Sunday, March 4, 2012

Runnin'

Six months ago, I had the body of a heavy reader- I was three months removed from grad school and thus, had an effective, efficient, and in-shape mind. This mental prowess, while providing me with wit, critical thought, and idealism, did little (read: nothing) for my physical adroitness. My physical self was, regrettably, devoid of such strenuous and consistent practice and was quickly developing more of an amorphous blob shape, due to my relative inability to perform tasks that were not eating, sleeping, studying, and writing, and those that aided me in said activities.

Though high from the achievement that a mere ten percent of Americans reach, I also felt considerable shame and disgust in myself for not being able to run three miles, much less one, without flopping around like a fish out of water and gasping for air. Now, I've always fashioned myself to be a runner, or at least a wannabe runner who fails to see that he's just a wannabe. It's funny though. I'm short, thick, and more quick than fast. I can't imagine that I have the ideal runner's body, but that's never stopped me from still identifying as a runner.

So let me take you on a trip to the past for a bit o' context. I feel like I'm athletic. I played sports from early in my youth through high school. In college, I started to understand what exercise was and why it was important and really began to want to take care of myself physically. After decades of honing coordination and both fine and gross motor skills, I feel like I have developed into someone who can usually pick up a ball/stick/random sporting equipment and throw/catch/shoot/swing/appropriate sporting action it with some sense of confidence and competence. You know the opposite? Like, when you toss a football to someone who moves only their upper appendages out at it, alligator arms the ball in an effort to catch it, and closes their eyes tightly and prays? Then, on the return throw, they lame duck it via throwing mechanics that more resemble a wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man than a previously thought innate motion to throw an object. (Now, I hope to not come across as judgmental of said individuals. Rather, I am making an observation and an attempt at humor)

A couple of examples. You know the type.

However, during my last two years of college I ended up dating a whore whore, which put me in this depressive funk in which I was only able to accomplish one of two things, though they were often times completed simultaneously- eating Entenmann's (delicious) coffee crumb cheese cake and crushing newbs in World of Warcraft. I eventually overcame it via a powerful antidote known as booze and moved to Japan. While at my second job/locale, I made an attempt at being healthy again. I initially lost a bit of weight just from the changes in my daily life (no car, walking everywhere, healthier diet in general). However, due to having literally nothing to do besides work, I began exercising again (namely, running). Once in the morning, once after dinner. Up hills, through town, down hills, happily, sadly, in rain, in sun. At the time, I hit five hilly miles and was pretty damn proud of myself.

It was in Japan that I found my zen in running. It went far beyond the physical satisfaction. I reflected on everything and saw with more clarity. It kept me sane and grounded. It was my everything. When I wasn't running, I would think about it- planning routes, speeds, distances. When I was running, I was thinking about being better. At everything.

This zen would unfortunately be placed on the backburner upon my return to the States. I had my car again. I had pizza and American beer. I found a fine lady and got comfortable. Running fell by the wayside, even more so after I got into grad school. However, in the back of my head, I felt an obnoxious gnawing. I knew I should be taking advantage of the bliss I found while living in Japan. Eventually, I succumbed. Regardless of the facts that I was fatter, out of running shape, older, and no longer able to (easily) rely on my supposed athleticism, I still jumped right into running as if nothing had changed.

My shins were on fire; my lungs, burning; psyche, crushed. I couldn't run. And the more I couldn't run, the more I berated and loathed myself. I thought it was just a phase and that the harder and more regularly I worked, the quicker I'd get back into running shape. It never happened. My zen was turned into a powerful distaste for my body and my once pure pastime. No longer did I feel the endorphin rush after a good run, but rather aches in my legs and a crack in my heart.

After graduation I rededicated myself to becoming healthy and resume running. Upon recommendation from my best friend, Craig, I began taking it slowly. Very slowly. I started walking a mile an evening. After about a month, I increased it to two miles. My body eventually told me when it felt like I should try to run again. I ran a quarter mile and was spent. This may be one of the most poignant, humiliating, and eye-opening experiences of my life. While I was ecstatic that I was attempting to recapture a love once spurned, I couldn't help but feel crushed that I had let myself slide so far. Slow and steady, though. Slow and steady.

A quarter mile became a mile and a mile became two. Running happened in the mornings and was complemented with walking in the evenings. Two miles became four. Competitive juices began flowing; results, evident. Not only did my athleticism and physical well-being return, but also my mental acuity. Though this clarity did I realize that if I can run four miles, I can probably run six. Hell, if I can run six, I bet I can hit eight, too. Eight? Psh, ten here I come.

Six months and forty pounds later, I'm in the best physical and mental shape of my life. Somewhere between 225 and 185, I added running a marathon to my bucket list. How many people can say they've run 26.2 miles? It only feels right. I'm not getting any younger, but I still have youth on my side. I currently have little responsibility and can dedicate the time required to training for and running a marathon. I'm leaving for the Peace Corps in (potentially) six months and who knows what my physical capabilities will be when I'm 31 and fresh out of a developing nation? Now is the time.

When relaying this information to Craig, he was stoked for me and, in typical Craig fashion, he said he'd help me train for it. "But hell," he thinks, "if I'm helping you train to twenty, why don't I just run the rest with you?" I just laughed. Craig has always said that halves (13.1) were as much as he'd ever want to do. He's done a few of them and just couldn't imagine himself finding the effort and time necessary for a marathon. After a few moments, Craig questioned himself and asked, "Wait, if I get that far with you, why wouldn't I just run with you? I also have the time, and if I can do it with you and share the experience, it would make completing it even more meaningful." This was three weeks ago when we ran eleven miles. In the weeks since, we've hit twelve and 15.5 (a personal best for him as well). Tomorrow we do 17.5. April 29th is the date of the Eugene Marathon, and our training is right on pace.

My world has returned to me. I run. I am a runner. I have once again found my zen and nothing else matters- Worries melt. Happiness reigns. I am invincible

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