A Geezer’s Experiment in Effort

I’ve been training well, and last Saturday I raced a 5-miler. It was an experiment. It’s been decades since I’ve been fit enough to lay it out there and actually compete rather than just staggering along. I was flat out. It felt good.

Being exhausted after a hard run when you’re in decent condition is an entirely different thing than being exhausted when you aren’t. The second is horrible in every imaginable way: physical, emotional, spiritual—you name the dimension. The first, on the other hand, hurts, but at the same time is profoundly satisfying. It’s the opposite of masochistic. You’re deeply, absolutely weary, and utterly empty, but it’s the fatigue of strong, functional parts. You feel used but not abused. And I now know that if you’re old, you also experience some pleasant artifacts of youth. Efficient breathing patterns. Solid rhythms of movement. A certain lightness.

It’s taken me three days to fully recover, but—I’m recovered. No pulls, strains, dents, dings, or aggravated whatnots of any kind. For which I credit primarily time in the gym with a great personal trainer. Liz understands what I’m after and has gotten me strong and loose and balanced enough to train and race without injury.

I plugged my time into one of those race conversion programs, which tells me that given my time for 5, I should be able to run a single mile in 7:06. My goal for the summer is 7-flat, so I’m chuffed.


It’s Valentine’s Day!

I’ve mentioned before that when things are going well, I often find myself walking around singing Besame Mucho. Why is this? I hate Besame Mucho. Awful in Spanish; hideously, grotesquely, worse in English.

Kiss me, kiss me a lot,
As if tonight were the last time
Kiss me, kiss me a lot…

Excuse me while I hurl. I admit that in certain circumstances, “kiss me a lot” is an excellent idea. Not much could be more enjoyable. But if you’ve got to urge it on your object of desire over and over? Yuck.

Mind you, I’m perfectly okay with a good love song—How Much Do I Love You is a standard around here on certain days, but that’s because it actually says something.

How far would I travel
Just to be where you are
How far is the journey
From here to a star
And if I ever lost you
How much would I cry
How deep is the ocean
How high is the sky

Now you can kiss me a lot.


So how’s it going?

I’ve been 70 for a couple of weeks now. The downsides include the old man’s existential confrontation with time and inevitability, disappearing short-term memory, and the onset of Raynaud’s disease, which makes my fingers turn almost comically white and go numb when the weather turns even a little chilly. The upsides are lots of love, a spectacular family, both nuclear and extended, great friends, freedom to travel, and a general level of physical health and fitness that astonishes and delights. Post-Mayo, I’ve changed my diet and lost vast blobs of flab.The gym has made me stronger and more flexible than I’ve ever felt. And the wonderful rhythmic swing of running, my great joy, goes well when the weather permits. According to my cool Garmin gizmo, my resting heart-rate these days is in the low 40s. I’ll take it.

 

 

 


Ah, memory….

My memory is shot. I can’t reliably tell you what day of the week it is, or what we’ve got scheduled for the next few days. I expect soon to forget my middle name. But baseball….

I can tell you the Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924 and that Bucky Harris hit the ball that took the bad hop over Freddie Lindstrom’s shoulder. I can tell you the names of the Cleveland “Big Four” in 1954 (Lemon, Wynn, Garcia, Feller) and that the Indians won 111 games that year—before getting swept by the Giants in the World Series. I can tell you that the unlikely winner of the American League Batting Championship in 1961 was Norm Cash. I can tell you that the ironically famous “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry had an older brother named Faye, who played mostly for the Red Sox and Senators. The other day we were watching a basketball game on TV, and I saw that one of the kids was wearing the number 32. “Hey,” I said. “Elston Howard,” and went off on a little riff about the late 1963 American League MVP, who became the Yankees’ primary catcher after Yogi Berra (John Blanchard was in the bullpen).

This stuff has frequently, dismissively, inevitably—and with profound incorrectitude—been described by others as trivia. (I once met a former employer at a wedding reception. He greeted me by saying, “I hear you’ve got a job now doing something as a baseball freak.” Which wonderfully teed up my reply: “You are calling me a freak?”) This knowledge, reminds me of my father and grandfathers, and my mother and aunts. It reminds me of teammates and particular games and moments. It’s fundamental to me, accumulated in my boyhood brain back when baseball, partly because of all these connections, was the most important thing in my life. And clearly, a lot of it really got stuck there.

So, what did I have for dinner tonight? Who knows? But the White Sox beat the Dodgers, 11-1 in Game One of the 1959 World Series. (Though the Dodgers took it in Six.)


Gratitude

I’ve always liked this, from the great Peter Snell: “When it’s pouring with rain, and you’re bowling along, wet-through, in the dark, there’s a satisfaction just in knowing you’re out there and the others aren’t.”

Pretty much every runner who’s ever trained to race can relate, either as the the guy on the move or as one of “the others,” knowing he should be on the move.

For me these days, “the others” are irrelevant, but I have been feeling profound satisfaction staggering along out there in the cold. Satisfaction in the form of gratitude. Gratitude for this:

“Patient with a history of advanced prostate cancer now off hormone therapy,
doing extraordinarily well.”

Thank you, Mayo Clinic. Thank you, Dr.Kwon.

Happy New Year, everybody.

 


More personal archeology

Good Grief. In the the spirit of this ancient post, here’s more on the never-ending digging out of my personal mess, I’ve just unearthed a red vinyl hot water bottle marked “Return to DHHC.” DHHC stands for “Dick Hall’s House Clinic.” Dick’s House was my college infirmary. (I think they call it the Health Center now.) I have a vague memory of being given this thing to hold ice to apply to an injury sometime in the late 1960s. Maybe it’s time to do what it says and bring it back.

