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In the Darkness

Gonzo Runner

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For the second time in as many days I was climbing Cardiac Hill at the worst possible time of day. The sun had reached sufficient height in the summer sky to obliterate every shady refuge on the city streets but hadn’t yet been up long enough to burn away the morning humidity. And for the second day in a row I had been too exhausted to drag my tired ass and the useless meat sticks hanging from it down to the river nice and early like I was supposed to. At the top of the hill is a CVS with automatic doors which are triggered every time someone moves past on the sidewalk in what seems like an enormous waste of energy. As I shuffled by them they swung open and I was hit with a gloriously refreshing blast of overly conditioned air, so cold against my baking skin I shivered. 

Why was I doing this? I had 8 more miles of this death march to go and it was only going to get hotter and my legs were only going to get heavier. Did God not grant divine inspiration to Willis Carrier so that we wouldn’t have to suffer the fires of damnation here on earth? Who the hell was I to forsake this blessing? I should have turned around at that moment in front of the CVS. Instead I shuffled onward, though unsure of why.

I wasn’t wondering why I run, I long ago understood and made peace with the demons that chase me out the door each day. But this training cycle had been a disaster thus far. I hadn’t hit a workout in weeks, my easy runs were getting slower, and I felt broken down instead of built up. I was struggling with why I push myself to, well, struggle.Yes yes I know, I’m running a big marathon coming up and I need to train so I can run it in the nice round number of my choice. But time is relative. In fact, the more you are moving, the slower time passes. I’m not kidding, it’s physics, look it up. So why does the time I run this race matter? You may say “ah, aren’t you trying to qualify for Boston?” And I may well run my qualifying time and get into the race. So what? I’m not going to win, or set a record, or further human achievement in any measurable way. You may say something about joining the annals of our sport’s most prestigious and storied event. But that’s a bit of bullshit, since qualifying standards and rules have changed so many times over the years. In decades past I could have qualified with times I’ve already run, and in others I wouldn’t be close even if I hit my goal this year. There’s that relativity thing again.

What about the thrill of competition? I thought about this as I dodged the already over-served hipsters wobbling on the sidewalks waiting for their Sunday brunch tables and $36 avocado toast. Sure I like to compete, but I’m not competitive. My finishing place is going to include a comma, without a doubt. I will be beat by people who trained less and brunched more. I will be beat by people older than me. I will be beat by men and women and children. I will not win any prizes or money, and in fact this endeavor will likely cost me quite a bit of it. Perhaps it’s competing with myself that matters. Bettering what I did the last time out. Squeezing every ounce of potential from the hand of genetic material I was dealt. Being the best possible version of myself. But, if my absolute best is still so far from good, why is it worth the hard work and the pain and suffering? Would it not make me feel worse to have my inadequacies and deficiencies laid so bare for all to see? And I don’t know how valuable it is to invest so much energy to be the best I can be at something which I’m not good at anyway. Abraham Lincoln supposedly loved animals. I don’t think history will lament his unrealized potential in veterinary medicine. Wouldn’t I be doing more for myself or my family or community if I put these hours of training to some other use? 

I ran on, envious of the brunch crowd and the people lounging in the park under the shade of giant elms and kids eating popsicles way too early in the morning. I refilled my water bottle while giving the popsicle buying parents some serious judgmental side eye for setting their kid off on the path to diabetes. Is that it? I mean, I know I could get most of the health benefits of running with some easy 6 milers, but did I think I’d get something extra from doing 800s until I puke? Would I have, like, negative diabetes or something? Nevermind, the heat must be getting to me, that’s just fucking stupid.

As I wound through the park I ran over a cracked section of pavement that covered the old painted Peachtree Road Race finish line, which had dug its way out of its asphalt grave and begun to show itself again. This conjured images of the numerous races I’ve run on these paths, and I sifted through the memories for a reason why I keep running these damn things. I fondly recalled the high from setting PRs, the sense of accomplishment from completing my first race at a given distance. But I also remembered the weeks and months of skipping social events, not having a life, the aches and pains and constant exhaustion. But I felt close with this one, so I kept digging. I thought of the marathon, of that deep dark place where you’ve used up everything you have and yet still have to find something to burn. Surely there was a higher plane of consciousness attained through this effort that justified the pain. Yes I thought, recalling my marathon experiences, there is something you learn about yourself, some enlightenment obtained through this endeavor. But, would you not have the same experience regardless of how much you train? Couldn’t I prepare with a “just finish” training plan doing a bunch of slow lazy running and still see the writing on the wall? Hell, people less prepared probably suffer more on race day, wouldn’t they therefore reach a higher still level of awareness? And you know what, I’m pretty sure Timothy Leary peddled consciousness expansion for a lot less than I’m putting out for this marathon thing.  
 
