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Labor Day Pains

A day off from running can do wonders for all those running pains. It did for me anyway.

Today, day four of my running-and-writing quest, was the third day that I laced up the old New Balances and hit the trail. The good news is that unlike two days ago, my legs felt like legs again. They weren't a pair of lead weights that I could barely lift off the ground.

If there's good news, you know there's got to be bad news. Today it was my lungs that were burning. The back-to-summer temperature and high humidity seemed to combine to put a vice grip on my lungs. I've battled mild asthma since I was a kid and while it doesn't bother me doing ordinary activities, it can make breathing a chore when I run, especially on hot, humid days like today. 

Usually I can't stand waiting for traffic when I'm running - it interrupts the natural flow. But today I needed that break, even for a few seconds, so that I could catch my breath. That brief respite did the trick and from that point on, I felt pretty good.

Not long after I hit the lake shore path, I spotted a runner about 50 yards a head of me.  Up to this point I'd only passed a mom pushing her baby while chatting on her cell phone and a man old enough to be my grandfather. This looked to be a fair match, in comparison. The runner appeared to be in my age category or younger. 

I didn't have a lot of gas in the engine, but I thought I had enough to pass him. So I set my sights on him.

Two minutes later, I had cut his lead from 50 yards to 50 feet. I was about to kick into my passing gear when he veers off the path. He's taking a short cut. Do I follow him, or stay the course? I've got to stick to my training regimen. Maybe I can catch him again. It won't be easy, but if I keep up my pace there's a chance.

Another two minutes later and his short cut spills off onto my path again. He's got a 50-yard lead again. I'm determined to catch him this time.

Two minutes later, I again have him. We're on a circle path around a small pond. I am ten feet behind him and then he veers off the circle path. He's headed in a different direction. I don't pass him.

So for the first time in three runs, I don't pass a single runner. On the flip side of the coin, no one passed me today.

The best news is that after three runs, I have the expected sore muscles from running for the first time in a long time but my knees are holding strong. Only time will tell, but I'm cautiously optimistic that I've conquered the knee problems that kept me sidelined these past five years. That makes all the Labor Day pains a lot easier to bear.


Born to Run

All runners know the hardest part about running is starting again after you have stopped. The longer you stop, the harder it gets. 

For me, it's been five years. Well, that's not completely true. I have tried a couple of times to start again after I stopped, but it never lasts. Either my knees or my will quit on me. I'm hoping that this time I can make it last. Maybe making my quest public will give me that extra motivation I've lacked before.

The first time you run after not running for a long time deceives you into thinking that it's going to be easier than it is. My run today reminded me of this when I hit the pavement and my legs felt like they were lead. You've got to persevere. You've got to keep telling yourself, it's going to get easier. And it did. I even passed a runner. Okay, this time it was a bow-legged elderly man. He looked to be about eighty. It was amazing that he could run at all. I only hope that I'm in that kind of shape when I'm his age.

I'd made it through the first run and a half before I heard footsteps at my back. This is always a bad sign. In the past, when I was running regularly, that sound kicked me into the next gear. I'm competitive. I can't stand being passed. This time, though, there was no extra gear.

The runner breezed by me with ease. He ran like a gazelle, easy, long strides. I couldn't take my eyes off of him as the distance between us grew. Ten yards. Twenty yards. Thirty. And then, suddenly, he turned around. He ran past me, as if to rub it in my face.  He looked to be at least half my age. Once I ran like that. It pained me to think that no matter how far this quest goes, I'll never run like that again. Hopefully, I'll get stronger and faster. But I will never have what I once had. 

And now? I just ache. All over. If we were born to run, it shouldn't hurt this much to do it.


Running on Empty

A few weeks ago I got a surprise in the mail from a dear friend. A book, "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running," by Haruki Murakami. A Post-It note attached to the cover read: "Running + Writing + Japan = Randy."

