I've been running fairly consistently since 2009 now and as of yet, have not had any real injuries beyond minor day to day issues or overall extreme. There were a few short sections of time where I was on Dr's orders to stay off the trails for other reasons but not for a running specific injury. In fact, since I started this endurance running thing after the 2008 Tucson Marathon my only injuries were heat related (Rhabdo), a few torn ligaments in my left ankle blocking a shot on goal in soccer where it spun my foot around in a circle. Oh and that one time my liver was working on overdrive after my bachelor party where for at least three to five hours I thought for certain all my major organs would shut down simultaneously, I'd shat myself and I'd be found lying dead on my living room floor in my own vomit. I blame every single one of you bastards that were with me. I'd rather have someone split my foot open than have that again.
So despite the non-runner's typical comments of "your knees are going to be shot" and "you're going to be crippled if you keep this up."
Right. Don't leave any of that 32 oz Coke in that jug fatty. Make sure you get it all down before you finish judging me.
Inevitably, those comments of impending paralyzation come from those that fell significantly behind on their workouts back in the Carter Administration.
But in all reality, I've been fairly unscathed and my legs and body have held up well. I rarely fall on he trails, stay off pavement like it's Herpes, and my overall weekly run totals are less than most road marathoners.
That is until late November when I started to feel this sharp pain in my left hip flexor.
Given there is almost always some kind of ailment plaguing my body somewhere and knowing that if you just run long enough most anything just goes away. So I'd run through it and keep up my runs, running more and more hills, running a higher percentage of every run and running every run faster than I have before. I felt stronger, faster and could really feel myself turning that proverbial corner.
So naturally thats when my body breaks down.
After the South Mountain 30K I had to shut it down. That entire 22 mile run was a pity party that nearly resulted in me sitting on the side of the trail in frustration. Every step was painful and every step up was worse. Being on the National Trail wasn't the best location to be dreading every uphill step.
Eleven days later I hadn't run. My legs were aching to do something.
I thought about waiting longer, two full weeks, maybe even three, but I couldn't keep watching these 72 degree days disappear after suffering through the miserable summers exactly for these days. So I tried it out last Friday night, a short four miles of mostly flat Preserve trails.
Ok, we're getting somewhere.
Next up came a run of Pemberton Trail and it's 15.4 miles of generally flat, rolling trail with Jay Danek and a couple of some fast runners two days later on a foggy, cold, wet Sunday morning. 2 hours and five minutes later we finished and I was beat. But my hip held up and I didn't have any pain like I had before. I was excited to be able to get back to it and now after two weeks I could train again. I ran the next day, Monday, and then took four days off as precautionary in not overdoing the return to training before running tonight.
It was a run that was one that you want to be over from the minute it starts to the minute it finished. Painful, slow, hurt, stomach hurt, ankles hurt, and with every step you question why the hell you feel like this. Was it the lunch I had? The 22 Christmas cookies? Half pound of fudge? All coffee hydration strategy?
A garbage run if there ever was one.
Yet somehow I was still moving along ok, and on a climb up the backside of Stone Mountain on trail #100 I started to click and in climbing up the washed out rock pile of a trail I came up on a guy on a bike. He was pushing it, the bike that is, wearing blue jeans, a pair of white sneakers you get at JC Penny, a grey bedroll strapped to his back with clothesline rope and a long sleeve denim shirt. I jogged up on him and said, "Merry Christmas" as I passed.
He looked to his left towards me as I trotted up on him.
His face was sunken and dirty. Five days deep from his last shave, giving him a disheveled look.
He looked over while pushing his bike up this scree trail. Making terribly slow time through the rocks, his back burdened by the pack and weight of his gear on his bike.
He was a homeless man, likely on his way up the trail and over to the Cave Creek section I've seen many make their homes in washes over the years. His look came with no response, no smile, no grin, no return of greeting.
It was a look of pure despair. A look of, "Merry Christmas?? Are you f-ing kidding me? Are you seriously saying that to me as you run past me while I push this bike up this mountain??? F-you."
I trudged on like someone had kicked me hard. Right in the stomach.
Here I was fretting over a strained hip muscle that was keeping me from training for an insignificant hobby that has no bearing on the improvement of anyone's life around me.
And he was pushing his bike up a cliff towards the pile of dirt he was going to make home for the holidays. Or maybe not, I don't know. But that's what was crossing my mind after that one singular look.
I kept on, thinking about that guy and came up on the long stretch of steep rocky switchbacks to the saddle heading west. I picked it up and started to push harder and harder up this hill, faster and faster around one switchback after another, driven by some unknown desire to punish myself on this climb.
The last 100 meters is bedrock and scattered shale, making the footing loose in places. I simply started sprinting from one open spot in the rocks to another, not looking towards the top but simply watching my feet land with each step. Closer and closer to the top I made it, far faster than I had ever done that hill before, a hill I've run so many times before.
As I reach the top there stood a man.
He was not a hiker.
Not a biker.
Not a man walking his dog.
Not a runner.
Just a man standing there. He carried nothing in his hands, nothing on his back. He was portly in size, older in age and standing there looking at me. He had a big white beard, an overgrown one rugged in appearance from years of neglect.
He seemed so out of place, out here in the desert with no apparent reason for being there.
Yet there he stood. There he was. Standing there as I sprinted up this hill, out of breath and fighting back the warm spit inevitably bringing on some dry heaving.
He stood there and as I looked up he was smiling.
He didn't say anything. He just smiled. He looked at me and smiled.
I said, "Merry Christmas" and he smiled.
I crested the saddle and dropped down the backside of the trail and after a minute I looked back towards that man.
He was gone.
A couple miles along I climbed to the top of the highest ridge and stood at the top. Looking out over all of Phoenix, the center of the city, the meager Downtown to the south and miles and miles of houses in every direction. So much to see, so many beautiful views. You can see forever up there and yet all I could search for was that man on the trail. I could see every trail and he was nowhere to be seen.
I headed down and sprinted back to the spot hoping to find this man. I'm not even sure why. Not sure why it was so important to find this man. Who was he? What was he doing out there? He didn't look like anyone that lives there. Was he homeless? Was he the other guys friend with the bike? Was he still going to be on the trail when I headed back the same way? Maybe I could give them my headlamp? I could head back home and grab some food for them maybe...
One turn on the trail after another there was nobody in sight. I was alone this night on the trail, in the center of Phoenix, not a soul in sight.
I finished the last two miles to my car and sat in the drivers seat thinking about those two men and all the little things in this world that often go unnoticed and under appreciated.
Like a working body. A warm bed. A hot meal. A single look. A single smile.
I started the run pissed off my Ipod was dead when I tried to turn it on.
What?! No music?!! I already feel like garbage and I'm going to run without tunes now?
"I'm going home. F- this."
I'm really glad I didn't.