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Dr. J. on Running

Father Charles

Victory Worth The Pain

Published January 3, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

In over thirty years as chaplain at Syracuse University, Monsignor Charles Borgognoni touched many hearts, and left a lasting influence. In one memorable sermon, he recalled the excitement of his athletes after a hard-fought victory, and characterized their endorphine high as a gift than no substance or chemical could ever match.

When the year began 12 months ago, I resolved to run 1,999 miles during its 52 weeks. I had run this far in prior years, but my mileage volume dropped dramatically in 1998. A mixture of burnout, laziness and work reduced me to an also-ran. I managed to run a few days each week, a few miles each time, ending the year with a triple-digit total.

I started 1999 with a 5-mile run in 5-degree weather. I resolved to gradually increase my mileage to 6 or 7 miles a day, spice my workouts with hills on Tuesdays and speed intervals on Thursday, throw in a longer run on Saturday, and rest on Sunday. I kept to my resolution and remained on target through the entire first week in January.

Evidence of trouble began in my feet and spread upward through my legs. Achy heels sympathized with shin splints, and an irritated knee complained to the hips. Oblivious to these early danger signs, I stayed the course, only to get derailed in a most humbling manner, suffering what we call a "memory-induced injury."

Memory-induced injuries occur commonly in middle-aged men who competed at some point in scholastic or collegiate track and cross-country. They may have stopped running after graduation, and dedicated their energy to building their career, family and waistline. One day, several years older and many pounds heavier, they reminisce at past glory and remember 70-mile weeks of their youth.

Unfortunately, their frontal-lobe memory exhibits stronger recall than their skeletal and cardio-vascular memories. Out of training and out of shape, they hit the pavement in expensive new running attire, and try to relive that old favorite 10-mile loop. Day after day, memory pushes the body past its sedentary capacity, and injury results.

My 1999 New Year resolution inevitably developed into a classic case of memory-induced injury. As pains traveled up and down my skeleton, I stubbornly insisted on running through them all. Finally, the enemy converged onto a two-inch area on the outside of my left knee, and forced me into an unconditional surrender.

The winter of discontent gave way to a spring of hope. Plans for a fall marathon refocused my training. I increased my mileage and stretched my long runs. I mapped the courses and logged the numbers. I stocked the car and dropped the bottles. Excitement built and fitness returned. Then, it all came to a screeching halt, a repeat victim of memory-induced injury.

The summer offered me another chance. I planned my recovery with the help of my computer. I accurately measured my runs to the nearest meter, and precisely timed them to the nearest second. I faithfully logged my workouts, and hopefully charted my progress. I cautiously increased my training, and freely changed running partners.

This time, my recovery proceeded on pace. As snowflakes ushered the return of winter and sent racers indoors for track competition, I toed the line for an 800-meter race. It was my first race in 1999. My heart pounded as I chatted to fellow racers. I felt chills as I wondered about my fitness. I reassessed my goal for a two-something finish time.

The starter's whistle sent me scurrying for position. I ran the first lap on my toes, head high, soaking in the pleasures of racing. I settled into my place for the second lap. I struggled to maintain my pace in the third lap. I hung onto dear life in the final lap. I crossed the finish line on target.

Everything hurt the rest of the day. These were the good pains of victory, not the strains of injury. I was all wound up, happy and cheerful. The endorphines, even at such a short race, gave me a racer's high that I had really missed. I remembered Father Charles's sermon. How true it is!

Kamal Jabbourresolves to run 2,000 miles in the year 2000. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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