Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Inevitable

Recently took what is becoming my annual break from running. It's a little over two weeks long, and is intended to provide my aging legs with some rest time. I've read and heard that for those of us over 40 it's a good idea. I've sprained my right calf in the same spot twice so far, most recently in 2009, and the pain and recovery time for that injury have convinced me this break is a wise decision.

Not that it's easy. I've been a runner since 9th grade, and it has always meant more to me than just a way to stay in shape. It's been my therapy, my beta blocker, my energy pill, my mental rejuvenator, my muscle relaxer, and my sleep aid, among other things. I can remember times as a teenager and into my early 20s where I held so much energy inside me that I'd have to go out for a run...often at 1:30 in the morning. I knew that if I didn't, I wouldn't sleep a wink. So there I was, on a still, summer night, running through the deserted streets of Williamson, the only sounds being the slap of my Saucony sole on the pavement and my labored breath. Once I'd logged a few miles, I'd arrive back at the apartment and crawl into bed, assured of some sleep. It's a wonder my mother didn't suspect me of being a werewolf.

That kind of energy level no longer goads me, thankfully. When I'm running though, I'm just a generally happier person. I can recall finishing cross-country workouts in high school and coasting into the parking lot brimming with an unbounded euphoria. Again, the heights I reach aren't quite as high as then, but I notice during these breaks that there's something missing. I feel flatter emotionally. The light streaming through the windows holds not quite so much promise. On top of this, I notice my leg muscles gradually begin to shrink. My heartbeat becomes more noticeable after a week. My heart murmur becomes a little more frequent. Less frequently, I'll feel short bursts of rapid heartbeat, tachycardia is the medical term, which can be more alarming than the missed beats. I know I'm not the only to experience this phenomenon. I'm only hoping that my activity will keep at bay anything worse until some ripe old age well into the future. The heart is a hardworking muscle. We ask so much of it on a daily basis, not just physically, but also with the emotions we experience. The heart reacts to all of it. It should come as no surprise that for so many of us, it will be the primary cause for leaving this life. It finally gives up its daily workload.

Coming out of the break, as I am now, renews my appreciation for being able to run. The muscles and the joints in my legs are getting older, and there will come a day when I'll have to stop. My hope is that the break will extend their life a little longer. If I'm lucky, maybe I won't have to consider it until I'm well into my 60s. I do keep walking on the break, so I'm not exactly immobile. But it's not the same. There's something about breaking a sweat, about the body reaching an anaerobic state, that almost seems to cleanse the blood. The weight managing benefits aren't bad either. I can still pig out on weekends and not gain too much. It feels like stealing. And there are the moments I still get when I'm out there and decide to turn on the gas again, keeping pace with a passing car for a few seconds, surprised that I can dig down and still find the horsepower for a decent sprint. I did this a couple months ago, and the effect was like takeoff, lifting into the air briefly, free of gravity and the wet pavement. Escaping the forces, for a few moments, that inexorably pull us back down into the dirt. With our striving and our constant effort, it's what we're attempting to do every day. Putting off the inevitable for as long as we can.

For now, I can still run. May I stay ahead of the inevitable for as long as possible.

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