BY PETER HARRISON
With a bum Achilles tendon, I have been spending my days airing reruns in my mind.
The trail run at Cougar Mountain. The girl I ran with. The shoes I ran in. The ankle I rolled. The next day’s track workout. The morning after soreness. What I have stretched. How I have stretched. How often I have stretched. The benefit of yoga. The limitations of yoga. The flatness of my feet.
Then there are the episodes that have not yet aired: the 25-kilometer trail race. The San Francisco Marathon after that. Maybe an Ironman at Lake Tahoe?
Running through pain — running through injury — running with a cute girl. This bum Achilles has made an already obsessive-compulsive runner into a runner chain smoking cigarettes of what-ifs and what’s-nexts.
Pain is nothing new — any athlete understands that to improve is to seek controlled suffering. And pain has defined my recent racing successes and failures: I beat those in the Seattle Marathon because I prepared for the pain and managed it better than they did. I lost to those who handled the pain better than I. It’s more complicated than that, but keeping it simple is good; simple is motivating.
Pain, in the chaotic world of running, is a constant that I seek to control. That Seattle Marathon offered a depth of pain that only a post-race St. Cloud’s Eggs Benedict could rival in richness (and calories). The Horse Lake Half-Marathon in Wenatchee brought me up to vistas of the North Cascades, then down in the direction of the Columbia River Valley, then back up, then down — cramping my quads on the ups, and crumbling those quads on the downs. San Francisco will bring more of the same. Even with the 5:30 a.m. start time: the San Francisco hills will have been awake for a long while — long enough to have read the Chronicle — ready to turn amateur runners into mush.
This bum Achilles has brought me closer to pain. It threatens my obsession. If it becomes worse — if it snaps and rolls into my upper leg — then I return to a world where pain is out of my control. I stretch the simplicity of running through pain because living with pain is something I, like most people, do not manage well. The loss of a friend, the tragedies that befall those we love, are much more complicated than hitting a wall at the 20th mile of a marathon. Pain from running is simple. Pain from life is not.
And if you have any tips on how to mend a bum Achilles, please send them my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Harrison, 25, grew up in Concord, N.H., and attended Amherst College. He began running in high school, has a hard time finding shorts that do not chafe and cannot figure out which race is more painful: 800 meters or the marathon.
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