Fast as I can

So, tried to take up running. Didn’t work out so good.

Running is a hard, hateful thing and it’s a matter of historical fact that not one person has every actually enjoyed doing it. But as far as time-efficient exercise options go, it’s a winner: You can get smashed in a very, very short amount of time. If you’re keen on some exercise and your schedule is so super-busy that you can’t fit some running in, you should be seriously reconsidering some of your life choices.

But at its core, running is horrible. And if you’re one of them who tells me how much you like it and it comes kind of easy and really it’s your way of communing with nature and it frees your spirit and such, well, I call you a goddamn liar and I will punch your face.

I approach running more through the eyes of a dude who’s been through a divorce and has moved home to live with his parents for a while: Shit is bad, and you’d rather be any place else, but for now you do what you have to do. But hell, Stockholm Syndrome is a thing: like brussell sprouts, vaccuuming, or the music played on commercial FM radio, force enough of something onto yourself and you start to imagine you actually like it.

Last year I got to running regularly, and I fancied I was actually starting to be not so shitty at it. As it does for many 40-something year-old dudes too cash-poor and unimaginative to have a proper mid-life crisis, the word ‘marathon’ entered my mind. I thought that might be something worthwhile, and lo, I started training. And it went well, and I got better at running.

Then one day a little while later, it was all over. That niggling pain I had in my knee just seemed to be getting more niggling, more painful. I went and got it checked out by my osteopath and he made one of his extremely rare ‘this is serious’ faces. He sent me off for an MRI which confirmed his suspicions: excessive wear on the medial meniscus. In plain-speak: my poor knee was showing the signs of overuse and old age. My osteo’s strong recommendation: no more running.

This bummed me out because, goddamn it, I was into it now. I wasn’t naturally very good at it but I’d persevered, built myself a base and had watched myself improve, and I could do fifteen kilometres at a steady clip and finish feeling pretty good, and now goddamn-motherfucker I had to give it all away, just like that.

Or maybe not. The issue with my knee was brought about by the heel-striking style I’d been using. But I’d heard a lot about barefoot running, which requires using the front of the foot for landing and take-off. There’s a growing, somewhat militant movement of barefoot runner’s who contend that the barefoot style of running is a much better way for the human body to move. I asked my osteo and he said “Sure, give it a try. And if it hurts, stop”. So, armed with this, I got hold of a pair of the barefoot shoes – still feels stupid to say that – and had a crack.

And it worked out, sort of. I found I could run short distances on the front of my feet without pain but anything over four kilometres and bad technique led to me to old habits, and I’d end the run plodding and hobbled. So, the long distance thing: not so good. Or rather, not going to happen without a shitload of really focussed attention and work. I’ve run long enough to know that it’s not something I’m so passionate about that I wish to spend that amount of time and dedication on. So I changed tack and started sprinting instead.

Yes, sprinting. Ye olde style full-blast, full-bore, running hard-as-you-can for a short amount of time. And the results have been…well, kind of spectacular.

Every few days I huff on down to the oval and do some flat-out running across the length of the oval. I try a few at moderate speed, a couple at high speed, and a couple as flat-out fast as I can. I’m not an especially heavy dude, and I’ve got that residual running base, so I find I go okay. Plus sprinting really lends itself to the barefoot style: up high and pelting forward at high speed, I’m naturally up on my toes and concentrating on the form.

Old-guy plodding is all very well, but there’s something very pure and fundamental about running as fast as you can until you want to vomit. It’s hard to do, but it feels pretty awesome to run flat-out. Reminds me of when I was a kid, albeit one trapped in the body of a forty-three year-old with a dodgy knee. Taking off at full pelt and getting up to speed you feel like an Olympian. After 15-20 seconds of really pushing the body complains – burning legs, heaving lungs – and you slow down, gasping for breath. Definitely not so Olympian then.

I’m still trying to work out why this isn’t all the rage. I hear a lot about old-guy long-distance running but not so much about sprinting. Maybe I’m doing something foolish? I honestly don’t know. But I figure as long as I don’t try dodging too quickly and rupture a ligament, or have a good old-fashioned heart episode, there’s not so much wrong with running flat-out in a straight line, making like the forebears escaping wild animals.

I might go chill with some FM radio right now.

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