Tuesday, May 31, 2016
i ran like an arrogant ass.
when people would talk about their race goals, i would feign interest. i cared that they were trying to run a marathon in under four hours. it was important that they had gotten off the couch and were going to finish their first 10k. inspiring others by run-walking in all pink for a good cause was nothing to take lightly. and yet, smug in my undertrained mileage and worn-out race flats turned into casual shoes, i would think only of how all of this related to my goal, my running, my speed, my legs. i was out of touch.
when she asked me about how i would return to running before this past marathon, i laughed and, noting my recent hit and run shoulder separation, or my recent blown attempt at the usual sub-3 goal, i told her i would wing it. i told her i would run as fast as i could until i had an out of body experience, and then i'd watch myself cross the line with whatever was left in me. stupid ass. i was out of touch, but not out of this broken body, not by a long shot. you see, there are many things that happen to a body during a marathon, and if the mind doesn't suppress all of them hard enough for long enough, they reach up and choke the mind, flood it with pain and doubts and regret-based wishes, and then the mind tumbles into every cell raging with pain or dumb slowness, and it is dragged forward by the plodding body it could not leave. it is a wagon ride in chains.
at kilometre thirty, the arrogance evaporated from my body. no longer fuelled by the vain notion that i had a chance at proving anything, i settled into this old man's body, and began a dreadful shuffle toward a finish twelve kilometres away. i would learn much in this journey, but the most important lesson was, of course, about my fellows.
my fellows are tougher than i.
it takes a lot of strength and tenacity and toughness of the mind and of the body to run a marathon in three hours. somehow, it takes a little bit more to run it in under three, but i'll only be able to write about that when i do it some day. sunday, though, i learned about the toughness it takes to run for so very much longer than three hours, for agonizing tens of minutes longer than three hours, that the pain outweighs every other feeling, including progress or reason to proceed.
the half-marathoners joined the course somewhere in my final haze, and like so many sweating, plodding, coursing fish, they carried me along in their stream, refusing to stop, refusing to give up, determined to finish this damn thing. most of them were heavier than i. all of them were harder. they were still running. they had been running for two hours. they had been plodding through heat and water tables and hoses and supersoakers wielded by well-meaning five year olds with excellent aim. they refused to walk. they refused to stop. they refused to succumb to heat or steam or sunshine or all of those demons in their minds that told them they could not do this. they sweated into their headphones and dripped all over the pavement and stepped forward again and again while their shoulders darkened in the sun. and they smiled. and they grimaced. and they drew strength from cheers and i drew strength from them. their determination pulled me along. their tenacity put my feet forward. their heaving spirits pushed me to the line.
i wanted to walk. i wanted to stop. i wanted to be done already. i had learned the lesson. couldn't we just skip these next few thousand metres and have me on my way? could i just forgo the medal that everyone gets and a stale bagel oozing in the sun and go home and curl up in an ice bath of shame? no. i could not. the lesson is not learned until the process is complete. and the process is not complete until the line is crossed. and the line, however theoretical it may be, is only the beginning. so i got there, after a long stop in the 41k porta-potty.
so i learned. i learned that people who run four hour marathons and two hour half marathons are at least twice as tough as i am. i learned that i really do love running and that there is something in it for those who dedicate to it. i learned that the beauty of the crowd is in the exchange: they cheer, i act; we do it for each other, as best we can, authentically. i learned that time does not matter as long as honesty prevails. i learned that i will always finish. i learned that the heat isn't as bad as they say it is. i learned that my body cannot run two all-out marathons in a month with four runs between them. i learned that all i want to do is run.
so tonight i'll go and see people who are also better runners than i. we will talk about that elusive three hours and how everyone has gone under it except i. we will talk about the marathon on the weekend and boston a few weekends ago and what we're doing for cross country season this year. and i will try to focus on the process, on being free from time, on becoming a runner. cheers. and a toast, to everyone who runs tougher than i: thank you.
