I finished the first lap on the track and looked down at my Garmin to see a time of two minutes flat. I smiled and laughed out loud. “I used to do two laps in two minutes,” I said out loud as I kept on down the straightaway. I crossed the mile marker right around eight minutes, and I was feeling good, but I could feel the pace wearing on me. Again I found myself laughing and shaking my head at this track that was laying a beat down on me and a myriad of thoughts raced through my mind as mile two got underway.
The one that really stood out was the ridiculous times I had just put up, and I began to wonder who I am. There was a time in my life when I defined myself by the times I could put on the clock. Being that fast runner was who I was, and I was proud of it. I spent a couple of years in college struggling with my identity and persona after I stopped running “for real” due to injury. I had to take a step back and really try to identify myself without my wheels doing it for me. I made it through that stage of life, and I have been happy with my place. I even went as far as to make peace with the idea that I would never be a runner again on any level because of my trashed knee. The problem is that I had the knee fixed, and over the last five years or so have found my way back to being a runner, but what runner?
I’ve struggled to regain my old form and have not come close as of yet. I sometimes wonder what the holdup is, but I remind myself that I spent over eight years with a bum leg and that it’s going to take time to get going. I’ve only been running consistently for about a year and a half after nearly three years of struggling through a lot of post-surgery pain and problems like having trouble standing up after sitting too long. Forget running because that would never happen again; the knee had spoken. I decided that was not going to work for me, and I found my way back to being a runner through a lot of hard work and by getting out of shoes. Taking a bare or minimal approach allowed me to work through all of my issues because my body was forced to find a way and not rely on shoes, braces, or supports of any kind to help me out. It worked, and here I am able to run marathons. Still something’s missing, and today I realized what it is.
I miss my speed. There was a time when I could run with just about anyone, and it was an amazing feeling. As I was halfway through my second mile on the track today I decided not to look at my Garmin anymore because I was not sure how I would take the news it gave me. If it said I was running faster than the first mile then I might think I was pushing too hard and not able to hold pace. If the news was a slower time then I might get down on myself and have to work that much harder to get through the planned three miles. Again I laughed at myself and decided to just run. I would see what the watch said when I was finished and leave it at that. Was I serious with all of this craziness?
For the rest of the run I felt like I was chasing a ghost. I could almost see my faster self on the track ahead of me just running and leaving me behind. I wanted to wave and wish him well, but I was not sure how that would feel. Should I give up on my quest to get my speed back? If I waved the ghost on that would be what I was doing. In a small way, I would in that very moment concede that my quest was over, and I would then have to decide what place in my life running would have. I tried to up the pace but still never checked the watch. I went back and forth with my speed as a subconscious battle raged within me to determine who would win: the faster me or the current me.
I realize that the insane knee injuries and years of subsequent problems have made a major impact on my performance. I also recognize that my body is different. I’m in good shape, but I weigh forty pounds more today than I did at my speed peak. Then there is the obvious, the dark shadow in the corner that no one really wants to recognize and that is Father Time. I’m older. My fastest running was over a decade ago, and this thought again caused me to laugh out loud. Could I honestly be running on a track, having visions of grandeur given the years my body has seen between the knee injury and today? I guess the answer was yes, and that is because somehow my mind never forgot. My mind never forgot how to run fast, and it wants to go every time I take that first running step. My body has other ideas. It knows that the speed is not there anymore. It knows that the knee has a say in how things will go that day and that it will ultimately have the final word in the argument.
In the year or so that I have been able to really get back into running I have made great strides, and I have gotten a lot faster. Earlier this year I struggled with a thirty minute 5K, and now I can run in the low twenties during practice runs. My leg strength and endurance have gone through the roof, and I can honestly say that up to a marathon, I can basically run any distance any day that I want. That is saying a lot considering where I was such a short time ago, not being able to run a half mile without stopping due to pain.
So who am I? What did I decide? Did I wave that fast kid on?
No, not entirely at least. I have conceded that the 14:40 5K I once laid down is forever out of reach, and I am okay with that. I know I will probably never break two minutes in the 800m and I might never see a sub-five mile ever again. I can live with those things, but I cannot live with the idea of saying I’m done, that I will never be fast again. What is fast? Who is fast, and who decides that? I’ve spent the last year embarrassed by my times when I really should have spent that time being proud that I was even able to finish a race. Running requires a certain mindset, and I see that now. It’s not the “I’m the fastest around” mindset for me anymore. It’s the “I’m a runner” mindset that I will embrace, and I will work to be the best runner I can be. I will also help those in need to become the best runners they can be as well. I have years of knowledge, experience, and education to impart.
I may not be able to live vicariously through my old self anymore. I cannot live through my past or keep thinking about who I once was. I have to start dictating who I am as a runner from here on out and that is all right by me. I worked with a new runner this summer and I helped her shave four minutes off her two-mile time. She made her cross-country team! That’s my legacy now, and I am proud of that.
So today I’m going to wave that ghost of myself on. I’m going to let him go get his glory and run his race, and I wish him all the best. I’m good where I am, but watch out because I’m still back here running, and if you’re not careful I just might run you down.