Dead Signal

I bought 15 black t-shirts. I went through my drawers and closet, removing every shirt with a printed image or statement, meticulously folded them and put them in a crate for storage. They are in my basement, waiting for a use as dust rags or some other sense of purpose. I’m not Steve Jobs. I just feel increasingly uncomfortable with a society of strangers that can’t stop signaling to each other. Every social media post. Every statement on a t-shirt. Every bumper sticker. It’s part of our very genetic makeup…to signal. And for some reason I want to get away from it, maybe not completely, but at least less openly. It’s a ridiculous attempt, I know, to transcend our genetic lineage. We are communicative and cooperative beings, motivated by the dual functions of survival and self-interest. So to live above our signaling motives is to become, in a way, suicidal. Still, it feels so silly, to project ourselves out into a society of strangers, seeking a useless sense of validation. Every Facebook post. Every instagram photo. Every blog essay (this one especially). Every t-shirt is a signal to others for that desperate validation, that desperate cooperation, or at least the sense thereof, because in a society of strangers and fleeting communication, the projections and signals flicker like dying lights.

I bought 15 black t-shirts, which is funny because even they are signals. They are signals that I’m the type of person that doesn’t want to be a part of signaling, which is a signal. Everything speaks. Silence is deafening they say. There is something, however, about signaling less blatantly. It’s harder to be pigeonholed, to be assumed. You can leave people guessing.

A woman walked by this morning, “Lift” written on her shirt, as if the butthugger tights painted over her bulging thighs didn’t say it already. I was in a black t-shirt, saying nothing. As the sun rose, however, I was throwing down 8 x 3 minutes hard and 1 minute easy for 10 miles. When I was done, I was in a black shirt, drinking coffee poured into a protein laced smoothie for breakfast. I could have just woken up as far as anyone could tell.

One of the founders of Patagonia is still a climber in his old age. In the documentary 180 degrees south he is going to climb a certain route and is asked, “What do you want to name it?”

“Nothing. I don’t want to name it. I just want to climb it and let that be it.”

His disavowal of owning the climb, of putting his human expression on it, signals nothing and signals so much at the same time. There is something in that which speaks to me deeply. I love the idea of signaling in the act. When I run my body says so much, my movement conveys all it needs to convey. When I stop running, the signal turns off. I shower, put on my clothing that hides the abilities, says nothing to no one, and then go about the day.

I’m not above signaling. No one is. It is a part of our very biology into behavior, but I do enjoy the game of understanding it, recognizing it’s motivations, suppressing it’s useless exaggerations, and using it to it’s most effective outcomes. When it comes to running though, there is something pure and satisfying about letting the run be the signal, then killing the switch the moment the effort stops.

If the new age phrase “Just be” has any value, it’s not in the signal of the phrase, but the literal, physical act. Outside of running, a black t-shirt is the closest I can get to killing the signal.

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Seeking Emptiness

The idea that running is a test of physical strength, of reaching the finish before the body breaks, quite literally, is nothing needing deeper explanation. Everything falls apart. Everyone internalizes this natural law as if it’s hardwired into our genetic code, probably because it is, in example if not theory. What comes harder are acknowledging the limits of the mind, the ever weakening resolve to retain hope in concert with the breaking body, but also the downward curve of light filled positivity towards something darker and more dire. The running struggle is either reconciling the two, bringing them into harmony like pulling up two sides of a zipper, or using the power of one to drag along the deadening weight of the other. In the repetition of running, these laws of psychological push and pull etched themselves into my body until I could not just expect them, but prepare myself to continue going when the stories get dark and the painting picture is smeared with sloppy strokes.

Down the street I take careful steps, assessing the accumulated stresses of all the days prior in my feet, upon damaged heels as if they took the pounding of an anvil, frozen rubber bands where quads should be, calves in a tug of war struggle between knees and achilles. A slow warmth builds in the body and tightness gives way to a more gentle grip upon the legs, letting the mind free to wander without restriction all the same.

Flashes of the neighborhood come and go as the snippets of knowledge I have regarding each house and it’s quirky inhabitants roll through my head like a stop action film. The all weather porch smokers, watching me run by in a shared confusion. Autistic boy walks to the edge of his sidewalk then turns and sprints back to the front door, over and over again. Family of hispanic day laborers inhaling calm within the cavernous belly of their family van turned work vehicle. Old angry dog chasing me parallel down the fence to retain some sense of youthful purpose. No individual moment grabs hold and draws out a story as my mind wakes up with the body.