I was running out of ideas as I ran out of the park and back up Peachtree Street. I passed the churches filling and emptying with worshipers. Perhaps this was the why? I grew up in an old-school fire and brimstone Catholic family, maybe I push myself through pain and exhaustion to satisfy some deeply ingrained Judeo-Christian belief that there will be salvation through suffering. Maybe ladder intervals were my attempt at self-flagellation. Mile repeats were my penance for, well, everything. Maybe I have such deep seated guilt and self loathing I need to punish myself every single day to feel worthy of even my morning coffee. This, I didn’t have an immediate rebuttal for. Not that I necessarily believe the path to eternal salvation is Yasso 800s, but I couldn’t shake the idea that I am punishing myself for something. Am I really that fragile, that broken? 

I turned down my street and climbed the last hill before home and I felt more lost than when I had started. But, I was still running. And Monday, I got out and ran again. And Tuesday, I struggled to not quite complete yet another interval workout. But I tried. I still didn’t know why, but I did. I’m sitting here now on my off day with a cocktail still trying to figure it out. The taste of the cheese and crackers and the whiskey I’m washing it down with take me back a few years. For a while, this was my daily routine. Tonight, I’m having 3 because it was a hairy eyed bitch of a day and then I’m going to bed. Back then, I wouldn’t really count. Or go to bed, for that matter. I’d start when I got home and finish when I passed out on the couch, The Wife usually waking me up in the middle of the night and dragging me to bed. 

Maybe it’s all of these things. Maybe it matters to train and push because I can, and I very nearly got to a point I couldn’t. Maybe it matters that I get to Boston because of how far it will mean I’ve come. Maybe I’m atoning for years of being a lousy husband and son and friend, if a good patron of the distilled arts. Maybe the uncertainty and suffering and exhaustion is just to keep me too tired to tilt the bottle enough to do any real damage. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know. We love how running is so often a metaphor for life, but rarely in this vein. The uncertainty and lack of purpose and wondering what the hell the point is and whether or not any of this is worth it or making any difference at all and wondering why you shouldn’t just give up. The ugly side of it all. What I do know is that at this point, the pain provides some comfort in its familiarity; it’s become part of life’s rhythm. And as long as I stay with it, there’s an illusion of control. I’m making this choice. I’m inflicting this pain, I know why it hurts, and I decide when it ends. Maybe it doesn’t make a bit of difference anywhere outside my own head. But maybe I need that. Or maybe I just need to spend time in the dark places so I appreciate the lighter ones. Tempo run Thursday. Haven’t been able to finish one strong in weeks. But scared shitless not to try.
 

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I'm bookmarking this one. 

There is a lot you can learn about yourself (and life?) in getting uncomfortable. Much of our 21st century American lives are comfortable. We have the luxury of stopping whenever we damn well feel like it because it is not necessary for survival. Billy Yang (amazing storyteller/filmmaker) has a great quote. It refers to 100 milers, but I think it is apropos to the marathonThe 100 can be a metaphor for what pushes you outside your comfort zone. "Discomfort" doesn't have to be for everyone. And it's not that we pursue it per se. It's just where potential for self-discovery and growth lies. It's opportunity disguised as pain. 

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I've been thinking a lot about the "Why" lately too. It does seem silly and selfish and pointless sometimes. And yet it is the focus of my life. OK, one of the focuses. But it is one thing I control. No one is telling me how much to run or when and where. It's my choice. And that makes the accomplishment more special. And it does feel good sometimes.

Great post.

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Wow, where to begin... For starters, and before I get too deep, it's hot as fucking ballz out there right now. From what you all have been saying, I'm lucky as hell to be in Colorado right now. Running in that hot, sweaty, nastiness is some next level shit and will certainly take it out of you. If you're having a bad training cycle, for reasons other than the weather, that makes it even worse.