Friday, May 27, 2016
she counted down the five seconds out loud, over the snuffling noses and dripping elbows, over the hum of another oncoming bus so incongruous in this inflated neighborhood with its pompous driveway furniture, over the screeches of nighttime birds, and off we went.
tim took the front immediately, as we all knew he would. then the kid showed up to give him a run for his money, and i wondered briefly how long i could hold on. by the end of the first turn, they were up the hill, and i was just settling into a pace i knew i would not be able to maintain. tim, bless his heart, is always convinced that i am faster than i am. this is pretty sweet, but also pretty disheartening as i've never given him good reason to believe so. i'm younger, balder, and have beaten him in end-of-practice-interval sprints, but that's it. he went under three hours in the marathon back when i completely blew up in november, and he hasn't looked back. now a runner after college days of smoking and other debauchery, tim is a good-looking marathoner 100 lbs. lighter than his younger self who consistently runs 100k weeks. he's a role model, in more ways than one, and i'm learning from him.
as tim and the kid cruised over the hill and i tailed them just to see what pace they were running, it occurred to me that tim was leading, and he didn't even look like he was sweating. of course, he had already run to the workout, and would run home to round out a 21k second run of the day, but he was leading. when the kid came by because i was running too slowly and still too fast for his approval before my all-important marathon attempt number 2 for the month, i asked him casually if he was running ottawa this weekend too. you know, i gulped air just so that i could expel it in a full-sentence question complete with verbs and prepositions. he deciphered my mangled exhale, translated it, figured his response, translated it, and told me, 'no.' he ran on. i faded into third.
the first interval done, the rest period flew by, and we were back at it, the kid chasing tim, me chasing the kid, everyone else on my heels. i had no water. i had already lost pounds through sweat. we weren't yet halfway done. i loved it. we had shed our shirts after the first one, and were now dripping fire on searing laps through this closed-in, closed-off neighbourhood of stone. some couples walked. one property had a roofing crew, another, a reno. and everywhere was the faint pat-pat of dogged strides in the humid-quiet evening. the long downhill run-in to the finish inspired kick after kick, ending abruptly at the stop sign amid horks and gasps and frantic lip-licking in place of bottle-sucking. i walked it off as best i could, cursed my lack of a bottle, and watched the watch. the rest hurt more than the interval. i was thirstier at rest.
we ran the next two consistent. we kept the pace. we even picked it up a bit on the last hill. i played tricks on my mind, letting it get to the quitting point, citing dehydration and the heat and the humidity and headaches and the maladjusted derailleur on my brand-new mountain bike and the helmet replacement i would not get, and then i reeled it all in. i tucked in the elbows. i leaned the head forward. i took the hill faster than in any of the previous intervals. i finished with a sigh. tim was waiting for me. and the kid didn't tell me to man up. it was a beautiful run.
she came over that friday night as usual, relatively unannounced and wholly wished-for. she always comes by when i need her the most, and i rarely ever invite her. i am an idiot. but she did come over and we did have burgers and then my girls all left to watch the game and play with friends so she and i sat at the table i made and talked about everything under the sun. there were many epiphanies had, though the overriding one is the one i've been failing to physically latch onto of late: consistency.
if you are consistent, you win.
i come at this notion from several different directions and venues, but the consistency thing rings true everywhere. it's at the root of that blingy 10 000 hour rule to becoming a master. it's what makes every champion, ever. it's the route for every genius that we come to know and admire for his/her talent. it's what i'm afraid of.
i get a running blog sent to me weekly, and it's by this guy who's quirky and wonderful and generally gets all kinds of things right. except for obstacle course racing. i mean, really... either way, he just sent a post about running not actually being difficult. and it's not. put one foot in front of the other several hundred thousand times, and you've run somewhere. there is no real skill in it. the only way to get better at it, is to take more steps, often. this is consistency. and through consistency, there comes mastery.
