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.

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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. 

Back on the good foot

Yep, it’s been a while, so it’s time to get back at. 
 
I feel guilty about not doing it (like I do now). It continues to occupy my head in a way that, frankly shocks me. I don’t thing I’ve ever done anything that hurts so much while I’m doing it, and feels so good after I’m done.
 
I’m still running. As much as it can hurt, I’m still on the treadmill and the road. All winter, I ran at least twice a week, prepping for a stretch of runs in the spring and hoping that I could improve on the slack-ass run I had on New Year’s Day. A 5k, an 8k and a 5k later, I’d say it’s mission accomplished. The first run, on a cold and damp day, saw me finish about a minute faster than my very first run last summer. Given that I hate running in that stuff (it’s chilly, and cold weather make strenuous activity that much harder for me), I was pleasantly surprised. 
 
Next up was the 8k, a distance I’d only completed in practice runs–a couple of weeks before. Race weather was a little bit of a shock–nippy 50s at the start, but 60s at the finish. And this was the best race I’ve been so far–6,000 or so at the start. With these runs, I try to run the first mile completely, then run-walk the rest of the way. Imagine my surprise when I felt fresh enough to go almost a mile and a half without stopping. Don’t knock it–I was still moving. 
 
I was slogging toward the finish as the two top finishers in the half-marathon blew past me (I know one of those guys). As cresting the hill toward the line, I could hear the crowd, and that gave me a little boost to make it. I have to say, it felt great to hear my name from the MC as I crossed the finish–in under an hour. As with many of these runs, you get a medal. It makes me glad to have run the 8 and not the half–the 8K medal was a helluva lot better.
 
On to the next run, this time, in my hometown. It felt wonderful to walk back in to my hometown school, see folks I hadn’t seen in decades, and run a 5k for the school’s bands. The one advantage I had over the other races was that I grew up in this place and knew the roads and streets. 
 
The morning was sunny and warmer that I thought–I didn’t need the running tights I had on. The run started, and I slogged to the first mile. It was a small field (lots of little kids, though), so the runners were strung out a bit, a little more alone on the course than I’ve been used to. But rounding a corner and hitting one of the main streets, the energy came back. My strategy was to run two blocks and walk one. And it worked–I hit a PR. Home cooking tastes good.
 
And so, this Sunday, on a bit of a lark, I’m running another 5k. The races help me train toward a goal–like being part of a triathlon relay team in mid-July. Running feels like jazz felt when I was in my early 20s–something I can do and keep up with for a very long time. I’ll have about two months between races, so I have to–sorry, want to–keep training, eventually hitting a duathlon and then, by this time next year…a half-marathon. That’s my moonshot–that’s the one I want to complete. 

 

Reborn–again?

It was 10 years ago that I was laid off from my job in Brussels. The time was sad and uncertain–I was looking for work, and was fairly sure I had to leave a city I loved to do it. But the previous three years for me were a rebirth. It wasn’t that i was running away from anything, but I think I had to hit the reset button. A couple of relationships were meh or emotionally draining, and being in my late 20s, I was still trying to figure things out. And Brussels seemed like it would be an adventure. I remember the fridays and saturdays I spent wandering the city, walking down blocks I knew nothing about, until they became familiar pieces of a puzzle. I remember sitting in a cafe, marveling over the wonder of drinking coffee from a cup (a rarity in brussels a decade ago). The nights wandering back home after some jazz. What has changed in the ten years? I’ve been captured by thre hamster wheel of work. In Brussels, the formula would be to go, have an adventure, then oh-by-the-way, go to work. Here, it’s work, then try to squeeze something in–if I’m not too tired. But I’m slowly waking up. I’m running, entering 5Ks. There’s traveling on the agenda that does not include going home. I’ve re-realized that my happiness depends on me. The invisible weights that seem to find their way to my shoulders are disappearing. It’s becoming time to live again.

Re-entry

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I spent three great days back home in Brussels this past weekend, and going back to what my mom called my third home felt like slipping on an old pair of jeans–comfortable, soothing, everything in its place. My hotel didn’t have my room ready, so I spent a few jet-lagged hours wandering the town, falling back into what was my usual end of week routine of heading downtown to wander the narrow streets. I wasn’t going to see the sights–I lived there for three years, so I know most of what’s there. It was to reconnect with a part of myself that had gotten put away in a drawer after coming to the suburbs of New Jersey. I saw old friends, talked about old and new times, and had some questions posed that have stayed with me on the flight back. The biggest one was one not posed, but lingered in the air–what do you need to be happy? 

The answer is probably not as much as I think, or what I’m told to strive for or what I’m expected to be. The walking around in Brussels was a symbol for what form a life may take: setting off for a distant land, exploring, discovering new sights and people, finding an alley you shouldn’t have walked down, and the urge and desire to see who you are what lies ahead. And the desire to sit on a bench, rest and take in all in. 

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.

Bubbles and blind spots

If there’s anything I worry about, it’s the blind spots that I can’t see. What am I missing about me, inside me, that could cause me harm, hold me back? It’s not that I want to be held hostage by overthinking, but I don’t want to harm myself or others as I go through life. I want to be outside the bubble, step outside myself, watch how I progress and make it through the day. The key question is: Am I doing right my others, and myself?

Living it, feeling it

I was at the apartment of two good friends last night, and one said a nugget that has stuck with me all week: Life has to be lived to be understood. What’s the point of a life if you understand everything? That spoke to my sometime urge to want to get it all, intellectually, but truly, it can’t work that way. Life is experiences, good and bad. They have to be lived, felt, emoted over to get their meaning. As the lyrics of “Sojourn of Arjuna” say, we can choose the battleground, but we can’t avoid the battle.