I think we've all thought about the "Why" at some point - I certainly have.  I'm sure we all have different, combined reasons for running, but we all do share some of the same similarities. For me, running is my thing. It's the one thing that I'm good at and that people know about me. I can't write or sing for shit, I'm an OK cook, and I'm too lazy to take the time to make or build anything cool, but dammit I can run. Do I win or set any records? Hell no, unless there's like 10 people in the race. Why the fuck do I want to climb Denali next year? What the hell will it mean to anyone else? Probably nothing. Sometimes I think I've hit my mid-life crisis, or just gone bat-shit crazy, but I'm doing it for some reason (still figuring that out).

Do we really need a reason? Just the fact that you are training for Boston speaks volumes, in my opinion. At least you are training for something. It must mean something to you if you want to do it. Running must mean something to you if you keep doing it and have done it for so long. Does it have to be a profound reason? I don't think so. Maybe running in that shit is an accomplishment and challenge in its own. It takes a lot of grit and determination to finish a long run (or any run) in weather like that. You are pushing yourself - pushing yourself to another goal. Is it a little bit stoopid? Hell yes! Those hard, painful, agonizing runs only make you stronger and appreciate the good ones when they come along. I think they make the good ones that much more blissful. I think you would need to question yourself if you ran in that and it didn't bring up some big emotions. Running is obviously good for the body, mind, and soul - I think a lot of people wouldn't do it if it wasn't. Look how much you thought about while you were running? I do sometimes have runs like that but not very often. I usually just zone out or just start complaining to myself if it gets hard. 

I don't know if any of this hits in the right places but hopefully it makes some sense. Give yourself a break. Remember that fall is around the corner which will bring better running conditions. If you're still feeling this way when the weather gets better, maybe you need a break? (BTW, I hate it when people say that, but I guess it's always something that should be ruled out.)

You rock and I love reading your stuff, no matter how dark it gets. Hang in there dude. Get that BQ!

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I thought everyone here ran so we'd have something to post about.

I run, therefore I bloop.

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This is an amazing post. I need to save it somewhere.

And my preparation for my Nov. marathon is going about the same. A lot of failed or incomplete tempos and intervals. Heck, even some failed easy runs.

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3 hours ago, Carissa Liebowitz said:

I'm bookmarking this one. 

There is a lot you can learn about yourself (and life?) in getting uncomfortable. Much of our 21st century American lives are comfortable. We have the luxury of stopping whenever we damn well feel like it because it is not necessary for survival. Billy Yang (amazing storyteller/filmmaker) has a great quote. It refers to 100 milers, but I think it is apropos to the marathonThe 100 can be a metaphor for what pushes you outside your comfort zone. "Discomfort" doesn't have to be for everyone. And it's not that we pursue it per se. It's just where potential for self-discovery and growth lies. It's opportunity disguised as pain. 

Modern life is unnaturally comfortable. #firstworldproblems are at play here for sure.

I think this is the opportunity in the pain. We're only a few short generations from when we had to grow or kill our food with our bare hands, and now we complain about the air conditioning making the living room too cold in July. That toughness is still in our DNA, and I think by accessing it through the self inflicted pain, we can remind ourselves how much more we can endure and accomplish, and how good we really have it.

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1 hour ago, NCAthlete said:

Wow, where to begin... For starters, and before I get too deep, it's hot as fucking ballz out there right now. From what you all have been saying, I'm lucky as hell to be in Colorado right now. Running in that hot, sweaty, nastiness is some next level shit and will certainly take it out of you. If you're having a bad training cycle, for reasons other than the weather, that makes it even worse.

I think we've all thought about the "Why" at some point - I certainly have.  I'm sure we all have different, combined reasons for running, but we all do share some of the same similarities. For me, running is my thing. It's the one thing that I'm good at and that people know about me. I can't write or sing for shit, I'm an OK cook, and I'm too lazy to take the time to make or build anything cool, but dammit I can run. Do I win or set any records? Hell no, unless there's like 10 people in the race. Why the fuck do I want to climb Denali next year? What the hell will it mean to anyone else? Probably nothing. Sometimes I think I've hit my mid-life crisis, or just gone bat-shit crazy, but I'm doing it for some reason (still figuring that out).