Into the first mile the body finally opens fully and settles into the groove well worn into this recording, the grooves of a record spinning into each other but never finding the center. Equally I find thoughts awakening to themselves, rolling through tasks to come later in the day, finding a certain hope and positivity to make the most of the hours post-run. The body remains reserved, an instinctual safety mechanism to allow for the needed fuel and muscular tension that will be drawn up from deep down in the well later into the miles, and similarly the mind does the same, keeping the intensity of stories quiet, the emotional explosions capped as if building pressure to convert into physical energy.

At some point then, a shift takes place. A physical and psychological sweet spot that is the body and mind finally waking, as if a drug induced stimulation has taken hold and a capability beyond actual capacity takes over, which might actually be what happens as the morning coffee spreads throughout the bloodstream. With no discernable effort the still air begins to blow gently across the body, the sidewalk breaks are leapt over in larger swaths, and the body is suddenly gliding with a form and power unintentional. Equally the mind has opened, consciousness rising as a sun pouring itself over the horizon, illuminating the entire landscape so that all reality is visible and clearly present. It is here where running creates a moment for me that is hard to convey, except to state plainly that at this moment I feel most alive, most open, as if emotions are physical and my chest has been split wide open to let the warmth bathe them, to invigorate their molecular energy so that they jitter and bounce against each other in an unbridled excitement. The emotional veils, the philosophical confusions that cloud our thoughts, the heaviness of obligations all lift to reveal the most perfect moment. This fleeting moment, give it 400 meters, is when, above all, I love the most. Nothing touches me. I open up. And the love I have for my son, for Laura, for the gratitude of still being here, for the simple but fulfilling life I have struggled to build is simultaneously poured into and out of me.

Then it fades, like a downhill momentum gently leveling out onto flatland before beginning the slow push back up. If I’m lucky, I’ll push that moment into half a mile, but such a special confluence of rivers, physical and psychological, can only last so long as they dilute each other into the slowing ocean they must become. It is here that longer stories must take over, a concerted attempt to pass the continuous miles stretching out ahead. Depending upon the day the stories are often daydreams, of races won or running battles that turn impossibly epic. This space is for the safety of absurd narratives where ego and arrogance are allowed space, to enter and pass through like trains to tunnels. There is no harm in playing out these fantasies, if only to get transcend the slow burn of increasing muscular tension and heart rates that beat out punk songs fractions of a second out of rhythm to the soft rock that eased us this far. The miles that follow entertain the ends of marathons never run, in triumphant comebacks, of overcoming dying runners too ambitious or naive to have mastered the distance, both allowing an inspirational feedback loop that runs through legs to lungs to mind to legs and back again while also distracting from the ground covered.

Until, without warning, another change takes place and the stories of victory have shifted, and endings turn ugly. Trying to grab onto daydreams of my son, anticipating our summer time together, get derailed into thoughts of “her” and the accumulated dead weight of insults and indignities heaped upon my best intentions. Or worst case scenarios take over, a problematic survival mechanism I can’t seem to shake from my psyche, preparing me for a life after sudden deaths, impossible tragedies, or more realistic sufferings like expected cancer surgeries or metastasizing.  An equal effort to keep my legs turning over at the rhythm my lungs allow meets the mental effort of not succumbing to real life frustrations or emotional states that push the body to resignation, to submission, to just plain giving up.

The mind and body are inseparable. Despite the potential to take consciousness where we imagine, unhindered by the very real molecular walls of the world, it can’t escape the interplay with a body breaking down. One follows the other as boxers suspiciously circling each other in a ring, adjusting their moves in anticipation of the opponent.

It is here where not just victories are made, where better runners separate from the weaker, but where effective runs become transcendent runs. It is here, past the depleted body and the darkened mind, where mentally trained and experienced runners find new wells of energy from which to draw and new canvases from which to paint narratives seemingly forgotten. In the last couple miles of red-lined effort a runner seeking distinct progression must be able to find clarity, to pull out of blurred borders and find a mental focus that will bring them to their self-defined finish, against a body now emptied and a mind equally blank. Most often, my narratives become reality, which is to enter a meditative state where my focus is only upon the field of vision directly in front of me. All environmental distractions, cars, voices yelling out, the white noise of urbanity, simply become sidewalls, as borders to a path straight ahead. The mind absorbs these influences, but can grab nothing to formulate an imagined story except the one word poem repeated with each foot fall.

