Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Friday, December 22, 2017

Candy-ass

I'm expecting new running pants and shoes in the post today. According to one of the major weather services, it's supposed to drop below freezing in Boulder at about 5 p.m. tomorrow and stay there until Wednesday at noon, and it will almost certainly snow at least twice in this period.

 This shouldn't be a big deal. In the winter of 1995, I lived in Hanover, N.H., where did not rise above 32 degrees Fahrenheit for the entire month of January. According to my training log, I averaged almost 17 miles a day that month, almost all of it on very hilly terrain and much of it in the dark because I was often required to be someplace during the day. That might have been an unusually rough winter, but as a native of New Hampshire I can't say it was truly atypical for the region.

My trepidation arises from two unrelated factors. One is that, while I don't mind running in very cold weather per se, I have a bad habit of falling on ice around here when I do. OK, maybe it's not a habit per se, but I've had two serious wipe-outs on patches of ice here, in separate winters, one of them leading to bruised ribs and the other a sore knee. I think that despite the more favorable winters here overall, there is actually more ice danger to pedestrians here than in northern New England, because there, the roads are so fucked up by frost heaves that it's unusual for large, single patches of ice to form on them, if that makes sense. I do most of my running here on the paved rec paths, where large uninterrupted sheets of ice can form, and are often topped by the kinds of very thin dustings of snow that can literally put the finishing threatening touches on top of an already hazardous situation.

The other is that I just won't go running anymore if it's a certain number of standard deviations from "comfortable" or "safe" -- maybe as few as 1.0 or 1.5. Some might judge this to be a positive adaptation, and from the standpoint that I now see my own running as almost entirely pointless, this is true. On the other hand, it was gratifying to once embrace goals that required me to confront a certain amount of adversity, not in a reckless way but in a mostly thoughtful one. These days I'm just a candy-ass. (I'm trying to decide, without looking up the etymology, if that insult remains an acceptable self-description. I can't really call myself a pussy or a pansy anymore without upsetting someone, not because they disagree with my assessment but because those terms are largely off-limits now.)

I trained hard through a lot of tough winters because I used to give a fuck about goals. For a while, I stood a reasonably good chance of making the Olympic Marathon Trials standard when the cut-off time was slow. This alone was not a good reason to pursue running at the expense of other things; 2:24 marathoners are nowhere close to elite, and even guys 10 minutes faster than that are never going to make a living from running alone (parlaying this ability into coaching or race-management careers is a different story), I was almost doing enough to get by, and I actually had my two best patches of running when I was working at least 40 hours a week.

In some ways, about the worst thing I could have done for my psychological future is excel in the classroom from the start. Actually, from before the start. For whatever reason, I developed the ability to read when I was two years old, and could solve fairly sophisticated arithmetic problems before I started kindergarten. I had memorized a lot of arcane facts about geography and the like by then, and sometimes, a few of the sixth-graders at Conant School would gather around me in the morning before we were all shepherded into the building and ask me to recite these facts. I couldn't understand why it delighted them, and I was also nonplussed at the fact that almost none of my kindergarten classmates knew how to read at all. But because school always came so easily to me, I internalized the idea that I would eventually do Great Things, possibly without a lot of effort. And this illusion was abetted by any number of token honors along the way, such as being voted "most likely to succeed" and "most creative" by my high-school graduating class and getting into the only two schools I applied to on an early-decision basis.

There is no reason anyone should feel guilty about trending, in a piecemeal but undeniable way, toward a life of increasing safety and physical comfort, as I have. Yet I do and probably always will. It might be different if I felt as if I had "earned" this somehow, but I don't. I'm never going to be 25 with a chance to achieve something most marathoners never come close to achieving. I left medical school in excellent standing after I lost my Army scholarship, with every opportunity to return. But I fucked all of that up through a great deal of intermittent drinking over two decades and other deviant niceties. (For what it's worth, about the last thing I would ever want to be now is a doctor, but the overall point should be clear.)

Now that both the chaos and the potential to attain reasonably high goals in life are both in the past, I'm finding my own unwillingness to invite either tumult or any sort of real risk into my life depressing. But I'm also on the way to understanding that being "normal," and in fact still a bit of a fuckup, is a more sustainable journey for me than saddling myself with lofty expectations. It's a weird thing to reckon with and very much a First World Problem, but it's also pretty typical.

Merry Christmas.

11 comments:

  1. If the state of NH ever let's you back in permanently, you'll not have to worry about all those hazards in CO.

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    1. I'll never move back there. The only possible benefit is that I could more freely refer to people who may not technically be retarded as "retards" without fear of reprisals. But I becoming less concerned over time with what people in this obviously low-wattage waste of a country (now presided over by a Retard-in-Chief) think, and am actively rooting for most of them to suffer the worst possible consequences of their choices.

