Thursday, January 21, 2016

I am Ulysses

There is tons of advice out there for new runners, especially around this time of year. Anyone who is interested can find any number of articles and training plans about how to get started running.

What they don't always tell you is just how many times you might end up being a "beginning runner." For whatever reason - illness, injury, etc - you might find yourself starting over from scratch again and again. Or maybe you aren't starting over, but maybe it's your first time training for a particular distance or terrain or climate.

I'm finding myself starting over again right now for the umpteenth time in my life, and each time, it does get easier. Each time, I know myself a little better. Each time, I want it a little bit more. I don't have the most linear trajectory of progress when it comes to my running, but the fact that I have achieved some pretty lofty goals makes me more eager to try my best to get back to my previous personal level of excellence.

But of course, my reasons for starting over are different now too. Knowing what I know now about the state of my knee, it becomes imperative that I take more caution than ever before, or else there won't be any more "starting over" - there won't be any more running at all.

So, it's hard. As it so often goes, I'm torn between my head and my heart - my head telling me, "Be careful, you idiot!" and my heart telling me to soar.

What I'm realizing, of course, is that since my body has essentially "reset" and I've had to start over, my goals have to start over too. I know we love to hang onto our former moments of glory, but I should probably impose a statute of limitations on my PRs, right? To quote Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses":

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven

I am not the same runner I used to be. It seems unfair to hold myself to numbers that a healthier (also, thinner) me accomplished two or three years ago.

But I can't help it. The part of me that whispers those PRs in my ear is the same part of me that encourages me to start over every time. Maybe it's futile to keep trying to accomplish goals that my body may no longer be fit for, but I feel compelled to try.

The poem ends,

... that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Could I reasonably expect myself to settle for a quiet life of light running, any more than I could expect Odysseus to spend the rest of his life enjoying Netflix and takeout at home? 

Well, I don't really have a choice in the matter, do I? When you're "made weak by time and fate," you're awfully limited in what you can accomplish. But sometimes the whisper in my heart is more powerful than the loudest shouting in my head (or, my knee). For better or for worse.

I may never be what I once was, the adventuresome spirit willing and able to go the distance. But I won't ever give up either. Whatever small steps I have to take, I will not yield.

And if it means starting over again and again, so be it. 

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