Do we really need a reason? Just the fact that you are training for Boston speaks volumes, in my opinion. At least you are training for something. It must mean something to you if you want to do it. Running must mean something to you if you keep doing it and have done it for so long. Does it have to be a profound reason? I don't think so. Maybe running in that shit is an accomplishment and challenge in its own. It takes a lot of grit and determination to finish a long run (or any run) in weather like that. You are pushing yourself - pushing yourself to another goal. Is it a little bit stoopid? Hell yes! Those hard, painful, agonizing runs only make you stronger and appreciate the good ones when they come along. I think they make the good ones that much more blissful. I think you would need to question yourself if you ran in that and it didn't bring up some big emotions. Running is obviously good for the body, mind, and soul - I think a lot of people wouldn't do it if it wasn't. Look how much you thought about while you were running? I do sometimes have runs like that but not very often. I usually just zone out or just start complaining to myself if it gets hard. 

I don't know if any of this hits in the right places but hopefully it makes some sense. Give yourself a break. Remember that fall is around the corner which will bring better running conditions. If you're still feeling this way when the weather gets better, maybe you need a break? (BTW, I hate it when people say that, but I guess it's always something that should be ruled out.)

You rock and I love reading your stuff, no matter how dark it gets. Hang in there dude. Get that BQ!

I keep thinking I'm too young for a mid-life crisis, but sometimes that's exactly how it feels. It always helps to know we're not alone in these doubts and questions. Which sounds like I'm saying "hey - glad you feel like crap sometimes too!", but it's not. Makes me think of a great Bowie lyric:

You're watching yourself, but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care
Oh no, love, you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone

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1 hour ago, mattw said:

I thought everyone here ran so we'd have something to post about.

I run, therefore I bloop.

Ah, the Cartesian interpretation of the Loop. Profound indeed. 

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Great post and great comments too. 

I'm not very good at profound comments, but I am laughing at the $36 avocado toast!

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I've been having a lot of these thoughts too and I can't even blame it on the weather!

Although negative diabetes never crossed my mind, Lol 

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Laz makes good points when he talks about how most people would be better off with a little more discomfort in their lives. Knowing real physical pain helps me curb my bitching when life isn't always perfect.

Thanks.

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I thought we ran so we could eat more ice cream without getting fat, but I suppose all that other stuff makes sense too.  

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My running friends have declared that their time for marathoning is past. I can't accept that - even though I'm the oldest in the group. I guess training is my way of giving the middle finger to time. It's one small thing I have a little bit of control over (although an injury can wipe out that illusion of control pretty fast). I've given up trying to understand my compulsion to do this thing. In the end, it's just another mystery.

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Beautifully written as usual and really spoke to me. I'm going through a lot of the same stuff: not enjoying the work, a lot of days of subpar results, feeling beaten down rather than built up, having trouble as I slog through the muggy morning miles - always without enough sleep - in coming up with a compelling reason why I'm doing this.

Sure, I believe in the value of getting out of your comfort zone and testing yourself, driving yourself to be the best you can be. But after years and years of that on the pavement and trails, in pusuit of slight decreases in a set of arbitrary numbers, at a very significant opportunity cost (and monetary cost)... Well... There are other ways.

Maybe my attitude will change with the weather. The next few days look great, just in time to see about pushing the tempo for a long run, and soon come the sweetest running weeks of the year.

And maybe my attitude will change with a new pair of kicks from my new favorite shoe company.

Or maybe not. Either way, after MCM there will be a few weeks of rest and reflection. Probably haul the camera out and try something different for a while. And that could very well launch me with renewed vigor into a new running cycle with a new goal.

Or maybe not. It does not feel inevitable, or even close, as it once did.

At least I'll have great shoes.

Go find your happy place, Gonzo. May it reveal itself soon.

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1 hour ago, CompulsiveRunner said:

My running friends have declared that their time for marathoning is past. I can't accept that - even though I'm the oldest in the group. I guess training is my way of giving the middle finger to time. It's one small thing I have a little bit of control over (although an injury can wipe out that illusion of control pretty fast). I've given up trying to understand my compulsion to do this thing. In the end, it's just another mystery.

