That Magic Feeling

Alter your form and you might change more than your stride. Three years ago I was a runner who couldn’t run. Plantar fasciitis tortured my soles. My IT bands felt as tight as banjo strings. Burning shinsplints rebuffed all the healing arts. Desperate for relief, I went to see a doctor who specializes in helping runners. He watched me run on a treadmill. He poked and prodded me. He injected my shins with a platelet-rich plasma treatment. Then he announced, “You need to change how you run.”

plasma1

I’m not a trendy guy, but on the bridle paths of New York City’s Central Park, I soon joined thousands of runners who have altered their stride in the wake of the minimalist running boom. I replaced my loping, heel-striking ways with a flurry of mining, midfoot-landing steps. It was new. It was funky. And it worked. Within months all the pain vanished.

Miserable

And I am miserable. I’ve regained my health, but I’ve lost the 18th minute.Something transformative used to happen to me around the two-mile mark on my runs. My breathing found a rhythm. My cadence grew as regular as a metronome. I forgot I was running. Some days I’d look at my watch when I reached that feeling. It was always the 18th minute. At that moment, my mind slipped into a dream. The day’s aggravations, stuck relationships, and money woes all tumbled past in a mash-up of my waking hours.

As in dreams, these runs rarely produced answers. But by the time I returned home, it was as though a bracing March wind had blown through my skull, swept out the corners, and carried off the most knotted wrack. For a few hours, everything was quiet. After a run, things made sense again.

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What to do Next?

After a run, I always knew what to do next. I’m not a mystical guy. But there was magic in the 18th minute. That magic has abandoned me.It’s been nearly two years since I healed, and I should be savoring each run. But I’m not. When I head out for my five-miler, it’s like learning to walk: My legs clamp woodenly as my feet feel for that still unfamiliar midfoot sweet spot. I fret over leaning forward too much, then fret over not learning enough. Even on my best days, I’m slightly ill at ease in this new form, like a man in a cheap suit.Worst of all, the quiet in my head is gone, replaced by tempo counts and abiding discomfort. It’s hard to unlearn 30 years of doing something you love.

After that something has betrayed you, it’s hard for the “new way” to become so easy that the mind can simply drift. For over two decades, my run was my Xanax, my beer-and-a-bump. These days, consumed by technique, I often return home with my head nearly as cottony as when I left. But I won’t give up.

Every day I head onto the footpaths and asphalt of my city. I’m not looking for the 18th minute as much as I’m feeling for it. It must be here somewhere, in my adopted rhythms. I’ll find it. So I keep running, chasing that day when I’ll dream again. Illustration by Jonathan bartlett

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