What Deams May Say


By Gordon Cherr


I am running so easily, you see, effortlessly up and down the hills in Eastgate, without a care in the world. It is a bright sunny day, the colors around are all vibrant and electric, my legs are pumping powerfully like the metal pistons of a great V8 engine, running on super high octane. I can feel the joy and I am grinning a huge smile from ear to ear. I could go on like this forever. Just maybe I will. And I think about the nasty injuries which have plagued me lately and I listen especially closely to my body, there is not the slightest hint of pain.

But then a tiny seed of doubt begins to sprout and grow and take over my thoughts and conscious mind. What was so effortless a moment before has now suddenly become a mighty struggle and my right hamstring begins to seize and cramp up from the effort. A hot, searing sensation deep in my right buttock begins to grow, I feel like I am being burned by red hot glowing coals. Tears of frustration and pain stream down my face.

It is suddenly 5:10 AM and the alarm clock wakes me not so gently from this very real dream. It is my usual weekday time to get up, get going and run with the dawn, but this morning, like too many mornings before it, there will be no running. I am bathed in sweat, the bedclothes are soaked as well.

I have always dreamed exquisite dreams for as long as I can recall. My dreams come in Technicolor and Panavision, now in “high definition” you might say. Stereo, high fidelity, even Dolby sound too. While some people complain of not recalling their dreams, or that they don’t dream, I kept dream journals for years, writing each one down in great detail in the middle of the night and returning to my solitary sojourns to dream again. I devoured every book I could find on the subject, from dream dictionaries to dream analysis, Freud, Jung, to astral projection and lucid dreaming. My dreams are usually all too real and this dream was actually more than that because of the nasty injuries I have been lugging around lately. It was not difficult to interpret this dream.

Not that any of us who run have ever been injury free for very long. I have broken metatarsals, ruptured Achilles tendons and even had surgery to remove bone spurs from each heel. That doesn’t cover the usual pulls, strains, sprains and fall downs, twisted ankles, stubbed toes, and after a rather rough mountain trail race in Tennessee a few years ago, a double inguinal hernia which required a surgery radically different from the first hernia surgery 12 years earlier. Got that one running too. Oh, hell, I figure that if you are not injured in some way, you really aren’t putting enough into it, right? The trick is to know the difference between annoyance and real pain. I guess I hadn’t been paying enough attention lately. Now I am paying the price.

I got this hamstring strain a year ago March, jumping into a ditch to avoid a pick up truck one night on Bradfordville Road. It got better, it got worse, it did that so many times that I lost count. I took to running with so many Ace wraps on my right leg that people jokingly started calling me the Mummy. That started my right knee to bothering me, then my hip, then the left hamstring, pretty soon I was so out of balance (like I was ever in balance to begin with), my ankles began to ache like they did after Achilles surgeries. Every time I took a step, it felt like a little electric shock in each ankle. Since that only happened when I walked, I could continue to run. Naturally. That is what you would have done too, and don’t even try to deny it.

Fortunately, I worked my way back from all of that but for the right hamstring. It even felt pretty good after the recent 50K ultra (that I did not complete) at Capon Valley on May 14. But three days later I pulled it again during an easy 5 mile run, and it literally has been an uphill battle from there. I mean, I could wrap it tight enough to allow for a tiny bit of circulation and still run, but then about 10 days ago on a slow, solo effort around Lake Overstreet, it was a 5 mile extravaganza of torture. And now it feels like there is an ever tightening steel band wrapped around my upper leg when I run (I suppose that is technically referred to as a “spasm”) and someone has taken to poking me under the right buttock with something akin to a red hot branding iron. Geez…

So, it has been time off for me. Sort of. I tried the old run/walk thing at first. You know, run for 100 yards or until the pain gets too intense to go any further, then walk until the pain subsides, then repeat, repeat, repeat. That didn’t really get it done for me, so I stopped altogether for a while. Well, I didn’t make the decision on that day, but rather a few days later after I got lost running (ha, it was too slow to be called running, it was embarrassing), in Miami, and ended up out there for a few hours when I only meant to go for about 15 minutes. That did it.

Well, I haven’t actually totally stopped yet, not exactly. And maybe this walking thing isn’t really so bad. I’ve taken to hiking 2-3 hours a day with Buster. You have to do something, right? Buster apparently can’t or won’t get the hang of this walking thing (like I have, sure). He knows that we are supposed to be running, so like accomplished runners everywhere, if he can’t run, he’d rather do nothing at all. He did walk with me for a few days and we actually had some interesting times now that I can see where we really are and what there is to see, which you can’t do when you are running, as each and every one of us already knows. One Saturday morning we found a couple of heretofore unrecognized trails down to the lake at Overstreet and we looked for alligators but saw just a few small ones. I guess that big bruiser is still sleeping somewhere down there, on the lake bottom, full. If not for the walking, though, I would never have seen these trails. They should remain hidden gems.

Being a hound, Buster likes to move fast, with his head down and nose close to the ground. He probably “sees” things with his nose that we cannot even imagine are there. Besides, he is blind in one eye. But last week, one morning before dawn on the golf course in Killearn, the fur suddenly rose up on his neck and back and he let out a mournful howl that came from deep within, and almost simultaneously, trotting out of the gloom and ground fog, came a skinny coyote. She stopped dead in her tracks not 15 feet away. Buster never saw her, like a hound he was still completely fixated on her scent trail. But she and I locked eyes for what felt like an awfully long time. Then she was just gone, disappearing silently back into the mist from where she had come, almost as if she had never been there. Native American lore says that coyotes are “tricksters” and this one had her disappearing act down pat. But I am spiritually richer for the experience. And if not for the injuries and therefore the walking, it never would have happened.

And the same can be said for the momma wood duck and six tiny ducklings lined up behind her in single file, that came marching out of my garage Sunday morning, all of whom I would have missed had I been following my regular Sunday morning running routine. I suppose they had sought refuge there from the torrential rains of Tropical Storm Arlene the day before. I walked up the driveway and opened the garage door and there was the momma, standing there with her little fuzz balls. She just looked like she owned the place and had been waiting patiently for me to let them out. Off they marched in perfect order, to parts unknown.

It frightens me to think that this walking thing might actually become fun. Might it transcend and replace running? That’s a scary thought indeed. So scary that it made me go out again this morning and retest the waters, so to speak. Three miles and it was not a pretty sight. And it was a thoroughly painful one too. Walking feels so much easier, less painful, more contemplative. However:

“The day I cannot run, or somehow feel my blood and breath pulsating as if running, is a difficult one. I am crabby. My coffee gives me a headache before I can drive it out of my system. I am tired but can’t sit still. I don’t want to be around me, and no one else does, either. After two days of this, however, I feel surprisingly better and my need to run actually begins to wane. These moments of lethargy or rest, depending on how you look at it, scare me more than the withdrawals I feel. What would happen if a third, fourth, and fifth day passed and I never ran again? It is too much to consider. Debilitating injuries that could force me into a state of inertia terrify me the way artists have nightmares about losing their hands.

So it goes, the parallels between opiate addicts and long-distance runners deprived of their usual mileage – depression, irritability, insomnia – discount the idea that runner’s high is merely a psychological boost. While the human body cannot become addicted to endogenous chemicals, something turns my passion into fear and my fear into impulse. Something makes me lace up my shoes and go, even when no part of my body feels like running.” (Sara Rufner, Lines, published in “The Runners High – Illuminations and Ecstasy in Motion”, Breakaway Books, 2004).

After the dreaming is all done tonight, I will be out there tomorrow morning at sunrise, running. I will. I can’t help it. You can count on it. What about you?