed my face. I was talking to deer, laughing out loud like a child at play, chasing rabbits, waving at cars. For the first time in what felt like forever, I was running pain free. I was flying. I had no idea how fast and only the vaguest idea how far. My only measure was the experience, and it was divine.

As the sun disappeared and the run came to an end, this narrative started to take shape. This much needed rest forced me to reset and reconnect with myself and the world around me. I think this is where the story I wanted to tell really begins. It’s about living well… and running.

A Reintroduction to Running Shoes

I love running shoes almost as much as I love running. I was in denial about this for some time, but after enough goading and very little personal examination I have to come to accept it. As such, this is a topic that I will likely be returning to frequently.

Running shoes have changed incredibly over the last decade. When I started running as a kid, I remember shoe shopping being a simple process. We’d go to the athletic store, I’d try on a couple shoes, we’d leave with the pair that was the most comfortable. Back then, I liked how Nike fit compared to other brands. They also had the option with the coolest name… so I spent my cross country days riding a Pegasus. Many years later, I’d realized I’d learned one important lesson from this process. Despite my dad always being a bargain shopper, especially when it came to shoes, we never cut corners on running shoes. You take care of your feet. I’ve never suffered an injury for the sake of frugality.

My first real exciting experience in buying running shoes was shortly after I finished Navy bootcamp. I found an online company (whose name I cannot even guess at) that was way ahead of its time. For about the same price as any name brand, you could order a custom colored shoe. I carefully assembled a tasteful blue/gold/tan shoe that served me well for countless miles. I think this was my last running shoe purchase before the big break.

The next pair of shoes I would buy would be many years later. I’d put on 20-30 pounds since my running days and wasn’t thrilled about it. I went to a local shoe shop and picked up a pair of Brooks. I am not certain what shoe it was, possibly the adrenaline. There wasn’t much discussion at the time. “I have gained some weight and want to get back into shape and try running.” “These should work.”, “Great.”

I started fast, my legs remembering what a good pace should feel like. This lasted for about a quarter mile. My ankle was sore, my knees ached, my hip was shot and I was done. I would have a run much like this every year or two, until I finally decided to do things right.

Going backwards a bit–at this point, my right ankle was perpetually sore and had significantly reduced range of motion, having not healed well from an old cross country injury. A physical therapist told me my range of motion was insufficient for running and as old as the injury was, I wasn’t a good candidate for surger. However, with enough walking, stretching and strength building I may be able to improve the range of motion. Having read a few articles about the benefits of barefoot walking and running to improve foot strength, I bought some Vibram Five Fingers and set out. Say what you want about Vibram; I know they’ve had some legal trouble, and yes the toe shoes looked goofy and smelled awful, but they did help me improve my ankle.

I wasn’t going to be running in those, however. So I took to the Internet to find real shoes. After some precursory research I was as much fascinated as overwhelmed. There were a lot more words associated with running shoes than I remembered. Arch height and insole were still things, but now there were many new concepts: pronation, supination, drop height, stack height, midsole, outsole, upper, toe box… so many things that sounded like they should be discussed in the doctor’s office and yet, apparently, I needed to understand them to buy the “right” shoe. The Internet left me with the impression picking the wrong shoe style would be no less troublesome than stepping out in front of a moving bus. (This may, in fact, be true–depending on the shoe and the speed of said bus.)

This was the beginning of a great love affair with running shoes. For every pair of running shoes I own (and I confess, there are many), there’s a dozen more I want.

200 miles on these as of this afternoon. #runhappy

A photo posted by Allen (@theprawn) on

I settled on the Brooks Pure Connect. I’d later learn the toe box was small and the outsole was insufficient, but they served me well and were probably the perfect shoe at the time. They were completely shot by 300 miles, I loved watching them wear away–a feature I some times miss with my current, more durable shoes. I’d go through one more pair of the Pure Connect before moving on to the next brand. In between Connects, I tried a pair of Brooks Pure Drift, but they were just too minimal for treadmill wear at the time. I ended up with a couple weeks of reduced capacity after hurting my foot. To Brooks credit, they have the absolute best return policy. I had more than 50 miles on those shoes, but Brooks took them back and issued a full refund, even covered return shipping. I wish more companies offered a truly risk free trial of their shoes.

Altra The One. Very green.

Altra “The One” only came in one color option, toxic ooze.

