Thursday, October 12, 2006

My Love Affair With Running - Part 3


In October of 2003 I was laid off from my job. This had happened before as the ebb and flow of small Federal contracts ended and started for my employer. I expected to be called back to work in a few weeks, and true to my expectations, three weeks later, my boss called one afternoon in mid-November and offered me a job. Sooner than I expected. Unfortunately, the job offered to me required that I travel to Oklahoma for three to four months. I did not want to go, but I had had no success looking for another job in Huntsville and needed the work. And the pay was very good.

I accepted the offer and began to pack, knowing that this would be the end of my successful running and workout schedule. It also effectively ended my racing career – such as it was. It was very disappointing to have to take this job that I knew would destroy my cardiovascular endurance and strength. I hoped to make the best of the situation and find a running course on the military base. To maintain some upper body strength, I planned to do some push-ups and whatever else I could do to keep fit.

When I arrived at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, I found my crew was working twelve-hour days, five days each week. With that kind of schedule there was no time or strength left to run or work out during the week. But we were off Saturdays and Sundays. This was a small blessing. I found a nice, paved running track around the base golf course. It was a measured three-mile circuit with distance markers and lights.

I began running the course each morning on the weekends. It was not the ideal training plan but it was all I could do. It was winter and some of the mornings were brutally cold and windy. One memorable session the air temperature was 25 degrees with light snow falling, and a 20-plus mile-per-hour wind out of the north that enveloped me in a windchilled 15 degrees. A few afternoon sessions were as warm as 70 degrees.


When I returned from Oklahoma in February 2004, I knew that I had to start over to regain all the endurance and physical strength I had lost during my time away. I began a careful program of running and weight lifting to rebuild my strength to that of four months previous. My first weight workout and run in the local Research Park confirmed how detrained I had become. I was discouraged but determined to improve. After a couple of weeks of flat three-mile runs, one Saturday I increased my distance to a six-mile session. I completed the distance successfully and somewhat surprised.

After another month of practice on the level course, I arrived one Saturday morning at six AM to run the Cotton Row course again. The first sessions were tough. Tougher than I remembered. But I hoped to gain my strength again and enjoy the course as before. I began racing again, too. My times were up, but not as badly as I expected.

The return to training on the Cotton Row course was wonderful. I felt truly home again. The Saturday morning sessions were especially pleasant. But I was disappointed at the slow progress I was making in regaining my strength. In fact, I was not regaining my strength very well. Though I continued to race and train on the Cotton Row course all through 2004, I never regained the strength and endurance I had at my peak in November 2003. I did not know it then, but I would never have it again.

I bought a house at the end of June 2004 and shortly thereafter Anne and I stopped seeing each other outside of the races. It had been a blessed friendship. I continued to race and we saw each other at the races every few weeks. My mentor and I drifted apart. But she had successfully converted me to being a lover of running. I ran because I enjoyed it, not because I wanted to be with her.

In the closing days of Fall 2004, the shortening period of daylight meant that it again became dark before I could finish the six-mile Cotton Row course on Wednesday afternoons. I sought to shorten the time by taking a shortcut through the cemetery that lined one side of the course for a quarter mile or so. But the cemetery closed at dusk, so the plan was doomed to failure as daylight saving time ended. I began running a four-mile course in the neighborhood near my newly acquired house in the Wednesday afternoon twilight. I continued to run the CR course on Saturday mornings. In the spring of 2005 I resumed running the Cotton Row course on Wednesday afternoons.

I stopped racing in April 2005. My race times were slowly increasing – the inevitable price of advancing age, and I had to work uncomfortably hard to finish. I liked the camaraderie with the other runners but I had nothing to prove, really. I loved running but I did not need to run in races to enjoy running. I continued to run the Cotton Row course on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

By the summer of 2005, the Cotton Row course was becoming particularly difficult for me. The amount of physical effort required of me at work made the mid-week run even more difficult to finish. One humid Wednesday in early August, with the temperature in the mid-90s, I had to stop and walk three times during the session. I hate to have to stop during a run, and only consider it as a last resort, but am not fool enough to not do it if it is clearly necessary. It was necessary. I don’t mind the heat, but it takes a toll on your body. A few weeks later I had to stop and walk again. I did not like what was happening to me.

I began to rethink my running strategy. The original reason that I starting running the Cotton Row course was to make me a stronger racer. And it had worked. But I was no longer running races, so there was no need to keep running the challenging Cotton Row course. As much as I loved the route, I quit running the Cotton Row course and went back to my flat, six mile course in Research Park. My job was quite tiring so I cut back on my distance on Wednesdays. I ran four miles in my neighborhood on Wednesday afternoons and six miles in Research Park on Saturday mornings.

Soon after this change, I realized that since I was not racing any longer, there was no real need to run six miles in a session. I was no longer running any 10K races. I contracted my program again, stopped running in Research Park, and began running a four mile course within my local neighborhood. The course was handy and required no driving.

Because of the physical nature of my job, it became too tiring to run four miles on Wednesdays, so I dropped back to a three mile run at mid-week. I switched my Saturday morning runs to Sunday Mornings, before church, to make better use of the idle time. Soon, I was only running three miles on Sundays also. I was just running for my health now. Two three-mile sessions each week, taking about 25 to 30 minutes each, was plenty to keep my cardiovascular system in top shape, I reasoned.

Interestingly, I was never injured from my running. I had occasional twinges of pain in feet, knees, ankles, hips, back or side. Post-run joint pain was relieved early on by Glucosamine and Chrondroitin. I was never bothered by join pain again. What injuries I sustained during the years I was running never prevented me from completing my running sessions. I was always injured doing something else, never during a run. More than one time I had twisted my knee so that I walked with a limp, but when I ran, I ran smoothly with little or no pain.

During one dark Sunday morning session in late 2004, a dog came out of nowhere, ran into my leg and sent me tumbling onto the asphalt, then disappeared. No growl, no bark, no bite. It was surreal. I got up and finished my run with no further incident. I came away with two small scratches on my hands. Amazing.

Still more to come.....

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