In four days, I’ll pull over in the middle of the woods just north of Hartford, get in line with two hundred or so runners and for the next four hours, pour everything I have into getting over the Nipmuck Trail as fast as I can.
Back in December, I picked this as my “focus” race for the first part of the year and I gave myself the goal of winning the Masters division. Training has been good, for the most part. My sciatica is still painful but it doesn’t really get in the way of much (besides the breathtaking pain I experience when getting in the car after a hard workout). But realistically, looking at the times from last year, I’m probably not going to win the Masters. I’ve made some gains but 4 of the top 5 finishers last year were over 40 and they all got in around 3:30. The last time I ran this, I came in at 4 even.
So, my chances are long to say the least. Having said that, I’m no less enthused about giving it a go. With every speed workout and long run I did over the past few weeks, I’ve been amazed with myself and what I’ve gotten done out there. And believe me, this isn’t about bragging or anything like that. 3 years ago, I was a fat shit and running 5 miles made my back tie up tighter than rush hour traffic on the GW. I’m amazed that I can comfortably run under six minutes a mile. I’m amazed I can run 4 hours at a time, that I can climb thousands of feet, that I can run as much as I do and not get hurt.
I’m amazed not really because of anything extraordinary that I’m doing but that there is so little in our culture to support the possibility of it happening for a forty three year old. Walk into the vast majority of doctors offices in this country, tell them you’re running over forty miles a week and they’ll tell you you’re destroying your body. “We weren’t meant to run that much” “You’ll ruin your knees” “Your back can’t handle the pounding.” Really?
We’ve got a nation of people that are so grossly unhealthy that their medical care represents about 17% of our economy. We are the most medicated people in the world. We do cosmetic surgery at the drop of a hat, shoot our faces full of poison to eliminate unsightly wrinkles and staple our stomachs when we can’t stop eating.
And running is bad for us?
Christopher McDougall has written a beautiful book called “Born to Run” that I highly recommend. Through the creation and execution of a singular 50-mile race in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, McDougall reveals the underpinnings of how we evolved as a species and the particular influence our ability to run had in moving us to the top of the animal kingdom. It is a book full of surprises and insights that will arm every runner with ample defense for the next time some well meaning friend tells them this running is a dangerous thing.
Back in 2007, I was standing around the start line of the Nipmuck and I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged Latina woman. Looking down the track, I mentioned that there was a world of hurt lying out there for us. She turned to me with a look that seemed to bore into my very core and she said, “There’s a lot of healing out there on the trail too.”
She was right. For me, for her and for anyone with the gumption to lace ‘em up and get it done, there’s more healing out there than can ever be found in that 17% of our economy. If you don’t believe me, check out McDougall’s book. He’s done a pretty thorough job making the case.