And now the Dick’s House memories come flooding back. I was sent up once to get x-rays. (Guys who run well, run. Guys who don’t run well whine about injuries.) Checked in, sat down, and eventually the nurse, a burly former Navy corpsman, a really good guy we all liked but who took absolutely no nonsense, arrived with a wheel chair. “Hop in,” he said. I don’t need a chair,” I said. I’m only here for x-rays.” He glared down at my 132-pound self. “Get in the chair.” I got in the chair.


No pain, a gain, again


It was a wonderful, warm pre-dawn today, with a big waning moon and a beautiful morning star. And my run was virtually pain-free for the first time in a couple of months, even on a some gentle hills.

My trainer Liz had moved me over from mostly strength and general flexibility to a specific set of stretches that I find challenging but that seem to have worked really well, along with a sort of massage move—it uses a door hinge!—suggested to me by H’s PT Kristie that hits the inside of my achilles. I won’t be ready to try running even moderately fast for a good while yet, but just shuffling along getting a little of that good rhythm going is a treat. The fact is, I’m a pretty happy guy when I’m fit to run, and a pretty miserable one when I’m not.

Many years ago, someone who knew me very well enlightened me about myself when I was undergoing the tortures of English grad school. “Look, you’re smart. But you’re not an intellectual. You’re basically a physical guy.” Which saved my sanity by exploding me out of the grim seminars that had already seemed to suck all the life out of literature and were beginning to do the same to me.

I went to work at McDonalds. Then in a textile factory. Then as a gardener and general dogsbody on a rich family’s estate. I wasn’t happy at McDonalds, but I rather enjoyed the rest.

At the same time, I started running again, training with an ultra-marathoner whose races were 50-milers and 100Ks. (He’d go 10 or 12 on a short day, I’d go 6 on a long.) And as I gradually rediscovered my sport, I also learned from the other guys out there that my shins no longer had to scream. I learned about “running podiatrists,” who could prescribe and fashion these things called “orthotics” to put in your training flats. And better yet, someone had invented good training flats!

It turned out my problem wasn’t anterior compartment syndrome, requiring surgeries I’d declined to have, but simply a mechanical imbalance now easily corrected. I was in clover. Somewhat underemployed, but happy as a clam.

And now I could run pain-free. I’d also learned a lot more about training. So I ran long/strong lactate-threshold workouts every day and easy-go longer runs on Sunday. High-mileage weeks. And I raced only during short periods when I’d sharpened to a peak. The pure Lydiard. Results weren’t big-time or profoundly impressive, but as I’ve written somewhere else, I would have kicked my own ass in what was supposed to have been my prime. Which made me happy. And this morning has made me hope happily for the old-guy version.

 


Second-hand Rose

When you run in the winter, the idea is to be cold when you step out the door so that you’ll be comfy and not over-heated after a half-mile or so. For lots of runners, including me, this means a light or medium layer or two under a windshell. Last winter, I used mostly an Adidas pullover that was cheap, ratty, and almost perfect.

(Cheap and ratty are plusses, not minuses, to most people hauling around the roads in February. I still occasionally pull out the profoundly disreputable ancient dark green snap-front, circa 1964, that I used in college.)

But toward the end of cold weather I got a look at a Patagonia Airshed—not cheap, not ratty—and felt a flutter in my heart. It’s basically a perfectly-realized version of the random stuff I’ve been wearing for years—the same simple basic pullover, but made with more thought, more care, and better material.

But I’m not paying $119 for it.

Turns out I don’t have to. One turned up on Patagonia’s Worn Wear website, and I snatched it.


Bug Banquet

I headed out for a long run this morning.

(As I type this I realize how malleable and relative the term is. A few decades ago the same distance would have been short. Ah, well.)

What I want to write about, though, is the astonishing number of flying specs of annoyance that accompanied me for most of my shuffle. There are always a few pests dotting around, but today was one of those days—very humid, very still, very—what?—heavy, when they seem to really swarm.

When you’re moving along, you have to breathe, and your nose needs some fairly forceful help from your mouth. And so a number of the little buggers wind up on the wrong side of your teeth. Most of them you can breathe out or cough out or spit out, but there are always a few who choose to use the other exit. This morning’s cloud of protoplasm was especially thick, and I got home thinking I really didn’t need my normal breakfast.


Personal Inventory

Our college coach, the estimable Elliot Noyes had a style and understated humor that still tickles. Or stings. After one of my even-worse-than-normal cross-country performances, he wandered over, got not too close, gave me his sidelong look, and said, “Alvarez, that was a rather genteel pace you set today.” He loved rococo language constructions. Beards and mustaches, for example, were “hirsute facial embellishments” He always called time trials “personal inventories.” I’ve lately been chuckling at how much more useful a term that is for creaky old guys staggering around the roads. A time trial would be ludicrous and bizarre, but a personal inventory is perfect: left knee okay, right knee not so hot, belly jiggling in ¾ time, whimpering moderate….

There was also a wonderfully silly joy of running for Ellie. Freshmen couldn’t compete in varsity sports in those days, so the student newspaper would report on the freshmen teams separately. The college teams—the varsity teams—were called the Big Green, but not the poor frosh. It’s pretty hard to take yourself seriously once you’ve spent a year being referred to in sportspeak as one of the “Peagreen Noyesmen.”