Launch Day

My mom was dropping me off in downtown Richmond for the marathon, and it reminded me of all the mornings when I was a kid that she had the same thing. 
Most days pass by, one after the other, with little memory to differentiate them, blurring together. Days and weeks and months become one blob. Fleeting moments will come, acting as waypoints on the journey.
And then, there comes a day. A cold, sunny morning when you’re walking through downtown, past crowds of other runners, in the same boat as you. Those months of training, of sacrifice, brought together from disparate places and climes–all to stand in line, shivering and waiting your turn to dash into the port-a-potty. Yep, few things say ritual like that pre-run pee. No matter the color, gender, ability, age, that run before the run is as communal a moment a runner knows. 
And so is the wait. Being a slow runner, I’m almost always in the back, meaning a long wait to the start. A couple of weeks before, it took nearly an hour for me to get the line for a half-marathon. With 15,000 runners, it’s to be expected. In Richmond, though, the wait was only 10 minutes–manageable and easy, with only 4,500 for the full marathon. 
I was standing next to this guy also running his first marathon. And I admired his courage—his longest run was nine miles. The fact that he was a smoker didn’t help matters–he even had some smokes on him. (I checked–he did finish). 
There was an advantage for me in running in a city I had spent time in–familiar with the landmarks, the people. It lent a measure of comfort in an endeavor that was anything but. And in the journey, I saw some areas of the city I never thought to go to, or ever had a desire to see. Like Lee’s Revenge. It’s a big hill in the West End, near the Country Club of Virginia. Back in the early years of the marathon, runners had to climb up it. And no, I’d rather not imagine trying to pray my way up it. It was a late-race feature, I think, which made it all the more daunting. This time, the challenge was different–take it easy going down the hill, to leave the quads in one piece with 19 miles left. 
This will sound like I’m shilling, but I’ll roll the dice. The Richmond course is really beautiful–the Monument Avenue stretch, the Hugenot Bridge, the stretch along the James, heading under the Pope Avenue arch. The beauty of the course somewhat eases the pain of the pounding. 
What I remember about the journey that day wasn’t just the pain. Yes, I had to stop several times after 20 miles to stretch my calves. But there was also the woman who stopped to pet every dog along the road. (I lost sight of her around mile 5). There was the older man who cheered me on at mile 4. And at mile 14. And then at mile 24. I’m trying not to tear up at that, but it meant a lot, especially at 24. I was almost there, starting to feel like, ok, I think I can do this. This stretch on Brook Road is long, and mentally tough. And on the side of the road, there he was, yelling out my name. It was a great lift.
Just down the road, I made the turn into Virginia Union, and that’s where it started. I can do this. I can finish damn thing. 400 miles, countless hours, craploads of doubt and fear, a lot of early mornings. Making the turn onto and down Grace, my thought was–I don’t remember any of these inclines when I was at VCU. They sucked now, as I had to walk more than I would have liked to. But I kept chugging along, until I got to the corner leading to 5th Street, where Penny Lane Pub is. Making the turn, you hit the final straight for the finish. It’s still a good ways off, but I felt, I did it. This is mine.
You have to be careful on the finish for Richmond. It’s a pretty decent downhill, and you have to manage your speed so as to not blow out your quads. Or eat pavement, like one runner did earlier in the day. After 10 minutes of gathering his wits, he did finish. 
And so did I. A steady trot downhill, not too fast. This hurt enough, no need to hurt more. When you come into the finish chute, you hear people, but you hear crowd noise, you don’t hear specifics.
Unless your mom and dad are there, calling out your name. 
They weren’t there for those early runs and all the quiet moments of uncertainty. All I asked of them was to be there at the finish. And, they were. I wanted them to share this with me, and I’m grateful they did. Most of the races I run are solo endeavors–I show up and skitter off without a cast or crew. There’s no wife or girlfriend there to share in a sweaty hug, and I’m good with that. But this one, I needed someone to be there. Not just for the ride back. But because for this one moment, I didn’t want it to happen alone. I had done most of it solo. I have a friend in Princeton who paced me for the first part of 15 and 16 milers. My best friend gave me moral support. I had inspiration from the friend who got me into running in the first place. 
I have pictures of me with mom and dad after crossing the finish. They will mean a lot to me for a long time to come. 
So will the memory of being sore for three days. My god, I’ve never been so physically wrung out in my life. Getting into and out of a car was its own production. And the next time I do this, I’ll walk up the stairs backwards.
Next time…It took me three months to decide that yes, I want to run another marathon. It won’t be this year, though. The time commitment is intimidating. The physical toll is tough, as it the mental toll. But…I’ve done this before. I made it through the fires, and a different person came out the other side. If and when I decide to give this another shot, experience teaches me that I can do this. And do pretty much anything.
The week after the marathon, I went on a date, my first in months. It went pretty well, and we dated a few more times before it sadly ended. It didn’t take very long to recover from that and continue with life, with living. There were times after the long runs, where I would be lying on the floor, or on a porch, and wondering why I was doing this to myself, and being grateful to have made it. But by the middle of next day, I was fine. I gave myself the chance to rest, recover and reflect on what I had done. The marathon showed me how to be resilient, to forgive myself, to be easy with myself. I can survive much, and I have to remember that, no matter what endeavor is next.

