A Runner’s Tale

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I try to run three times a week for around two or three miles at a time. This routine, more or less, has been ongoing for nearly twenty years since enlisting the Army.

They turned me into a runner, but time has taken its inevitable toll. My knees have been acting up enough to slow my stride. It varies between the left or right and creates a hobbling effect during my otherwise brisk jogs through the neighborhood.

Several years ago, I participated in the Quarry Crusher Run in Columbia, South Carolina. It was exhausting, but my legs never failed. Nowadays, a simple run around the block is a chore. What’s that all about?

I could resort to walks or bicycling, but it’s just not the same. Having faced subtle limitations as of late has provided some new perspective on physical activities. Running isn’t as easy as it seems. Maybe we’re not designed for it anyway.

We see actors in movies run effortlessly from all sorts of threats, like cars, monsters, assassins, slasher villains, zombies, killer cyborgs from the future, dinosaurs, aliens, Orcs, Clint Howard, and other terrors.

Whenever someone doesn’t run fast enough during a chase scene, we the audience, roundly chastise them. Heaven help them if they trip and fall. There’s no patience for those kinds of antics among moviegoers today.

Great Runners of Movie History

Marathon Man (1976) features Dustin Hoffman as a runner chased by deadly government agents for most of the film. I can’t remember why. Maybe he didn’t pay his taxes. Forrest Gump (1994) gave us Tom Hanks’s Oscar-winning performance as the beloved titular character who possessed limited intelligence, a big heart, and superhuman speed.

In the film’s third act, he runs across the country, drawing a legion of followers along the way. He runs for so long that he grows a beard, knees perfectly intact.

In Steven Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds adaptation, Tom Cruise runs through the streets of NYC, dodging vaporizing blasts from alien tripods like it’s nothing. Chariots of Fire (1981) centers on a group of Olympic runners and is notable for its famous beach running scene accompanied by Vangelis’s Oscar-winning score. In all these instances, we never see the slightest hint of knee pain.

If I was chased by a werewolf, for instance, I’d be lunchmeat, especially if stairs were involved. I’m talking endless flights of stairs, not a few steps. Adrenaline might come into play though. Something about running for your life undoubtedly provides a much needed second wind.

Unfortunately, I’ll never make the cover of Marathon Monthly or Jogger’s Journal or The Weekly Runner anytime soon. I can’t even make the cover of an out-of-print rag like Newsweek! Weekly World News is one parody tabloid I’d love to be featured in. I’d gladly share my exclusive story of encountering Elvis in a Dallas-Fort Worth truck stop bathroom.

They too moved to a digital platform after nearly thirty years of gracing magazine racks in the grocery store check-line. I would browse through each issue during my early days as a grocery bagger, enamored with their schlocky sensationalism.

The Experts

During my initial doctor’s appointment six months ago, a friendly female assistant asked if I was struggling with any issues. For the first time, I said, “yes.”

“I haven’t been able to run lately,” I told her. “It’s really strange.”

I had heard of runner’s knee, but this was ridiculous. For the past few months, something was out of whack, and I would feel immense pain even when walking.

“Can we do some X-rays?” I asked.

three person looking at x ray result
Photo by EVG Kowalievska on Pexels.com

It was a check-up after all, and I figured they could help. In turn, she referred me to a physical therapist. I readily agreed in hope of fixing the issue or at least determining a cause. One week later, I was in the office of a pony-tailed physical therapist who patiently listened as I over explained the issue.

“Sometimes I don’t run at all,” I said. “I’m just waiting for my knees to get better.”

He nodded along with his clipboard, seemingly understanding. “I’m going to recommend that you come in at least three times a week for therapy. After a month, we’ll see where you’re at.”

“Sounds great.” With my work schedule, twice a week was the most feasible. Their office was in downtown Orlando, a thirty minute drive from where I lived. He had mentioned exercises and some other techniques, but I was oblivious to what their idea of “physical therapy” entailed.

My first appointment consisted of doing leg exercises in place. Three sets of this or that for an hour under their passive supervision. There were other patients around with varying knee and joint issues. One guy was wearing the same shoes as me. Grey Sketchers! I felt immediately guarded.

Halfway through my first session, I was plagued with lingering doubts. I questioned why I was even there, conducting “exercises” I could do at home. The $50 charge for each appointment (after insurance) and the drive were equally discouraging factors. I attended sessions for about two weeks and then asked to be released from their care.

I told them of “considerable improvements”and promised to continue the exercises at home. The idea was to strengthen the joints around my legs and ankles, ultimately reducing the pressure on my knees. It was all very scientific and time consuming. My commitment to the cause was less than stellar.

Born to Run

My running issues come and go. Stretching before and after is always important. A knee brace also helps. Overall, I’m just not the runner I used to be. This is not a complaint. I’m fortunate enough to move freely and not be wheelchair-bound like Tom Cruise in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989).

In the film, Cruise portrays real-life Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic. Kovic was paralyzed from the waist down after being wounded during the war. He later became an anti-war activist whose autobiography was the basis for the movie.

And that’s the last time I’ll mention Cruise again. Of course, how can I not drop a nod to Top Gun: Maverick? What a movie!

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