Thirty years ago, from lowest low to runner's high

I haven't written much about 1986. It wasn't my best year.

It began well enough. On the very first weekend I finished fourth in a 15K race with a large, talented field. The next two weeks, I ran every day, sometimes twice, and averaged nearly 80 miles a week, high mileage for me.


On Jan. 19, I ran four miles to get to a local five-mile race, cruised along to win the race in 27:42, and then ran back home for a total of 13 miles. But if you look at the notes in my log that day, you'll see two prophetic words — knee sore.

By the end of March, the knee pain was worst and I was taking short breaks. By summer, I wasn't running at all.

In the midst of all of this, I started a new job. It wasn't that I didn't like what I was doing before; I loved working at the local running store, Fleet Feet, which was named before the franchise was formed. But I didn't think my job provided opportunity for someone who hoped to support a family some day, and so I began a challenging new career in sales.

A few months later, my young marriage ended, and life devolved into a painful, confused mess.

Months of physical therapy did nothing to help my knee, and I eventually learned that surgery was necessary. Diagnostics weren't as sophisticated back then, and so there was some mystery around what the surgeon would find during the operation. But whether with or without his blessing, I began doing short runs in October.

On the day before the surgery, I ran to the McDaniel College track. Then I stopped and sat down on the outside lane.

I consider this low point of my life. I was lonely, failing at work, and about to lose running indefinitely.

And so I got up and started running hard around the track.

Running has always given me a sense of freedom. The movement is liberating, like flight to a bird. And somewhere deep in the discomfort of fatigue, I become immune to all other pain.

I paid no attention to my watch. I didn't count laps. I simply ran fast until I couldn't run any more, and then I staggered to the outside lane and sat back down.

Looking back now, I think those laps were my way of staking a claim — no matter what, running would always be a part of me.

Despite my doctor's urging about a future of arthritis in my knee, I started training and racing again in 1987. I met TJ, fell in love, and got married in 1988.

By the end of 1989, we started a family, and my hard work began to present me with new opportunities.

No challenge since has been as difficult as those I faced in 1986, but my days haven't all been easy. You know life as well as I do, so elaboration isn't necessary. In all of my years, running has been the most effective remedy to any worry, stress or pain.


But running has been more than that, because things which we persist in doing leave an imprint upon our deepest self.

I need only one word to describe myself: runner.

I'm proud of that definition. It conjures up images of discipline and effort. And yet, I'm in a process of evolution, and a part of me doesn't want to keep pace.

My younger self presides over my emotions too many times. He wants to run fast with the leaders. He refuses to remember the year on the calendar, pulling my aspirations back decades, and I can't seem to satisfy him.

We don't linger in the past, that's impossible, but the past often lingers in us. So how do we resolve a dispute when we ourselves are the only participant?

I know the answer, but I'm still learning to embrace it.

All of our experiences and interactions are carried forward. We are at our best when we use them not as a basis for comparison, but as a source of guidance.

There are days now when I can simply enjoy this blessing I have. I immerse myself in fresh air and find comfort in the familiar rhythm.

And even as I aspire to find whatever potential I have left, I want to keep running gratefully.