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Two years ago, I wrote about the annual New Year’s Eve Four Mile Run  in Central Park for Randomville. A lot has happened in two years, and we thought it was time for a follow up. One year ago I was out of the country for the changing of the calendars, so I missed a year, but was able to sign up for the 2010-2011 run for my fourth participation in the event.

This comes on a slightly somber note, though, as there have been some developments. Over the past 20 months or so it was discovered that my right knee hurt whenever I ran more than a little bit. There is no pain if I’m running to first base, but there’s plenty of pain if I’m running a few miles. I saw a specialist and after an MRI it was determined that my knee has taken so much pounding over the years that the cartilage has worn away. The doctor said no more distance running – period. It is never going to get better and there is no surgery to add more cartilage to the knee. This conversation took place in April 2009, and it has taken the following year and a half to finally accept that my running days are actually over.

As a final goodbye to the running world, I decided to push through the pain and sign up for the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run as I still think there’s nothing else quite like it. I also found an old track suit from my high school days and donned that as a tribute to where my running career started. Considering the other ridiculous costumes on that night I blended in and actually was a bit on the tame side. Despite this, I thought I looked absurd and, well, very purple.

I allowed myself three warm up runs – one on Saturday December 18th and I barely made it to 1.75 miles. It was cold and my body did NOT like what I was doing to it. On Tuesday December 21st I did a 2.5 mile run with only one walk break. My knee began to hurt as I finished that run allowing me to guess that this was my limit, and my chest still wasn’t happy about the strains I was forcing upon it. Saturday December 25th was my final tune-up with a 3.5 mile run on a very peaceful and pristine Christmas morning in snowy Cleveland. The knee hurt but knowing that I was going to give it a full week of rest I figured I could handle the run. My chest was finally rounding into shape and the cardio element of the workout was tolerable.

As you may have heard, there was a massive snow storm in NYC on December 26th and the city did not handle it well. This meant there was snow on the ground for the first time in my four runnings of the race. However, it had also been warm all week (upper 30s and lower 40s) and some of the snow had melted. Regardless, there was plenty still to deal with for the run. I was excited about the new terrain.

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I arranged to run with two friends and we agreed to go as slow as the slowest of the three of us wanted so that we could stick together the whole time. They are both rec athletes and one is a triathlete, but he admits that running is his worst discipline of the three. Coupling that with his shin splints, he wanted to run no faster than 12 minute miles. Considering that I ran about 8:08 miles two years ago, that is quite slow for my pace. I knew I was not going to run that fast again but if I was alone I might have run nine or ten minute miles, give or take. No problem, though – it added to the festivities and relaxed atmosphere.

It was a balmy 42 degrees at race time. This is not unheard of in NYC, but it is certainly on the warmer side. 42 is still cold if one is standing around but rather warm for a run. The mood was festive as always and the participants were out in abundance, probably due to the warm temperatures. The fireworks went off at midnight and lasted for what felt like a good deal longer than previously. This year we were near the middle-to-back of the starting chute so we had plenty of time to stand around and watch them light up the night sky. After about five or ten minutes we finally got to start moving. When we passed the first mile marker the clock read 20 minutes – hilarious. Our 2nd mile was right on target at about 32 minutes as we entered into the water/“champagne” stop. The sparkling grape juice was admittedly very delicious and one of those underrated simple pleasures. The knee began to act up in the next mile and as we didn’t run any faster or slower than previously, we ended up finishing the race as the clock read 57 minutes.

It was bittersweet, of course, as I’ve always enjoyed the running lifestyle and the sense of accomplishment it provided. It was easy for me – not “easy” of course since it was still work – and very few other forms of cardio exercise have ever felt as efficiently beneficial to my body. To get the same amount of exhaustion from biking I’d need to dedicate twice as much time. This thought depresses me still and is something I clearly will need to overcome in the future.

In the meantime I’d like to thank all of my running partners over the years – teammates, friends, random running acquaintances. You have been a part of my life that I will recall fondly for many years to come. Two marathons, a half marathon, a number of shorter races, and what must have been a few thousand miles run since I first signed up for cross-country in 1996 are all a part of me that have shaped who I am today. I miss running already yet I do look forward to exploring a new form of exercise that hopefully will not be as damaging as this one.

Distance running: we had a good run together. I bid you adieu and hope against hopes that we might have a rendezvous sometime in the future.

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