Running and trying not to die (or trying to live)

I quit running long marathons last year after having discovered Spartan Races. This, plus my love of CrossFit and I quit doing the many 10, 15, 20 mile runs I was always doing. In the nine months I’ve done very little pure exercise, spending most of my time in instructor duties. Easy to start making excuses when such a good example as getting 5 hours sleep keeps me from doing anything. Sleep is a gateway drug to laziness.

Plus most of the runs, which is between 6 and 9 in nine months, were of the short variety. Like 3 miles or so, enough to make me feel less guilty for eating that streusel. This past week, however, I’ve been hitting the gym doing basic olympic lifts, deadlifts, presses, thrusters, etc… plus row machines and jump rope. Last week, on a whim, I ran 10 miles. The last two were not easy, but I finished it without nearly dying.

Today, a week later, I felt like going for another run. 10 miles. It was only 80 degrees outside, but with the cold weather I’ve had the past month, it felt as hot as 95 degrees. The sun was hot. Also, I am no noob. I’ve got over 3,000 miles in around 5 years of running. I’ve run as much as 30 miles at a time. I got pretty intimate with how my body works on a run. Give me a burrito and some coffee and I’m golden!

But while I am not a noob, I can be an idiot. Today is an example. For the past few days I’ve been trying to cut out the unhealthy carbs around me. Today I had mostly protein and some fat. I’ve done the 30 day paleo thing and was training at the time. I knew that it was torture to run while transitioning from sugar fuel to fat fuel. But dumber still is that I had only had 3 cups of coffee at 0500. It was now 1500 and I drank about 8 ounces of water, telling myself that it was good enough. It wasn’t.

I took off with high spirits. I felt great. Legs, a little sore from lifting, were doing fine. I took a turn out into the wide open area of the post and ran.

my route. the little red makrs are times that I stopped.
my route. the little red makrs are times that I stopped.

I should’ve known it was trouble at mile 3 when my lips were dry. But I ignored it and kept going. I was almost to the halfway point. I got this.

Mile 4 I was sweating like crazy. It was only 80 degrees. I was going a 9:15 pace, not too fast at all. My hamstrings were not doing well. They were tight and not springy. I got this.

Mile 5 I quit sweating. Uh oh. That’s a bad sign. Oh well, I’m half way and I can turn around and head back. Only 5 miles. I got this.

Mile 6 I stopped in a sliver of shade near one of the old ammunition bunkers and pressed myself against the cool concrete to let my body heat cool down. I felt nauseous. That’s not a good sign. I checked off in my head the warning signs for heat related injuries. My shirt was drying out from lack of sweat. My hamstrings, calves, and quads were all locking up. Only 4 miles left. I got this.

After mile 5 I had started to stop every mile or half mile for a few minutes to stretch. Now it was getting more often. But instead of looking at the danger of the situation, I was in the middle of nowhere and would not be easily found if I dropped, I looked at the challenge of it. I hadn’t gotten a good challenge like this since marathons and Spartan races.

So here is where my mind goes during a run. There is always the part that tries to negotiate with myself, run to that intersection… good job. now go to the next one. But I’m also thinking other things, finding meaning in things.

I’ve had my ups and downs, as has everyone, I am not special in this. But while running I noted that I will often run straight out for a long distance, thereby forcing me to run a long distance. There are many runs when I felt like running 6 miles, but ran 7 miles out, forcing me to come back 7 for 14 total miles. I wondered if this fit other parts of my life. It did. I up and moved to Oregon because I wanted to be in the PNW. I up and joined the National Guard after a 10 year break from the Marine Corps for a six year enlistment. In therapy sessions I would go into the office and tell my therapist to lets not beat around the bush and jump into the jungle of emotions and work our way out. In relationships that are monogamous for me, that are testing out whether we can be a lasting relationship, I will go all in. If I am with someone I know of only one way to be and that is fully with them. I may have had my difficulties in past relationships, but this was my goal and I like to think that I’ve matured in this respect.