——-
Epilogue 

Instead of walking to the start of the local 5K in a steady steady, cold rain, I drove. Lazy, I know. This course isn’t easy–downhill first mile, then uphill for at least a quarter-mile to a third. I’m slogging along, nearing the track where the finish is, and thought–how in the absolute hell did I ever make it throw a marathon? 
I got the hell out of my damn way, that’s how. 

The passion of the run (and the bike)

Out at dinner one night, a good friend told me it was gratifying to see that I had such a passion for all the running and cycling I’ve been doing this year. I told her I’m more amazed than anything else. From where this all started to where I am, the journey has been enlightening. And it’s been some of the hardest stuff I’ve ever done–early mornings, heat, cold, cramps, and questioning whether or not this is the smartest thing to do.

On OkCupid, there’s a question on what’s more important in a relationship, passion or dedication. I answered dedication. It doesn’t sound terribly romantic, but for a relationship to work, you have to put the work in. Flying on the autopilot of lust, desire and attachment will only get you so far. Once that fades, then what?

The initial rush of that first run or bike is great–I’m out on the road! I can feel the breeze! This is wonderful! The flow, then ebbs. Dragging yourself out of a warm bed to pull on your running togs and face a cold, hard dawn, is a…drag. The question of why the hell am I doing this is a constant. You tell yourself, there’s a payoff…somewhere. When you’re not running, you’re still preparing–passing up that doughnut for a banana. Parking the car a little farther from the store.

Soon, it becomes natural. You make the time to run in the morning. You take a pass on happy hour because you want to be right for the early ride. You judge the weather on how good a run day it would be. When you don’t run, or bike, you miss it. You don’t just run for the 5k shirt, or bike for the medal or water bottle you’ll get–you do it because you want to.

That’s love.

I think.

The question on OkCupid (like many of the questions there) is too damn binary. It’s both–the passion gets you in the door. The dedication keeps you there, and helps ride out the bumps that will come.

TFTD

I can’t think of a less worthwhile pursuit than sitting at a restaurant assessing each other’s suitability.

–Seen on an eHarmony profile

I don’t think it’s cynicism at play here, it’s cutting through the pretension of dating, the kabuki dance, the game-playing we all do. But hey, that’s the socially acceptable thing to do–and it helps keep restaurants in business.

To the time machine…

From my scattered writings…

6/24/12

this dating thing is really a grind, a bore. it truly is. i went out on a date the other night, and it was fine, ok. no sparks, but it was nice to go out with someone who’s really still a stranger. i often wonder what is wrong with me in terms of this dating thing…am i overthinking things, or what. friends say that i should show some more vulnurability. like some of the vulnerability that i show to them. it just takes me time to open up. 

but i’m bored of the process. i dated a woman at the beginning of the year. two dates, that’s all. she was a lawyer, attractive, funny, but we really didn’t connect. probably because i felt, in the middle of that second date, that the process was dull, to the point of stultifying. the dating routine for me is ritual. go to a site, see someone you’re interested in, email them, then hope they return that email. or, what’s more likely for me, have someone reach out to me. then you trade emails, looking for some connection. then a phone call or two (note: if you’re quiet, hoping for me to hold up a conversation, that will be a long call). then the working of the schedules to find the right night for a date. and then, the big night. pick the right time, the right restaurant, the right wine. it’s really a performance. i have to be a performer. that’s not to say i’m lying as i’m on the date, but there’s a part of me that has to come out, another side of me, that i don’t bring out often. and sometimes, that performance is tiring, and i sometimes wonder why, in the middle of the date, i’m there. to combat some fake loneliness? to be social acceptable? what? why?

i’m not saying that i don’t ever want a life partner. and i’m not saying that i’m stopping trying. it’s like a combination lock–there’s a combination that someone unlocks that gets me open. and that’s only happened twice in my life.

 i’m lucky to have a few close friends. i don’t want many–i want good ones.

 self-examination is a tough thing. in the job-changing process i’m going through, it feels like some scales are falling away from me. self-examination is not a bad thing for me, or for anyone.

