non-fiction · Uncategorized

Finding the Balance.

Chicago is going through its first legitimate cold snap right now. As per usual, people are huddled in their homes, keeping it toasty, while they take a week or two to acclimate to the cold. Eventually they will accept the inevitable damp, grey slush-scape that is midwestern winter, emerge from their homes, and it’s business as usual. Until then, however, the streets are pretty bare. As is the 606.

The 606, also known as the Bloomingdale trail, is more or less Chicago’s answer to New York’s High Line. It is a paved path that stretches east to west from the Wicker Park to Humboldt Park neighborhoods. It serves runners, bikers, and a plethora of people that don’t understand how not to walk in groups of six wide. As I mentioned though, it’s currently a ghost town.

With the exception of a bunch of runners.

I dragged myself out of bed to head up there yesterday for what was at first, an unrelenting dumpster fire of a run. My trachea felt like I was gargling knives, and about a mile in, I stepped into a huge puddle (If you’ve ever run in Saucony Iso’s you know there’s NO CHANCE those bad dads are drying off). But, as I got into a rhythm and my throat-knives subsided, I began to relax and take in the beauty of my surroundings. The lingering fall leaves were still clinging to branches, fighting against the wind like little ochre sequins. I miss the 7-months of Autumn I used to get in Seattle.

After about a mile and a half, I saw another runner. We gave each other “the nod” and continued on in our opposite directions. I’ve never been much of a nod guy, but there is a camaraderie in lacing up and going out during garbage weather. I saw another runner (nod) and another (nod). I began to feel as if it were a micro-community comprised of separate individuals all existing with the same purpose. Orbiting one other like moths at a flame.

I’ve always understood OBJECTIVELY that running is a community. That being said, I have never done much to inject myself into that community.  Most races I have run, I’ve run alone, and all of the runs I go on are alone.  I’m realizing as I write this, that rather than just an isolated approach to a sport I love, this behavior has been symptomatic of a greater personal perspective, one which has largely held me back for much of my life.

I believe we all have a “personal narrative” about ourselves, an idea of what we are SUPPOSED to be.  I am a contrarian by nature, and electing that to be the defining characteristic of my “narrative” in retrospect, has caused me a slew of problems. I have long worn the “doesn’t play well with others” label like a badge of honor. Individuals with these tendencies like myself, often amplify or manufacture resentments (in my experience) against people and things to further justify their difficult behavior.

For myself, that personal narrative controlled my emotions; and in turn, the majority of my decision making.  Rather than observing the world unfold around me and responding appropriately to my environment, I have engaged in unrealistic expectations of who I thought I was supposed to be; paddling upstream as it were. A taxing way of life for myself and those around me. I suppose thought of myself as some sort of charming, volatile, loner?!? Gross.

I digress.  The crux of what I very tangentially arriving at, is that when I put on my running gear, I am part of community rooted in a shared love for a sport. I can choose to engage with that, or I can choose to continuously alienate myself from a like-minded group of people with whom I can learn from. I suppose writing a blog is one of many ways I’m attempting to engage with the running community. I’ve also joined some meetup groups, and will hopefully be volunteering at some upcoming races.

I’m sure many of my fellow runners may also feel some the same isolationist tendencies. Don’t get me wrong, alone time is great, but I can slip WAY too far into it. It’s become important to me to get outside of my head once in a while and be a part of something bigger. Rewards can be found both internally and in community, I’m excited to find the balance.

See you on the trail.

non-fiction · Uncategorized

I HATE running

“Do you want to go running with me?”

If your experience as a runner is anything like mine, you already know the answer to this inquiry will be one of two things…

“Isn’t that so bad for your knees” (at which point I promptly ask if they like burgers, then start going on and on about heart attacks and cholesterol…it’s the same essential argument…always use it)

Even more so, I hear the blunt reply, “I HATE running.”

For a long time I felt this was a crazy sentiment at best, and an outright blasphemous one at worst. What kind of maniac doesn’t want to spend a couple hours just running around?! A lot of maniacs apparently; and when I look at it from an objective viewpoint, they’re right. Consider it. You’re sweating buckets, you smell, your feet hurt, there’s injury potential, and an ill-timed fart could be fraught with peril. Why put yourself through that?

I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself the answer is entirely psychological. It doesn’t really matter if I love to run, or if I hate to run. I need to run. It’s an absolute reprieve from the stress I experience on a day to day basis. Like many, my childhood had it’s fair share of emotional trauma, much of which I haven’t fully dealt with. I constantly worry about getting and maintaining a financial foothold for my future; something I am nowhere near. Running is an experience in mindfulness. Whatever anxiety I feel regarding my past or future is put on hold when I’m putting one foot in front of the other and breathing (which is great for me, because I SUCK at stationary meditating). I don’t ever expect to be one of those heartwarming “running turned my life around” stories, nor do I need to be. It’s enough right now that I have a cathartic activity I can take pride in.

The levels of said catharsis can fluctuate greatly from run to run. Yesterday evening I went on my first double-digit mileage run in months and felt it prodigiously. I haven’t had an emotionally charged run like it since my last marathon (YEARS ago). To put it in context, I have been recuperating from an ankle sprain all summer, and this was the first time in so long I’ve been able to run beyond 5 miles with any efficiency. But it was more than just that “I’m f-ing back! I’m healthy again!!!!” feeling. It was the first time in months I’ve been able to gain anything close to a reasonable perspective on my life. I have been awash in negativity for MONTHS. I’ve probably been very insufferable and toxic to those around me. I’ve been fearful my life won’t turn out how I picture it, and that fear has made me withdrawn and selfish. I realized all of this in the span of that run. Twelve miles saw my anger dissolve into fear, my fear into pain, my pain into sadness, and my sadness into understanding; an understanding that nothing in my life was as bad as I was making it out to be, and I’m SO fortunate I can just get up and go run.

Moments like that are why I chose to start this blog. I want to share the positive experiences that running brings me, and the pitfalls it helps me navigate.

You can love or hate it, but running is there if you need it.