My last blog was an opening into my life. I want to open the window just a hair more, so please bear with me. I promise to get back to awe-inspiring (lol) commentary soon.
This is an excerpt from a book I am writing about my run across America. A few years ago I ran 3,160 miles from Pacific Grove, CA to Rehoboth Beach, DE. This transcontinental run was the thrill of a lifetime. Susie drove the sag vehicle and did everything else in the whole world like bill paying, laundry, finding food, coordinating logistics with our run co-ordinator who was operating out of Waco, TX, getting gas, getting us to media outlets on time for interviews, having the oil changed, finding host families homes in the pitch dark out in the middle of the desert, and keeping me relatively happy and sane. While everyone oohs and aahs over me running across the United States, the true hero is Susie. Without her there would have been no run. I actually had the easier part.
This is a description of my first attempts at trying to run. I hope you enjoy and feel free to laugh out loud whenever the mood strikes.
Oh I should also mention this entry is insanely long. Not the quick 300 -500 word note. This puppy runs over 3400 words. So if you have anything you need to do…go do it. Then grab a cup of coffee, or soft drink, or maybe a local brew (and a sandwich if you are in the mood), put your feet up, lean back, scratch where it itches, and settle in for long read.
Oh gosh one more thing before we get going…Please send me some comments. As noted this is from a book I’m writing and I would like to know what folks think. All I ask is that you be kind…since I’m the sensitive artist type…lol.
A Few Years Ago
One day Bryon came rushing up to me with this preposterous idea that if we wanted to be real men (and we desperately did), then we needed to run this incredibly hard race he had heard about. It was 7.6 mile long and called the Siberian Wilderness Run. The race was run on the first Saturday of the New Year regardless of the weather conditions. I was to later discover the race was laid out over a reclaimed strip mine outside of Danville, Illinois. Since then I’ve learned this also wasn’t exactly the highest test of true grit and testosterone that Bryon had described it to be either. There are much harder races held around the country. However, at the time, to a couple of guys, whose idea of running was considering quickening their walking pace if caught in a thunderstorm, this seemed like the testosterone running equivalent of climbing Everest.
Bryon stressed our need to train properly for this event. Since it wasn’t run until January and this was September I figured I had an adequate amount of time to whip my body into tip-top running shape, whatever that was. Now Bryon and I were also, as guys tend to be in this type of environment, extremely competitive. There was absolutely no way I was going to let Bryon beat me in this race. Do or die, I had no idea how, but he wasn’t going to get to the finish line before me.
So I began to train. However I had no idea what was the proper protocol for training to run a race. Actually, I didn’t know anything about running at all. My entire running experience was comprised of one month of running on the cross-country team my freshman year in high school. During that time I missed as many practices as possible, took every shortcut I could when we practiced, and finished dead last in both of the races I ran. Not exactly a stellar career in running. No one would have observed my running stats and predicted anything other than maybe a career on the debate team. But this was different. Bryon was also going to be running. My pride, ego, and manhood were on the line. When we were in the gym I made sure I lifted what he lifted, for as many reps as he did. Even though he had me beat by almost fifty pounds I was completely focused on not being outdone. As far as running was concerned I figured if you put one foot in front of the other enough times you would eventually get to where you wanted to go. All I had to do was master it faster than Bryon and I would be home free.
There was a closed road next to the apartment complex where I was living. This road was exactly one mile long. So I thought I would begin my training by running the length of this road. That would be a mile. Having not a clue, I more or less thought this would be a respectable distance to begin with and besides I didn’t have any way of measuring something shorter, so a mile it would be.
Earlier I mentioned it was September. The city I was living it at the time has a weather phenomenon called precocious enough, “The Dog Days of Summer.” The name hearkens back to Roman times. According to the bastion of latter-day knowledge, Wikipedia, the Romans associated the hot sultry weather with the star Sirius. They considered Sirius to be the “Dog Star” because it is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). Traditionally the Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of the Dog Days to appease the rage of Sirius, believing the star was responsible for the hot humid weather. (I can tell you our little brown and white-haired Jake the Wonder Dog is greatly relieved this is no longer commonly practiced.) This weather pattern can be wicked. Instead of enjoying temperate, cool fall weather, you actually are laboring in ninety degree temperatures similar to the dead of summer. Humidity not wanting to be out done by the temperature, tries to match it. So you are left with ninety degree temperatures and ninety percent humidity. Get out of your air-conditioned car and before you can make it into your office you are soaked in sweat. Truly beautiful. This was the weather I started training in. And since I did not know anything about how to properly train I ran without any water.
