Physician, Heal Thyself!

 

Basically Run....!
Basically Run….!

 

As runners, we are handed a wonderful opportunity each and every day; the chance to put into practice in our training what we have learned through our own experience.

It is often a fiendishly difficult opportunity to grasp.

The majority of runners whom I have known train compulsively. This is to say that they often run when they’d much rather not. When they cannot train – because of injury or for some other plainly legitimate reason – they experience guilt. On other occasions, they’ll head out the door late in the evening and into pouring rain just because they need a few more miles to hit a weekly target.

None of this behavior is – on the face of it at least – rational. Actions like these are why non-runners fail to understand the runner’s world-view. Simply put, non-runners, not being caught up in the often destructive compulsive mind-set, cannot see the logic behind these apparently irrational activities. Runners, of course, can.

Although many such habits are obviously counter-productive, it could be argued that a sense of compulsion is almost a prerequisite for competitive success. How else are you going to convince yourself that running twenty miles through wind and rain on your own is a good idea? Dreams of future success, the logic of deferred gratification and other mental tricks will work to some extent, but it seems that a formless, doom-ridden, guilt-laden compulsion works best for those that want to go deep.

So, what has all this got to do with anything?

In working my way back from a long-term injury, it occurs to me that I have the chance to abandon some of my more destructive compulsions – to start afresh in some ways, if not others.Experience tells me that compulsion is a double-edged sword. Perhaps I can improve my experience of running by ditching some of the patently self-defeating behaviors which I’ve exhibited in the past.

For example, I know from my own experience that I need not train every day in order to improve my fitness. I know that I need not train when sore and tired from either racing or training. I know that I should sometimes be more focused in terms of what training sessions I do, rather than just going along with the general flow because it’s easier. I know that good sleep is great training. I know that eating well will support me in training well. I know that success is not guaranteed and that I have only limited influence over the outcomes of my training. I know that everything is temporary. I know that none of this stuff really matters.

If I can keep this knowledge with me as I run this year, I may enjoy myself a little.

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The Turning of the Ring

Dharmachakra

One way to make a runner happy is to ask them if they’ve been feeling well.

When they answer ‘Yes’, just casually respond that they look like they’ve lost weight.

Job done.

Even for those of us that tend naturally towards the scrawney, we all become leaner when we’re training well. I’d almost forgotton what it was like to feel fit. I had memories of the condition, but they were faded and remote. Thankfully training has been going quite well for some weeks now; but when you’re starting back from scratch, it seems a long way back to real fitness. I can see numbers of miles accumulating in my training log, but the bare figures give only a little technical comfort. In general, I’m having to put in quite a lot more effort, than would have been usual in the past, just to keep the pace respectable. Numbers only get you so far and patience is hard to come by.

The first of two intangible signs of progress came today when I noticed that one of my rings had twisted around on my finger. For many years now, I’ve worn my late father’s wedding ring on the small finger of my right hand. It is usually an almost perfect fit. In the past it has only been when I’ve strung a number of solid training weeks together that the ring will move freely around the finger as if shaken loose. Although I’m far from fully fit, it’s a straw in the wind.

I was contemplating this piece of nonsense when a friend passed me in the office and asked, “Are you alright? You look like you’ve lost weight!”

Yessss!

Be Here Now

Gather Them While You Can...
Gather Them While You Can…

 

Those three little words – ‘In the moment’. For a long time I’ve aspired to running and living in the present tense. I have wanted to be aware of my time and place, as much and as often as possible. As Ram Dass famously put it, I wanted to ‘Be Here Now’.

Unfortunately, in most day-to-day settings, I have found it almost impossible to realise those aspirations with any degree of reliability.  Thankfully, I keep trying.

When I have been successful, I’ve found that I can add a layer of richness and appreciation to ordinary moments that escape me at all other times. When I run and notice each breath; when I hear each footfall and notice the detail of the world around me; the experience is intense and vibrant.

For a runner, achieving any kind of concentration or focus on being present seems to become even more difficult when faced with injury. We generally attempt to plot a path away from this momentary interruption to ‘normal’ and back to where we feel we ought to be – which is not here, injured.

In the process we enter runner zombie-mode. We become consumed with the process of recovery and forget to run and live. On even the most crappy, injury-ridden, backwards-stepping day, there are rosebuds to be gathered.

We just need to pause and listen to our breath.

Dreams of the Pre-Dawn

Connemara Marathon

 

For some weeks now I’ve been dreaming running dreams. In quiet moments – sometimes when I run – I dissolve into memories of the pre-dawn drive to the start of the Connemara Ultramarathon. Van Morrison sings, ‘Keep it Simple’ from the CD player and the darkness fades to grey and then to silver

Effortlessly, I feel myself driving, slowly, noiselessly towards the start of that special race. I sink into this comfortable place in my memory and I don’t ever want to leave. For much of this year, dreams like these had remained off-limits. My mind was filled with regret and, ever aware of the potential for destructive melancholy, I stayed away. Perhaps it’s an indulgence that I cannot afford even now as I begin to recover some fitness, but I thrill inwardly, selfishly, hopefully and perhaps vainly that the dream might be made real again.

