After the 800-mile season in cross country in the fall of ’78, it felt good to back off running twice-a-day. But then I sprained an ankle playing pickup basketball. So I was out of action completely for four days. I could feel that odd sensation of being past-peak condition as a runner when it’s best to rest, combined with the weird anxiety of not training every day following all that intense running.
The relationship front got strange all over again. I wrote in my journal, “Don’t surround yourself with yourself. Is she doing that? She let’s me at her. I can’t hold on sometimes. She’s scared me, told me away too often.”
Then we had another flareup. “(She) and I had a terrific fight, but I really love her the way she is. Hope we make it through Christmas break.”
The fact of the matter is that we were clearly involved in the relationship for different reasons. Her objective was finding a lifelong partner and moving into life right after college. My objective was finding myself after a few years of drifting self-doubt. Those are two quite different places to be. She’d lost weight and looked her finest going into that junior year in college. I was hyper-lean from all that running and entirely focused on using that last year at Luther to do the best I could, possibly even making All-American in the steeplechase. I was already a team All-American, why not shoot bigger? In any case, she and I were in different places on the maturity scale.
A few days before heading home for break, I sold a few hundred dollars worth of paintings at a show held in Preus library. Then I caught a ride back to St. Charles after we made up from our fight. We planned a meetup at her folk’s place.
On the night I was scheduled to drive up to her house, it was freezing cold and the ground was covered in deep snow. I pulled on my coat and went out to the garage. When I bent down to whip open the garage door, something snapped in the middle of my back. I stood upright in pain from a spasm right below the right shoulder blade. It hurt so bad I could barely breathe. Still, I climbed into the car and drove the thirty miles north to her house. That night, I limited my movement to keep the back spasm from cramping. It was awkward as heck trying to concentrate on the subtleties of parental conversation Taking a deep breath, or laughing, God Forbid, sent shocks of pain through my body.
Obviously, having only dated her a few months, I was still in the “test phase” of boyfriendhood. Her folks were kind in many ways, but there was always a sense that I might not be their first choice in background or career for their daughter. Honestly, they were right about that. Being married to an artist and writer is no great bargain. That fall at Luther my girlfriend and I were in conversation with a well-known staff couple with similar backgrounds. She worked in the business office, and he was an artist. Without any real provocation, the woman rolled her eyes and warned my girlfriend, “Omigod, don’t marry an artist.” Her artist husband gave a nervous shrug.
I sat at her place that Christmas break with all these conflicting thoughts in my mind. My back was in a compromised physical condition so distracting that it took all my concentration just to talk, much less impress her parents with my sense of humor and whatever else I had to offer. As we gathered to exchange gifts I half-wished to just get in the car and drive home. But Christmas was a big celebration at their house, and I stayed through dinner to open a few gifts. They gave me a deerskin art portfolio. That made me feel better about my artistic endeavors. Perhaps they believed in me after all?
As the hour got late, her folks went to the living room to watch TV. She and I went downstairs to fool around, and even in my stiffened state (I’m talking about my back…you dirty bastards) we made a nice evening of it.
It got quite late and my hard contact lenses were now so dry I could barely keep them in my eyes the pain was so bad. I took them out for a break and to my surprise, I could see clearly without them. Apparently, the constriction of the eyes after all those hours of wearing the contacts corrected my vision. I climbed into the cold car after a kiss goodnight and drove home with my back spasm still making me sit erect in the seat.
The next morning, my bad vision was back to “normal.” That little period of good vision in the wake of contact lens fatigue was a little miracle.
At home without her, my thoughts turned to the indoor track season ahead. I wrote: “You’ve got to balance out flexibility with running to prevent these unneeded injuries,” On December 29 I noted. “The spasm really hurts!” First it got better for a couple days, then I reinjured it on December 31, and resignedly commented, “Well, I’ve got to get this back healthy again. I’m getting too soft and out of shape. It’s time to begin rolling again.”
The holiday season and our recent fights still had me tense. “(She) seems like she’s playing games although she probably isn’t. I’m always suspicious. We need to do some fun stuff together.”
The fact of that relationship is that my girlfriend was a “type” that my brothers and I all dated at some point. They all looked alike. Dark hair. Green eyes. They all had a domineering personality, perhaps a little bitchy in some ways. But man, I loved her. The intensity of feeling I had for her was all-consuming. We shared our worlds the best we could. Certainly, I have no regrets.
But I think there was some aspect of those women that my brothers and each needed to experience. Perhaps it was the “anti-Mom” type that we saw in them. What else explains the striking similarity?
Back to running
I only managed 53 total miles of running that December. To get back on track, I mapped out a January plan with increasing mileage. But the weather dipped to -20 degrees below zero. I still ran six miles that day in 39 minutes. “Beautiful, quiet, snowfall,” I wrote.
As the team returned to running together, my roommate Dani Fjelstad pulled me aside one day and said, “This running six minutes per mile every day is crazy,” he observed. “Let’s you and I build a base the right way. We’ll do LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) together.”
I planned out the month with 30 miles, 50 miles, and two weeks of 65 miles in January. My January Term project was just drawing all day, so there was little stress involved, for once. The cold winter weather in Decorah was hard, yet beautiful. The snow-packed white roads that we covered on dark afternoons guided us for miles and miles. My favorite was a route called Wonder Left, a 9.3 mile loop through the back hills of farm country northwest of the Luther Campus. I could feel the fitness returning, and soon enough we’d be racing again.