Sometimes when I talk to my grandfather on the telephone about running he will listen patiently, and at the end I can hear him say a quiet, “I miss it.” He doesn’t run anymore, but he is still an exemplary person, a gentle, loving man who drives himself to church on Sundays (though between us, they should paint his car a bright plaid and put a fire alarm on top so people will see him coming.) He likes to sing. A few years ago he started teaching himself to cook, and was making a pretty great vegetable soup. My grandfather is 95 years old.
Once, when coming off of a running injury when I was at a minimum custody prison, my grandfather dug out his old knee braces and passed them off to my wife Kara with the instructions that I should always wear them when I ran. Some guys were trying to get drugs, and cell-phones across the fence. I was smuggling in running gear. I had the only pair of Balega socks on the camp; I’ll guarantee it. A friend of mine snuck in a plain white, sweat wicking t-shirt for me to run in. I came up with a plan and managed to smuggle my grandpa’s old knee braces into the prison. These were something out of the 1970’s I think, and seemed to be not much more than the knees cut out of an old wetsuit. They were uncomfortable. They burned. They shredded the back of my legs. But it didn’t matter. They were a link to my grandfather. They were a time capsule of running adventures that he shared with me. For a while when I would wear them under my prison garb, while out running my thousands of laps around the yard, I got to run with my grandfather’s legs.
My grandfather’s legs.
Before I started running I watched friends of mine spend endless hours out on the yard’s weight pile. They were always complaining about injuries. There were pulled muscles, and disjointed backs, torn ligaments and tendons that were overstretched. I not only could never figure out why they did it, but also it was always a good justification of why I shouldn’t. Weight lifting was dangerous. People got hurt.
Runners are like this. A few weeks ago when out running some early morning trails with friends, on the very first mile I stumbled, landed horribly wrong, slammed my knee into a rock, tore the skin on one hand and managed to scrape a pretty good chunk out of my shoulder. We paused. My friends politely took a few minutes while I walked in circles cursing. I spit a couple of times and we were off again. I did 17 more miles that day. Luckily, THIS time the injury wasn’t too bad.
If you use your body like this you will get injured. It is inevitable. Talking to other runners about injuries is like walking back out onto the weight pile. There are stories of plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, and countless other injuries that seem to happen regularly on the go.
So, why do it at all? Why would I do something that I am absolutely certain is going to hurt me?
Because the only other option is for me not to do it at all.
And I don’t want to live like that. Not anymore.
I have this one life, and I really want to use it until it’s all used up.
And then, like my grandpa, I want to wring it out when I’m done.
I love you grandpa. Thanks for the use of your legs.