Category Archives: Running

Better Miles


Some days, the miles are easy. Some days, they’re hard.

Some days, you drag yourself out of bed to pound the pavement because you know if you don’t do this one thing, get this one win early, you may not see another win all day.

Some days, you burst onto the street, strong like bull, ready to wrestle the day to the ground and steal its lunch money.

Some days, you run and you slave and you gasp and groan and feel like you’ll never cross the finish line.

Some days, the fresh, clean air hits your lungs and you feel like you could run forever.

Some days, the miles are best forgotten about.

Some days, the miles stay with you.

But any day when the finish line looks like this:

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Those miles seem just a little bit better.

Happy running from Tybee Island.

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Caveat Pre-Emptor (Or, Why It’s Okay to Brag a Little)


So, like, I’m a writer, right? Or at least, I’m trying to be. I aspire. Along with the legions of others.

And once in a while, and I do mean a good while, somebody will ask me “how’s it going?” Or, even more rarely, the subject will come up for the first time and they’ll ask “what are you writing?”

And before I can even properly formulate my response, the caveats start flooding out of me like the air from a punctured tire. “Well, I haven’t been making the kind of progress I’d like, but —”, or “you know, I really haven’t been working on it for very long, so —”, or “I don’t have the time to really focus on it, and —”, or, you know, fill in the blank with whatever disclaimer is handy. I’m basically telling the person that whatever it is isn’t really up to standards (mine or theirs or some imaginary person’s? WHO KNOWS, I DON’T), and it’s basically just me noodling around on the page like that lame guy who knows three chords but pulls his guitar out at the party anyway.

All of which, I should point out, is true. I mean, I’d like to be making more progress, but THIS STUFF IS HARD. I really haven’t been working on it very long — writing in general for maybe three years, this project in particular about a year, all told — but that’s because THIS STUFF IS HARD and I only recently decided to take it on. And I don’t have the time to really focus on it, because THIS STUFF IS HARD and it takes a ton of freaking time and I have, you know, a job, bills, a family, etc, etc.

Damn, I even caught myself doing it when I was doing a little journaling the other morning. In a bit of personal writing, from MYSELF to MYSELF, meant for absolutely nobody else’s eyes ever, I put an asterisk on a statement of accomplishment. (I’d been for a run in the morning, and thanks to a nagging injury, my pace wasn’t exactly what I’d prefer, so I hemmed and hawed — again, AT MYSELF — about the fact that I got out there and ran my morning miles.)

Something — something deeply rooted and insidious like the fungus at the heart of an ancient elm — makes me shy away from “bragging”. Somehow, to talk about a thing I’ve done seems too much like grandstanding, like a ploy for accolades, like fishing for compliments. No, it’s even worse than that — I have this thing where I can’t stop thinking and analyzing. And because I’m always analyzing (especially when it comes to my own efforts and the stuff I create), I know, deep down in my bones, that what I’m doing is a far cry short of the best stuff out there, that it probably won’t appeal to the average person, and that therefore any horn-tooting about it would be very much amiss. Something about pride and falls and all that.

But you know what? It’s exactly because THIS STUFF IS HARD that it’s worth bragging about. Getting it done, regardless of the quality of it, is worth tooting my own horn, I think. I mean, just to put it in perspective: how many people out there didn’t run a 5k with their dog (in the rain!) before the sun even cracked an eye to reach for the snooze alarm? Almost all of them. How many people didn’t pen the last words of a draft and start the long, thankless process of editing their novel? Almost all of them. How many people didn’t carve time out of their lunch hour to itemize the entire plot of their story on notecards strictly for the purpose of mapping it out and seeing it better on the re-write? Pretty much all of them.

Almost all of them might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s really not. I’m reminded of a passage from Douglas Adams explaining that the population of the universe is essentially zero. How does that work, you ask? Owing to the staggering amount of empty space, the amount of space that has people in it compared as a ratio to the amount of space that doesn’t gives a value so infinitesimal that for all practical purposes, it might as well be zero. By that rationale, sure, there are tons of writers and runners in the world, but they are outnumbered on a planetary scale by people who aren’t writers or runners — so, basically, virtually nobody writes or runs. (This is a fun way to claim significance for just about anything.)

And why didn’t almost every person out there do any of these things? BECAUSE THIS STUFF IS HARD. But I did it anyway. Regardless of the time it took to finish, or the quality of the product as I look back on it, or how I felt or didn’t feel as I was doing it, I did these things.

