Grounded

My parents never used this form of punishment. My mom tried once when I was about 17, she told me I was grounded and couldn't use the car, so in a fit of righteous teenage rage, I kicked a hole through my bedroom door, hurting my big toe, but not wanting to show it and sped off with smoking tires leaving a trail of black, staining the virgin suburban street. I couldn't figure out where to go to top off this fit of rebellion, so I drove to the library. That will show 'em.


I'm grounded again, my knee hurts, but only when it bends and I'm realizing that the whole running for sanity and peace of mind has terrible side-effects when you can't run.

I feel faster than ever right now, envisioning myself breaking a 5-minute mile or 18-minute 5k as I limp down the stairs, taking them one at a time, and only stepping down with my good leg.

My time has been spent icing, prodding muscles with a plastic stick, hours of research on "runner's knee" only to find that it's a medical mystery, this pain underneath my patella, decoding a bunch of medical jargon, sifting through online dictionaries and studying beautifully detailed anatomical drawings, tracing tendons and muscle fibers as they connect, pull and try to stabilize the moving parts. Rest is the go-to (and surely the wisest treatment protocol). I read in Matt Fitzgerald's book, Brain Training for Runners, that the best course of action for any injury is very simply don't run if you feel pain. This is prudent advice and advice that I have freely and easily given to other runners in the past, but can't seem to follow for myself.


I took the family camping last week. We camped at Carlsbad state beach, which is one of my favorite places to run. I have logged hundreds of miles on that strip of land west of the Coast Highway, through the campgrounds, smelling the delicious bacon, and making frequent use of the always clean and fresh campsite bathrooms. So, as I limped around one morning, and boiled some water for coffee, my wife pops out of the tent smiling and beaming with her running gear on, letting me know she was going for a run, and if I could just take care of the kids for an hour or so, that would be just great. Sure, no problem, I would so much rather change diapers, take three separate orders for breakfast, and listen to the whining of three sleep-deprived and camping-grit-covered hooligans, than to go for a run, my run, along the coast, under some nice cloud cover in the salt-ocean breeze. Of course I said yes, no problem, as I sipped my coffee, knowing that the balance sheet was one-sided.

One of the hardest decisions I have ever made was a few days ago when I was invited to run 17 miles in the hills around Salt Lake City with a woman training for the New York marathon and a friend of hers who happened to be an Olympian. As she asked, the rational side of my brain, not really a side, more like a small, shrinking slice tucked between the part of my brain that knows there is yard work to be done, but doesn't waste the time firing off any neurotransmitters that would connect to some sort of action, and the part that determines when I should shave (that part of the brain doesn't get used much either). I immediately answered yes to the friend who asked if I wanted to join them on the 17-miler. My legs were itching to run, to get out on the trails after an entire week of limping around, trying to stay active by lifting weights, hoping I wasn't doing more harm than good, riding the bike, but not outside in the end-of-summer San Diego sun.  I wouldn't be able to face the running wife after flirting with that mistress, no, I had spent the week on my bike, hooked up to my trainer, trudging along in one speed as I pulled up a drab and violent Swedish thriller on my computer, pedaling out some penance in the dark, sweaty office, dripping on the mat as my trail running shoes sat there with Geico-eyes glaring outside my door, still dusty from the 21 miler in the mountains last weekend. I texted my Australian friend that night, not wanting to tell her the real reason I wouldn't be joining her, because Australians are tough and a knee injury would not count as a valid excuse, so I texted "up l8 drinking, won't be able to make the 5 AM start" m8. That little section that controls rational thought is now overworked, swollen and tired and probably won't be able to do much work for the next few weeks.

So, now I sit grounded, knowing that the upcoming events of the year, culminating in the double crossing of the Grand Canyon, are worth resting and healing for, but I still couldn't help myself yesterday morning as I was on the hotel elliptical machine, watching the depressing news network and some performance artist named Glen Beck, wondering how people get a real workout on those things and pretty sure I was doing it wrong; I jumped on the treadmill, turned it up to 11 and, in an off-beat rhythm, pounded out a couple of painful miles, knowing it was a stupid thing to do and smiling the half-smile of the insane.

For now, this will have to do.

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