Finish.
Finish.
Finish.

Positivity and negativity, imagined creations forced from the necessity to endure through the miles, have run their course, quite literally, and one is left with simply the clarity to maintain, to not expend effort creating victory nor to crumble beneath the weight of any self-doubting thought. All is left is a certain broken body and broken mind, untouchable by the world, only seeking to complete the physical act the runner seems to have been developed to do, and nothing else. When the last step is made and the effort weighted breath finally expended, a runner is a purified vessel, emptied and open mouthed, unwittingly reaching a conclusion they didn’t know they were seeking. Filled with so much imagination and potential, but also so much accumulated theory and baggage, it is the final emptiness that is so cleansing. It is then we can truly rest, both body and mind.

Athletes For Veganism

Veganism has experienced a significant spike in cultural awareness over the past few years, in no small part due to the varying success and promotion of vegan athletes. Not a plant-based documentary comes out without highlighting plant eating athletes as definitive proof of the value in herbivorous eating. The reasoning for this isn’t too veiled, in the ways we uphold athletes as specimens of optimal living, their bodies primed to execute beyond challenges most find next to impossible. The demands of these athletics upon their bodies demands an equally matched attention to fueling it, so it follows that plant-based athletes have a certain privilege in promoting veganism. It should also be noted that those in opposition to the vegan ethic kinda dug this hole they have found themselves in looking for a way out, constantly trying to burden us with the non-existent malady of protein deficiency alongside painting the stereotype of the frail and nutritionally deficient vegan, and finally attaching absurd notions of primal manhood to the act of eating animal bodies they buy so delicately packaged from the grocery store. To those dying stereotypes, plant-based athletes drive the stake through their heart.

Plant-based athleticism is a welcomed addition to the conversation in regards to veganism and the ways we relate to our fellow animals, notably because it simplifies the retort to the weakening arguments just mentioned, and then allows us to refocus the conversation back towards notions of respect towards all animals and an ever-widening ethic of liberation for all animals, human and non. If there is an ultimate value to promoting plant-based athletes, it is using them to underscore veganism (which is a drastically different idea than just being plant-based). The problem with arguing for plant-based athleticism, however, is when the conversation ends by pointing to the successes of the athletes so that the intentions of veganism are lost to selfish goals. The current discussions around plant-based athleticism continue to focus upon “shortened recovery time”, “lean muscle mass building”, and other PRIMARILY ANECDOTAL proclamations. I stress the anecdotal nature of these statements because, to my knowledge, there has yet to be a long-term, comprehensive study of plant-based athletes in relation to their progressions / digressions pre and post dietary changes. If the argument for plant-based athleticism is based upon the successes of the plant-based athletes and their stated reasonings for their personal success, then we have absolutely nothing to go on save for varied and personal experimentation. That’s fine and all, but doesn’t lend to valuable, credible research papers. The science isn’t even inconclusive because the science hasn’t even been tested. If the conversation around plant-based athleticism is limited to these anecdotal statements, then we aren’t talking about veganism at all, but rather listening to the braggadocio of athletes and their selfish ends. Athleticism is a deeply self-interested pursuit, of which I take no fault, and although all acts are at base self-interested, veganism at least breaks from the personal nature of plant-based athleticism to include others in it’s considerations. This is the juncture at which we need to reconcile plant-based athleticism and vegan athletes. One is a selfish diet, the other is an ethical guide for cooperative and liberatory relationships.

If plant-based athleticism is a gateway to veganism, then I fully embrace erecting an archway for others to walk through. Indeed, many activist groups have found athletic outreach as a way to bring attention to animal justice ethics and have begun forming teams or training programs to fundraise for their efforts or simply advertise veganism. Less encouraging, via my limited engagement with larger vegan culture, are the documentaries and plant-based athletes who signal boost themselves and their corresponding brands via their successes, but do little to nothing to promote veganism at base. They continue to confuse plant-based eating with veganism by definition and cloud the discussions around animal liberation and exactly what ends we are trying to achieve. I don’t necessarily fault the profiled athletes for being deliberately elusive or manipulative in their expressions, for I don’t think we are always seeking the same ends, and even some of them unwittingly found themselves speaking to an audience of vegans when they were only interested in experimenting with diets to achieve athletic success. With that acknowledged, it is up to us, as vegan athletes, to continue shaping the discussion towards animal justice, liberatory ethics, and, if we must shine a light upon athletes, then shining a light upon those athletes using their practice and exposure to promote veganism rather than self-interested physical accomplishments. Vegan athleticism has a powerful connection to dominant culture and we should not squander the opportunity to formulate relationships through shared athletic interests, but we also shouldn’t leave our ethics outside the conversations.