To hell with layering it, like a damned wedding cake, with asterisks. To hell with putting disclaimers on it. That’s a hot pile of horse puckey. I did these things, and they were worth doing. Doesn’t matter if it could’ve been better; doing it was better than not doing it. Doesn’t matter if it took a long time; it’s done now. And if I don’t show some pride in the things I’m doing, who the hell else is gonna do it for me?

To hear me tell it, basically everything I’ve done is only a half-measure. Sure, I wrote a few plays after college, but they were just those lame murder-mysteries you can see anywhere. And yeah, I wrote a full-length play that was a smash hit at my old high school, but it’s really too long and there’s all kinds of things wrong with it. Yup, I’ve finished a novel, but I’m not published yet. Or yeah, I run, but only about fifteen miles a week these days. Sure, I’ve run long-distance races — but only a half-marathon. (By the way, somebody seriously needs to get on re-branding the half-marathon — the title itself is a caveat. And get out of here with that Pikermi crap, you can’t be serious in a run if people think a digitized cartoon rat goes dancing across the finish line.)

See how lousy that sounds? But strip the caveats out, and that turns into:

I run four days a week. And I’ve run over 13 miles at a stretch before.

I’ve written plays. (Plural.) Which were performed for audiences which paid money to watch them.

I’ve written a novel. (And am working on more.)

See how much better that sounds? That sounds like a guy who’s got his life together. That sounds like a guy you’d buy a cup of coffee for, if you could, and maybe hear a little bit of what he has to say.

So here’s a challenge for me and for you: cut out the caveats and the disclaimers. Stop knocking yourself down before you’ve even properly stood up. Accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish and be proud of the accomplishment.

Stuff your caveats in a sack. Then set the sack on fire and shoot it out of a cannon.


Little Things We Do


I was out for a run the other morning and I came across a gentleman walking in the other direction. Older guy, with a cane. Pants up a little too high, polo shirt that looks like it’s older than me. Not moving very fast, obviously, but not bothered by that — in fact, he had a big smile on his face, almost like the sunlight was just soaking in through his skin and lighting him up from inside.

“Morning,” I called as I approached, as is my wont. (Those of us out getting active at daybreak owe it to each other to salute our shared insanity.)

“I know you,” the man replied.

I pull up short. Not the response I was expecting. “Beg pardon?”

“You’re the guy going up and down the street before the sun is up, during the week. Bout five in the morning, right? With your dog, most of the time.”

“Yeah, that’s me.” Crap. Is his yard one of the ones my dog likes to stop and pee in?

“You run by my house three, four times a week, it must be.”

I nod. “That’s about what I shoot for, yeah.”

His grin gets a bit bigger. “You remind me that I need to be out here, moving around.”

“Oh, yeah?” (My vocabulary isn’t as impressive when I’m run-winded. I realize I’ve said “yeah” three times in a row. I wonder if he noticed it, too.)

“Sure. Doctor wants me to stay active what with my treatments. Always feel better when I do, but I don’t always remember to do it. The day gets on and it gets too hot and I can’t be out in that.” He waggles his cane for emphasis. “But I see you truckin’ past my house and I think, ‘well, I guess I’d better get out there, too.'”

Now I’m smiling, too. “No kidding. Good for you.”

“Naw,” he waves me away. “Good for you. Keep on doin’ what you do.”

I nod and fall back into step. “You, too.”

I finish the last leg of my run feeling a little bit stronger than usual.

This has been your friendly reminder that even the little things you do can inspire others. (As if you needed more reasons to do them.)

So, on this day, go forth and do.

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This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.


A Seed Corn Is Not What You Think It Is


**Spoiler alert. Runners tend to overshare, and I guess I’m guilty of being a runner who is all-too-willing to overshare. The post below might gross you out, but I have done you the favor of not including pictures.**

Haven’t written about running in a while, and partly that’s because, as I so often lament, there’s only so much you can say about running. But mostly that’s because it hasn’t been enjoyable.

The sardonic ones out there might say, with a guffaw, “WHEN IS RUNNING EVER ENJOYABLE?” And okay, yeah, sure, running is always a struggle, always an exercise (haw) in discomfort on some level.

But the discomfort of late has been above and beyond. Every step driving a tiny little spike into the bottom of my foot. Extra-padded shoes, hardly padded shoes. Ice by the bucket. Ibuprofen by the fistful. Spots of relief here and there, but never for more than a few hours.

