I saw a former running acquaintance riding his bike on the road outside our cul-de-sac this morning. The bright blinker mounted on his aging Trek Madone caught my eye. As he passed I called out his name. He kept rolling but then turned around to see who had recognized him.
It’s been twenty years or more since I last ran with him. He was a tough little runner, but known for half-stepping everyone in the group that met on Saturday mornings for a five mile run down the river trail and back. At one point the other runners in the group begged me to teach him a lesson about constantly upping the pace. So I trained to get in shape and showed up ready to push him till he popped.
Some might call my actions mean-spirited, but in fact it was a favor to a group that had grown tired of his weekly throw-downs.
I’ll admit that I relished the chance to be the bad guy acting as the good guy, and confess that part of my competitive spirit has often been tied to a sense of vengeance. I used running to take out my frustrations with the world. There were also many occasions in my running career when it felt good to beat an opponent I didn’t like. I’m sure there were plenty of runners over the years that didn’t like me either. I’m not always a likable guy.
This fellow I taught a lesson wasn’t a ‘bad guy’ by nature. He just had a habit, perhaps innocent in a way, of pushing the pace by one-stepping everyone. We had a conversation not long after the run where I explained the situation. He seemed to understand.
On the bike
Today we talked about cycling instead of running. I complimented him on getting out for rides, and commented that I’d seen him frequently during the cycling season over the last few years. He seemed surprised and I told him, “Well, that’s why I called your name this morning. I wanted to say hello.”
“Cycling’s good as you age,” he told me, glancing down at a black brace on his right knee. “This one’s bone-on-bone,” he said, pointing at the joint.
That’s not the first runner I’ve heard use that phrase. I don’t always know the cause behind many of those bone-on-bone stories, but many of them are no doubt the result of unfortunate biomechanics and structural deficiencies that add up to worn-down cartilage.
So far, I’ve managed to maintain decent knee health, but not without incident. I’ve torn my left ACL a couple times, and had meniscus surgery on that knee too. Then last year a dog ran into me at the Bark Park and tore the MCL. I was so angry and depressed by that because the knee was healed well from the meniscus tear. It took 18 months, but finally the damned soreness of the MCL tear healed and I’m back running ‘pain-free’ in that region of the body.
That’s one of the tarsnakes of the running avocation. For some people the risks of wearing down joints increases the more they run. For others, it seems like running actually keeps the knees, hips and other joints healthy. I know runners with total knee and hip replacements. Some keep going after that, while others figure the wear and tear is not worth it, and take to walking, cycling or swimming instead. No shame in any of that. Just keep moving.
Are you still running?
Before my friend left he turned and asked, rather wistfully, “Are you still running?” I explained that I’m now married to a triathlete and do get out running fairly often. “Well that’s good,” he replied, and “congratulations.”
That is the farthest thing from a ‘bone-on-bone’ statement one could imagine. For all of our competitive instincts over the years, age helps us wish each other well, and to find the best resolution for fitness as time goes by.
We exchanged waves as he circled around an intersection while looking out for cars. “You have to watch for traffic more as a cyclist,” he called out. Then he pedaled away.
It was a nice way for old running friends to share a moment. I wish him well and hope no more joints give him trouble on the road to keeping up (or ahead) with his health.