Foolishly, I’ve signed up for a 10k race with The Dirtbag, to be held in September in Portland, Oregon (read about it here). As I slide down the backside towards 40, it’s occurred to me that some sort of training is in order. Regimen details are boring, so I’ll spare you, but it began in earnest two days ago. It was a day I’ll remember for at least a week, since I think it’s the first time in recorded history that I’ve gone into major organ failure. And, along with my lungs throwing a rod, I felt my will to push the throttle diminishing with each slow revolution of the feet. More depressing than the lack of capability to run three miles without walking was the knowledge that last year I’d worked it on up to seven miles before a knee issue (compounded by sheer tonnage) sidelined my last attempt to train for a race.
Intimidation and fear of failure are powerful self-loathing tools, indeed.
What in THE HELL am I thinking? There’s a reason that the average lifespan of the American male in 1800 was 35 years; it’s the same reason there aren’t too many professional athletes my age. We’re physically ready to die, and building up a resistance to that is going to be an uphill fight from here on out. And most days, that stupid hill seems like more effort than it’s worth.
It got me to thinking: what’s the measure of a good firefighter? Besides an ability to clean toilets without complaint, a tolerance for bureaucracy, and a deep and abiding love for irregular sleep patterns, I’ve boiled it down to one admirable trait: an ability to persevere when conditions are rapidly deteriorating around you. Of course, this is the hallmark of not only good firefighters, but professionals of every stripe. And when it comes down to athletics, or finding love after your spouse dies in a cruise ship wreck, or being a quadriplegic dog trying to win the Iditarod, there’s no shortage of movies with stirring music that focus on the will of the winner. And despite having an iPod cranking out the very motivational Dropkick Murphys while I try and run three miles, there is no heroic soundtrack that pushes me through the pain. There is no Chariots Of Fire playing while I lithely high step like a gazelle around the gravel track; in fact the only thing comparable is that my full speed could be construed as the right cadence for the slow-mo scenes.
It was hot, it was sweaty and I’m pretty sure I sounded like a musk-ox in its death-throes as I drunkenly weaved around, lap after lap, getting more pissed by the meter. I wish I could’ve told you the moment when I gritted my teeth and dug deep into my well of endurance and sand and machismo, but it never happened. It was a wheezing painful experience from start to finish, one I never enjoyed. Aches were compounded with the acrid scent of shame as I was getting passed and lapped by the fit people, who no doubt felt pretty good about themselves as they floated by me. When I looked into my mental locker of tools to deal with difficult situations, all I came up with was blinding rage, an abundance of apathy and an unhealthy relationship with bourbon and bacon. Hardly the keys to a winning career in distance running. I leaned heavily on self-loathing and rage at the weather to sustain me that last 2.9 miles. Use what tools you own, I suppose. And in a grouchy, sweaty disjointed heap, I stumbled across mile 3 in what seemed like several hours.
And that was the on the first day. It’s gonna be a long couple of months.