The first day out I ran the length of the road which was a mile. It was then I discovered the first flaw in my training program. When you run a mile away from your home and you believe you are done, well you aren’t. You are a mile from home. This requires running back. So I ran back. As the sweat ran directly down my forehead, stinging the bejesus out of my eyes I learned the second problem with my training program. When you run without water, in ninety degree weather, in ninety-two percent humidity, you can get very, very thirsty. I stumbled back to my apartment, clawed open the front door, set the temperature to cool the apartment to 50 degrees, and fumbled around with a glass, ice cubes, and the faucet for about five minutes before getting enough water in the glass to drink, then downing it as fast as possible. I repeated this sad, inefficient method several times until I was saturated. After about a dozen glasses of ice-cold refreshing water I hobbled into my bedroom using what little tiny bit of muscles in my legs that would still respond to mental stimuli and fell down on the bed into a deep and wonderful sleep. After several hours I awoke to discover problems three and four with my training program. After you have run it is not a good idea to remain immobile for several hours. The muscles constrict and absolutely do not want to be stretched back out. They respond with an amazing quantity of screaming pain. At the time I was making this remarkable discovery I was also experiencing the fourth training problem. Do you remember me telling you when I came in I had turned the thermostat for the air conditioner down to 50? Well it worked! The temperature in my room was 50 degrees and apparently in an effort to conserve warmth I had drawn my body up into as tight of a ball as possible. I had lain down while still wearing my sweat soaked t-shirt and shorts which were now frozen solid and encrusted in layers of salt. This incidentally did nothing to help my muscles when I tried to stretch them out. So with great concentration I fought my way into the living room to turn the thermostat up to 90. Then I made my way down the hall moaning, groaning, shaking, stumbling and falling against the wall on the way to the bathroom, where I turned on the shower water as hot as possible and got in clothes, running shoes, and all.
That was day one of running.
All I knew about exercise was that in order for you to get the full benefit, it must be progressive. In other words, you can’t simply do the same thing over and over again and expect to make gains. You can’t lift the same weight, the same number of reps and expect glorious bulging muscles. You must alter the intensity, or the duration, or something to make each effort a little bit more difficult. So since I had run two miles the first day I figured three would be good for the next day. Now I imagine as you read those words you are starting to get this Cheshire cat grin on your face due to you recognizing the obvious. Because you realize that if I run down and back that is two miles, in order to run three miles I would need to have figured out a way to measure a half mile. But I hadn’t done that. I am a firm believer that only a little bit of running can make you stupid. So once again I’m running and I get through the first two. As I turn into the third mile it dawns on me that I will still be a mile away from my apartment when I’m done with the three. So I gut it out and run back for a total of four miles. And let me tell you, if you think you are thirsty after two miles of running in the Dog Days of Summer, well four miles will practically kill you. But at least I was getting somewhat smarter. I had turned the AC down to 68 when I left and resolved it would go no further. I had put several glasses of water in the refrigerator and I had promised myself I would take a shower once I got home and not lie down but meet a group of friends for dinner.
Day two done and I was getting a little smarter.
Day three and I was ready. I found an insulated water jug, filled it with ice and water, and set it in the shade near where I would be starting. I realized ahead of time I would be running six miles. I brought an old handkerchief to tie around my head which made me look (depending on your point of view) like some crazy Bonsai pilot or a renegade Harley rider, but at least it would keep the sweat on my forehead from running directly into my eyeballs causing me to writhe and cry out in pain. Speaking of pain. I was starting to understand why a lot of people refuse to run. I was getting really stiff and sore. Walking a normal gait was now completely out of the question. I kept my legs as stiff as possible, which wasn’t that difficult considering they didn’t want to bend any way, and then I ambled from side to side. Setting down or standing up wasn’t difficult, but the transition between the two was excruciating. I was getting to the point where I didn’t want to go out in public much, because when I either went to sit down or stand up I would scream out in loud voice like I had been forcibly hit with a blunt instrument. People were beginning to stare. My friends were beginning to shun me.
I made it the six miles on day three, but it was ugly. After the first 400 – 500 yards of something resembling shuffle-stumbling-falling forward type of gait, my muscles would begin to loosen up to the point where forward motion was actually possible without drawing attention to myself. During the beginning of this run while I was still hobbling and yelling I saw a lady come out into the back yard, get her kids, and go back into the house all the while staring at me like I might be the real life incarnation of the Night of the Living Dead. I think she thought I was trying to flee from guys in white coats. But I did it. Six miles how awesome!