"...giving the middle finger to time." Love this. 

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32 minutes ago, J Zee said:

Beautifully written as usual and really spoke to me. I'm going through a lot of the same stuff: not enjoying the work, a lot of days of subpar results, feeling beaten down rather than built up, having trouble as I slog through the muggy morning miles - always without enough sleep - in coming up with a compelling reason why I'm doing this.

Sure, I believe in the value of getting out of your comfort zone and testing yourself, driving yourself to be the best you can be. But after years and years of that on the pavement and trails, in pusuit of slight decreases in a set of arbitrary numbers, at a very significant opportunity cost (and monetary cost)... Well... There are other ways.

Maybe my attitude will change with the weather. The next few days look great, just in time to see about pushing the tempo for a long run, and soon come the sweetest running weeks of the year.

And maybe my attitude will change with a new pair of kicks from my new favorite shoe company.

Or maybe not. Either way, after MCM there will be a few weeks of rest and reflection. Probably haul the camera out and try something different for a while. And that could very well launch me with renewed vigor into a new running cycle with a new goal.

Or maybe not. It does not feel inevitable, or even close, as it once did.

At least I'll have great shoes.

Go find your happy place, Gonzo. May it reveal itself soon.

It's interesting so many of us no longer feel the "inevitability" of it anymore.  Motivation ebbs and flows sure, but this just seems different. Maybe we need to JFR for a while, or find a new outlet. 

Hope the change of pace does you some good too. Sounds like a lot of us could use a refresh.

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9 minutes ago, Gonzo Runner said:

It's interesting so many of us no longer feel the "inevitability" of it anymore.  Motivation ebbs and flows sure, but this just seems different. Maybe we need to JFR for a while, or find a new outlet. 

Hope the change of pace does you some good too. Sounds like a lot of us could use a refresh.

It's possible that all of this is because August has been going on for about 47 years and counting.

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A few things:

1) It would be amazing to do hill repeats up Cardiac Hill and then take a lap around the aisles of CVS before heading back down.

2) I'm thinking you were so mad at those popsicle buying parents because you wanted to grab one from one of those kids because you were so f'n hot!

3) KRG and I had avocado toast in NYC when we met AB.  Being a hipster and a Loopster are not completely different circles.

4) When things are not going as you'd like and the joy is being sucked out of you as fast as all of the fluid in your body I'd say it's time to switch things up. Run watchless, run/walk the AT as training one day, do an intense Crossfit workout. If training isn't fun or presenting your mind/body with an interesting and or thought provoking workout then why keep at it. Shake things up.

 

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51 minutes ago, ocrunnergirl said:

A few things:

1) It would be amazing to do hill repeats up Cardiac Hill and then take a lap around the aisles of CVS before heading back down.

2) I'm thinking you were so mad at those popsicle buying parents because you wanted to grab one from one of those kids because you were so f'n hot!

3) KRG and I had avocado toast in NYC when we met AB.  Being a hipster and a Loopster are not completely different circles.

4) When things are not going as you'd like and the joy is being sucked out of you as fast as all of the fluid in your body I'd say it's time to switch things up. Run watchless, run/walk the AT as training one day, do an intense Crossfit workout. If training isn't fun or presenting your mind/body with an interesting and or thought provoking workout then why keep at it. Shake things up.

 

Well, KRG DOES live in Brooklyn, so...😉 

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On 9/7/2018 at 12:01 PM, ocrunnergirl said:

1) It would be amazing to do hill repeats up Cardiac Hill and then take a lap around the aisles of CVS before heading back down.

this is sheer brilliance.. 

reasons, who needs reasons. One of the reasons I used to have is that running is very precisely measurable, and hard work gets results, unlike every other sphere of human effort: where hard work usually just gets you hard work and has to be its own reward. Nowadays that don't work anymore, slowing down faster than I can train harder.. 

For me it's partly the terror of missing a workout (good point you make here, it really is a terror) and partly there is still joy to be had from running.. slow and hard as it may be. 

Gaudeamus hodie ! (let us be joyful) 

not to be confused with gaudeamus igitur, that beer-drinking song.. here's a tankard.. 

691px-Gaudeamus_Igelkur.jpg

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