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  2. all that aside though, see you in the Spring? Time for you to get serious about shit again. CARS Series....

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    1. I used to get discouraged reading comments like these, because it seemed that you were treating the notion of me ever running seriously again as a legitimate idea.

      Now, though, I recognize that you know the same thing I do but are dragging this out for comic effect: I'm done. I had my little energetic. pretend "comeback" (as if I'd ever been anything other than a staggering retard in the first place) this year, and discovered what I suspected a long time ago and you now realize for yourself -- no one over 40 or perhaps even over 35 should enter running races unless there's a good deal of money in it, and this applies to fewer than 10 people in the entire U.S. right now, maybe three of whom aren't doped to the tips of their calvaria.

      Between running embarrassing times -- and blaming altitude, hills, and the threat of violent sharting only goes so far -- and the basic physical hazards of vigorous exercise as a so-called master, I would have to be cataclysmically stupid or insane to ever consider racing again unless I felt like giving other people a morbid, guilty chuckle. And if I do get to feeling that way, I can serve myselfup on a schadenfreude platter without hitting the roads and flapping along like the hairless, halfwit ape I so strongly resemble because I am one.

      The most humane thing to do if you see a person over 35 running for any reason besides a personal emergency is to shoot him, run him over, or throw a huge rock at his head (if you can, do it from an overpass to gain a potential-energy advantage).

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  3. I'm always serious. I had a good time hanging with you in Concord last April. Wish you were around more... You still have 15:45 in your legs. You just need to get back to basics in your old stomping ground and start bingeing on the miles again. Plus we can go harass those Granite Grok dudes in person when you come back.

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    1. Oh, I like you too. You're one of the cleverest people I know, especially when it comes to photo-editing ribaldry. But you have to accept my claim that I am decrepit for what it is. Today, I decided I was going to run a mile in under nine minutes. Just last week, as Strava reveals, I did a 6 point 1 miler at 6:56 pace, and was hoping that I hadn't backslid tremendously since. But I knew no more than 184 steps into today's "run" that it would be a total debacle. I was beset the whole way by vivid and intrusive sexual fantasies centering on cartoon characters of old, and I was almost in tears. My final time was 11:34 despite a gradual downhill for most of the first 50 yards. I just can't subject myself to this shit anymore.

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    2. I bet if you stopped jerkin' around you can break 16 for a flat n' fast 5k (should you decide to make the line in time)...

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  4. I could break 16:00 for 5K on a grossly downhill, uncertified course with a gale-force tailwind. But only if I resort to EPO, and while morally I have no qualms with cheating (I recently poisoned a romantic rival in a foreign country with a new toxin I synthesized myself from jockstrap residue), I just don't want to spend the money.

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  5. Hey Kev! There are 3 different type of runners after the age of 35. #1. Runners that just love running. They get out there day after day and make it look easy there whole life regardless of place,finishing time, etc. #2. Runners that have a beef with the sport. For whatever reason these runners just can't get rid of the itch. The reasons are unlimited. One very simple example is that the runner never achieved the holy time that he or she hoped for in grade school. Another could be an individual suffering from anorexia. Whatever reason 90% of the time they hate the sport and running will always be a struggle. #3. The third group is of particular interest. These are the heavy drinkers of the sport. They comprise about 90% percent of the running population. They are of the strictest alcoholics. You could describe them as geniuses. They have figured out a formula to drink excessive amounts of alcohol which forces them to continue to run. It's basically due or die. When they are sober say 1 hour before there run they tend to not just hate running but secretly totally despise it. It is at that magic point of the clock, that says that if you don't get out there that your life will be very different in a matter of seconds. We all know about that female runner who got injured years ago while on a run in Arkansas and the next day she was seen jumping into a monkey pit at a zoo and started slapping monkeys in the face. She blamed it on alcohol and of course withdrawal from endorphins. These "Pub Runners" are lucky though for one reason. They don't even remember their runs the day before because they got so very drunk. It is the standard after every run. The unique ability to not remember that you are a runner or even the person that he or she slept with the night before makes running considerably easier. Thus they have a distinguished advantage over runners in the second group of this article.

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  6. I admit I am in the #2 category. It's not easy getting out there. Never is. Health benefits and competing are both exciting. A beautiful trail that I have never ran on is about the only time I totally 100% go into the complete spirit of running. Problem is I know every single trail at the Quabbin Reservoir.

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  7. However it ended, 2017 was a great year for you. Great book/fast times, new opportunities.

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