Day four was eight miles, but the side effects were beginning to intensify. No longer would anyone ask me out if it meant being seen in public with me. Not only was I completely unable to walk normally, but I hadn’t slept well now for three days. The muscles in my legs were spasming so bad it was keeping me awake. I had stopped shaving because it required me to stand still while I attempted to drag a razor-sharp implement around my neck and over my face. I could no longer trust my legs to hold me still. I didn’t know what I would do if one of my legs suddenly started spasming while I was in the middle of scrapping the razor across my Adam’s apple. I could just see my friends finding me days later on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood with my throat slit open. “Poor Steve.” they would say, “Who knew? Wonder why he didn’t want to talk about it? This way is never the answer”
So there I was with legs that would spasm, jerk violently, then give out, blood-shot eyes from not sleeping, four-day growth of beard. Actually it was four days in some spots and only one day in some others, because I had tried to shave, but became so unsteady I thought I had better quit. It didn’t look to cool, but at least I wasn’t on the floor of the bathroom in a pool of coagulating blood waiting to be discovered. I was running. No wonder there were a lot of people who don’t run. Who could endure this much pain and continue to function as a contributing member of society? Oh yeah…I made it through day five with ten miles. Then I survived day six and twelve miles, using only the type of sheer gut wrenching grit that Green Beret types use in extreme training, but I had run into a problem. I was out of food at my apartment.
I thought about just calling for a pizza, but I was trying to keep my weight down and so I didn’t want to be pigging out on pizza. I just had to pull it together enough to go to the store, buy a few food items to fuel this awesome running machine, and get back so I could collapse and recuperate.
No military invasion has had greater precision planning than I executed for my siege of the local supermarket. I calculated how many steps to the car. I checked the best time to leave the apartment so I wouldn’t encounter any of my friends going or coming from work. I figured just this once I could park in the handicap parking by the front door. I didn’t have the requisite sticker hanging from the mirror, but I knew one look at me and they would figure it was in the mail. So after surveying the apartment complex for the best slow traffic time, I staggered out the front door. Fortunately, I was on the first floor. Had I have been on the second…well let’s just say none of you would be hearing these words now. I drove slowly and cautiously. I had visions of my legs suddenly violently yo-yoing up and down uncontrollably and before I could regain control I would have rammed my car into a church bus carrying mentally disabled children on their way to meet the Governor for a special commendation award, or careen into a fire truck on its way to rescue a mother of five from a burning building. I imagined every disaster scenario possible, and a few that weren’t possible. Then suddenly I was there. The Promised Land hadn’t looked as good to the Jews after forty years of wandering in the desert as that handicap parking spot looked to me. I had made it unscathed and without incident. Unless you count the lady walking her little dachshund through the intersection and I simply couldn’t get my leg to move over onto the brake fast enough so I laid on the horn as I dragged my foot off the accelerator and coasted by. Besides it didn’t really hurt her any to hoof it a little quicker. She looked like she could use some exercise. She should take up running. Drop that weight like a bowling ball rolling off the table. Anyway I had made it. Now all I had to do was stumble around the grocery store while bending over and clinging onto the shopping cart. I figured this move would take some of the weight off my legs and put it on forearms. My forearms hadn’t been pulling much weight since I started this running thing so I figured they could help out. Even in this battered state I still had my priorities and that included going by the magazine counter. I have read voraciously all my life. I inherited it from my Dad, along with a few other traits I believe I have already mentioned. Mrs. VanHorn, the town librarian, fanned my reading spark into a full-blown inferno when one day she said to me, “Stephen, I think there are some books over here that you might enjoy.” She lead me out of the kid’s section of the library and over to where the adult books were kept. And this was long before the term “adult books” had any type of perversion attached to it. Thank you Mrs. VanHorn my life has never been the same from that day forward. I have often told my wife, “I’ve never regretted buying a book, but I’ve been married a few times.”
So there I was in front of the magazine counter looking over the newest editions of Rolling Stone, Time, and Flex when my eyes came across a title I had never seen before. It took a few moments, but I was finally able to ever so carefully bend over and lift it up. The title was “Runner’s World”. I thought that was the craziest thing I had ever seen. And I’ve seen some crazy things. Who in the world would buy a magazine about running? I mean after all what is there to it? You take one foot and put it in front of the other, then repeat until done. It isn’t rocket science. But as I was doing my commentary in my head, my eyes spied something which shook me to my very core. I busted out laughing right in the front of the magazine counter in the middle of the supermarket. There in bold, black letters, for the entire world to see, and especially me, it said, “To avoid injury only increase your mileage 10% per week.” By my calculations I had increased my mileage 1100% in my first week.
If they ever make a film about my life (fat chance) this is the point where they will insert Handel”s Hallelujah Chorus. I swore I could hear angels singing. At last my life was saved. I could rejoin the human race. At some point, maybe even have children. I clutched that magazine like a drowning man clutches a life vest. I was saved.
I don’t know how many of you have made it this far…but I thank you. Please let me know what you think.