Sunday, February 26, 2012


"Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."  Christopher Hitchens

I've talked a lot about how my weekend runs build armor to shield me from the minefield of the coming week and also talked endlessly about how I gain a sense of serenity that I find no place else. What I haven't talked about is how my mid-week runs are absolutely fucking horrible. I dread them, I struggle through 3 and 4 mile runs, count down the miles and minutes until I can go home, and hate myself for doing so. While I was throwing down a massive 4 mile run this morning I started to think about why this has been happening to me in the last few months. I came up with a few theories, none of which I'm completely convinced of.

 Theory 1: Ever since I started taking care of the tangle of misdirected wiring in my head I've been told that my threshold for feeling any sort of emotion that matters is far higher than most. It takes a far greater stimulus for to engage me. It explains why Starkweather sounded the way we did; 15 to 30 minute long songs that swung wildly between beauty and dissonance, explains why I will not be satisfied running until I can run the Massanutten 100 Ultramarathon in Virginia, and it's certainly why my relationships have always burned too brightly to be sustainable. The daily activities and pleasures that make most people feel happy, sad, content, etc., make me feel nothing. The person that I go to see for one hour every week has been trying to convince me for years that there is a middle ground that doesn't involve wickedly manic episodes or glacial depressions, a life that can be satisfying and offer a level of contentment that has so far escaped me. I frustrate her. I would rather be the wax winged Icarus falling into the sea than to feel nothing at all. So maybe these weekday runs, with their monotonous and empty miles, aren't engaging enough to bump the meter enough to register as anything more than a chore for me. Maybe they don't allow enough time for me to burrow into the squalor of my mind and clean house for the coming week. Anyway, this seems the most reasonable of my explanations, probably because it's the most complicated.

 Theory 2: I have an unusual running schedule: 2-3 runs of no more than 5 miles each during the week and a run of 18-26 miles over the weekend. It has allowed me to so far remain injury free and worked well with my newly busy work schedule. Maybe I'm not banking enough overall miles and that's why I feel completely burned out for the week? It doesn't feel like that's the case physically. By Tuesday my legs may be a little bit stiff but I'm certainly not feeling hobbled or injured. That doesn't explain why these runs, which should be a breeze, are so fucking taxing. Maybe less weekend miles and more weekday miles are in order? That will be a tough one to swallow because once I ran 18 I wanted to run 20. When I ran 20 I wanted 22. When I ran 22 I wanted 26, and now that I've run 26 I want 31 (see theory number 1). I'll need to convince myself that it's the act of running, not the physical and emotional punishment that builds my defenses. Common sense? Yes. Easy for someone like me to accept? No.

 Theory 3: It seems to take me a pretty long time to warm up and get my legs moving. Maybe the short miles during the week never get me to the point where I feel primed and ready to go.

 Theory 4: Some fucked up amalgamation of theories 1 through 3.

 So what am I left with this Sunday morning at 9:45? One short run, some food shopping, and hours and hours of day that feel more like a minefield than a respite. I feel like I accomplished nothing and want to spend this beautifully sunny day laying in bed watching TV and reading the book 46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis On The Appalachian Trail. It's a book written by Davis's husband documenting her record setting 46 day thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. So yes, rather than doing I'll be laying in bed reading about someone else doing. Blah Blah Blah.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” Franz Kafka

I ran my first marathon yesterday. No timing chip, no free T-shirt, no bands, fuck, not even a start or finish line. I hadn't planned on running more than 15 miles, but as has been happening recently, I made a calculation as to how many miles would give me the peace and strength to face the week ahead of me and that's how far I ran. I mentioned before that it feels like I'm building armor when I'm doing those runs, that every mile cinches tight the Kevlar so that large problems become small ones, and small ones disappear into the ether. This was also the first run in a long time that taught me something about running itself; about planning, common sense (or lack thereof), and how the kindness of strangers can keep a hard run from becoming a death march.

So here's what I learned:

Though I get teased for being a meticulous over-planning freak, when embarking on a 26 mile run one should make sure to have enough food and water to last the full 26 miles. Common sense? You would think so.

At a certain point running hurts no more than walking; it just requires slightly more effort.

It's not wise to leave the car with no ID/Credit Card/$20 bill.

Even after 8 hours GU Chocolate Outrage tastes like heaven.

