by Dante Zappala

We have very little to agree on these days. Our ecosystem of countless news channels and websites has lowered the barrier to access information but also tapped into a crude part of human nature. Industries have sprouted that foster and capitalize on the worst parts of ourselves.

The marketplace of opinion is completely saturated, creating a long row of hard formed buckets. We can choose the one we most identify with and bury our heads there. All we hear is the echoes of everyone we’ve joined in isolation.

I understand. I have a hard time reading the National Review and Fox News articles that my buddy sends me. Like any good friend, he enjoys getting under my skin and he’s developed a foolproof way to accomplish this goal. Either I read it and I get mad or I ignore it. If I choose the latter, he calls me out as a naive liberal fraud. And then I get mad. Friends like this are hard to find.

I struggle to get through the articles. I sense only invective, even when I give it an honest read. I’m overly sensitive, I know that. But I made a conscious decision going into middle age that I’m not giving up that part of myself. My instincts tell me that I will need it. These articles are hostile to me, they personally offend me.

I begin to reason that I only have so many minutes in a day to invest in consuming information. To paraphrase Barbara Bush, who was speaking about pending casualties in the run-up to her husband’s war, why should I waste my mind on that?

But it’s not a waste, of course. Intellectual challenges, just like the physical ones we runners endure daily, are crucial to our health. We must engage in them. I know where the opposite choice leads. It leads to injury.

That’s where I sit now, with a bum knee, the by-product of a very preventable series of events. I gave up on the strength routines and the drills over the last two months. I put my head in a bucket and focused solely on one thing – the pace I wanted to run for a 13 mile race. While that is the exact kind of specification called for in the latter stages of training, it doesn’t mean quitting on all the things that allowed me to get there.

I had become one-dimensional. Running stimulates certain muscles, but many others are completely ignored. And as we know from our loved ones, if you ignore something too long, it will make noise.

I should have kept putting my thighs, hamstrings, hips and glutes through the ringer. Because it was precisely during those peak mileage weeks that I particularly needed to be doing the ancillary exercises. But I was so worn out that blowing them off became ridiculously easy.

Maintenance is a year-round endeavor. So it goes for cars, homes, relationships and running. The only benefit of injury is that it shows you what you value. I love running because I hate not running.

The doctor I see for these things is an old runner himself. I trust what he has to say because he has seen it all. He has limited my mileage now to about 2/3 of what it was previously. In the meantime, I am back in a gym, making amends with myself and inviting those crucial muscle groups onto the dance floor.

I tried to lobby my doctor for a cortisone shot, stressing how I needed to increase my mileage now, not scale back, in preparation for Boston. He threw me a fastball then a curve. First, I wasn’t getting the shot. It’s a remedy of last resort and he could tell I was thinking pre-emptively. But then he posed a challenge. Instead of over distance, why not do speed work?

That’s when the light went off. I have a solid base – I don’t think I’ll lose that in three or four weeks. But I haven’t touched speed since the spring. It’s long overdue, and it will help with the program. Speed work recruits those surrounding muscles, the ones we need to protect and insulate us, the ones we fall back on when our primary ones start to fail.

And because these workouts of short, high intensity sprints are so taxing, it’s best not to do them in the context of high mileage. Perfect. Say no more. I have my December training mapped.

Of course, I initially didn’t want to hear this. I wanted cortisone. Instead, I have a training regimen that is actually better than what I had planned out. Injury can be a catalyst when it inspires us to listen beyond the echoes.

And now that I will be out on the trails less, I’ll have some time on my hands. Maybe I’ll catch up on some reading.