**********

9/22/13

here i am again, bored of dating and bored of the process. just once, it would be nice to have a woman just fall into my lap, without having to leap through the requisite hoops. won’t happen, so what to do? keep trying, but remember something–you’re fine. you’re ok as you are.

**********

2/28/14

i’ve put myself on a dating moratorium. no more dates for a couple of months. it seems like that’s all i’ve been doing for 14 or 15 months, with varying degrees of success. and in that time, it feels like i’ve lost some sense of me, of who i am. in brussels, talking to my old girlfriend, she said the notion of having to date sounded awful. and recently, I read a story on how the French and the Americans differed when it came to sex and love, and a young French woman also thought the idea of dating sounded dreadful. and for me right now, it is. It’s very set-piece like, with an unofficial checklist and boxes that must be ticked. and both parties are on their best behavior. The very anthesis of humanity. I think the thing I hate about dating is that being me, may not get me a second or third date. I’m quiet, a little awkward, very observant, willing to listen. i’m a little standoffish, and may not always be willing to make the first move (yes, even at my advanced age). Dating sometimes feels like a test, and I don’t always pass it the first time around. So, for a couple of months, I’m not taking the test. 

**********

I’m noticing a theme here…

I’ve been toying around with the idea of rewriting my OKCupid profile, to better reflect reality, to better reflect me. This has given me some incentive, especially this passage.

We all are flawed and have been broken. But, too often, we date people on a surface level so we can tiptoe around that seamier part of ourselves. We don’t let our core flaws show, and try to hide them, or purposefully suppress them for fear of our partner judging or rejecting us. We are even willing to fight to deflect them.

The fact of the matter is, eventually we realize that lying is lying, whether it’s to ourselves or to our partner, and nothing good will come from a relationship that’s built on suppressed truth. We begin to see it’s about letting it all hang out.

This is something that I’ve been fighting for for a while–or to put it a better way, something that I know. The goal is to be fully human, flaws and all. I know my flaws, and I’m always working to improve them. They come with me everywhere.

Even at that nice restaurant at night, across from that attractive woman.

The year of reconciliation

2013 started on a sunny, but bitterly cold, Montreal morning, sitting across from a woman I hadn’t talked to in five years. I still remember the moment along the old port when she said “it is what it is”–a phrase she used to hate.

It continued in the spring, emailing again with a woman I hadn’t spoken to in a year and a half. 

They say three of anything is a trend, so the line continued when a woman I hadn’t spoken to in four months reached out. and we went on a 15-mile bike ride. 

I’m not sure what’s happening here. Has this year been the year of reconciliation? Possibly. Things happen sometimes when you aren’t looking for them to happen. Carrying drudges or harboring ill will does no one any good. You have to grow up, and continue to grow up. That means forgiving, letting go of hurt and evolving. Maybe that’s what i’ve done this year. 

i’m not looking to get back with any of these women. I’m looking to clear the air, and let go of some weight that doesn’t need to be there. 

Maybe I’m looking to close a circle. Or some circles. While I was in Brussels in November, I had dinner with another ex-girlfriend. We spent a very good night together, with her sons, as we reminisenced, reconnected–and her asking me a couple of questions that have stuck with me ever since. 

And just after Thanksgiving, the cycle repeated itself, back in the U.S. back in New Jersey. She went from girlfriend to life coach, and really helped to sent me on my way to many of the life changes I’ve made. 

As I was driving to see her, I asked myself, again, what’s going on here? This year, I’ve either dated, or have talked again to women I’ve dated. What does this all mean? Is there some greater meaning here? What will 2014 bring?

Rediscovery

I’ve made a unilateral decision. My vacation officially starts Wednesday, but I’m declaring it starts now (or as soon as I stepped out of the office Friday). I’m tired, but physically and mentally, and the break is warranted. The year hasn’t gotten away from me, but I seen to have lost a bit of myself this year. Between the pace of work and the pace of dating, the hamster wheel has worn me out. Many a night I’ve come home and felt like I can only decompress slightly, knowing I have to wash, rinse repeat the next day.

And there’s the dating…every so often, maybe once a year, I get bored of dating. Bored of the process, the wondering if I measure up. (And heck, maybe my dates are bored with me). I haven’t been truly alone this year–I’ve had several dates through the year, and other than one four-month stretch, it’s been a number of three-and-outs (with a one-and-done thrown in). This sort of boredom, this sort of period, is dangerous: balancing the desire for aloneness and the desire to be with someone. But I need to find myself again, away from work, away from dating, away from the hamster wheel. As I’m finding what was lost, I think (I hope) I can be a better me, for the job, for future dates, for me.

For a couple of weeks to start, I’m taking a line from a Living Colour song to heart…

No expectations, just living free

It’s time for rediscovery.