[Note. There will be two postings a week until December.]
I pivoted. First a pain in my right knee. Then a pain in my right hip as it slammed into the macadam of the Dean Street schoolyard basketball court. The knee had given way in my first time back to basketball after the surgery.
My knee had been operated on months before after it had been torn up in a basketball game at the local Y. A competitor had fallen on me like a football clip. Ligaments and the meniscus were torn, but the methods of repair and rehabilitation were not as good as they would later become. I now had the scar of a large incision on my knee and had spent a month or more with crutches and an immobilized leg. This was my first time after the surgery trying basketball again, but as I lay on the schoolyard “floor,” as the local Brooklyn kids called it, I knew that my basketball days were over.
I went back to the surgeon. I said that I wanted—no, that I needed, to be active. He noted that there were activities other than basketball and suggested running. I instinctively recoiled. I had never really run just to run. Running was to get somewhere in a hurry. Running was a part of other sports–to get back on defense or to round first to get to second for a double. Running was not an end in itself. It was, as many had thought before and after me, boring.
But soon I was doing it. At first, I would run a hundred steps, which I mentally counted. Then I would walk a hundred. Then run a hundred again. After a bit, I could run two hundred steps followed by walking one hundred and soon it was all running.
I did not think of myself enjoying it, but as the distances increased, I did feel a sense of accomplishment. Finally, I was able to run from our apartment to the end of a park and back without stopping, perhaps a two-mile distance, and I felt pride that I was able to run that far.
I began realizing that running fitted parts of my personality. It gave me welcome solitude. I ran alone, something that I almost always did even after I was running much longer distances and regularly running races. When someone suggested that we run together, I almost always found a reason not to.
Running also got me outdoors at times I would not otherwise have been out, and I found I liked that. I would come home after work and, before I took up running, I would have stayed in. Now I put on the running gear and went out. I found that I liked being in the New York twilight, the cold, even a little drizzle.
I also appreciated that I could do this activity on my own schedule. I did not have to have an appointment or a set time. I did not have to wait for others to gather as I did for a basketball game.
And I found my competitive instinct was kicking in. This drive was not to run faster or further than other people, but to see if I could better what I already had done. It was competition with myself. I was in my mid-thirties, and it was satisfying to have a physical activity in which I could get better, and I was getting better.
Lou, a work colleague who said he ran, heard I was now running and urged me time and again to try a Central Park race. I finally signed up for one and went up to the race with Lou and a friend of his, who drove. I quickly sensed that the friend was a jerk, which was confirmed when we were caught in traffic near the park. He honked his horn when there was no point to it, and the cabbie in front of us got out of his car, came back to us, and angrily berated Lou’s friend. The friend, looking scared, stammered, “It wasn’t me on the horn, but the car behind us.”
We got to the race, which was a 10K. I don’t remember my time, but I know that I was pleased with my performance. On the way to the race, the jerk had talked almost continuously about how many races he had run and how good he was, but it turned out that I had run my first race in a significantly faster time than he had. I could see that he was a bit pissed by that.
That gave me pleasure. And a step on the road to a marathon was taken.