Aches and pains come with the territory, but when something persists like this, you start to wonder if something is really wrong. So I took a few days off. Then a week. Then another. And still, every step felt like stepping on gravel.

I always feel awkward going to any sort of doctor. Like, this is my body, I ought to know pretty well what the fargo is going on with it and keep it in good shape well enough to go getting “professional opinions” on it. And going to the doctor for foot pain feels a little like going to the mechanic with a flat tire. Makes me feel dumb, is what I’m saying. Further, there’s always the possibility that when you go to the doctor, the doctor will tell you something is seriously wrong, and that’s not a thing anybody wants to hear. Particularly in this case, going to a foot doctor, I’m always afraid I’m going to hear: you need to stop running. But with a couple of months of pain in the bag and no end in sight, there’s little choice.

I make the appointment to see the podiatrist. But the last thing I want to have happen when I go to the doctor is to have him look at me like I’m an idiot and tell me “well obviously you have a blargle-wargle-gargle and you should’ve wobble-bobble-dobble.” So I research my symptoms. Best I can guess, I’ve got a swollen/pinched nerve in my foot. Incurable outside of surgery or a series of painful injections to literally deaden the nerve. Needles. Scalpels. Walking around on a numb or bandaged foot. Probably taking pills for months because this is America, why wouldn’t they prescribe pills?

I’m dreading the visit.

But I go. He asks me what’s ailing me, and I tell him, and he takes a look at my foot. Pokes, prods.

Doc: “Got a lot of callus built up there.”

Me: “Oh, yeah? Is that normal?”

Doc: “Probably not.”

All of which is said in that I don’t really have to think about it and it’s kind of silly that you did way I was sort of dreading. But he’s a nice guy, he doesn’t let me wallow in my stupid.

Instead, he reaches for a spikey-looking thing that looks like it could easily bring down an elk. Holds it aloft, then looks at the bottom of my foot as if sizing up a kebab for the skewer. I start to hyperventilate.

But it’s not a skewer, it’s a shaver. He starts shaving away at this thing. Flakes of dead skin sort of tinking into a metal tray.

He nods thoughtfully. “Take a look.”

I turn my foot around, peer at the sole like a monkey limbering up for a tree-jaunt. And there, right in the spot that I’ve felt but not seen for months, encased in a dead skin cocoon as it was, is this weird little blue-black speck.

A friend of mine in the third grade stabbed me in the knee with a pencil. Even today, I’ve got this discolored spot just inside the kneecap where (I’m assuming) the graphite sort of inadvertently tattooed the lower layers of the dermis. Blackish-blue and odd, just lurking below the topmost layer of the skin. Not painful, just there, and alien-looking.

This thing in my foot looks like that. And I’m thinking, what the hell is that?

So I say, “what the hell is that?”

Blocked sweat gland, he says. Gland gets plugged — bit of grime or dirt or whatever — and creates this little “core” thingy that irritates and calcifies, not entirely unlike a clam with a pearl. (“Seed corn” is one thing they’re called.) Except this “pearl” eventually becomes basically a rock embedded in the bottom of your foot. Which — no surprise — makes it feel like you’ve got a rock in your shoe, even when you’re not wearing shoes. No big deal — just shave away the dead skin, carve the bugger out, and off you go. Which he does. No X-Rays. No medication regimen. No surgery or impalement with needles. He just works with the elkstopper for another minute or so (I barely feel any of this, of course, it’s all just dead skin and callus) and then says, “all done.”

I twist my foot around again for a look. The speck is gone. In its place is a neat little indentation in the skin, as if a ball bearing had been pressed permanently into a memory foam mattress. I might feel a little discomfort for a day or so, he tells me, but nothing to what I’ve been feeling. Just the aftereffects of the tissue straightening itself out now that the obstruction is gone. He prescribes some ointment. (Breastfeeding nipple-chafe cream, it turns out, to help heal up the skin he had to shave away at. Seriously. My wife got a kick out of that.)

Still a little disbelieving, I ease myself down from the table (I’ve trained myself to ease onto my feet in every situation of late). Test my weight.

It doesn’t hurt. I try a few steps. Nothing. Dreamlike, I walk out of the office like I’m walking on bubble wrap. I stop at the store on the way home to buy some breastfeeding cream and spend the entire trip wondering at the fact that I’m walking pain-free for the first time in months. I get home and kick my shoes off, walking around barefoot on the hardwood and not having to step gingerly (I’d taken to wearing shoes or thick socks indoors like some kind of leper).

