I can’t run, but I still race

When it starts, the frustration sets in. There we stand, hundreds or maybe thousands of people determined to travel a set distance in the shortest time. The anticipation builds, a countdown or some music blasts, and then it begins. And then everyone passes me.

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Since May 2013, I’ve done 11 races. Most people would call them “runs” or “running races,” but the more accurate term for me is “footrace.” In January 2010, I had my right hip replaced with metal and ceramic. It was a complication from an illness a year and a half earlier. (That’s a story for another day.)

My fake hip doesn’t feel any different from the hip I was born with. Other than the occasional patdown at airport security — for which I carry a card in my wallet — there aren’t too many inconveniences to having metal in my body. There are certain things doctors recommend strongly against; no climbing ladders is a big one (if you fall on your hip, it’s likely to break, and that will be messy). Oh, and no running (because the repeated impacts on the hip from running will cause it to deteriorate more quickly).

This restriction didn’t seem too bad for me, because I wasn’t ever really in running shape. But after I graduated from college, I began to search for ways to get healthier, and in addition to biking (indoor and outdoor) and other things, walking on a treadmill became part of the routine. Eventually, it became something I did quite a bit, as a good way to get exercise in and to have time to think. No, I can’t run, but I figured I could still move my legs and get somewhere.

Since Christine is a racer (triathlons; runs; bike races), I attended a number of races over the past few years, and I decided last year that I would do the 5K associated with the Indy Mini Marathon. In my first few races, I looked out of place and somewhat crazed: legs moving quickly but never leaving the ground and bouncing, as you do when you run; arms slicing like knives at my sides; eyes and face focused ahead of me. I was pretty proud of my accomplishment at that point, but it was just the beginning.

Across last summer, I did two longer races and eventually consulted someone who knew things (my sister-in-law, the physical therapist) on how I should walk if I’m trying to walk fast. I now do something closer to racewalking (an Olympic sport). With each step, my hips swing and my fists punch forward in an alternating fashion. I kick up my toes and push as quickly as I can. I still look weird, but I can move faster, and I’m not putting undue stress on any joints, at least as far as I know.

Christine and I both did the 500 Festival Mini Marathon this year.
Christine and I both did the 500 Festival Mini Marathon this year.

One year after my first race, I completed the 13.1 mile Indy 500 Festival Mini Marathon. Sure, it took me 2 hours and 41 minutes, but I did a half marathon. I got to run around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the race is basically Downtown Indianapolis to the track and back), and I got to cross the finish line having accomplished something pretty big. It was a thrill.

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July 4 of this year kicked off with another race, this one six miles long across Downtown Indianapolis. The course weaves through the core of downtown before catching the top of Massachusetts Avenue and angling down toward Fletcher Place and doing an out-and-back in Fountain Square. You pass people walking dogs, cyclists out for a morning ride, men drinking coffee outside the 24-hour diner, forlorn workers waiting for the city bus to come. Both times I’ve raced it, I’m reminded of how cool these neighborhoods are, amazed by the depth of character and history ingrained in these areas.

The true thrill for me, however, in this and every race, is the second half, where my slow-and-steady approach allows me to begin to pass other people. Down go the walkers, who gave up on the race a mile or two ago; down go the girls in red-white-and-blue tutus who are out of breath; down goes the runner whose pace is slower than my walking pace. It isn’t about passing them. It’s about pushing myself to do a little better, and using these people — who are accomplishing quite a lot in their own right — to motivate myself to hit that next level, that next speed, that next step.

I will never win a race; this is certain. What I can win is my race, the race against my times, against my body’s limitations, against doubt and uncertainty and that little bit of pain that sometimes presents itself.

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When it ends, the euphoria sets in. There we stand, celebrating, smiling, cheering. All those feelings are why I race, and why I will do it again, against whatever odds. And no one can pass me when it’s my own race.

Running my own race.
Running my own race.

 

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