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“Why Run?”

“Why Run?”
by Doug Stahl

An unplanned conversation with Chris Hanson the other day straightened me out. I'd been like the ball bouncing crazily in the roulette wheel, and talking with Coach Chris I landed in the comfort of 23RED as if I had belonged there all along.

I know how juvenile this sounds: I've been deeply discombobulated because a nagging mild injury has messed up my training in the last ten weeks before Boston.

Through the late fall and the miserable winter weather it had been going great. I was becoming more and more confident that I could knock a few minutes off my marathon time. It allowed me to do what has been one of my Great Joys during the past few years, running with Charlie and his teammates a few times during the fall and winter.

Then I realized over a few days that the sharp pain developing in my shin was, in fact, a sharp pain developing in my shin! As any son and husband of doctors would do, I self-diagnosed in consultation with the internet. My symptoms didn't match classic shin splints, but they sure matched the symptoms of a stress fracture. A do-not-run-til-pain-is-gone stress fracture.

I shifted my run training to the elliptical machines at the WAC. I kept to my training schedule, ellipticalling three times each week and biking three times. One elliptical day to simulate a hill workout or fast interval run, one a steady tempo, and one long and slow. I complained to everyone. If Hieronymus Bosch were painting today art lovers would know that elliptical machines soften things up for the brain-sucking ghouls. Ann convinced me to visit a real doc, who showed me the clean X-ray and gave me the okay to run "unless it hurts enough to make you limp." I carefully weaned myself from elliptical to running and had two good weeks before a slight limp and waking up for midnight tylenol told me to stop again. Back to elliptico-hell.

"They say over a million people were out to cheer for the runners and to cheer for Boston. I feel tremendously lucky to have been at the center of that great city’s great catharsis. When really racing, one has to respond to pain by shutting down everything except the command to keep going, but on this day I just slowed and then slowed some more so I could run with my head up, scanning the crowds and basking in their positive energy."- Doug


This brings me to my conversation with Coach Chris: talking with him I stumbled upon the memory of how I decided to go back to Boston. My original plan had been to run Boston during my 50th birthday year and then get on with normal middle age sagging and all that. I qualified in Duluth in 2012. The Boston race in 2013 was terrific. The weather was perfect. I had one of those races we runners dream about. For sure I felt awful during parts of it, but I was giddy for the first 13 and was positively euphoric during the last mile and a half, weaving through the pack of wobbling dying out-of-gassers. I've heard about a "runner's high" but apparently I went 50 years without experiencing one. I was elated after the race, sharing pizza and beer with best friends. And then the bombers wrecked it.

As much as I hate the Red Sox, I've known since I was a teenager let loose in Boston with Mike O's Mustang that no city can match it. Boston's the best. Maybe if Pell and Louise lived in Peoria and had led Ann and me on countless adventures around Peoria over the decades I'd say Peoria's the best. Not likely. Boston really is the best.

If last year's Boston Marathon hadn't been tainted by the bombing I would not be going back. I decided soon after last year's race that I would go back to be part of Boston's great confirmation that life goes on and life is worth celebrating. The bombers can make us take our shoes off at the airport but they can't tell us not to celebrate.

So talking to Chris it all came back to me: I didn't make the decision to go back to Boston so I could run 3:03 or 3:06 instead of 3:08. This time it's not about my time. My goal for April 21 is to run slow enough to soak in the sights and maybe even to smile, to read the signs people bring, and to ride the crowd's roars up Commonwealth Ave and down Beacon Street.