It would seem the year that was getting punched in the face has won via technical knockout. This is not to say goals haven’t been achieved – they have – but it is to say that 2017 has stepped up to take back the idea that while you can fight age, no you cannot fully outrun it. A seemingly obvious truism, but it is a lesson I think we each learn in our own way.
An ironic lesson perhaps that I started on a fitness journey to be sure that I reclaimed everything I possibly could because I was all too aware that life is short, opportunities come by once and I was determined not to allow Father Time to advance on me without giving myself the best opportunity to enjoy my one trip here.
In June, the year that was getting punched in the face punched back and I was put out of commission for 6-weeks. Made worse by the fact that at the fact that at the beginning of June I was bold enough to say that I was dissatisfied with punching in the face and was going to tear the face off the year. On the 10th, I had fallen down a mountain. 9 stitches in my forearm and tendon surgery on my foot. Had I to do it again, I probably wouldn’t continue the remaining 20+ miles of the race, but I was headstrong enough that I was not going to quit. Hard to know if this was a “win” or if it was failing to accept a strategic retreat.
But that was an accident. A failure perhaps of training, a failure to pay sufficient attention to what was required of a highly technical trail race. Perhaps a failure of focus. It was not a failure due to age. Anyone taking on that race, under the same circumstances would have suffered the same injuries. In fact, I feel confident in saying not too many people would have had the fortitude to continue on to finish – for better or worse. In my mind’s eye, the fact that someone less than 1000 days from age 50 was out there on that course was testament to the idea the Reaper was getting further away in my rear view rather than closer.
This is different. This is the reality check. There may be times when the Reaper seems further behind, but that is perception in the hall of mirrors that is life. After that involuntary layoff, I doubled down on my efforts. More miles on the odometer. Faster miles on the odometer. More races on the calendar. Longer races on the calendar. I improved personal records on 5k races, 10m races, 50k. Running more, running faster, running more frequently.
And then, that pain in my heel. I “knew” at the end of my run what it was. It wasn’t an ache. It was acute and localized. I was pretty sure I had done something to my Achilles. I was hoping it was a strain. I ran a few more times, each time my pace suffered, my pain increased. One last struggle of a run and the accompanying pain the next day, I knew I had to go to the doctor.
And thus I find myself in an immobilizing walking boot. My year of goals without fear is over. I accomplished more than 1100 miles on a plan of 1000. I ran something like 47 races even while missing more than a few while recovering in June and July. I failed at some goals, but I succeeded at my most important ones. It’s important now to focus on what I want to accomplish in 2018, and what this injury means for those goals. Right now, there’s no surgery planned. The doctor seems content to give me a few weeks in the boot anticipating that time should give me the time to heal and then work toward strength building.
I took too long to admit it, but I did. Like my experience in June, I tried to solider on and get it done. Unlike my experience in June, I quit before it cost me more than it already had. Perhaps a degree of learning or growing up on my part to realize that calling a strategic retreat isn’t an admission of defeat – it’s the appropriate reconsideration of the requirements given changing conditions on the battlefield.
Building an athletic level of fitness is not a means to fully prevent injury or illness. It is, however, a means to mitigate those injuries or illness. A runner may in fact be less likely to suffer a heart attack, but that runner is also more likely to have a heart that can mitigate the damaging effects of a heart attack. Stronger hearts fare far better in both survival and recovery rates. Because I’ve been running, because my body is strong an injury which may have completely ruptured my tendon 2 or 3-years ago, resulted in a partial rupture. Why was my tendon prone to rupture? I’m less than 800 days away from age 50. Time waits for no one, age will come to collect its toll. The object is to resist. As any personal trainer knows, resistance creates strength and strength allows further resistance.
The Reaper still remains, hiding somewhere in that hall of mirrors. Ultimately, he will come to collect his due, but just like everything else in life, putting in the work to prepare for that which may come is the best way to get the best results from any encounter.
I’m determined at this point not to follow the path I followed in June. I let my nutrition go and gained weight. I focused on what I could not now do instead of what I could do and my conditioning suffered for it. I’ve found vigorous activity keeps my emotions in check and keeps my head in all aspects of my Life’s game. I’m a better, more full and interesting person when I have been working out. I’m determined not to see why I cannot run. I am determined to see what I can do to maintain fitness while I’m recovering from this setback, what I can do to avoid a similar setback and what I can do to be sure I find the opportunity. I’ve been duly reminded that I’m not 20 and bulletproof. I’m screaming toward 50 and far from bulletproof, but I’m in the game. If I’m to stay in the game, I need to be sure I’m more cognizant of the rules. It’s all about resilience. Positioning oneself to be able to resiliently face the challenges in front of us is the key.
Doing the work – no matter how slow the results – to position yourself to best withstand whatever form the Reaper presents himself is your best bet for surviving and thriving despite the Reaper’s call, whether that’s wearing your seatbelt, or maintaining heart health and a generally healthy lifestyle.
Sometimes that means a strategic retreat. Something that’s easier to acknowledge later in the battle than sooner. In June when I hadn’t accomplished anything that was hard to hear. In December, it’s easier. I’ve done the work, and now I have the perspective. I’m glad – eternally grateful – that I realized that in the middle of my life, and not in the December.