It’s as if I am not wearing shoes. My feet feel the concrete as I run up 85th street Transverse in Central Park. With every step, a slight jolt runs up my leg and anchors me in the moment. My lungs fill with fresh air whipping off the water as beads of sweat begin running down my face and dripping into my eyes. I wipe it away with my forearm and focus on my breathing…in, out, in, out, in, out. Then I notice that what was once a slight jolt is now not disappearing, not just fading with the next step. Soon that jolt becomes a fist in my calf, squeezing my muscle fibers into a tight ball and pinching my nerves as my leg cries out in pain. CRRRAAAMMP. I immediately stop and find an open bench. Pointing my toes upward with the help of the bench, I feel the tightness relent and my leg’s scream slowly subsides into a whisper.
I remember when I first began running and I would sprain my ankle, or my legs would cramp up, or my toenail would rip off, and I would think, “Well hey, at least now I know what not to do.” Wrong. Now I just know what not to do until the next time I do it. I’ve been running a while now and I have to say, I have given up on the idea that to be a master means to never make a mistake. Being a master merely means you make fewer mistakes.
Mistake number one: overhydration. I was nervous; it was relatively early on in my running career. I wanted to make sure I was prepared for my first long race, so I pounded bottle after bottle of water before I even arrived. I thought that if I could hydrate enough prior, then I wouldn’t need to stop at any water stands for a pick-me-up and I could make better time. Hah! I began the race with a bloated stomach and ended with a pinched urethra. Not only was I so much slower because I was so uncomfortable, but I had to stop at three separate port-a-potties to relieve myself while everyone else zipped on by me. This is one mistake I will, hopefully, not repeat.
Then there was the time that I didn’t ingest any salt before a race. I started out great, with world class 8-minute miles – , until I got about halfway through. My shirt was soaked, my legs weak, and my vision blurry. I kept going because I thought there was nothing wrong and I was just becoming unusually tired.and slow….a classic slow….30-minute miles! I realized something was wrong when my body started to feel like fire had replaced all the blood in my veins and my knees felt as if they were in the midst of surgery! I could barely walk much less run! It was only after I got to the finish line (long after everyone else had zipped by) that a friend took one look at me and said “Have you lost your mind. You obviously needed salt why didn’t you stop at any of the medical tents!?” Could I confess to not being in the know about such things…I let my silence suggest the race was intended to exhibit my great masculinity ☺
Yet another time I decided these new shoes would give me some extra support. Nope. Absolutely not. Two miles in my feet were crying in anguish and bleeding from the innumerable blisters plastering my skin. I kept on anyway. And kept on. And then I didn’t. Five miles into a 26-mile race, and there I was again, on a bench doing what? Watching everyone else zip on by me.
Experience is the best teacher because it’s the most memorable. It’s an alarm clock of memory, alerting us, if we’re lucky, when we’ve already made this same mistake. But then sometimes it just doesn’t ring, and condemns us to the same error all over again. I will say, though, that while by no means perfect, I do make fewer errors than I used to, and for that, I am certainly grateful.