Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tempting fate

Today my boss (strictly speaking, recently ex-boss) made a comment that got me thinking. He said that I "didn't seem to get injured anymore". Of course, I am tempting fate by writing this post, but there is always an element of luck to not getting injured anyway. On the one hand, I've been running now for nearly 4 years and it has taken at least half that time for my body to adapt to being able to run again. I think of the legs like a kinetic chain that is only as strong as its weakest link. In my case, my injuries started up at the hips and gradually worked their way down my legs, passing through the knees, the Achilles and ending up in my feet. Physical conditioning has definitely helped avoid injury - I recently stepped awkwardly while running and completely twisted my ankle, landing on the side of my foot but I kept on running and had no pain or associated problems whatsoever - but I think the real change has been in my true motivation to run.

I went through the following stages and I suspect that I am not the only one to have done this:

Anger. I was disgusted with how I had let my body become and how I had let myself get to the point of smoking a packet of fags a day. Thankfully, the results of starting to run again were surprisingly quick to materialize and this was motivation in itself but when I ran, I ran with self hatred and I ran to punish myself. If I got stressed at work I would take it out on the treadmill.

Competition. Within a few months I was keen to enter a 10k race. Once I had tasted the adrenaline of being on the start line again, I was hooked, especially when I realized that I was reasonably quick, all things considered (I think my first 10k time was 42 minutes which irritated a few of my friends who had been running for years). Even in that race I remember how fiercely competitive I was, thinking things like "I can't let someone with a haircut like that beat me". Now I was running to punish others, not just myself. The goal was then to try to beat my times every time I raced, something that can only be sustained for so long.

Boom-bust. Of course, I started to get injured and I fell into the typical pattern of ignoring pain until it became chronic and then not having the patience to fully recover after an injury before ramping up the training to the maximum, causing the whole cycle to repeat itself. All my races were "A" races - that is to say, ones in which I aimed to do a personal best performance - and so, without any kind of long term view, I would do things like sprint at the end of a half marathon in spite of having a torn hamstring. What put an authoritative stop to this madness was when I got a stress fracture in my foot and was forced to watch my leg whither away in the space of the 3 months of wearing a cast or air boot and not weight bearing. This time I took my time in building up to running again and, in some ways, getting that stress fracture was the best thing that could have happened. Now all the links in the chain were as strong as each other. Since then, I have not had another injury.... from running. (Touch wood.)

Age denial. The best way to ease back into training before I could fully bear weight was cycling. I was pretty confident on the bike because I had ridden one all through my youth. What I hadn't appreciated, though, was that when you take a fall aged nearly 40, your body doesn't just bounce back as it would a child's. A couple of broken bones and torn ligaments has made me much more cautious. By the way, I had never broken a single bone in my life before the age of 37.

Long term goal. Staking so much (time, money and effort) on the Ironman forced me to take a long term approach. I could no longer take any risks in my training or racing and had to keep my eyes on the prize.

Running for running's sake. I actually enjoy running. I love the feeling of being able to get to anywhere I want to get to. I like running fast, I like running long. I enjoy the training (well, most of it) - it's no longer just a means to an end but an end in itself. In my book, running is the ultimate sport, everything else is just an excuse.

Unless I am lying to myself as I did to some extent or other all along my journey, I think that I have come to the final stop. The question I have is whether I could have got there by a more direct route, having the character that I have, and whether I can stay there indefinitely...

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