And because I’m an idiot, and there’s no sense not diving headlong into recovery, I lace up and go for a run the next morning. And it still doesn’t hurt.

It’s wild how we can become accustomed to the burdens we don’t realize we’re carrying. This tiny little speck had me walking like a man afraid to wake a sleeping baby (and I know a little bit about that). It made me give up running long enough to get good and cranky and feeling sluggish. It made me uncomfortable in my own home. I have to wonder if the speck wasn’t, in its own tiny way, responsible for a share of my writing misery of late: keeping me off balance, unable to relax, just sort of generally-being-off-kilter.

But all it took to fix it was five minutes and an elk-stopping harpoon. (Okay, it was probably just a tiny little scalpel.)

There’s a lesson to be learned in here somewhere, but I’m too busy walking on air (almost literally) to think of it.

 


Savage Race Recap: Blow-by-blow part 3


Disclaimer: This is the third part of a race report. If you care about continuity, the first part is here, and the second part is here. If you think that running and obstacle course races are endeavors fit only for the insane, well, you might not be wrong, but feel free to skip this entry. If you’re intrigued by all this, you can find lots of pictures and in-depth descriptions of these obstacles at Savage Race’s website.

This entry concludes the (maybe too) lengthy detour I took to talk about this race. Regularly scheduled programming will resume.

The first half of the course, despite its challenges, has been a kids’ gloves introduction to the course. In the second half, the gloves come off immediately. Mile four begins with the craziest ascent I’ve ever seen on a running trail. We’re leaning against the hill itself for support in climbing the hill; ropes and pickaxes wouldn’t go amiss here.

Then we turn around and come right back down it; apparently we climbed that monster for the sheer hell of it, and if that isn’t a perfect metaphor for this race, then I don’t know what is. Our next obstacle is a dunk into ice water — there’s literally a refrigerated truck next to two pools, and as I go under, I can feel the cubes clinking off my dome — which, frankly, comes none too soon in the ninety degree heat.

Then there’s more pain: we pick up lengths of 4×4 and sling them across our backs to carry them a quarter mile across more rolling hills. Why? Because we can. We’ve already run a 5k and covered an elevation gain of something like a half mile, given and taken; why not slog some lumber while we do more of the same? And then we shimmy sideways across railings not unlike the ones you stand in while you’re waiting for your turn on the American Scream Machine, and if you haven’t fantasized about doing that, well, then maybe you’re reading the wrong race report.

The obstacles come fast and furious now; the first half of the race gave us maybe three challenges per mile, but we’ve got twenty more to cover in the last 2.5 miles, which means a lot less running and a lot more scrambling. “Wheel World” pits us against rotating garden spigots that leave a lot of racers twisting and spinning helplessly in space before splashing down in defeat, but a simple application of my old maxim — momentum matters — carries me through the obstacle. Instead of attacking it head on, I roll into it sideways off the launch platform, and the rotation carries me cleanly across.

Then it’s up a culvert on an incline which shifts to a decline when you’re halfway across. The culvert is too narrow to crawl on hands and knees but too slick to commando crawl. I inch forward like a slug until it tips and spits me out into the dirt, my abs burning and my knees bruised.

Then a climbing wall; not up, but across, and it’s leaned backwards at a fifteen degree angle. This is my first failure: I just don’t have the grip to hold myself up and I stumble off into the dirt. But here’s the thing about that: at this point in the race, people are failing obstacles left and right, and there’s no shame or anger in it. You just dust yourself off and truck on. A point of training to return to for the next time.

Now another crawl under barbed wire, but this one through the thickest, soupiest mud yet; we come out the other side looking like the Michelin Man hosed down in brown goop. It clings and clumps to us as we mount the hill for the next challenge: a simple ramp. Except, thanks to the mud, it’s impossible to climb the thing. Even the rope is slick with the mud of hundreds of previous runners trying to summit this thing.

At this point, you can barely finish an obstacle before you’re on to the next. A twenty-foot climb followed by a terrifying leap into a deep pool. A diabolical jagged monkey bars over murky water. (This one puts me in the drink halfway across.) An inclined traverse around telephone poles that you have to hug like the college girlfriend that’s looking for a reason to dump you. A maze-like series of ropes and rings that drops racers like a series of particularly bad habits. (I slip off the rope almost immediately, with burns on my pinkie and ring fingers to show for it. Never in my life have I injured my pinkie finger, until today, but there it is.)

