Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Other Day at the State Hospital . . .


...as I was laying down a solid foundation for 2010 with some pace work on a typically cold and blustery January day in Evansville I began to hear voices in the wind. Granted, I was on the grounds of the Evansville State Hospital (yes, a mental institution), but I was merely a visitor. A couple of years ago one of my non-running friends called me to inquire about a random picture of me running - sprinting - along the 1200-m asphalt loop on the hospital grounds after that picture appeared in the local newspaper. He quipped, "How long before they caught you and put you back in your room?"

Funny, but sad. Sad in a PC way and sad in that the local commununity has invested so little into a healthy lifestyle that many runners must travel to the state hospital in order to run workouts in relatively safe conditions. There really are no other sites for interval training since the local tracks are inside of locked fences. I write "relatively safe" because cars do drive on the same roads and the drivers of said cars are not always courteous or mentally balanced. Occasionally, a dog on a long leash will reroute a timed run. And there is that one very unstable and sloppily obese guy who has verbally attacked many of us runners and walkers with threats of bodily harm and even death. He "chased" me once while I was timing my team. He repeatedly yelled "Come here you f'ing f--got, so I can snap your neck!" as I slowly back-pedaled and held my cell phone out for the 911 dispatcher to hear. I assume that he will one day either occupy a room in the nearby building or a cell in the state pen. The only other hinderences to timed running on the loop come from the ducks and geese. They often hang out on the edge of the lake, but will occasionally waddle into the road. The largest ducks are about three feet tall and will hiss and snap as they actually chase after runners. I secretly hope that the ducks will someday eat the mean guy.

Once a runner learns to avoid the inconveniences, the asphalt loop does provide a tranquil running experience. I have been circling the loop since 1998, completing everything from strides to K sets to a 39-lap (30.5 miles) ultra run. The nearly flat road is in the middle of a tree-filled park that includes about one hundred grass acres sprinkled with soccer and baseball fields. The mature trees, including state and national champions, offer shade in the heat of the summer and a bit of a wind break all year round. The low end of the loop, sitting 7 feet lower than the hind end, gently arcs around a two acre lake. This, of course, is where those thug ducks hang out waiting for handouts or runners calves.

Sometime in the mid-1990's a New Zealander named Ann Audaine moved to Evansville and ended up choosing the State Hospital Loop (SHL in my log) as the site to carry out her workouts. Any longtime fan of running knows that Audaine was an awesome and revolutionary track and road racer who in March of 1982 set the 5000 m world record at 15:13.22. Ann carefully measured the SHL, marking each 100-meter increment around the 1259 m loop and even continued with the markings on the other side of the narrow road to the 1600 m mark. My own Jones Counter measurements have proven to me that Ann did a fine job of making the original markings. I repaint them every year to keep them visible among the other, less reliable markings that have been measured with a wheel. I have even carried the measurements out to 2000 and 2400 meters. On the day that I heard the voices I was running a set of 2K's.

Ahh, back to the voices. The voices in the wind were coming from some high school runners who were making fun of me each time we encountered each other. The comments were issued loudly and in my direction. The comments were meant to be hurtful, but they were not. And they were anything but original. In fact, those boys might be surprised to know that people have been lobbing such comments at me for thirty years.

In fact, the first person to bring the subject up to my face was my soon-to-be high school track coach during a cross country practice. This coach pointed at my feet as he came up to me just after I had completed an awesome workout and said, "Thread, you need to do something about that foot. Did you break it or something?" He was referring to the fact that my right foot swings out at about 25 degrees as I move forward. I had never noticed anything out of the ordinary and I wasn't quite sure what he was talking about, but I was immediately worried about it. Shortly after that day I experienced the first of many injuries due to the severe turnout and pronation of that foot. The problem is further exasperated by the fact that my right leg is three-eighths of an inch shorter than the left from the knee down.

I've learned to deal with the poor biomechanics by developing a training system based on specification that has allowed me to enjoy running and riding without injury for twenty years. I have also learned to smile at those who point at, heckle, ridicule, and insult me because of the problem. Thirty years ago I would have most likely started swinging at those boys at the state hospital. Thirty years of living a runner's life have taught me to recognize, focus on, and be excited about the abundance of positive and exhilerating experiences running introduces into my life. Things like sunrises, sunsets, falling leaves, a finish line, misty spring mornings, snow-covered forests, chirping birds, a running buddy, interesting trees, a smiling supporter, a running squirrel, a new pair of shoes, a really great workout, an endless cornfield, a friendly dog, a really bad workout, a cold drink after an August long run, a steep mountain ascent, a steeper mountain descent, a starting line, and a mood or landscape appropriate song. And sleeping ducks.

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