The darkness retreats behind the mountains and the lakes. The curtain rises and a sense of gentle anticipation fills me as the car ghosts its way towards Maam Cross. I approach Race HQ and the dream begins to fade. The huge room is filled with human potential, anxious conversations, whispered encouragement, knowing glances and mutual courage. The games are about to begin. This is the best time.

I want to be there again next year. I want the dream to stay with me – not to fade, not yet – to be made real once more. My heart aches for the quiet swish of untired legs as they steadily cover Connemara Miles, for the sense of recognition and the unchanging hillsides.

I know in my heart that long after I’ve run my race, these hills will remain, but I still allow myself to dream dreams of Connemara in the pre-dawn.

Through the Back of the Wardrobe

Running Portal - Narnia Style
Running Portal – Narnia Style

 

There had to be a point where I stopped thinking that I was, ‘Trying to get back training’, and actually being ‘back training’. I believe I passed that point at about 08:00am yesterday morning. Although I really struggled to do it, I managed to finish a 14 miler yesterday morning in some good company. I was a little fragile afterwards but thankfully not broken. At this point, I have to be a big brave boy, and admit that – at least for the moment – I’m able to train again. Halfway through the run yesterday morning it dawned on me that I had re-entered ‘Running Narnia’. Where all the mad stuff I did for years is considered relatively normal. Even towards the end of the run, when I was completely out on my feet, I didn’t see any talking lions, but I knew for sure that I’d gone through the back of the wardrobe. How long I get to spend in Running Narnia is anyone’s guess, but I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.

My running schedule is about to become a little more complicated in that I will be travelling to Bangalore, India next Friday to spend ten weeks working. Having never previously been outside of Europe or the US, I have no idea how I’ll manage on the fitness front. I am assured that the place I’m staying has a fairly well equipped gym, with treadmills and a few weights. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get outside to run but only time will tell whether that’s possible. Given that I’m now able to train, I’m hoping to use my time in India to build some sort of a base of fitness, and then to train more seriously when I come home. A tentative target will be the Connemara 39.3 Ultra in March of next year. It is a fantastic race and one where I think it may be possible to improve my best finishing time of 4:28 back in 2010. It nearly broke my heart to be at the finish line this year in a non-running capacity.

Given that I haven’t raced in almost a year, I want to pin on a number once more, before I leave for Bangalore and so I’ll run a local 5km in Galway tomorrow. Until I actually finish a low key race, there’ll still be a part of me that refuses to believe it’s possible.

Onwards through the fog ( …and the odd wardrobe).

Beware Silver Footprints on Grass

Emergency Lever - Beware Nostalgia

I ran laps of my local GAA pitch the other night as my two sons played football in the goals and took lumps out of each other with hurleys. They were special moments. Even though my watch told me that I was moving slowly, my heart rejoiced just because I was actually moving. My heart was light and my mind gradually unclenched. Lap followed lap and, after a while, I noticed a phenomenon that I’d almost forgotten about.

I could see that I was gradually making a little silver trail around the edge of the playing surface. Each footstep flattened a few emerald blades and, as time went by, the setting sun revealed a winding silver path of my making. I smiled and remembered training sessions of just a few years ago when I’d noticed the same phenomenon.

I was almost there.

I was almost nostalgic for the days when I used to be ‘able to run’ before I snapped out of it and pulled the emergency ‘stop’ lever.

Returning to running has been a haphazard, frustrating, mind-blowing process – but I don’t want to come back to be a tourist. If it comes to the point when it becomes clear that I will never again be able to well and truly kick the living shit out of a run, I will change course. Until that day comes, I will keep on trying to return to full fitness. It is also possible that I will eventually wake up to the fact that being fit and running well means a lot more to me than it really should. Perhaps I’m in the process of learning that lesson the hard way.

When I do run, my head is filled with moving images of the Dublin Marathon, the Craughwell 10, the Connemara Ultra, the Tuam 8k, the Street of Galway and many others. My mind watches silent footage of races that I may never run again and my legs dream about covering those routes once more.

At the moment I’m training every day – but only running every second day. I have a routine of stretching and core work in the gym on the  first day and running the next. If I mantain this discipline, I can run for an hour with minimal discomfort.

I need to keep my enthusiasm in check, to keep my recovery on track.

 

Bon Courage!

Three Surfer Dudes
Three Surfer Dudes

I’ve spent the last ten days in France with my family soaking up the rays (man).

I’m now fat, tanned and unfit rather than just fat and unfit. I imagine that I may now look as if I can afford my physiotherapy bills. We had a wonderful time of course and I did my very best to reconnect with my inner beach-bum – which wasn’t all that difficult as I strive to keep him close to hand at all times.

It was really hot outside on most days – just the sort of weather in which I usually love to run. Leaving my inner beach-bum completely out of it, my inner head-case rejoices in running in completely unsuitable conditions. It’s at least partially the, ‘You’re not going out in that? Are you?’ look on my wife’s face, that makes me want to run in 35 degrees. As well as that (obviously) important consideration, when you can only afford to run for 35 -45 minutes, you want to get full-value for them, don’t you?