And here, again, I’m forcibly informed of the key difference between an OCR and a road race. Road races, and to a lesser extent, trail races, are a more or less linear challenge. The difficulty goes up predictably with the distance, and the race gets harder the farther you go. The effort wears you down, but you know what distance and pace you’re capable of. But with OCR, the challenge is on an exponential curve: they save the best (most challenging) obstacles for last, but by the time you get to them, you’re gassed out by the previous obstacles and/or the viciousness of the run itself.

I’ve now failed three obstacles and I’m almost a half hour behind my predicted finish time. And in a strict running race, that would be shattering. But here? Today? Staring down the final obstacle — a fifteen foot quarter-pipe, mud-slick from failed attempts to summit it and topped with hooting, cheering savages who’ve already made the climb — well, earlier I likened the event to a bacchanalia, and while there are no chemicals involved, we’re all drunk at this point. The falls on earlier obstacles don’t matter, the bruises on my knees, shins, and elbows are irrelevant, the mud caked in my eyebrows and the stubble on my scalp is totally off topic. I don’t care about the burning in my calves from the relentless ups-and-downs of these murderous hills. Every runner who makes the top of this ramp does so to a chorus of cheers and howls, and every one who fails and slides back to the earth meets a sympathetic groan.

But I’m tapped. I’ve got nothing left. The six miles of the run and the ridiculous crescendo of the obstacles have left me a pile of sentient Jell-o. I can no more make it up that ramp than I can sprout wings and ascend into the heavens. But I lower my head and charge at the ramp anyway.

I grab at the rope. My fingers seal around the knot, strangling it. Somehow, I fling my arm upward and catch the next know, and creep higher. But that’s it. I’m done. The ledge is right there, but I can’t reach it. I cry out, or at least I think I do. On the ledge above me is some guy I don’t even know, and he’s shouting at me like I’m Rocky. Grab that ledge. You can do it. Grab it. Come on! He could help me, but he knows — as I know — that it’ll mean that much more if I can make it on my own.

And I do. My fingers catch the ledge, then a hand has my forearm and I’m being lifted upwards over the edge. I tumble onto my back and stare up at the sky for a moment.

It’s a clear, beautiful Georgia afternoon. Wispy blue clouds, postcard blue sky. The roar all around me goes dull.

I’m acutely aware that this afternoon would have been a gorgeous one whether or not I had put myself through the wringer of this race. But somehow, the air is a little sweeter, the breeze a little cooler, the sky a little bluer.

But there’s no time to rest. I get to my knees and turn around to offer a pay-it-forward hand up to a few other racers climbing their way up after me. High-fives and slaps on the back abound. Then, it’s over to the other side of the wall — a slide right back down into (you guessed it) more muddy water. And there’s the finish line. Somebody puts a medal around my neck. A bottle of icy water is shoved into my hand. Half of it goes on my head, half of it goes down in a few greedy gulps. It tastes like the untamed glaciers of the Arctic.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about this race, a lot more than I usually bother to write about running. (Partly that’s because fitness isn’t really the focus of my blarg here, but partly that’s because there’s really only so much you can say about running.) But I think the race deserves a bit of time and reflection. It wasn’t just an event, it was an experience. I’m not going to say I’m a better person because of it — that would be shallow and too easy, I think — but there’s an ineffable sense of accomplishment swirling around me after finishing this thing, even almost a full week later.

There’s something primal about it that no amount of running or hours spent in a gym can replicate. Running, jumping, crawling, climbing — these are things our bodies evolved to do, and the creature comforts of this modern life have allowed too many of us to forget we can do them. Savage Race was a test in a way I’ve never been tested. It’s a bit like life, really: it throws a challenge at you, beats you up, bruises you a bit, knocks you in the mud. Then, if you come through to the other side, it says, “okay, you handled that. Now how about this one?” And it repeats, on and on until you drag yourself across the finish line, or until you tap out, give up testing yourself and walk the rest of the way home.

I’m happy to say that, even though I didn’t complete every obstacle, I tried every one. And my run may not have been pretty, but life ain’t pretty. We all get a little dinged up, a little scraped and bruised along the way. We all get a little dirty. Sometimes it hurts. But you can still run the race with a smile on your face.

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