The law of specificity has raised its snake-like head and bitten me off below the knees. I should have known better. The law states that as you do something repeatedly, you get better at it; your system becomes proficient at the given task. For example, if you do chinups every day, you'll get better at chinups. I have obeyed this law for years. Whenever starting a new activity, training regimen or coming back from a layoff, I have eased into it, allowing my system to gain momentum and ability.
I have, that is, until recently.
The marathon bug also bit about six weeks ago. I wanted to do a flat, low-key marathon in Clearwater at the end of January. Looking at the calendar, I thought, Hmm, roughly twelve weeks to get ready. The initial runs during the week felt great. Hmm, I thought again, if I can go from zero to 30 to 60 minutes of running and walking in one week, maybe I can really ramp up the time on the weekend long run. So I did.
I did a two-hour run/walk the first week. The following week I did a few 30-to-60-minute runs. Thanks to staying up too late Friday night, I split my Saturday run in to an hour that morning and an hour-15 on Sunday. That Sunday run felt so good, I got up extra early on Tuesday to do another one. Due to driving Sweetie-Pie to work at the butt-crack of dawn both mornings of the next weekend, I scrubbed running until the next week. I recovered the time by adding on to my weekday runs during the week, tossing in a little speedwork at the end of each one and then nailed another two-hour run that Sunday.
I should have heard the rattler, should have seen the diamond-shaped head in the weeds at the side of the road, should have noticed the body coiling for a strike. Maybe I did, but I ignored it.
I rationalized it this way: four years ago, until the birth of my second son, I ran a marathon every weekend just for grins. Four to five gentle hours on roads, trails and sidewalks with shorter, speedier runs sprinkled during the week. If I could do it then, I could do it now.
However, new child responsibilities and a graveyard shift at work kept me in a walking coma. Those runs went in to a corner of my closet, under my shoes. I left the graveyard the next year, went back to school and took three programming classes, which nibbled away at any time not taken by work and family. Desperate for something to let my body know it was alive, I bought a set of weights and started lifting. I gained 30 pounds and became bigger and stronger than I ever had in my life. Mice made homes of dust in my running shoes. This year, though, with the exception of the last few weeks, has been a desert for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a general sense of aimlessness.
Which is why aiming for the marathon was so exciting. I felt terrific. The comforting rhythm, if not the speed, slowly returned. A time under 4:30 seemed doable, although just finishing with dignity would suffice.
I sat at the family table for a while after the last long run, wandering over the comics, sipping my second cup of coffee, finishing the boys's leftover pancakes. Someone called me for something and I stood up. Fangs shot through my left foot. I started limping to whomever kept calling.
Vix spotted me turning a corner. She looked at me as if I'd broken a lamp or lost my paycheck. "What did you do?"
"Nothing," I said. "I'm always a little stiff after a jog."
The pain subsided after a few steps, just long enough for the dull tightness in my right Achilles' tendon to register. Oh great.
It's now been about two weeks of inactivity. The Achilles' is still tender, but mending. That snake, however, carved the words Plantar fasciitis in ornate script in to the bottom of my left foot. The first few steps every morning and after sitting for any length of time are excruciating, but eventually the pain lessens to a whispering nag. The only treatment for both injuries are rest and stretching.
I broke the law and the law won. Now I'm doing time. My wife said it perfectly:
"Well, you're an idiot."
Since I've become an old fart
, apparently the timeframe for regaining old super powers
shortens with the years. Just because four years and 30 pounds ago I could chase the sunrise miles doesn't mean I can pick up where I left off.
I've thrown away the flyer to that marathon. The entry fee was a little steep anyway. Right now I just want to feel healthy again and not like the old creaky man I'm swiftly becoming. Daily stretching for a while. Then walking. Then adding some running a minute at a time, gently.
The world of marathons, ultras and weekend races resides far away for the moment. Starting as a beginner once again, I may be running again by my birthday. I don't care how long it takes. It seems silly, I know, and maybe only another runner can understand, but just running without pain would be accomplishment enough.