The Pain and Joy and Pain of Running
I hate running. I mean, I fucking despise it.
Running is far more painful that just about anything else I do, agonizing to the point where’s it’s now a self-inflicted ritual of torture as the worn out joints and overtaxed muscles simply can’t take the constant pounding anymore. Running post-50 is like driving a used car with the shock absorbers all shot to hell. I can’t even imagine what more serious runners go through, including marathoners, who I view as superhumans. Once time, very recently, I ran 12 brutally tough miles over an entirely flat surface in perfect 73 degree weather, and it nearly killed me. I mean, I thought my legs were going to fall off. To imagine that any human being can run twice that distance, plus two more miles on slopped terrain, is to me, incomprehensible. Then, there’s triathlons and ironman events, which makes my dinky little 12-mile run seem lame, by comparison.
Today, I’m updating readers on my running activities and what’s going on at the moment with the workout routine. Of all the things that I do and write about, surprisingly to me, aside from poker, I most often get asked “are you still running every day?”
The answer is — yes. Albeit, with a footnote.
Here’s a little history lesson for those of you who are new to the site and don’t know the bizarre story behind how I exactly came to be a dedicated runner. Here are a few facts:
— My father ran marathons. That’s right, marathons, as in 26 kick-your-ass miles. He even did some of the major national events during the late 70s and early 80s. He did this well into his late 40s, and amazingly, he also smoked at least a pack of cigs a day. So, there might be something in the genes as to abusing one’s body and then working off the penance out on the open road, one step at a time.
— A poker pal of mine named Monte Christiansen changed my life 15 years ago when by a chance encounter I saw him running in Downtown Las Vegas when it was 113 degrees, after the previous night of binge drinking. Read the remarkable story here of how this madman transformed me, in the same way that perhaps I might transform someone else’s life out there who’s reading now. MEETING MONTE
— When I hit my 50th birthday, which was three years ago, I found my religion. That religion was running. Since then, I have, at times, ignored my job, ignored my family, ignored my friends, and most certainly have not lived up to the expectations of many for all that I should be. That said, I have never ignored my running — not once, ever — which for me became a daily ritual. No matter what the circumstances, I put in the pain every day so long as I could stand up and walk. I only have a few things in my life that I’m truly proud of — one is wife Marieta, another is my writing and some of the creative things I’ve done in poker, and the third is the commitment I have made to running, a gateway to perception. It’s easy to make excuses as to why you should take a day off. It’s much tougher to stick out a routine. I find the benefits of pain are well worth it.
So, if you’re still reading, at least you at know part of the story. I make a running “loop: every single day. It was 5 miles for quite a while. Sometimes 3 miles. When pressed for time, just 2 miles. Nothing comes before my daily run. When I don’t run for an extended time because of extenuating circumstances (work, travel, etc.), which has happened a time or two, I begin to get stir crazy. I feel as though my muscles are atrophying like Jello, wasting away like I’m some kind of paralyzed pathetic invalid stuck in a hospital bed.
Wanna’ know the only thing more painful than running several miles in the desert heat? It’s not running for a day and missing the routine. Those who are into physical fitness will empathize.
Last fall, my runs became increasingly painful. Each time I stepped down on my right foot — which is like 2,500 times over the course of four miles — the pain became more and more excruciating. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to a doctor and was diagnosed with something called Plantar Fasciitis. To me, hearing about some ailment for the first time sure sounded like an excuse for doctors to bilk the insurance company and stroke the fragile sensitivities of patients desperate to be thought of as innocent victims. In my case, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about any insurance claims, or being known as the guy with a gimpy right heel. All I wanted was for the doctor to make the pain go away, so I could resume my daily run.
Plantar Fasciitis is scar tissue that builds up over time and becomes inflamed when pounded against a hard surface, you know, like a city street. Many times, the pain was so bad I couldn’t even walk in the morning. But after lacing up the shoes and stretching a bit, I worked through the pain and did my run faithfully. I can’t tell you how difficult this was (and still is). Like I said, the only thing more painful that stomping on the heel and bruising it more, is skipping a day, or a week.
While visiting Ireland, and then Philadelphia, where a couple of poker-related trips took me away from home for more than a week at a time this past month, I used my travels as an excuse to take an extended break from daily running. See, there’s that excuse thing again. I followed the doctor’s orders to get off my feet and allow the heel to heal. Heel to heal, get it?
Did the unwelcome and frustrating layoff work? Well, not really. I finally decided I couldn’t layoff the routine any longer and now have gone back to three miles each day, each of the last five days, plus another two by bicycle. Today, I did four miles because the car was in the shop and I decided to run home rather than take the city bus. That saved me $1.75.
Is this wise? Probably not.
I have written before about the symbiosis between the physical and the mental, how the body is tied to the brain, and how blood flow stimulation and physical exertion is the very best medicine, not only for the body, but perhaps more importantly for the soul — and for inner creativity. When I have taken recesses from running (both recently, and in the past), I didn’t think as clearly. My mind seemed to be in a fog. My writing sucked. I even became somewhat depressed. Then, when I returned to running, the feeling of being alive returned to me again. Everything had more of a vibrancy to it, especially after a tough run.
As I look to the future, I’m acutely aware that my health problems and physical limitations will not subside, but shall increase and become even more problematic. As determined as I am to overcome pain and ignore doctors when I have physical and mental needs that must be met, I do have an undesirable appointment with the inevitability at some point where the body simply cannot follow the commands of the brain. Hopefully, that occasion is still a very long time off. For some, the destiny comes way too early, making me realize who fortunate I am to enjoy reasonably good health and a happy life at the crossroads of my years.
As for me and my future, I plan to take it one day at a time — make that one step at a time — and do all I can to squeeze out every last drop of joy, and satisfaction…..and dare I say — pain — out of running.