My next shoe was a pair of Altra “The Instinct” 1.5 I picked up locally on clearance. The brand name was one that kept coming up during my research and I had been curious. The shoe itself was much too stiff and heavy for me to run in. I’ve since relegated that pair to lawn mowing duty. I was, however, impressed by the durability of the materials and construction. A while later, when Altra released their newest shoe “The One”, I was very interested. As soon as I discovered Altra was another beautiful company offering a 30 day, no questions asked return policy, I ordered. I immediately fell in love with the shoe, swore I’d never buy any other shoe again (Oh that was a lie…). After hundreds of miles of use, the shoe looks and feels brand new. Despite being the ugliest shoe I’ve ever worn, it’s still one of my favorites and my go-to treadmill shoe.

But, like I said, it wasn’t my last shoe. Late one night I was watching video reviews by the ginger runner. I enjoy his reviews, though I’ve come to find we have nothing in common when it comes to shoe preference. That night he gave a not particularly glowing review of the Skora Form. In the comments, Kyle from Skora jumped in, said some nice things in the shoes defense without stepping on GR’s toes, and immediately impressed me with the personal engagement. The next day I ordered my first of many pair of Skora (the “Fit”), and the only brand I’ve purchased since. So far. I’ll geek out in more detail on those shoes another day.

I’ve learned a lot about shoes in the last couple years, but… to be perfectly honest? Not much has changed. Despite all the words I’ve learned to describe my shoes, I still just wear the ones I think feel the best.

Live and run, an introduction.

I first discovered my tolerance for running in my middle-school years, when my dad would take me out running in preparation for cross country, a sport I would ever have a love-hate relationship with. I signed up each year, looking forward to practice. To this day, I remember fondly being dropped off on a remote country road to run miles and miles of hills in the summer sun. As much I loved cross country practice, I hated the meets. I wasn’t motivated by the competition and hated how much racing hurt. Still, every year, I signed up — I wanted to be dropped off, to be accompanied only by the dust and sound of my footfalls. I loved the isolation, the heat, the ease of long runs. I learned to appreciate the hills.

After high school I joined the Navy. Being in an environment where fitness was required was alright, it was an excuse to run and I found myself in better shape than I’d ever been in high school. It was truly becoming something I loved, something I did for fun on my own time. It was then I learned to seek out that rapture in isolation. To this day, many of my most vivid memories from those years are seemingly uneventful runs; A base perimeter at dusk in August, accompanied by crickets and fireflies; coaxing room-mates away from EverQuest to help them get in shape to pass their “PRT” so they wouldn’t get booted; dusty suburban roads to posh gated communities, somewhere in Portsmouth; peering through the window of a record store into the depthless eyes of David Bowie’s heathen, a CD in a record case I’d come back later that day for on bike. And then, so many miles in the sweltering heat of Pascagoula, washed down with Heineken and a BLT at Sonic–an obligatory scowl at the open container, but always a wink and service by roller skates. Some times I feel like those runs are the only real time markers I have from those years. Everything else feels like a dream, faded.

…and so it is with some sadness that the next part of my story could be summarized as “more than ten years without running”. I don’t want to say much more about those years, not now. There are so few miles to mark the days, the years.

July 29, 2013 I laced up an old pair of Brooks running shoes. A few hours later, I posted this on facebook:

Last time I ran five miles, I didn’t own a car. If I couldn’t get somewhere on foot, I had to hope Heidi was free. There was no Jerry Day. There was no streaming music over 4G–many homes still had dial up and those that didn’t were trying to purge the modem noise from their memory. My cell phone did not sms or have a camera (nor would its successor). My MP3 player was the size of a Walkman, skipped like a Discman and had room for a couple hundred megabytes. I was probably listening to Depeche Mode; the next Alphaville album wouldn’t come out for another 10 years. The hair on my head was thicker, on my back thinner. A few things haven’t changed: my mustache has remained stellar, I’m still partial to yellow tinted eyeglasses (though I’ve had to go from cosmetic to prescription) and nothing will bring me more happiness in this moment than a BLT and coffee.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I have my doubts about the accuracy of the app I tracked with that day. Though I still have the GPS track to prove it, I doubt I ran five miles. . . Nevertheless, I had run again. While my ankle (That’s a story for another day, too) and hip would be out of commission for the next few weeks as a result of too-much-too-soon, I’d felt it again. I had to have more. With a great deal of encouragement from dear friends and family, I spent that summer trying to get back into shape. I didn’t clean up my diet entirely, but certainly tidied it up. Exercise became a regular chore, then habit, then focus.

This blog is, at its heart, about the love of running — pure and simple. Perhaps you’ll find it inspiring, motivating or annoying… whatever the case, I love to talk about running almost as much as I love running. Those closest to me have been gracious with listening, but . . . perhaps, most of all, this is a favor to them, my girlfriend especially, who’s almost certainly heard her fill.