I am pondering some important choices right now. As I am running I cannot help but think of Søren Kierkegaardand his leap of/to faith. It is the act of doing, not thinking, where faith lives. This is true of many things, I find, love being one of them. If one is to take the dictum of the warrior class, to be victorious, there is the requirement of daring. William Hutchinson Murray1 says:

”Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

There is a time to play it safe, but I contend that people play it safe far too often. How many times have I taken an easy running route that offered me a chance to stop every mile2. It is easy, far to easy, to talk myself out of running another mile by using a litany of excuses that make sense (I need the rest, I’ve got more work to do, True Blood comes on in fifteen minutes, etc..). But those runs don’t push me outside of my safety. And because of this I do not grow.

Growth is only found during struggle.

Here I was, now running at mile 6, and I was seeing how even though this was painful, it was great training. It was only while pushing myself far out into the high desert that I was forcing myself to go beyond my fears or excuses.

Mile 7 and I was starting to see double. Vision was blurry. This wasn’t a good sign. I began to contemplate calling a friend to come get me. I looked up and could see the water tower near the barracks just under 3 miles away. Easy. I got this.

Mile 8 and I had one eye closed. I looked to my left and wondered why a Blackhawk helicopter was flying low and why I couldn’t hear it and where did it come from. I opened my other eye and saw that it was merely a dragonfly flying alongside me. This isn’t a good sign either. But I’ve got 2 miles to go. I’ve got this.

I thought of some books that I’ve been reading as of late, especially Moore’s King Warrior Magician Lover as well as his The Warrior Within, as well as some Jung straight from the source. But a concept that came to mind is the idea of the shadow poles of these. The warrior was the mature version of the hero. The hero just goes after the dragon come hell or high-water. Once the person matures, accepting a level of humility (hubris against the gods, self mortality, etc) and also the ability to ask for help, they transition from the hero to the warrior.

I looked up again at my destination. I had less than 2 miles to go. Should I phone a friend to come get me? I felt that it would be embarrassing to call someone while I was so close to the end. I recalled the list of warning signs that I was about to drop. A sane person would have stopped and phoned. But I’m not sane.

Here is one of my weaknesses. How does one know when it is truly too much? I look around me and see the extremes, of people who are unwilling/unable to fight for anything, passively taking whatever is placed before them (victims everywhere) and people that cannot ever, ever, ask for assistance and will go down in flames before they do so. I looked at my past and saw that my tendency is to handle my own shit, to not ask for assistance. But I could recall times when I have done so. I was finding it much easier, even desirable, to be vulnerable in relationships, in training people, and to build on the strength that comes from that.

A part of me told me that this moment was akin to going down in flames. To call. Another part of me, the part that was the stubborn one that got me through 3,000 miles of running, said that it could remember me being much worse than this and to suck it up buttercup.

I kept going. I stopped more and more. I would run two telephone poles and walk one. I stopped to admire a baby rattlesnake on the road. I kept going. My legs were knots. I had no salt coming out of me. I had stopped sweating. I was seeing double. But my feet kept going and the end got closer and closer.

After 10 miles of running, with an embarrassingly slow time but one which I am proud of (I earned that shit) I walked straight into the chow hall and gorged myself on a large plate of cold watermelon. That was the best tasting thing ever.

I wonder about my future. Many times I’ve had opportunities to play it safe, to take an easy way, to plan for retirement. To be honest, I have no interest in a retirement. I don’t want to live a life of hobbies. I wish to use myself up completely until there is nothing much left at the end. This includes not only jobs, but also people. Some might say that I am careless with my heart. Sure. But looking back on the years, they are the ones I remember most. Such wonderful people with whom we briefly shared some time in both of our lives. Though some were short, they were all cherished.

What is in the future? I do not know. But my tendency is to push myself out there to see how far I can truly run. And if I die on the side of the road? Better there than quietly, desperately, with bitter regret after years of playing it safe.

  1. This quote is attributed to Goethe, but this website shows the error in this.
  2. I have also used these mile long tracks to train my resolve, willing myself to a 16 mile run. By getting used to addressing the voice of quitting every mile and how to ignore it and keep running has been as valuable in training for marathons as the long distance itself.

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