One of my favorite storytelling devices is the use of the countdown. The characters must resolve whatever conflict by a certain deadline, the stakes get higher and more complicated and thus, the story becomes more riveting. Whether it's Gary Cooper's Will Kane facing Frank Miller in High Noon or disarming a ticking bomb in countless other scenes, we get to watch and wonder how the hell they're gonna pull this off. It's a puzzle to solve and a delight to watch.
When training for a marathon with an injury taking its sweet time to heal, the countdown sucks.
Weekday mornings look like this -- the alarm rings at 5 a.m. and I change and head towards the gym. With Summer waning, the mornings grow darker at this early hour, making this routine tougher to maintain. Then I wait for the bus because walking that one mile might irritate the metatarsal joint, the irony is that I need to run 26 of those miles. But that's lost on me because I'm still half asleep and at that time, I just need to get to the gym. Usually these dark morning hours make me feel anxious and vulnerable -- I'm alone and rife target for a predator. However, this foot problem is so frustrating and infuriating that if anyone messes with me at the bus stop, I'm 90 percent sure I'll rip his eye out and use it as a hacky sack.
The cardio workout is a variation of the elliptical machine and stair climber -- sometimes it's 30 minutes of low-impact elliptical followed by 10 minutes of stairs, sometimes longer time on the elliptical and then exercises to work my calf muscles as they just don't seem to feel as tired as they should at the end of it. Then I catch the bus home, shower and then ice my foot while putting on make-up before feeding the cat and heading to work. Hooray for multi-tasking!
I'm doing anything I can think of to strengthen these leg muscles and increase cardio fitness, but in the back of my mind, I know it's not the same. There's no impact to toughen up my legs, and the elliptical feels too easy on my muscles. I've begun to add shorter distance runs on soft ground but I'm still behind schedule. I miss long runs throughout the city where I connect with the environment and discover new places. To top it off, this is all alone -- I miss the camaraderie of group runs and the inspiration I get from others.
I'm reminded of this metatarsal injury even when not running. Last weekend, I went to the sold out Manu Chao show at Terminal 5 and next to me was a young, overstimulated fan. He thrashed around and what he lacked in self awareness, he made up for in sweat. His pounding feet inched closer to my precious left foot, making me irritated and anxious. I was about to shove him and demand that he stop when I realized that the bigger idiot was the injured runner expecting fans not to freak out at this energetic show.
I used to be that thrashing kid giving herself over to that sense of abandonment, getting lost in two hours of supersonic oblivion. Now I'm the killjoy concert-goer ... the person I once dreaded seeing at a show. Partly because I'm no longer 17 years old, also because I chose a hobby with an injury that won't let me jump around anymore. There will be another marathon next year... who knows when Manu Chao will play New York again?
The days tick by and the NYC marathon is less than two months away. Not only is this early morning schedule tiring, but also making me a wretch of a music fan. A reminder to stay focused on the big race but don't forget to enjoy the big shows along the way.