And I Ran

I ran Wednesday night. I ran, jogged, and quick-walked for more than 50 minutes. Don’t know how far I ran. Right now I don’t care. Right now I can barely move.

Wednesday morning began with a bike ride. Since it was in the 20’s outside, I did my riding at the YMCA. The Carlson Metrocenter, to be specific. Our county has a lot of Y’s, and I’m pretty much using them all. The Carlson is the downtown branch, a big, ’80’s-style building that’s not too far away from my house, and it has some of the toughest spin classes in the area.  The 5:30am Wednesday class is one of them. It’s run by Gary.

Gary and I actually go way back. I met him during my brief radio career. I was ‘Brian the Bedtime Buddy’ at one of the stations back in my hometown, and Gary worked in news. We’ve bumped into each other sem-regularly in the three-plus decades since then, but it was a surprise the first time I walked into that class last winter and saw him on the lead bike. Boy, he was tough back then. This year, not so much.

I know, I know: he’s probably just as tough. But I’ve gotten tougher. He does this thing every week where he makes the class continually increase the tension on the bikes to simulate riding up a mountain. “It’s not downhill,” he’ll say. “It’s not level. I don’t see any tunnels. I don’t see any way around it. We’re just gonna have to climb it.” And we do. And 10-15 minutes later, we back off. Meh. That’s not a mountain. Trust me.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful when it’s over.

That was at 5:30 am.  Wednesday night at 6 I did my first real running. I did it at the Monroe Y, a sturdy old building from the 1920’s that’s about 4 blocks from my house. Its gym is about the size of a regulation basketball court (without the bleachers), and its track sits above it. I went with my friend Becca, who took up running this summer, but then kind of stopped, and has been looking for a reason and a way to get back to it. I asked her if she would run with me partially because she wants to find a way to get back into running, but also because I figured someone without a lot of experience would be more willing to run my speed, especially since I wasn’t really sure what my speed was going to be. She was honored and pleased to be my inaugural running partner.

I showed up with my leg in a gym bag, and had to change into it in the lockers.

I don’t know how it is with women, but aside from professional athletes, guys aren’t really comfortable in locker rooms. But at some point as we age, we just stop giving a shit. I’ve pretty much passed that point. Except when it comes to my leg. I’m fine with letting Big Jim and the Twins get some air in the room, but it’s hard for me to take off my prosthesis. Luckily, the room was empty, and I was able to make the switch fast, and get to the track.

The track at the  is the strangest I’ve ever seen. But I haven’t seen many. It’s really small, for one thing. The straightaways aren’t much more than 25 yards on the long sides, and the short sides are one long sharp curve, so to make up for that they steeply bank them, so that if you ran fast enough, you could probably run nearly horizontal for short distances. On odd-numbered days you run counter-clockwise on the track, and clockwise on the evens. Wednesday was the 8th, so we ran clockwise. After a few minutes I realized I would only be able to run on this track on even days.

As I’ve mentioned before, this prosthesis is longer than my leg. It needs to be this way because of the compression that occurs when I stride through it. The faster I run, the more it compresses. Walking and jogging don’t really do it enough. And although I did run, I also walked and jogged. I’m getting ahead of myself.

We got on the track, and did a lap or two to of walking to warm up. Then we did a few laps of jogging. We conversed as we did it. We aren’t close friends, but what time we’ve spent in each other’s company has been enjoyable so this as a bit of a ‘getting to know you’ phase. She told me about the class she took for running, and how it was to culminate in a group run at one of the many local races, but she really didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of running with a thousand people so she didn’t do the race. But she was glad to run with me.

“What do you say we pick up the pace?” I asked her.

“This is about as fast as I’ll go, but don’t let that deter you from…” she said. She may have said more, but by then I was too far away to hear her.

I accelerated. And I ran.

(The last time I ran–really ran, not just an awkward jog or a limping lope–was in July of 1979. It was on the Sunday before I had my accident. A bunch of us would go up to Sullivan Park, which was the R&D facility where my Dad worked. There was a ball field across the parking lot from the buildings, and on the nights when there were no leagues, we would bring our bats and gloves and balls and play baseball until it got too dark to see. I ran the bases. I ran down fly balls. I ran after grounders that went in the hole. Had I known what was coming, I would probably have run even more.

There was going to be a game that night, too, on the day of my accident. The first thought that went through my head after having my foot crushed was disappointment that I was going to miss that game. True story.)

…..

I’ve been sitting here looking at the blinking cursor on my screen for several minutes. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I ran. Hell, it’s hard to feel how I felt. I worked very hard to contain my joy. I’m still doing it. It’s just running. It’s no big deal. People do it all the time.

It’s a big deal. It’s a big, big, big deal.

I did more than run.

I’m sorry, but I have to make yet another narrative side trip.

My best friend is an athlete. She doesn’t do anything with it now, but if you watch her move, it’s obvious. One day we were going someplace, but she had left her wallet at her work, so we went back to get it. I sat in the car waiting for her, and watched as she came out of the front door, and then ran the short distance to the car. She ran with a fluidity, a gracefulness that was striking. It didn’t look like she was fighting gravity with every step. It just looked like she was using her energy to flow along a path that was parallel to the ground. I remembered thinking ‘if I ever run again, I want to run like that.’

When I ran, I did. At least, it felt that way. I was simply shifting my mass forward. Furthermore, my running leg was doing it more efficiently than my regular leg. It was easy.

Like I said, big, big deal.

Within a few laps, I passed my friend. And passed her again. And caught up with her again shortly after that. I felt like I could probably make another lap, but I didn’t want to overdo it, so I slowed down to her pace.

“That looked like fun,” she said.

It was. My God, it was.

This was the pattern for the night. I would run for about 10 minutes, then jog along at her speed, then run again, then jog, or sometimes fast-walk. It was a real learning experience. The biggest thing I learned is that right now, this leg is faster than me. It was functioning its best when I ran fast, and I’m guessing that I haven’t gotten to its optimum speed yet. I was also aware that I could run faster than I was doing there. I deliberately did not hit top speed, partially because I didn’t want to over-exert myself, and partially because I’m still learning this thing. On more than one occasion the front of the blade (I might as well call it what it is–it’s certainly not a foot) struck the track as I was bringing it forward. I kept my balance each time and really didn’t slow down, but had I been moving faster, I’m not sure I would have been able to do so.

Halfway through, Becca suggested that, since there was no one else on the track, we try going counter-clockwise. It wasn’t as comfortable, due to the length issue.

At 6:55, we stopped, and she worked me through some post-run exercises designed to minimize lactic acid build up, and also lessen the chances of shin splints. We decided that we would make this a regular Wednesday evening occurance.

I can’t wait.

I’m running. Big deal, indeed.

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1 Comment

  1. Donna Liljegren

     /  February 10, 2012

    Well, I am starting the morning wiping away tears. Of joy, of course. How amazing, Brian. I am so excited for you.

    Reply

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