Monday, April 29, 2013

Off the Cuff

It stares at me without pity from the pages of Wikipedia:

"Many rotator cuff tears are asymptomatic. They are known to increase in frequency with age and the commonest cause is age-related degeneration and, less frequently, sports injuries or trauma. Both partial and full thickness tears have also been found on post mortem and MRI studies in those without any history of shoulder pain or symptoms."

I could quibble over the questionable wording (commonest?) and how that might undermine the accuracy of the information, but the ache in my right shoulder tells me that the information is more accurate than not.

I never realized that I could get injured simply by doing nothing. So much for the "use-it-or-lose-it" philosophy of staying fit.  And then just below that result on the Google search was the medical article with this hope-crushing title: "Age-related prevalence of rotator cuff tears in asymptomatic shoulders."  

In other words, there are a lot of us walking around with bad shoulders, due to torn or strained rotator cuffs.  Some of us may not know it, and I suppose they are the lucky ones. Others know that there's a problem, but have no idea how they might have injured their shoulder, because it's something that just happens. 

It's hard to be an American male and not be able to throw. I've been thinking about it, and I've basically been throwing all my life.  Baseballs, footballs, balls of all types, of course; rocks, dirt clods, sticks; playing cards into hats, coins into fountains, chestnuts at kids from our rival neighborhood during the Chestnut Wars of 1978 to 1982.  Now I can still throw, but it really, really hurts when I do it.  This makes coaching baseball really difficult, and with baseball season just getting underway here in the Northeast, that's a problem. 

But what's really upsetting is that I haven't been able to play catch in the back yard with my kids. This injury has made me more aware of the fact that those moments are going to be fewer and fewer as the years go back.  A rotator cuff can happen for no apparent reason, but at least they can heal. The missed connections from a simple game of catch in the back yard is not as easy to correct.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Running for Peace

With the events of this week still freshly in my mind, I ran the Cave Hill Classic Road Race today in Leverett, Massachusetts.  This 5-mile race starts on the road in front of the Peace Pagoda, and finishes right in front of the Peace Pagoda.  The five miles in between features hills, lots and lots of hills.  This is the only race I've ever run where the race director, before firing the starting gun--in this case, banging the starting gong--gives the runners one last chance to opt-out. "The last mile-and-a-half," he said.  "Is all up hill."  He paused a moment to let that sink in before continuing.  "And the last part of the race is the steepest part." 

I've run a fair amount of races over the past five years, but I'm still not a confident enough runner to be able to completely ignore the specter of hills.  But it wasn't like I was going to turn around and just head back to my car. No, I was there to run. 

The hills were tough.  And the last part, the insane incline I had to run up before I could even catch a glimpse of the Peace Pagoda, that was just as hard as advertised.  But I ran up that hill, and I gratefully accepted the origami crane on a string that one of the Buddhist monks placed around my neck. 

This race just felt different.  There was a lot of pre-race chatter about what happened in Boston on Monday, and about the successful conclusion to yesterday's day-long manhunt.  Standing around a mountain top on a chilly April morning, the events of the week felt both immediately present and far away.  Thoughts of Boston were with me as I ran. I ran freely and with thoughts of peace flowing through my body. I ran hard and felt proud and safe. I ran because I'm a runner. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We've Got To Keep Running

In 2008 I ran my first—and to this point my only—marathon, in Hartford.  I did not have an especially good race.  I hit the proverbial wall at around mile 20, and I spent way too much time walking instead of running.  But I finished.  And I was supported along with way by friends and family who met me at different points along the route to give me encouragement.

Near the finish, I willed myself back into a running pace, determined to run across the finish line.  About 300 yards short of the finish line, my family met me again.  My younger son, who was then five years old, darted out from the sparse crowd and ran with me towards the finish line.  I am not ashamed to admit that I had tears in my eyes: I’d trained hard for that moment, and not only was I going to finish, but my family was there to see me do it.  It was a triumphant and sweet moment.

That’s what I thought about when I saw the news coverage of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. What I didn’t sufficiently realize until I immersed myself in the news cycle was that a marathon is not just a moment of triumph for one runner.  Instead, it’s a moment of triumph for thousands of people, and not just the runners, but the families and friends of the runners and even for those who might not know anyone running.  A marathon—or any road race, really—is a celebration of human achievement.  Yesterday I thought about how I celebrated my marathon, and I thought about how that had been taken away by the cowardly scumbag(s) who set off the bombs, along with lives and limbs and feelings of personal security.  I felt a profound sense of loss and a growing tide of anger.

Now that the weather has finally turned here in New England, I’ve found myself contemplating doing another marathon this year, in part to erase the memories of a poorly run race five years ago. After yesterday, I realized that the stakes have been raised significantly.

Can I really be thinking about bringing my family to the finish line of a marathon after what happened in Boston?  Will big city marathons ever be safe, or be the same?  Will there still be people willing to run in marathons if in addition to worrying about the weather and pacing and training and fuel they now have to worry about their loved ones’ safety? 

This morning I had the same argument I have with myself every morning, should I run or go back to bed?  I ran. I ran this morning not because that’s what the training plan said I had to do or because I needed to build my base. Instead, I ran out of a sense of duty and out of anger.  I ran this morning for those people who, after yesterday, can no longer run for themselves.  And that’s why I’m going to run a marathon this year.  I refuse to let the scumbag(s) win.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Spring Fever Breaks

At the end of a warm day in April, the kind of a day where you opened up all the windows to air out the house and invited in whatever hopeful, fragrant air might be out there, you walk into your bedroom after the sun has gone down and feel a bit of a chill.  It's dark out now and the temperature has dropped. Now the open windows are just letting in cold air. 

You shiver a bit as you close the windows, and your body reacts to a distant memory: spring days when you were young and the cooler temperatures and setting sun called you back home, and you ran into the house a little sweaty to finish homework or maybe to have a late dinner.  Then, the receding warmth of the day was easier to accept; it didn't portend anything because you'd already wrung out of the day all that you could. Now, the cooler temperatures and the blackness outside the windows serve as a reminder of wasted energy, and the relentless drive towards darkness that we all must face, regardless of the season. Another chance at fun simply thrown away.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Baseball Arrives

Mark Twain is credited with the quip about San Francisco's notorious weather, "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."  That quote popped into my head yesterday evening, the first baseball practice of the year. 

Now, I know cold.  I grew up in New Jersey and spent many fall and winter Sundays sitting in the stands of Giants Stadium in wind-blown East Rutherford, NJ.  I can remember a couple of times sitting in the stands and resting my feet on ice from a previous night's storm. Every year for the last 25 years or so, I've gone on an annual Spring golf trip to Pennsylvania, where snow flurries are the state bird.  In other words, it gets cold. 

Once when I was a kid, maybe 11 or so, a friend of mine called me up because he wanted to start a baseball team and he asked me to be on it.  The first and only practice we had was on a bitterly cold spring day.  Afterwards, I spent about an hour in our pantry, because it was warm in there. 

None of that previous experience prepared me for the 38-degree temperature and the 25-mile-per-hour wind that greeted us last night as we began to get ready for baseball season.  I had running tights on under my pants, two pairs of socks (sox, I guess, since we're talking baseball here), and three top layers.  And I froze my ass off. It was so cold that I didn't even remember to complain about my strained rotator cuff. 

I'll say it now: you won't here me complain at all this summer about the heat, after this crappy, cold spring.