Running and Failing

the-art-of-the-run-570x570.jpgIf the last thing I posted on here held weight, this would be the greatest, most thought out blog post in the history of online self-aggrandizing.

I can assure you that it will not be that. Instead, in true Murakami-mimicry, I’ve decided to write about running.

I haven’t been fleeing the authorities or anything, but I have been jogging for miles at a time for the past month or so. Running is something I’ll pick up periodically, and its usually catalyzed by some large life event (often a traumatic one). Nothing overly dramatic has befallen me this time, but something affecting enough came along that I once more laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement.

It’s been a month and almost two weeks since I ran the first two miles in this phase. I’ve run at least four times a week every week since, culminating in a seven mile run last Saturday that had me exhausted like I haven’t been in a long time. This was an accomplishment because I’ve never ran seven miles at a time. During a similar period in my life, I managed six, but it was done on a treadmill and I have enough experience doing this that I know the difference. Outdoor-running is trigonometry to treadmill-running’s algebra. Treadmills fail to account for things like wind, gradation, bursts of speed and energy, and even gravity to an extent. It’s not their fault. They were designed by imperfect creatures.

My goal in all this is to complete a half-marathon race. I don’t care whether I do well, or even come in last place. My hope is to finish the race, a hair over 13 miles, without stopping to walk at any point. I haven’t been in a race since my days of track and field at the ripe age of fifteen, and I was a sprinter only. I hated distance running. Watching the cross country fools slog mile after mile seemed as foreign to me as drinking sand. I have yet to find the vaunted “runner’s high” that I keep hearing about, but I think I might be starting to enjoy the activity.

In the spirit of things, I even signed up for a 5k. The race is a week off, and I feel pretty confident that I can place somewhere in the top half. The training program I found online suggested doing a few of these before attempting the half-marathon as it would prepare you for the glory and competition (or something). With a week to go before tasting potential victory, I am disquieted by the current pain in my left calf muscle.

I went out on Thursday night, feeling tired but motivated. I’d decided early in the day to save my run for sunset because this was a scorcher of a day and running in the evening dragon sun is about the worst thing, particularly when you’ve already been working in it all day. Sunset is happening around 9pm, so I strapped up, tuned up a Ted Talk on my phone, and set out. The Talk centered around failure, and the irony was not lost on me when after two decent miles I felt a sharp pain along the outside of my left calf.

I had felt some discomfort a couple nights ago while finishing up a 4.5 mile run (in record time), but had dismissed it as cramps or fatigue, either of which could be remedied with a good night’s sleep and some water. When I set out tonight, it was bothering me a little again, but I kept going. Usually muscle discomfort can be worked out by using the muscle. This time, that was not so, and the pain became worse the further I ran until I took a step and felt something sharp and was unable to continue. I’m not really sure what’s wrong with it. I can walk, hobble really, but there’s no running to be done. Excess weight makes it feel like there’s a dagger slicing up ribbons along the muscle.

Am I concerned for my upcoming race, and for the possibility of not reaching my goal of a half-marathon due to injury? Not really. The Ted Talk might be partly responsible for this outlook as it was extolling the virtues of failure, and this failure can only mean I need to try something different next time. I’m also a quick healer, and I think it’s safe to assume that if I can walk, then nothing is torn.

This outlook makes me feel nice and fuzzy inside because it’s not an attitude I might have had even a year earlier. There’s something light in me now that can face this kind of setback and smile, knowing that if I actually want something, not even a missing limb could stop me from getting it. I’m also reasonably certain that I am in good enough shape to hobble a 5k if I have to.

What I do wonder about is why running feels right during times of trouble. I remember the first time I did this. I’d been dating a girl for about a month, really liked her, and she’d broken it off to reunite with her ex-boyfriend (who she would go on to marry). It had been some time since I’d liked anyone, and this hit me particularly hard despite the short amount of time involved. I indulged in some serious self-loathing afterwards, the kind only men in their early 20s are capable of. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and feeling disgust at how fat I’d gotten, how slovenly I appeared. I don’t know now whether this was body dismorphia or not. I know I was overweight, but it became clear to me in the following years that my appearance was not the cause of any relationship dissolution. No matter the reason, I decided the best way to get in shape was to run. I’d always had envy for those lean runner’s bodies, and while I wasn’t born slim, I assumed I could at least tone up.

The first mile I ran was tortuous. It was early summer, and I’d chosen a nice open road with very little tree cover. I was out of shape, possibly more than I ever had been, and it’s amazing to me that I didn’t give up after the first day. Anger is good fuel, and I was angry at myself. The anger had many sources, but its life began in a sense of failure about my own. I felt like a failure for not becoming a famous writer out of college. I felt like a failure for screwing up my financial present and future. I felt like a failure because no woman wanted to love me.

I kept at this bit of running for a while. I can’t say for how long but it probably stretched months. I did lose weight. I felt better, and I felt accomplished. I don’t think I ever ran more than three miles during this phase, but that didn’t matter. I was a runner! Eventually something would come along to halt my habit, usually winter, and I’d forget about running again for six months or a couple years.

I have no plans to forget about running again, and I’m interested to see how the colder months affect the habit. I feel injured, which is never a great position, but I’ll heal. The timing is rotten because I just paid for a month’s membership at a martial arts dojo, but if Ralph Macchio could crane kick his way to victory, then I too can foot someone in their face.





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