I remember the day well. My normal route at the time took me along the bike path for a bit then out to the water before turning back past the kid’s amusement park along the Keansburg boardwalk and finally wound its way through the meth soaked part of town on the way home. On this day though, I was stretching it out. I was taking a few extra turns through the neighborhood to get an extra mile in and make it my first longest run ever.
To this point my running was a consistent 3 mile loop in cotton sweats and the socks and undershirt I wore to work. My last cigarette was by necessity the one on the drive home from the train station lest The Wife find out I still smoked, so my lungs were nice and fresh from their 12 minute break each and every time I laced up and headed out the door. But if you’ve ever smelled Raritan Bay or a leaky basement drug lab on a hot summer night, my Camels really couldn’t have made things any worse.
I remember I planned it for a weekend because I was expecting to be wiped out from the extra effort. 4 miles may as well have been 40, and immediately upon deviating from the normal route my body began its protest. Knees burned, lungs felt like they were breathing gasoline, teeth tingled. But I survived and at the end of it I looked down at my iPod with the Nike Plus foot pod add-in and saw I had done 4.08 miles. I’d gone a full third longer than I’d ever done before. And I immediately wanted to go further. I felt like I’d just learned a new language and been rewarded with a first class ticket to that tongue’s native land. I thought about signing up for a race and maybe entering the NYC Marathon lottery and seeing if there was a cross country league for adult alcoholic chain smokers.
I’ve been thinking about this run lately because there’s a new 4 mile loop I’ve been running, and one day I happened to end it on 4.08 miles. As I panted and wheezed from a distance that was not that long ago just a pre-workout warm up I thought about how far I’d come. This distance once made me feel like I had all the potential in the world. Now it reminded me of the fitness and abilities I once had. I had quit smoking long ago but was still breathing just as hard. I had plenty of time to think about this as I stood in the prickly shrubbery to maintain the necessary six feet of social distance while waiting for the dipshits walking their
rat dog to casually stroll past on the sidewalk. It dawned on me that the original longest run ever had happened during the similarly apocalyptic Great Recession, and I was then too figuring out how to live with a new human (Wife then, Son now) and wondering about the permanence of my employment. And all of this got me thinking.
What has really changed? All the years of 60 hour and 60 mile weeks, learning how to feed this new person in my home, speedwork and coupon clipping and long runs and office politics and seemingly endless fucking planks had gotten me where, exactly? I live in fewer square feet and still feel in over my head domestically and worry about my job and still might puke after 4 miles and HOW MANY GODDAMNED KALE SALADS DOES IT TAKE TO GET RID OF LOVE HANDLES?!? How have I come so far and gone nowhere?
Then I remember the highs. Crossing the line in Chicago. The first time I did a 16 x 400 workout and didn’t have to stop. Getting into NYC. Running in a lead pack for the first time (yeah fine it was a dinky 5k in Bumblefuck, GA - back off Jack). Writing my best man toast for my brother’s wedding while on a 10 miler the morning of. Maybe none of it matters and we’re all just going to end up back where we started. Who knows. Futile as it may be though, there’s at least something in the effort, even if it's only a dream.
I'm going back to the ones that I know,
With whom I can be what I want to be.
Just one week for the feeling to go
And with you there to help me
Then it probably will.
- - from With You There to Help Me, Jethro Tull