Things are improving for me slowly, but I’m still not in a situation where I can throw caution to the wind and thrash myself to a sweat-soaked, gasping red pulp in the blazing French sunshine. I had to restrict myself to

three short runs spread out over the ten days – each of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

With each passing week I can feel a little more confidence returning to my stride. I’m sticking with core-work stretching and physiotherapy and although progress is slow, it’s there, and that’ll do me for the moment. At least I’m off the blasted trampoline.

On one of my runs last week in France I jogged along a cliff path before returning 30 minutes later to the campsite where my family were staying. As I jogged home – with a head like a freshly-boiled smiling tomato – I rounded a bend and passed an immaculately-coiffed elderly French lady as she made elegant progress towards the beach. In a flash of seeming incredulity – mixed with bafflement at why anyone would want to run in 35 degree sunshine – she flashed a diamond smile and offered a gracious ‘Bon Courage!’ as I passed.

Such moments of encouragement (not to mention flattery) may serve to sustain an injured runner for many months to come.

Avancer dans le brouillard!

Demob Happy

Demob Happy

 

Our Oscar once said that, “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
Perhaps it’s inevitable rather than tragic that many men, including myself, become more like their fathers with each passing year. Most often, I can see this in small ways. This week I find myself thinking ahead to my holidays which start on Saturday. I hope to spend ten peaceful days in the South of France with my wife and our children, but more likely it will be a mixture of sun, sea, sand and chaos.

I was winding down a little at work and in a quiet moment I told a friend that I was feeling ‘demob happy’. I was only when he stared blankly back at me that I realized that I was repeating an old fashioned phrase that my father had often used. We become what we see and hear around us.
In honesty, this realisation gives me comfort because my father was a good man. Like me he was sometimes unsure of himself, but he also cared a great deal about those around him.
Although he’s long gone now, I think he’d appreciate how I’m battling to get back on the road. I don’t think he ran a step in his life, at least not in the way I like to, but I think he had a runner’s heart.

Onwards through the fog, slowly and with a limp.

“Players Only Love You When They’re Playing”

 

FleetwoodMac

Far be it from me to invest random Fleetwood Mac lyrics with unintended meaning, but sure let’s try to do it anyway.
With all the usual caveats, running has been the love of the last fifteen years of my life.

I’ve spent way too much time over those years reading, writing, talking and generally stressing over the sport than any well-balanced person should. Many friends and acquaintances know me as ‘the guy who runs all the time’. Some of those who know me a little bit better also relate to me through running. I suppose it’s an easy conversation-starter. When I haven’t seen someone for a while, a common question on meeting again will be, “Have you done any of those mad races recently?” or just “How’s the training going?” These questions often come before enquiries about family, health, work or any other topic.

I suppose that just how the world works. People get to know you through your obsessions.
How could it be any other way?

What comes as a shock is how quickly we can move from ‘player’ to ‘former player’, or, as in my case, ‘former runner’.

I’m struggling manfully to get back on the road, but have to face the fact that it might not work. At the very least, it’s going to a long and difficult process.
It may be that I’ll eventually have to find a way to love running, while not actually being a runner.

Next Week: An insight into war and peace using the lyrics of One Direction.

Of Trampolines and Muffin-Tops

Tramping

Isn’t it wonderful how we willingly make complete eejits of ourselves in the pursuit of fitness?

As my dogged pursuit of a return to running continues; the indignities I have subjected myself to, are starting to pile up. The blows to my dignity were blessedly gentle in the beginning. As I became increasingly sedentary, I was occasionally asked – with a knowing smile – whether I had consumed all of the available pies. Of course, I couldn’t really be upset as the evidence of an expanding waistline was there for all to see.

I had to come to terms with my burgeoning mini-muffin-top.

Latterly, I had hoped that by helping out at club track-sessions that I’d keep in touch with the sport and my club-mates. As it turned out, I did – it worked. Unfortunately, the longer you hang around runners – when you’re no longer actually running yourself – the more rapidly you become a ‘former runner’.

Now I was a ‘former runner’ with a mini-muffin-top. Oh Joy!

Pressing on bravely, I found myself on a physiotherapy table in excruciating pain as delicate areas of my anatomy were systematically ground to a swollen, bruised and bloody pulp. I had now become a pudgy, former-runner with a limp.

Could it get worse?

Of course it could!

Part of my ‘recovery-programme’ has been to do some trampoline running. Think overweight, limping, delusional, former runner bouncing up and down for 40 minutes. Not a pretty picture I assure you. My physio tells me it’s to avoid the impact that road running would require, but I’m starting to think there’s another motive. In much the same way that some dodgy secret policeman might bring an unfortunate prisoner to their psychological knees; it may be that I’m being stripped of all dignity before I can run a mile pain-free once more.

Perhaps it’s all for the best.

Just a theory, mind you!

Karma’s a real drag.