Eight years ago, almost to the day, a significant chunk of the world almost ended for me. Well, OK, that sounds a little overly dramatic, but at least this big piece of it almost came tumbling down, a piece that has mattered a lot to me over the last 4 decades. I was told, flat out, I would never run again, ever. I was fresh out of back surgery - a "simple" microdiscectomy at L4-L5 for a bulging disc. I vividly remember that first unsteady post-surgery walk to the can in the middle of the night - wait, no pain, not even a twinge?No sting? Nada? Was it just the drugs? Oh my god. How sweet is that. First time in a long time to be pain-free. I relished that moment, even at 3 a.m. The previous 7 months had been as close to hell as I can remember, just ask my wife - constant, mind-searing pain - sitting, standing, walking. No relief, ever. Ever. Running was out of the question, way out, even walking was brutal. Sitting was even worse. No sitting, no standing, no walking? WTF. Of course, everyone had a favorite remedy, doctor, PT, hypnotist, acupuncturist, rolfer, voodoo specialist - you name it - who could and would make it all go away. They couldn't. They didn't.
But the doc, a good one mind you - I did my research - simply said - "you're done with running, you just can't." Wow. That was hard to hear. So finite and so final. Never? We all know nothing lasts forever, but running? That's different; it's what I do and such a key piece of who I am and how I identify myself. I certainly wasn't getting faster, but when I see those "old" guys hauling down the track in their nineties on Facebook, cracking out a crisp 30.5 hundred, I was always thinking, "yup, that'll be me." Hard to think that might not be true.
I know a guy, though, a PT in this case. I call him The Magician. He rides a Harley, sports a shaved head and some great body art, and knows more about the human body and how it all works than anyone I've ever known. He just shook his head when I told him what the surgeon said, and asked me, "Do you want to run?" Duh. So, he said, "let's get you there." And he did. Initially weekly visits, then biweekly, then monthly; each time working muscles, nerves and bones, easing them back to life. A year after surgery, my great friend Bob and I ran Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim at the big crack, actually faster than I had done it years earlier when I was regularly running, even winning, ultras, and, yes, younger. Sure, it kicked our asses, but, yup, we ran it. No pain, either; well, not the back any.
Since that day when the doc said quite clearly, "no more," I've probably run over 16,000 miles, 95% of that on the trails in the hills and mountains here in Colorado. I've run untold miles with friends, like Bob and Andrew and my daughter, Ellen, and many of them alone, and enjoyed every minute of every one of them, some more than others as you might imagine. I've been able to run with my daughter, now 24 and a former collegiate swimmer who used to "hate sweating." We run together regularly on the weekends and even on my birthday. She now seems to love to sweat and she kicks my ass. But I wouldn't trade that for anything. And I appreciate that more than I can say. Not the getting my ass kicked - I'm still a little competitive - but the running together part.
The last 8 years have been a gift. But what I ultimately realized was that every day on the trail is a gift, every single one, not just the last 8 years worth. We are so fortunate, all of us and those of us who run, too. We have the choice to run, the ability to run, a place to run and the freedom to run. So many people in this world have none of that. I'm pretty damn thankful. For the last 8 years and all the others before them. What comes next? Who knows, but I sure hope there's a run in there somewhere.