Former 2:24 marathoner, now pushing 50 and reduced to a pitiable spastic shuffle • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on distance running since 1999; mostly a crank since approximately 2016 and possibly long before • Coach and adviser of less pessimistic perambulators • Dobie-mix owner Sentence-fragment impresario

Sunday, January 13, 2019

One glaring lie

I just realized that as a corollary to doing literally all of my running with my dog beginning on Nov. 1, I have now done about 75 consecutive runs without listening to music. I haven't assembled this long of a no-earphones streak of running since, I believe, the early 1990s. Actually, for all I know I have never done it because it's nothing I've ever formally or passively tracked. I started listening to a Walkman while doing runs alone for the first time in the winter of 1984-1985, in my freshman year of high school. I had run cross-country on a last-minute suggestion, so this was my first experience with off-season running prep. On that cassette tape I used over and over while running mostly in the frozen slop of the dirt roads of Canterbury, N.H. were such forgettable top-40 numbers such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, I Want to Know What Love Is and Let's Hear It For The Boy. Except that they aren't forgettable, either to me or to a great many radio stations. I'm not sure that in those days anyone realized what a lasting and powerful influence George Michael would become, but no one ever sees the upper echelon of pop culture coming.

I have expressed the idea here that my mother never should have encouraged me to start running in the late summer of 1984 (in reality, I see the problem as originating further upstream and wish that my parents had never met in the first place, but that's a different and perhaps darker exploration). In truth, I can accept having been a runner for the first 20 years I hacked away at it, but I should have stopped entering races in November 2004, right after I placed second in the USATF 50K Road "Championship" for that year. A few months earlier, I moved from San Francisco to Florida with one of my many then-girlfriends. I would soon turn 35; that spring I had set a spate of personal bests out west and wasn't going to run any new ones of note, and my chances of qualifying for the Olympic Trials had dropped to about zero. I had just wrapped all of the work on Run Strong, having attended the photo shoot in central Illinois, and was awaiting its publication the next spring. To the extent that I ever wrote anything about running that was worth fuck-all -- a debatable notion, to be sure -- I certainly didn't envision coming up with additional good ideas (and I was right).

Had I just managed to walk away from the whole mess, as wiser and more resolute people have done, I might not consider my life to be quite as much as a hideous waste of five decades (portions of six, in fact) as I do now. Fifteen years ago, I was still young enough so that I could have focused on something both useful and long-term, like graduate school. If you listen to hopeful delusional fuckers my age, I still am. But instead, I continued banging out 100-mile weeks for no good reason, kept submitting garbage to running magazines, and even began coaching people online. What started as rude but excusable folly turned into an outright farce, and sadly, I lived through a number of gruesome experiences I basically bet on not surviving. Yeh, I can't even do self-annihilation right.

Of course, none of that shit matters. If I am alive in 2034, I will be singing a different remix of the same self-pitying shitballad about how I wasted my great potential while never actually having any potential at all. I love observing truisms like this one: Someone will be the first person to read this after I'm dead and wonder why it didn't happen sooner. It's easy for me to claim today that had I just become inspired to do such-and-such-a-thing all those fuckin' years ago, I wouldn't be contemptuous of myself 80 percent of the time today. But I have resented being alive a significant fraction of the time since the mid- to late 1990s. Despite the nominal advantages inherent in being younger, I fundamentally didn't care to be here then any more than I do now; it's just harder to be taken seriously about that when you're in your twenties, because people wrongly accuse young people who have already had their fill of existence of being in some kind of phase. Maybe some are, but a lot of us started looking for an easy exit out of this shit.

The older people get, the more invisible most of them naturally become even when trying to make noise, and I'm no exception. This means that anything useful I might accidentally expel about running or anything else has less and less potential to affect anyone positively, and correspondingly at the other extreme, none of my negative output will lead anyone to quit who wasn't 95 percent of the way there already. I won't take credit for anything good anyone ever does any more than I will accept blame for some bleak-minded bastard taking his own head off with a mighty swing of an axe moments after finishing one of my shitposts.

At some point, since I and my words are not literally invisible, someone is bound to offer the idea that I'm clinically depressed. Even my therapist is sanguine about this. I have a bunch of old Celexa on hand, but I'm not sure that ever did any good, and in any case its already limited effects wore off sometime in 2017; I also have massive piles of trazodone I could take to get to sleep but prefer to go without because of the mild restless-legs syndrome it irregularly causes, including that of the middle leg. (At 49, I enjoy bouts of priapism; no one sees these, and I just swagger and stagger around the room until things subside.) The only drug I take now is caffeine, although I did smoke a joint in the park with the old wise man up yonder. That stuff is nothing to fuck with these days, medical-grade legal weed. Anyway, you see, I am not waiting to get past some inexplicable funk so I can get on with shit and be a better contributor at work and a better influence on the people I see every day and yada-yada-yada. This, living, is the funk and it's wholly explicable. I know the difference. I remember times in which I did not want to feel shitty so that I'd have a better shot at my goals, and managing to find ways to do that. I feel none of that imperative to expend effort trying to change anything now because there are no goals. And as much as I would like to say that this is entirely the result of changes in my internal psychological-emotional environment, this is not the case. These days, instead of being dismissive or passively scornful, I actively detest huge swaths of people I don't personally know and implore gods I don't believe in to launch them all in the general direction of Neptune.

I am basically a half-fossilized retired person who still has to generate income because as ramshackle as my meats, gases and minerals are, there is an excellent chance they will survive for quite a while yet. I can do this without interacting with any of you on a meaningful level, and despite my reliably acidic output, I don't spend enough time -- yet -- feeling defeated to take myself out. I am also not joking, which is what makes me so boundlessly charming. I am going to watch a few episodes of Bosch on Amazon Prime and fall asleep at about 2 a.m. I ran for a little over an hour today with Rosie -- my first run of that duration since October, I think -- and discussed multiple things of great importance out there. One of these was the fact that having spent a lot of time recently in federal prison for wire fraud, I was allowed to keep all of the money, mostly because the government was impressed with my tenacity and innovative approaches. So I have to earn money, but only enough to feed two very non-picky eaters and make a robust but very fair rent payment each month. And car insurance, but I might decide to smash that car into a concrete wall soon and thereby relinquish ownership. But I still love popsicles in the winter, and Doug Stanhope, and watching animals cavort around in the snow. I even appreciate the way some parents look lovingly at their children, even though to me most children are little more than huge screaming gobs of mucus, disease, and future Reddit accounts.

One of many lovely, uplifting things I have seen on Twitter is "Birth is a sentence and life is the prison." I agree, but I don't look at this metaphor in a purely negative light. The rec facilities are actually okay, and you can release yourself whenever you like, even if doing so may take apparent extremes of effort.

I'll turn off the leaky faucet now.

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