Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I wish I'd Looked After My Knees.........



Hullo blog,

When I was small I ran everywhere. Like many children, walking was too slow, too boring, too often connected to adult conversation and a mothers controlling apron strings to be comfortable, especially on our traditional Sunday afternoon family walks. To run was to be free, to feel the rush of wind on my face, cool rain on skin or long grass swish against bare legs and to feel connected to the hard road or soft earth as I hurtled over it. The dash to get to the next excitement and away from my parents loving but restrictive presence was as exhilarating as the breath that gave me strength to run on faster and further until called to heel.

As I got older I continued to run. I had special routes; favoured paths in the village, over roads, through fields and woods, along river banks, hillsides and rough ground across the whole local area. I knew each one like the back of my hand. After a while I had times to be matched on each route. Granny Robertson's house was four minutes {uphill}, Granny Hughes's the same {downhill, uphill, flat} in the other direction.  The shops four minutes there {downhill} and almost 6 minutes back. {or lots more depending on what had to be carried} School was 3 minutes {downhill- school holidays only - about 15 dawdling, pal laden minutes during school time} Return from school was infinitely variable due to football unless one of the Grannies had to look after me when all records had to be broken. {Old folk just worry and complain}

Steep paths or wild descents would be tackled with lung bursting ferocity until a pounding heart or trembling legs demanded that I reduce my pace to a gentle trot or just throw myself on the ground until ready to run on. Nettle stings or scratches and scars from brambles on short trousered legs would be ignored until later when they could be savoured like badges of honour along with the smell of muddy or grass stained knees. The smell of grass or mud on your knees was a sensory review of the day served from legs tucked up under your chin as you sat with pals dissecting tactics or performance in the last game played on the patch of spare ground at the end of the street before you went home to be made to scrub it all off. Even clean knees smell differently if licked and sniffed - you should try it {You're thinking about it right now, aren't you?}

At least they used to. It's been quite a while.....

I don't actually recall when I stopped running. I just know that I did. Probably getting into long trousers had something to do with it as they were less durable and could take a lot less punishment than knees. {They seemed to be a lot more valued by parents somehow as well}  Probably going to high school had something to do with it too as adolescent kudos became more important. I do remember numerous teachers yelling at me in first year as I belted through the school,

"YOU BOY! DO NOT RUN IN THE......." insert corridor/stairs/school/dinner hall/music dept/whatever

By the time I was in second year I guess that I had pretty much stopped running. Not that that's all a bad thing. It does have some advantages;  less time spent gasping for air before speaking;  a more understandable speaking voice; less damage to trousers, especially knees, and other assorted items of clothing and footwear; time to notice things {girls}; time to reflect on things {girls} and plan ahead {ok,ok! I know you get me on this part now!}

 I did try running as a sport while I was at school, {"Of course I can run! I'm a kid. That's what I do."} but I soon found out that most guys could run faster or longer than I could anyway, so I passed on the opportunity. Also I had found music and stuff {girls} and after all, running was so last year!  Then I was struck down by childhood asthma and my days of running pretty much anywhere came to an abrupt stop.

Then years later, when my first marriage went AWOL and I was in emotional crisis, I found that I couldn't face having to live in what I thought of at that time as our house on my own. I changed it around as much as I could, defined it as my space, decorated, used my ability to control housework, ironing and gardening to the N'th degree to avoid the reality - as I saw it - that something huge was missing. I was bereft, in debt, had no spare cash and had far too much time on my hands which gave me waaay more time than was healthy to try and figure out what had gone wrong. I was hurting in so many ways and couldn't see how to get around it until one night the thought came to me that I should just run away from it all. So with that in mind I opened the front door and ran until I was completely knackered - a grand distance of about 500 yards!

After that I began to go out at night instead of sitting looking at four walls and feeling sorry for myself. I began to run. Slowly at first - going for the theory distance equals more time away from the house and the reality of my situation - I soon increased the time and speed I had to run for before exhaustion kicked in, especially when I realised that as my legs, lungs and everything else began to ache that I could focus in on that and make the stuff at the forefront of my mind disappear altogether, for a while at least. Of course after some time doing just that I was so much fitter, so I had to run much further and at increasing speeds to get the desired effect. Just a sprint until I was exhausted wasn't any use as I would just have to go back home to what I was trying to get away from. I found the perfect balance in my running so that I could go out and spend an extended period of time at the optimum pain threshold - it feels weird writing it like this but that's how I felt at the time - ultimately for several hours at a time. {one particularly bad night lasted for about 28 miles I calculated later by following my route in my dilapidated old car} One night my lovely G, who I only knew vaguely at that time, passed me in her Dads car while I was running a few miles from home and was shocked to pass me hours later many miles away and still pounding on at what she described to me as 'terrific' speed considering the distance I must have covered. I did this 'bad running' as I called it for about a year before I got things under control and reined it back. By that time I was beginning to have problems with my feet and legs from constant road running with no proper footgear to reduce the impact on my joints. By the time I was thirty, a couple of years later, I was sitting in a doctors consulting room after exploratory surgery being told that I had nice knees for a sixty year old and that perhaps I should give up running and move to swimming - something I couldn't face due to psoriasis - unless I wanted to have knee replacements in later life.

