I had been waiting for awhile to write this. Maybe it's because I was in denial; maybe it's because I was simply tired of thinking about it. Or perhaps I was clinging to a thread of hope. A couple of Fridays ago, I went to UPMC with my friend Sarah to get a third and final opinion on the FAI in my right hip. The doctor and I had a look at the MRI and discussed the chronology of all that had transpired. Then, the doctor bluntly explained to me that 6 more weeks of high-intensity training in conjunction with an all-out race effort at Boston (much less Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in August) could basically destroy the joint. Major surgery in an effort to remediate the FAI would yield only a relatively small chance of success with the specter of a long, painful recovery. Given all the facts and the opinions of five different doctors, I made the decision to stop running and shut it down. Done. Now. Today. No Boston. No more bargaining with doctors, physical therapists, and myself.
If there is any saving grace to this, I can rest easy knowing I exhausted all options and left no stone unturned. I have no regrets and would not change a thing. My job now, with gratitude, humility and respect, is to step to the side, pay it forward and to do everything I can to help my other friends in their athletic pursuits, as well as embark on new adventures in my life. I had my turn and it was magnificent. It bears repeating ... no regrets. Over the next few blog posts, I will examine the past, the present, and the future through my runner's eyes. I can only hope there is a nugget or two of information someone will find useful.
As for my mental disposition, there have been good days and not-so-good days. I'm able to keep my mind occupied most of the time with work and other forms of exercise like swimming and cycling. However, I readily confess there have been some sleepless nights where I have felt a painful grief washing over me. A few nights ago, lying in bed, it occurred to me how strange a feeling it was trying to recall the last mile I had run. And why would I want to remember the experience? Is it because if I never forget that last mile and am able to memorize it in excruciating detail, I will always be able to, in some sense, hold onto running? Perhaps ...
Wednesday, March 7, 2012. It was a 9-mile VO2 max workout on the Mon River Trail south of the Little Falls Road trailhead. The weather was unusually warm for mid-March. I had just completed the 5th and final interval of the workout and was cooling down. I trotted along and admired the rocky cliffs to my right. During a good rain, small streams in the pour-offs would turn into waterfalls cascading down onto the face. If the temperature was cold enough, the waterfalls would form these exquisite crystalline ice flows I'd always pause to admire. I loved this trail because there was rarely a soul ever on it. How many of life's problems and pleasures I had experienced on this trail. How many statistical proofs I had worked through and solved on this trail. How much nothingness I had embraced on this trail.
More often than not, I'd flush a flock of turkey making their way to roost in the tall oaks and hickories on the river bluffs for the night or I'd watch a doe with her fawn browsing in the grass berm off to the side in the mist of the morning. On this day, there were daffodils and trillium popping up out of the ground, heralding the coming of an early spring. A couple of wood ducks sprang from the water's edge, squealing as they departed out over the main channel of the river. Just south of the trailhead, the river made a bend towards the northwest. There was a series of about 10 old rusty piers used for some long forgotten purpose lining the eastern bank. Whenever those piers came into view on my run, I knew I was only minutes from the car. Like a horse smelling oats in the barn, I'd always pick up the pace just a little in anticipation of a post-run snack!
The compressed wind was blowing down the river channel with enough force that it was slowing my progress but I did not care. I viewed the wind as a friend, not a foe. The wind in my face made me feel alive and so damn lucky to be running, particularly in light of all the events over the past few months. I closed my eyes and drank it in. Sarah was waiting in town to go out with me so I had better hurry as I was close to being late. But I could not help myself to dally just a bit, to feel the wind a little longer at some at some anticipatory and subconscious level. And as I slowly walked to the car, after a seemingly innocuous mile jog, the wind just stopped.
Last Saturday, Sarah and I went on a long randonneur bike ride north of Pittsburgh with several other people from a local bike club. As the hours passed, we cycled through the classic mosaic of western Pennsylvania. Cornfields and small woodlots rolled by. We passed through small towns with their churches proclaiming fish fries on Friday nights, old taverns with Steelers banners hanging above the front doors, and gray houses built in the 30s and 40s lining the streets like soldiers in a procession. There amidst the conversations among the riders, out there with my new bike learning just the right time to shift, I felt it. The wind ... it is blowing again ... I felt it on my face ... the caress of the sweet, sweet wind.