|| Chapter 2 (October 6, 2001)
I'm not really a very good teacher. I'm almost more interested in exploring my thoughts than! I am in communicating. I take about a 3-5 minute break in the middle of a run, let my heart rate calm down, try to drink some water, and perhaps take an electrolyte gel to maintain my blood glucose level. In the 60-degree weather today, I probably don't need an electrolyte gel; perhaps it's just my banana pellet, a reinforcer in the middle of a run. I've never been very good at running around in circles; it's too easy to stop. Out-and-back runs, well planned, leave you fairly committed for the return leg and then of course, somehow it's psychologically easier: I know I'm going to get back, so I don't worry about it. I spend most of my mental effort getting out to the turnaround.
There's one hill in particular - I'm just about to hit it here - that for some misogynous reason I call "The Bitch." It's probably the place I suffer the most. It's also the source of my occasional exhilaration. It's toward the end of the going-out that you climb one side of it. The down side then goes around a long, sweeping curve, and it's a great place to stride out and run pretty fast for a short burst and since it's downhill, I can run much faster than my heart rate would ordinarily let me achieve on flat ground on the return trip, it's really the last big hill so sometimes I challenge myself by running up it, knowing that when I peak across the top, the rest of my mile-and-three-quarters is more or less flat and a coast home. At the top of this hill, usually my heart rate peaks, and I slow down on the way back down the other side.
No one else in my birth family has been involved in athletics. My dad was in World War II and pre-war pictures of him with his shirt off show a chest flat and devoid of pectoral muscles. As a young girl, my mother was a sorority girl and sorority girls just didn't do that sweaty stuff in the 40's. I guess my sister had a short bout of swimming off and on, though she's had a pretty serious weight problem her whole life. My mother had colon cancer and lost her rectum and a third of her colon 25 years ago. Ten years later, a large villous tumor was found in my dad's colon and he died.
Down at the bottom of the other end of The Bitch is the house of Dr. Anderson, who's my colorectal specialist, who makes a movie of my poop chute every few years, and I'm coming up on that in the next couple of months. It's a great way to take an afternoon off. In the hands of a compassionate gastroenterologist, the full colonoscopy that every 50-year-old should have can be - shall I say a pleasant experience? Demerol, Valium, Versed, and a clear conscience, knowing that this is one kind of cancer that nobody needs to die from. I think about that and my mortality when I pass Dr. Anderson's house and when I cross the Indian Mound; I wonder what will finally kill me. One's ever-approaching death is probably a good advisor and motivator.
I went running with Dr. Anderson once. He was chief of staff at University Medical Center and a very nice fellow with an affable, but serious, manner; one of the few individuals, certainly less than 1% of men, who can carry off a bow tie. Knowing Mark, I suspect that he wears a tie out of some respect for his patients and a bow tie out of practicality, since a conventional tie for a man doing colonoscopies could be a dry-cleaner's nightmare. Mark told me that he ran the Knoxville Expo 10,000 race a few years ago and woke up in a hospital at about the halfway point with a temperature of 105, deliriously telling them that he was all right, he was just boarding a plane to go to his grandmother's. Though he may be a very competent physician, he had fallen victim to a common problem among men, probably related to testosterone poisoning. He had mapped out a race and tried to run it based on a mental expectation of an arbitrarily chosen time, but was brutally unrealistic for his age, training, hydration, and the temperature of that particular day. There are ways men in their 50's, even 70's and 80's, can have a good time racing, but they need to have an objective tool to gauge what's going on. For a 50-year-old man to go out and try to run a race without any kind of monitoring device is like trying to drag race an old jalopy and choosing one’s shift points by the roar of the engine. A good tachometer is imperative, repeatable, objective, and only costs about 60 dollars. As important as good shoes, a heart monitor and a baseline understanding knowledge about your own resting and exercising heart rate is a necessity for the middle-aged comfortable runner. I'll return to heart monitors later.
Another important thing in a perfect running facility is a convenient and relatively private pee stop. Cherokee Boulevard has a little place that dips down by the river through some trees and most people stay up on the road and don't use this path. Being a believer in thorough hydration, I generally have to pee on the out and the back, which means urinating about every mile and three-quarters. The runner who's not urinating is not adequately hydrated, and particularly in summer weather is at risk for both misery, catastrophe and realistically unnecessary skeletal injuries. Water is crucial.
As I head up from my pee break and the boulevard and the upcoming Indian mound, I once again think about my mortality and try to keep all this quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo in perspective with a favorite memory of this Indian mound. I have directed my son Alex at my death to have me cremated and to clandestinely spread my ashes on the mud on the path across this mound. I think a marble bench to sit on and re-tie one's shoes might be nice; lots of runners run across this every day, particularly on weekends. One day recently I was cresting the top, thinking about the glory of another run nearly completed and, whooping on the top, when I tripped on a root, staggered forward and after three ever-increasing-dimension steps trying to save myself, decided to fall and roll rather than tearing a muscle in my leg trying to run in giant slips. I rolled over my shoulder, across my back, up on my hip, and back to my feet without really missing a step. After realizing I was unhurt, I laughed at my seriousness. Done properly, running is fun; it's not penance. It should be done within physiological parameters that are easy to understand and, if not violated too often, you can find the experience relaxing, exhilarating, and most importantly reinforcing it.
I went running with Dr. Anderson, put a heart monitor on him, and explained to him the comfortable running methodology. A few weeks later, he told me that he was jogging and running in a different way and noticed he was able to look around and see things while he ran and think about things. I hope to make better a part of the world. Lord knows I've spent enough time fretful and unhappy; I don't need to have my leisure time miserable, and I think lots of runners do.
I'm going to coast in quietly to my car, stretch my legs, and go to the gourmet grocery store and try to enjoy my Saturday afternoon.
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