This past weekend was hectic. Saturday morning saw an hour run on the river trail in Naperville. Thanks to all the weight work the last two weeks the left knee injury I sustained by hurdling an orange cone during a race on a snow-covered road has finally begun to heal.
One of the odd byproducts of injuries is that the rest of your system has to work extra hard to bear the brunt of the interior trauma. Getting rid of swelling in your body makes your body work overtime. Healing takes extra blood flow. That leave you achey. Every run feels like you’re 80 years old, stiff and sore.
So by Sunday morning my legs were a little stiff from the previous day’s run. But I got up and met my longtime friend and former track / cross country / baseball coach Trent Richards to do an interview about him and his protege Ruthie Rosencranz.
“What’s the workout?” I asked. “We’re doing four 800s,” he told me. “You can run with her if you like. She’s doing 6:00 pace. So 3:00 for the half.”
Looking at the track at the Falcon Park Recreation Center in Palatine, I got that old familiar twinge of doubt. It was square, for starters. There were joggers and people going all sorts of paces on the track. And I had forgotten about running with Ruthie and downed a bowl of granola with milk at 7:15. It was now 8:30 a.m. Not enough time to digest.
So I warmed up and watched Ruthie do her first 800 in 3:00 flat. It didn’t look too fast. But we all know that when it comes to running, looks can be deceiving. Standing on the side of the track watching someone else run is much easier than actually doing it yourself.
After watching me warm up, Coach Trent had an observation about my running form. “You’ve aged,” he said in his inimitable style. He’s never been one to couch honesty in sugar. “You think?” I laughed. “You’ve only known me 40+ years.”
He first coached me in baseball when I was 13 years old. We shared many an intense moment in that sport. At one point during selection for the regional All Star team I overhead Trent sticking up for me with the band of coaches doing the choosing. “That’s Cudworth,” he pointed to me. “He’s skinny but he can throw hard and he’s a competitor.”
I wound up coming into the All Star game when the big lefty they started got knocked all shelled in the first inning. I finished the game, losing only 4-3 on a passed ball pitch in the final inning.
Trent saw the potential in many people over the years. But he also recognized the limitations, and wasn’t afraid to share the truth. When some newspaper labelled me a “junior sensation” for having won a few early season races, Trent corrected him. “Cudworth’s a good runner, but not a sensational one,” the newspaper quoted him.
He was absolutely right about that. Because just down the road from where I lived there was a sensational runner named Tom Burridge who ran for Batavia High School. Burridge ran to an All State finish and later competed for the University of Kentucky where he ran 13:45 for 5000 meters. Knowing Tom as I do, perhaps even he would not call himself a sensational runner. But he was damn good. I was merely good enough to lead our team.
All in context
Not that any of that was a shame. These things I share for context. Because Richards is right when he says I’ve aged. My stride was long and fluid then. It’s much shorter and perhaps more efficient now. “You still carry your arms too wide,” he observed. Always have. Probably always will. Better than some. Worse than others. We all fit in the spectrum somewhere.
That’s true about age as well. Whether we like it or not, time is a sliding scale in our lives. We start at one end and move to the other. At a certain point it is no longer physically possible to perform at the levels we did from the ages of 16-28, our peak physical years. But if you can still run nearly as fast at 55 as you could at 40 years old, you’re doing okay.
No kidding. 50 really is the new 40 thanks to this fitness boom that has changed the way many Americans approach aging. We keep sliding back the scale as much as we can.
And by the way. I did run that half in 3:00 flat. Followed in Ruthie’s steps the whole way. After three laps it started to hurt. But with all those years of experience and reserve, I almost know how to step outside my body to finish a run. Even with a bowl of cereal threatening to come back up.
Run for the ages
Still have a 6:00 mile in my legs. Not bad for a guy my age. Stringing six of them together might be tough. But it’s worth trying if for no other reason than to make your former coach smile, laugh and admit, “You’ve still got it.” Or something like that. No kidding.