The Patchwork Runner
The Back Page with Bruce Steinberg
Long, long ago, in a sports magazine far, far away from this one, a featured article touted the running streak of a man determined to run every day no matter the obstacle. I forgot how many days in a row he had run, but it amounted to an impressive number of years, and some sort of no-prize record was involved. Then there was a list of the obstacles he ran around. During illnesses – why of course! Skipping a couple birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries – certainly! Before and after knee surgery – absolutely. Wait! Huh? Running the morning of and then (just a slow mile to meet the minimum) the day after surgery? KNEE surgery!?!
I rolled up the magazine, swatted at a fly, missed, and said, “Nuts!” It applied to both the fly and the running man.
The article was silent as to what the surgeon thought about his patient running after an analysis of the injured knee had been made, an analysis that would guide the surgical approach, and, of course, damage to the newly cut-open-and-shut knee. The article had said nothing about what type of surgery, although it’s hard to imagine any surgical procedure to the knee where the surgeon finishes and says, “Make sure you run tomorrow!”
Some streaks are inspiring – like days in a row without war. Win streaks in sports can be inspiring, but what coach puts a win streak over the goal of winning a championship? But days in a row running, regardless of anything else, even knee surgery?
I don’t think I’ve ever read a training article in Silent Sports in which a day of rest and/or cross-training wasn’t prescribed. Also, to rest and let an injury heal. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never used a copy to swat at a fly. Because of the apartment I lived in during my early days as an assistant public defender (the sort of apartment that too often had flies to swat), I remember the year the article in that other magazine came out, 1990 (okay, maybe 1989 or 1991), but nothing much else to locate it now. If challenged, I doubt I could prove this article ever existed beyond my own recollection.
I remember obsessing over the impact of the I-must-run-everyday-no-matter-what philosophy. Early onset arthritis and other maladies and aggravations that would likely not heal but only grow worse, ironically slowing the obsessive runner down and ending his days of running sooner in life than what otherwise would have happened if only he had taken a rest now and then. And for surgeries. Maybe there are exceptions, people with Titanium bones, Kevlar ligaments, and Vulcan immune systems, but I’d rather not play the lottery with my silent sports. Just think of the other streaks this runner could have obtained, like attending all those birthdays and anniversaries in a row.
Over the past 15 months, I’ve suffered from plantar faciitis and a knee issue that nagged away even while sitting. I went to my trusted doctor. I listened to my trusted doctor. Why else have a trusted doctor? I examined my change in running gear. I cross-trained and kept busy, and thought of that long-ago article that, in my soapbox opinion, never should have been published unless it was intended to get people to shout “Nuts!” Silent sports should last a lifetime, if you can enjoy and manage it with intelligence, not the stuff of must-do daily streaks that risk damaging our health.
So, I wore the pain patch, the compression sleeve over my knee (which I doubted would work but, you know, it felt good and, dare I say, a bit sexy). I’ve got the sunblock, the sunglasses, the front-brimmed cap, and I run on grass, crushed limestone, and wood chips. As a result, I healed while resting and cross-training and taking things short and slow, until the miles and speed came back to where they once were. For a time, I looked like a patchwork runner – but it worked.
Run smart, keep healthy, even if that requires some rest. Now that is a daily streak worth preserving.