“You have the knees of a 22 year old.”
That was the assessment from the orthopedist injecting my knee with cortisone, which I needed because I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t bend my leg. I had pulled up with knee pain in a three mile run the previous day and after feeling my leg lock up on me I was pretty sure that would be the end of my time as a runner. So when he told me I was essentially fine and just needed some strength training, I was shocked and highly dubious.
A year and a half later, I ran my first marathon.
I had always identified as a runner, but only for mid-distances that I did not excel in. I ran in high school (four seasons of outdoor track, one season of Cross Country) focusing on mid-distance races like the 1600m and 800m, but was not good enough to get any interest from a college program.
Like any other high school athlete, I thought that was it. It was time to hang up my flats and just try to crank out three miles every now and again to keep myself in shape. There were no more track meets for me, and if I couldn’t be competitive in longer distances I wasn’t sure why I should run road races.
Aside from that, I experienced a few injuries during college that made me think I needed to scale back my running if I wanted to preserve the health of my knees and ankles. I still loved running, and every so often I would wonder if I could go back to it beyond a single run or two on a weekend, but then my knee or a tendon would throb and it seemed to me that I was destined for limited use (there was also the blow my pride took in the one 5k I ran where a nine year old kid out-kicked me, but that’s another story).
So when I encountered knee pain like I never had before in the late summer of 2014, I figured the years of running had caught up to me at last. I was primed for it. But it wasn’t the case, and I am thankful for it.
A few months later, my wife (who had only taken up running after the birth of our second child) decided to run a half-marathon. I was proud of her and wanted to see her accomplish her goal (which she did last fall), but it also challenged some of my assumptions about running. Between the two of us I had always self-identified as a runner, but I was also the one placing an arbitrary 3-5 mile cap on what I would ever be able to do. If she could do it, why couldn’t I? I had no illusions of winning races anymore, but I did love running and missed challenging myself.
So over the course of the next few months I added mileage to my weekly runs, did more strength training to help prevent injury, and managed to finish a half-marathon in June of 2015. I followed it up with another in November of 2015, and then decided to tackle a marathon this past spring.
Along the way I also started to read through issues of Runner’s World, checked out sites with running and racing news, and picked up a copy of Born to Run. I talked about running with my wife, neighbors, and people at work, and found that running had a community I didn’t experience in high school where (like my most of my interests) only a handful of people my age enjoyed distance running. Being a loner, I didn’t always find it easy to engage with others about running but I enjoyed it when I did. I felt like I had been missing something and was amazed at the diversity of running information and experiences that were out there. I wanted to learn more about them.
So on the way to dinner one night last month my wife asked me what was next. We both knew I was going to run another marathon, despite my protests. But as I am well on my way to turning forty, she asked about running forty races for my fortieth birthday. The idea intrigued us both, but when I tried to map it out it just didn’t seem feasible (we have three kids and both work).
What did seem feasible, though, was to try to fit in as many race experiences as possible in a calendar year. There are so many types of races now that appeal to different people. My kids are young enough that I can get away with some of the stupid ones (cough, beer mile, cough) with limited explanation, and we are not so overrun by activities that it would be an extraordinary burden. They are also old enough that they can start to run with me, and I could share a lot of these experiences with them and my wife.
So that’s what I am going to do (with the support of my wonderful wife). I’m shooting for 26-30 events in the coming year, trying to cover a variety of running experiences. I don’t know if they will always be interesting, but I look forward to sharing them.