Thursday, August 19, 2010

Protestant Work Ethic

Last Friday, before my knee went hinky on me, I was halfway through an eight-mile run when I came upon another Woman of a Certain Age.  She had obviously been running but was now walking.  As we passed she looked at me, a total stranger, and said apologetically, "This heat is just too much for me...."

I'm willing to wager she's a Methodist or Presbyterian.

In college my Catholic friends moaned about the guilt that came with their beliefs.  Classmates on the other side of the religious aisle complained of the Jewish Guilt Complex.

These days I think they have nothing on the dreaded Protestant Work Ethic.

Yesterday's schedule (I'm training for a half-marathon in late October) called for 10 miles with twelve (12) 40-second strides each followed by a 2:20 recovery.  Tuesday night I dutifully laid out my running clothes, popped two Advil PM and prayed for the best.

It was not to be so I decided to wait another day.  Early this morning the left knee began to throb again but not as painfully as before.  Should I skip another day's workout? Or push through and hope for the best.

And so began the duel between my Benevolent Old Gal and the generations of tough Scots-Irish who came before me.  The battle between being kind to myself and following in the footsteps of my ancestors.

Like my paternal grandfather who in his early 80s single-handedly spent five hours digging a massive pine tree stump out of the ground.  While on vacation.

Or my mother who minutes after hearing her cancer had progressed to the terminal stage steered me out of her doctor's office with the words, "We need to go to WalMart and Kroger's and then I have a hair appointment.  Give me the keys - I'm driving."

Who am I to let a little knee pain stand in the way of a run? When the blood of these hardy Scots-Irish Protestants flows through my healthy veins? When the last thing I dug out was a pint of coffee ice cream?

This is when I try to channel my Benevolent Old Gal.  I like to think of her as a wise maternal figure, very loving but also capable of running a sub 3:40 marathon.  She knows just the right words to say to an antsy Boomer who was raised on phrases such as "Grin and bear it!" or the ever popular 1960s refrain, "Don't be a crybaby!"

She's the one who cautions me about winning a battle just to lose the war.  Benevolent Old Gal reminds me of times when best-laid plans were scotched yet the ultimate outcome wasn't.

Like the weekend late last March, three weeks before my second Boston Marathon.  I had my last 20-mile run scheduled for the next day.  Fourteen of those miles were to be done at MP, marathon pace.  Only when I went to bed I felt a bit...queasy.

After my third round with the porcelain god around 2 AM I thought, Protestant Work Ethic be damned! My heroine, Joan Benoit Samuelson, could have popped in and offered to pace me and I would have waved her off.

The next day I slept, sipped Gatorade and watched a "Law & Order" marathon.

Three weeks later I took two minutes off my previous Boston time and requalified for Beantown.

So take that, Protestant Work Ethic! Two, even three days off will not ruin me.  This is just a small bump in the road on the way to a solid P.R.  I'm tough - I just need another day of ice and Aleve.



  1. I'm on week 4 off and the heel feels no better than I did when I was running...I have no answer for you - but bless your family for having such strong souls! Hang in there, Ellison...its got to get better for you (us), it has to!

  2. Hang in there. No need to change your schedule until you're off for 20 days - which I know you will not be! However, don't hesitate to have it checked out if it's crosses the line into "damaging" pain. You know the difference I'm sure. Thanks for such a great blog.