I stopped running eventually but sometimes I miss it and wish that I had taken up biking or something instead, but I didn't. Instead I threw myself into work until I found a new and wonderful relationship and flung myself into that as well. Roll time forward twenty years and so far one knee operation later and another knee that's now giving me gip.......

Well, one of my favourite song-smiths and poets, Leonard Cohen, wrote a song called 'The Tower of Song' that includes the line, 'I ache in the places where I used to play'.

I know that feeling only too well.

Oh! I wish I'd looked after my knees......

See you later.

Listening to Leonard Cohen, 'Tower Of Song'

15 comments:

The Scudder said...

Al, we surely are joined at the hip you & I ,,,
Aye & my hip gives me gip nowadays on the golf course but of course I refuse to let up on my sport .,., The pain killers may one of these days need to be replaced by surgery I expect ?Oh and Lenny Cohen ,,positively one of the best ever "song-smiths and poets" ..only problem with Lenny is the urge ( dependent on mood ) to slash one's wrists !

Big Swifty said...

That brought it all back. The smell of one's knees. As you say, there's the clean knee smell, and I can recall the the grassy knee, and the muddy knee, and the sandy knee. And the sore knees, with chapped skin from the wind and rain, yes even in the south of England! And after that the germalene knee. But it's all memories now, my joints are still pretty good, but were never very bendy, even as a kid. Plus my balcony belly prevents a decent knee uplift; even all my cycling hasn't saved me from my overeating.....

Alistair said...

Ha, what a pair. Oor wives have a lot in common I bet too.......

Alistair said...

Your right Swifty. The Germolene knee...... I had forgotten about that one. Great smell too...

Scottish Nature Boy said...

Al - very interesting post and very honest of you! I'm still doing it, tho' a bit curtailed for now by an achilles problem - thank goodness for bikes and swimming pools (and the sea!). Not sure where I'd be without exercise - stressed and unhappy I'd guess! (and grumpy!). When I lived with my folks for the last couple of years at Uni, I'd do a run most Sunday mornings from Aberlady Bay nature reserve car park, along the coast, sometimes as far as North Berwick, then back. I can't quite believe how far I used to run back then. Seems like a dream! I was like a skelf in those days too! Not so any more...

Alistair said...

SNB - stressed, check. grumpy, check overweight double check.....

Used to be built like a racing snake myself!!!

jutka said...

Thank you for visiting my blog, I think your blog is very interesting.

Haupi said...

Well at least you can say your knees saved you back at a time when there was no other way for your to be saved except by running them into the ground....28 miles holy smokes. I'm glad you're in a happier place now and thanks for visiting my blog. We all been there and done that - albeit in different ways :). Hope you're enjoying your weekend.

Haupi

Bovey Belle said...

What a wonderful piece of writing - so evocative of childhood (I can remember scabby knees and Germoline too!)

As for running - with my asthma it has to be walking, and preferably on the flat - but it does help you think. Not that I'd be doing much thinking after 28 miles mind. . .

Alistair said...

Thanks BB, Currently my right knee effectively has stopped all play. Really struggling to walk down even a little incline and as for the stairs in the house........ow!!!

Alistair said...

Jutka, Haupi,

Hello and thanks for stopping by here too.....

AJC said...

It's very frustrating when your body won't cooperate. I started biking as soon as I was able after my car accident, and I highly recommend it. I have a co-worker who's 64 who still bikes everywhere. I can't imagine doing it in the hills of Scotland, though!

Leonard Cohen is a prophet of soul.

Alistair said...

Hi AJC, Welcome back. Need to lose some beef before I try any biking. The hills are a bit more gentle in these parts though......

Morning's Minion said...

I read this when you first posted it, didn't have a moment to comment then.
The essense of the story has stayed with me. Firstly, it stirred up memories of running as a child [do girls run differently than boys?] we ran at recess, [up to a certain age] my sisters and I ran back and forth on the dirt road between our house and my grandfathers; we ran in the meadow, especially if the wind was blowing.
It was a sweet kind of madness.
Secondly, this essay, like so many that you write, hangs in the mind, bears mulling and re-reading. I think that's what a good bit of writing should do--sets the readers' thoughts on a path of memory that hop-scotches through half-forgotten episodes.
You do it well.

Alistair said...

Thanks MM, very kind....

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