Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Old Man and the Sea

Danny, as promised, this essay in in honor of you.

An earlier time and version of me, I often heard phrases like, “runs with the grace of a deer” or “runs like the wind.” Once upon that youthful time, I was running alone on my high school track. A solitary old man was sitting in the stands. He limped slowly up to me after I finished my run, and said that he enjoyed the beauty of my stride. I stammered as I tried to come up with a response, but he interrupted and went on with passion in his voice. “I've seen many people run on this track and some quite fast. You don't run. You're visual poetry with the ground. It is a gift to be cherished. It makes the eyes and spirit of old men young again. It is the essence of life, I say. Never, I say never, give it up.” I really stared blankly now, not knowing what to say. The riddles seemed to shroud the compliments in an overwhelming way for a fragile young boy's psyche. I grabbed my sweats and went on my way.
It was 15 degrees, at best, on blustery February Sunday. Winds were 20 MPH gusting into the 30's slowing the pace of fast legs that have seen better days. It seems that, factors of aging aside and a bout with heart disease, it has become easier to let off the gas pedal of vigor and hide within my own comfort zone with each passing year. It is even easier when I can rest on past laurels. Reminiscing is easier than pushing the human limits of running. I questioned my own sanity for choosing this spot and on this day for a run. However, lunacy ruled for the day, as I headed directly into the wind to start the run. I distracted myself with the blue and green quilted waves with bright whitecaps that boldly crashed upon the beach. The horizon was so clear I felt like I could reach out and touch its delicate but definite boundary. The majestic display of nature helped to occupy the mind while the hamstrings cursed and screamed with every step into the head wind. My face was so cold, the sinuses ached. I broke the monotony and the chill by running one minute down wind before running 4 minutes further up wind. The only pleasure heading up wind for the four minutes was watching the seagulls and piping plovers that were hunkering down on the beach weave a pattern in the sky in front of me as they temporarily fled my approximate path up the beach. Just before the northerly turn-around, I saw a seagull who did not take flight. Instead it sat limp and drained with a stoic but determined stare. I soon realized it was sick, injured, or both. Death could not be but a few hours away. I felt a reverent pity for the poor creature's soul. I could not help but think that we will all be in that bird's situation one day.
I reached the turn-around point and relaxed my effort into the pleasant feel of a tailwind. I slowed my pace as I came back by the dying bird, wishing there was something I could do to make things better. Whatever great my empathy for this creature facing the end of life, I realized my powers over nature and the meaning of life were very limited. I looked back over my shoulder one last time to see the noble posture and courage in the face of death. My mind then flashed back to the old man at the track. The irony then dawned upon me that, if the bird could see how I have treated my gift, it might be having pity upon me. Be it a few hours or a few decades, be it disease or the slow march of the aging process, we do not die from disease, disability, and age. We live with them. Something happened to the embers of old sparks. My sun-faded jacket had an inner glow. I slowly upped my pace from the comfort zone.
It was Mark Twain who said, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
The trade winds pushed at my back. I concentrated on form. My pace continued to quicken as I explored, dreamt, and discovered.
Yes, you must have your ship boldly take on the wave in order to ride its crest. I want to try my best to get to the top of my own wave and touch the sky even if gravity and physics has lowered its watery mountain-size. The crest is the thrill. It is the essence of life. It is the thrill of the chase. It is Santiago catching his marlin. The prize is in the struggle. Yes, my eyes were starting to see with clarity. What can these old sea legs can do if given the chance? It is time to revisit the gift of stride, for that is how the spirit, once again, becomes young.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Pit Bulls of Baskerville

I wrote this piece as a question and answer column in the Tri-Valley Frontrunners club newsletter a few years back. It is a parable for a basic injury prevent concept. So the readers here can understand some inside information, valley girls is the self proclaimed knickname by the female members of the club. Also, Art Doine and Bobby Doyle were names of club members.

Hipper Chick: I have this pain in my hip. It started about six weeks ago and is so bad I cannot run anymore.

First it is Hip Chick. Now it's Hipper Chick. What is is about these valley girls and their fixation on hips. I'm lucky Linda Tripp didn't attend the meeting or I'd be answering Kenneth Starr's questions instead of yours. “Dr. Bob, were you involved with intimate conversation with a valley girl about her hip?” “No, I was not. She was having intimate conversation with me. Define conversation. Define hip!” Well, so much for impeachment. Let's get back to the fruit salad days of impeared hips.From grand jury interrogation of my own, I have deduced that this problem started right after christmas. Santa must have thought you were a naughty girl 'cause he left you a pair of Nike Lumpocoal Max. I also know the pain is located at the origin of the quadriceps muscles, a rare injury for runners. Combine new shoes with odd injury and I'd start my mystery solving with shoes. Here's why. New shoes can perpetrate the crime with unwanted model changes (just when you find a model you like....poof... it disappears), untested gimick features (like the arch cut-out that did my hamstring in last August), assembly line defects, and material variation. Assembly line defects are self explanatory. The untested gimicks subject is longer and juicier than the Starr Report. So for brevity's sake we'll focus upon material variation. To help us find out what is making your quad bay at the moon, we will go way back to another time and across the big pond to another place. I call upon mystery writer of purple past to help us, Sir Arthur Doine-an' (Bobby) Doyle.Enter, Sherlock Shoes! "By jove, Baby Watson, check out this EVA midsole I found in the moors." "It's without sole, sir," replied BW. "That's because I took it off, cheesecake head. What else do you see?" quizzed Sherlock. "It's damp from the moors, more or less," said BW. "No it is the hardness of the midsole. It differs from spot to spot. On the durometer scale it is 40 here and one inch away it is 36 and ... here right next to that spot it is 44!Darn that Dr. Morinjuriarity!" proclaimed Sherlock shoes. "Yeahand darn his dog, too!" hounds Baby Watson as he scrapes pitbull pasture patty off of his waffle trainers. Congratulations Sherlock, you've solved the mystery. We always assume the midsole and its pieces are of the same hardness as the specifications advertise it to be. In fact the industry considers a ten percent variation in EVA durometer to be acceptable. That's quite alot when you consider that midsole gimmicks to change foot function usually differ by no more (moor?) than ten durometer units. Now consider that there is no effective way for the companies to screen out even larger variations in EVA durometer other than random material testing. Therefore, some shoes make it to the market with subtle and invisible defects that interfere with normal foot function.So, now that we have a shoe-in as our suspect, how do we confirm his guilt. As Sherlock would say, elementary, my dear Watson. Switch back to an oldie but goodie. A pair of shoes you used successfully before the injury but not so worn out that it takes Sherlock's magnifying glass to find some tread on your corpse of a shoe. I know it is London rainwater past the dam but it is best to retire a pair of successful shoes half way through its useful life and keep them in your closet. If nefarious Dr Moreinjuriarity crops up, pull your Sherlock shoes out of the closet and wear them a week or two. If there is significant improvement or resolution, then your barking up the right tree. It is one great way to remove one variable from the injury equation.Hopefully, the mystery will be solved. Make sure you put your “Sherlocks” back in the closet where you can find them. For the fog and full moons of mystery will return. With all the shoe problems out there, Dr M and his demonish dog will have many an opportunity to howl in your backyard.