Throwing up in ones mouth at mile 3 is no reason to quit.

Eating a Turkey, Salami, and Swiss Cheese sandwich, Peppermint Patties, and Chocolate Milk does not constitute a spectacular pre run breakfast. See Above.

Common sense is a double edged sword. Running at all, let alone running longer distances, defies logic. Running them while lightheaded from dehydration and a lack of calories defies logic. At the same time, it's this perhaps misplaced determination that allows me to laugh at myself when thinking back at how I should have called it quits at mile 14 and also makes the crap that I have to deal with outside of the woods seem inconsequential. Failed friendships? Fuck it. Barely living above the poverty line? Fuck it. A nightmare factory for a brain? Fuck it. By the time I get back into my car what matters remains standing, what doesn't matter, does not.

The greatest lesson that I learned on my ill conceived journey is about the kindness of strangers. For the first 4-5 hours I saw not one person on the trail. At about mile 14 I started to worry about running out of fluids and also started rationing my Gu's. When I got within a mile of the turning point at Bull's Bridge in Kent, Connecticut, I came upon 3 hikers playing hooky from work. I asked them if they knew of a place for me to grab some water and one of them was kind enough to just empty her Camelbak into my hydration pack and also share some beef jerky with me. Having the water put my mind at ease, but that simple act reminded me that humans aren't always the plague that I make them out to be. It was a huge boost. Miles 17-18 put me back into panic mode. I was lightheaded and dizzy on a steep one mile climb, trying my best to squeeze out whatever Chocolate Outrage I may have missed from my used gel packets, and wondering if I would be able to turn things round. I always know that when a run starts to go sideways on me mentally that I'll be able to turn things around. This was the first time that the wheels were coming off physically and it completely freaked me out. Fast forward to about mile 20. I'm at the Wiley Shelter somewhere in CT desperately trying to get some water to come out of the pump near the lean-to when 2 trail runners come up behind me, ask what I'm doing, where I'd been running, etc, and again my hydration pack gets topped off!!! Once again, the act, the water, the cheering on gave me enough of a boost to keep shuffling along. They also told me that they'd check on me when they were heading back to their car and would give me whatever water and food I needed. I saw them almost 2 hours later, 2 miles from my car and in the running portion of my run/walk/shuffle routine and these people, these complete fucking strangers, cheered me on like I was winning the NYC Marathon. They offered up their water, their Clif Bars, and told me what an amazing accomplishment it was to run 26.2 miles on the gnarly Appalachian Trail. Though they'll never read this, Thank You.

I'd hoped to write something much more profound than what I've written so far, something to equal the beauty of the AT, something that captures the tiny slivers of life that I gain back every time I'm out there, but it's moments like this that language fails me.

"I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change.... I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back." Erica Jong

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


"When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk." Phillipe Petit

Saturday, February 4, 2012


"You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know." Rene Daumal

It's difficult to understand at first; the why, the how, the implied senselessness of it all. It at first seems like a silly luxury for those that have too much free time, too few desires to compete in life outside of the stillness of the forest; the money, the shiny toys and trinkets, and a status that in reality is an illusion. But there is an order to things when I'm alone out there. It is a place where I seem to have the most control of my life. I run and run, and at some point there is no turning back. There is no "Did Not Finish", no quitting because of pain or lack of desire. It is this simple: Run in and then run out. There are variables to contend with; my ever aching knees, the nightmare factory in my head that breaks my rhythm, sometimes for hours, the stillness that is both a blessing and a curse. I have been taught some of the greatest lessons of my life on those weekend runs.

Last weekends twenty mile run wasn't about the physical challenge. It was about the sin of omission, about the shattering of something so fragile to the touch, and the only way that I could deal with it in the coming weeks was to build armor, to create scar tissue where none had existed, to provide the soul, whatever that may be, with a store of strength and will that so far has kept me from turning the saw blades upon myself. I have, as the quote says, learned that there is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. My 'higher up' is the Appalachian Trail and it impregnates me with the resolve to face the pain I need to face with a clear mind and a clear belief in what I am capable of. The twenty mile run not only proved to me that I will run 26.2, 31, and then 50, but also gave me hope that the destructive and self destructive way I have met the world for 46 years may have finally been put to rest.

On a lighter note...