It’s the second week in April, which in my hometown means it’s time for a new sort of tourist to start showing up. While the rest of the year provides my neighborhood with a predictable mix of college-visit families, foreign tour groups and random history buffs, April brings a more curious breed of out-of-town visitor—ones clad in windbreakers and nylon pants, sporting high-tech watches and high-end running shoes. They have a certain lean and hungry look about them, and are slim as broomsticks, impressive in their lack of body fat. They are marathoners, and they’ve come from all corners of the earth to the mecca that is the Hopkinton-to-Boston annual 26.2 mile race.
I usually first notice these ultra-fit tourists in Harvard Yard, wandering around with their noses in guidebooks, while simultaneously balancing on one foot and stretching their quads. They’ll soon be even easier to spot, once they’ve been to registration central and picked up this year’s official outerwear and complementary backpack. Come Monday afternoon and evening, we’ll see them tip-toeing up the stairs from the subway, some still wrapped in their tin-foil blanket, gingerly making their way to their post-race dinner venues.
These freaks of long distance mileage have always made me feel a bit sub-fit. By way of defense, I’ve always considered them a bit obsessed with a sport that tilts in the wrong direction on the thrill-to-exertion scale (see: alpine skiing! Where gravity is your friend!) But the truth of the matter is that I once liked running, when my knees were more obliging. I even had notions of running a marathon, back before I blew out my ACL, tore my MCL, pulled my LCL, and ended up with nothing after reconstructive surgery but a tidy rim where my meniscus used to be. From those days on, I’ve been running-compromised.
These days, it’s that much more frustrating, to see these lithe bodies and not feel like a lesser version of the human race. After my knee surgeries, I used to watch in jealous fascination as by-passers’ knees flexed and squatted and leaped up steps, two by two; I now feel that jealousy toward whole human bodies as they move through space, any old way. I’m weary and out of shape, as un-fit as I’ve ever been. And on top of my fussy knees, or rather down below them, I have something painful going on with my feet that may be a side effect of the chemo, or may be garden-variety plantar fasciitis, who knows which? Whatever it is, it’s making me feel about 30 years older than I am, and it just plain sucks.
Having this annual stream stream of uber-athletes passing through town is just one more reminder that I’m in the middle of something that I can’t wait to put in my rear view mirror. It’s also reminding me that I have lots of work to do here, to get back to my regular self—the one that I had a brief visit with, last week, when I went skiing before radiation started. My treatment program is pretty passive, beyond getting myself to my appointments on time. The active part will kick in before long. Maybe not soon enough for me, but like so many elements of this adventure, I don’t get to decide what happens when. I just have to be ready for whatever comes next, whenever it gets here.
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I’m on the radiation roll now. Every weekday, at 9:30AM, I’ll be going in for what amounts to a prolonged x-ray session. It’s mostly about getting me in the right position on the table, lined up properly under the equipment. The whole process takes under 15 minutes. In and out, and on with my day. I’ll tell you more about it later on.