What this dear friend didn't know is that I don't run any more. I stopped about five years ago when my knees quit on me. The breaking point came when one day I could barely make it up the stairs of our four-story townhouse. 

Sorry, a seven-year-old interrupted my story. He was supposed to be asleep. It's 10:45 and he just pushed me out of my own bed. This happens all too often, more than I'd like to admit. It's a constant battle that only parents can understand. It brings up another important part of this story. I don't write much these days, either. I can't imagine anyone reads this blog any more and I can't blame them. I rarely post to it and when I do, it's usually only for something newsworthy. This blog hasn't been a writing journal in a long time. 

Which brings me to the reason I stopped blogging, which was so that I could devote more time to writing my second novel. That seemed like a good idea at the time, but the reality is that I haven't done as much work on the novel as I'd like. It's still unfinished, six years after I started it. The only reason it hasn't died is my writer's critique group and guilt keep it on life support.

It used to be easy for me to write, but to write you can't be distracted. You need to focus on nothing but what you're writing. That's not easy to do when you have a new second-grader coming into your bed at 10:45 and pushing you and your laptop out of bed.

All of this ties together. Really it does. Just stay with me.

Back to that book I got in the mail. I read it and really didn't think much of it. Murakami is not an author I've read before. He's one that I probably should have read, but I can say that about a good many talented authors out there. Murakami has everything I once dreamed of having. He's considered a brilliant author and he's got thousands of adoring fans that clamor for his books. But I can't imagine that the book I read is a reflection of his true talents. It's a journal and it reads like one. It certainly didn't inspire me to want to read any of his novels.

What it did inspire me to do was run. Murakami is older than I am and he has battled through knee problems just like mine. And he has won. He competes in marathons and in triathalons every year. So I thought if he could do it, why can't I?

So when I got home from work today, I told my wife that I was going to go for a run. As if it was something I still did every day. I laced up the old running sneakers and stretched out my muscles as much as they would let me. And then I hit the pavement.

You know what? It felt good. Not great, just good. But it was perfect temperature, about 70 degrees, a little windy, but nice. I chugged along at an intentionally slow pace and the farther I went, the more confident I got. I even passed one runner. Okay, she was a mom pushing a baby and chatting on the cell phone while running. But it was a start.

A start. A start at running again. And writing again. You see, the two go-hand-in-hand. This is my personal quest, to get back what my dear friend remembered me having, something that I'd lost over the course of the last few years.

My hope is that running will also inspire me to write, the same way it does for Murakami. It used to work for me as well. I'm hoping it will again. This journal entry is the first indicator that maybe, just maybe, I'm not running on empty.


Turning the tables

A few months ago I interviewed Kelly O'Connor McNees for the Chicago Writers Association.

That was before Oprah made Kelly's book, "The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott," one of her summer picks.

Now Kelly turns the tables and interviews me for her own blog.

Oftentimes wish I really did have a time machine in my basement.


Essay Fiesta!

Has it really been almost four months since I last wrote anything on this blog? Boy, I've got to get out more...

Which is exactly what I'll be doing on Monday, February 15, when I take the stage for Essay Fiesta!

What is Essay Fiesta! you ask?

It is billed as Chicago's only charitable first-person reading series. Hosted by comic writers Kurt Ecker and Alyson Lyon, Essay Fiesta! began a few months back and has been packing in standing-room-only crowds at its home, The Book Cellar, Lincoln Square's cozy, independent bookstore at 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. On the third Monday of each month, some of the city's best writers, comediennes and actors read their humorous and oftentimes touching stories.

And at 7 p.m. on February 15 I'll be one of those taking center stage. The evening's full lineup has yet to be publicly announced (Ecker releases the names one-by-one on Fiesta!'s Facebook page), but judging by past month's, it's sure to be entertaining. And it's all for a good cause. Each Fiesta! ends with a raffle that benefits the Howard Brown Health Center.

So come out of winter's hibernation for a couple hours on February 15 and treat yourself to a glass of wine while listening to some great stories. Hope to see you there!