Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 20 Jun 2004 08:44:03 -0400

Running Far

RUNNING COMMENTARY 524

(This is the introduction to Part Three of my upcoming book, Running Long. The previous two appeared in RC 522 and 523.)

Injuries can be good for you. The bigger they are, the better they can be -- if the pain eventually lets up and lets you run again.

I'd go so far as to say that you don't truly become a runner until you've endured an injury. You don't fully appreciate running until you've almost lost it.

My first big injury was good for me. After suffering with it for a year, I turned to longer and slower running -- which led to long and fast racing that lasted from the mid-1960s to the early '70s.

Then I overdid the racing -- going too far, too fast, too often. My left foot signaled its reluctance to go on like this when a lump of calcium formed on the top of the heel bone. The more I ran and raced with it, the bigger it grew and the more it hurt.

Finally I stopped racing and saw a doctor. He gave the conventional pronouncement of that era: If it hurts to run, rest. If that doesn't work, stop running and find yourself another activity.

I found another doctor. This one, a podiatrist, said that rest never would have cured my problem. He showed me an x-ray of the bony growth cutting into the achilles tendon, then told me the only cure would be surgery.

I went under his knife, hoping to be cured but fearing that running could be over me. It wasn't.

My left foot regained almost full strength and flexibility, and quickly. But this scare had changed permanently my views of running and approaches to it. Mostly I would never again take it for granted.

My running didn't end with that big injury. The rest of my running life, in many ways the best part and certainly the longest, began then.

The surgery occurred more than half a lifetime ago. I've gone from the 1970s to the 2000s with no recurrence of that injury and without any other that threatened my running future.

My runs today are much slower and shorter than before that injury, but I'm also healthier and happier. Almost never do I wake up in the morning unable or unwilling to run. Almost never do I finish a run without feeling better for having taken it.

I don't regret a single hard or long mile from the racing era. Even the speed- and distance-induced injuries make good memories for what they taught me.

Nearly all the runs are easy now. They are more than needed to meet minimum fitness needs, and less than required to train adequately for racing.

I've never stopped running in races, but have long since quit taking the results seriously. I refuse to let my past PRs haunt my present running.

My views are both longer and shorter than they once were. Where once I looked no further than the next race's finish line, I now see only the ultimate line that we all hope to reach as late as possible. Where I once trained for races weeks or months away, I now look no further ahead than the next run.

I hope you reach this last and longest and best stage of running life, detailed in the book's Part Three, after enjoying all that the two lower stages offer.

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