one of my resolutions at the beginning of the year was to journal more consistently. i was going to write every day in a black book with a black pen on manila pages about bland or potent thoughts. either way, this has not been true. i failed, and it's only may. another resolution was to become a consistent runner. again, in the short view, i failed. i trained real hard. i ran a 3:02 marathon. i ran once. i got hit by a car. i ran three more times. and this weekend i'll run another marathon. consistency is not exactly the theme of this month. however, in working up to the first marathon and right through its cold, windy, rainy bitter end, i became a runner. i was consistent. i consistently put one foot in front of the other. i consistently worked. i was a consistent user of socks and shoes and body glide and gels. so that goal is happening. and, after i recover from this next marathon, i'm going to start running again, consistently, just to see what happens. what happens to the poet who shows up, every time, and writes? what about the bike rider who gets up, every time, and rides? what if i looked at the kitchen, every night, and washed the dishes? mastery, folks, we're talkin mastery here. and i don't know what mastery at dishwashing looks like, but i'm damn sure gonna find out.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
i put my laundry away single-handedly and without any particular pride in the action. looking down, there was more space on top of the taupe and stained wall-to-wall carpet, and more space on top of my stained green messenger-turned-photo bag. this is where the laundry usually goes. then it goes onto my body. then back onto the floor, but in a 'laundry bag'. somewhere in there, the laundry is switched by an overtired, overbeautiful lady, and folded by our curly-haired daughter on the couch we bought after our entire bike fleet was totaled in a collision.
collision is the word these days.
accident was the word when we were growing up. it was accepted and widely used, like 'indian', 'retarded', 'victim', and 'flesh'-colored crayons that were pinkish-white. it's no longer an accident. it is a collision. it is what it is.
and yesterday, it was a collision. and today, and yesterday, no one cares.
i travel through much of my time and space as an invisible person. few people notice me. i cause little trouble in the grand flow of things. my wife doesn't remember meeting me the first time. i used to be offended by my own anonymity, and then i learned its power. now i enjoy it, and allow it to guide my movements. i pride myself on navigating high school hallways and rush hour traffic with the same invisible flow. no one sees me unless they're aiming for me. proceed accordingly.
i didn't think the driver saw me.
i saw him. i saw his car. i saw the distance between us and between his car and the curb and then his car moved and all of the equations shifted values and the physics changed my state from rolling to airborne and then to stopped. a 72kg mass traveling at 20km/h is stopped by a black, potholed, stationary object known as a street. how much force is exerted on the mass? bonus question: what is the acromio-clavicular joint?
anonymity is one thing. being left in the fetal position in the gutter with a bike tangled on top of me while rush hour traffic bears down on me is quite another. jane stopped her car in the turn lane. barry parked in the driveway was exiting. they pulled me out of the street. they treated my bike nicely. they lifted my heavy backpack. they asked me if i was okay. jane tried to follow the car down the street to which it fled. they both made statements to the cop who showed up an hour later. both were appalled it took this long for a cop to come to the scene of a hit and run involving a cyclist. i told them, 'this is toronto; no one cares about cyclists.'
it was the usual hassle. the only thing worse than it all was the fact that i forgot my phone at home that morning. of course. so i couldn't take pictures of my bent-in shifters/brake levers. i couldn't call 911 straight away. i couldn't get people's numbers efficiently. i couldn't call my lady.
the main point is this: i am anonymous, and that is good, but i am angry that someone would leave me for anonymous dead, because i am no good if dead. i spend my days trying to be good to and for other people. i'm not riding my bike to work because it's fun and i look cool in my high-vis yellow jacket. i'm not working my steady uncertain job because it makes me mad bank and gets me into the VIP lounge. i'm not picking my girls up from school or making their lunches because it helps to pass all the time in my anonymous day. i'm just trying to be good, to others. and then this shit happens. and no one fuckin cares. and then all those other things don't get done, like the job or the lunches for the most important people in the world, my little girls, and that is not okay. my shoulder doesn't work. i can't ride or run. no one has time for any of this. and all because that driver didn't have time to stop.
i'll keep putting away the laundry single-handedly.