For the first time in over a year I've gone a week straight without a single run. The miles have been dwindling for a little over a month now, ever since I cashed in a Groupon deal for a two month CrossFit membership. I take the 5:30am class Mondays through Fridays, and I try to get in some additional weights and swimming a few times a week as well. This leaves little time for running, and with morning temperatures in the 80's with high humidity I really haven't been missing it.
The CrossFit classes are definitely difficult and very humbling, but they also seem to address more of the problems that Multiple Sclerosis has been causing. I've been doing a lot of complex and explosive large muscle-group movements that really require focus, coordination and fast-twitch fibers. All in all it's a far cry from the usual daily runs, and changing things up has been good for my motivation.
Several of the people I've met in the classes I've taken absolutely hate running, and when we occasionally mix it into the workouts or warm-ups there's often some groaning or scrambling for alternative exercises like rowing. Runs are usually 400 meters or so, possibly two or three repetitions with other warm up exercises thrown in, but yesterday the coach sent us out for a one mile time trial. I finished with a 6:05, feeling like my heart was in my throat and that my legs were barely listening to my brain. As I panted beside our coach while we waited for the rest of the class he said I "looked like a freaking gazelle out there".
At first I just shook my head no. This is a nervous habit I've picked up; a weird coping mechanism where I think I literally try to shake the bad thoughts out of my head. The eyes started to water up, but I kept it together. "Between you and me", I told him, "I could run 26 miles in a row faster than that mile before things went south."
I've told the coach about my MS, as I felt he needed to know in order to understand some of my limitations where fine motor coordination and balance are concerned. A few of the crossfitters there probably know too, but I certainly don't advertise it. I also don't let them know my old running times either, as I still have some hang-ups when it comes to comparing where I am now to where I was then.
It's only been a day, but I keep replaying that one mile time trial in my head. I always knew I would have trouble with the "winding down" (pull out that old copy of Once a Runner), but I never thought things would unwind so quickly. Obviously the illness has contributed, but it only accelerated the arrival of the inevitable. Everyone eventually slows down.
As hard as I work to enjoy running the way I used to, the steep decline in my abilities is hard to swallow. I'm a percentage guy; a type-A, measure and quantify, results-driven obsessive to the end. When I look at how much slower I am in this area (my passion, for god's sake), I can't help but worry about the same decline in other areas of my life. If I'm charitable in my analysis I could say my running performances have dropped off by a little over 20%. Am I a 20% worse father and husband? Am I 20% worse at my job? I'm a bit over two years into this disease; where does it go from here?
Thoughts like these don't help. They come and go, but they tend to come on strong after a particularly bad run or race. This is why I'm enjoying CrossFit. I was nervous about trying something new, especially since I didn't know how my body would react or hold up. As it turns out my body pretty much handles it fine. Best of all, I'm improving. Instead of the rapid winding down I'm ramping up, and as long as I can get past the pity party that follows the occasional time trial I should be fine.