To lay bare a somewhat obvious personal bias here, this plea could be seen as a veiled whining about not getting enough attention for my own athleticism. Fair enough, but trust this is not my motive. My very small, dwindled readership could never constitute a force strong enough to signal boost my own weak branding. Couple that with my complete sabotage of a social media presence (flip phone future!) and I hope my intentions are taken as more self-interested rather than selfish. My genuine intention with writing this blurb is to do my small part in keeping the conversation upon veganism and the crucial immediacy of animal liberation while equally giving perspective towards the problematic nature of upholding plant-based athletes over vegan athletes. Vegans can be an understandably desperate bunch, pushed to the fringes of normative culture, with a knowledge of immense animal suffering that demands immediate attention, so any sliver of acknowledgement by larger culture is pounced upon by vegan culture, but sometimes this immediacy and urgency clouds a reasoned perspective and tactical approach to convincing others of the validity of our arguments. Every plant-based (or vegan) athlete, no matter how wingnut (Kyrie Irving) they turn out to be or how removed from animal ethics they are, tend to get put upon a pedestal and paraded around as the savior for all beings, which tends to support the idea that vegans are actually unhinged, mentally troubled individuals holding to their unhinged, irrational eating habits and behavioral ethics. Vegans have to be more rational and grounded in their approaches and arguments and discussions and pleas for veganism.

Ultimately, we need to use the tools of high-performing vegan athletes not as a trump card that only solidifies the selfish needs of athletes, but rather to promote an expanding analysis of total freedom and how to get there. A world of plant-based athletes can still exist within the parameters of great oppression and authoritarian strangleholds, while a world of vegan athletes can not. There is a very distinct difference to both approaches and as vegans and as vegan athletes, it is crucial that we keep drawing the lines dividing the two.

Still Unkillable

I debated getting the word “Unkillable” tattooed across my back, shoulder to shoulder, in vista blocking black letters. To be honest, the debate continues back and forth at the moment. The attempts to visually draw a line between myself and the rest of normative culture suddenly seemed tame when, in high school, I fell in with a group of friends, most college-aged, who not only drew lines between themselves and the rest of the world, upon their bodies, but also drew lines that connected each other together. The ethics of our underground culture brought above sea level with ethical proclamations etched across lower backs screaming out STRAIGHT EDGE, from shoulder to shoulder DRUG FREE, the sides of heads UNBROKEN, choking necks VEGAN. Not just incredibly bold and seemingly dangerous statements to the world, I found my bare skinned self, embodying an untested extremist personality, painfully attracted to the aesthetics alone. I had shit to say just as desperately as their bodies advertised all the same and I found saying it in bold black letters most appropriate. Of course, my attempts to do so as I got older waned in severity, though RESISTANCE cascading down my forearm is a suitable concession. Now almost 42, it’s more prideful than childishly amusing that I am still drawn to such drastic exclamations. My fire doesn’t die down.

“Unkillable” being the word I chose to define my experience, perspective even, for the Runner’s World cover contest that I somehow won. To stand out you have to shout louder, I guess, or just pose more Xtreme (TM).

Today being the 5th anniversary of my first cancer surgery, the abstract line I draw in the abstract creation of linear time to mark the beginning of my life as a cancer patient, I thought it demanded some demarcation of celebration, or if not celebration, then powerful acknowledgement. I would run, of course, because that’s what I do anyways, and maybe something deeper and meaningful would come of that, but I don’t know, 5 years seemed like it was worth something more, hence the tattoo consideration that I haven’t yet fully embraced or dismissed. But there it is. The consideration anyways. Because 5 years IS a thing, and although it’s not unheard of in regards to my specific cancer, the success rates and corresponding timelines aren’t necessarily so promising either. I’ll never forget how dead I was…on paper. So if living is so awesome and unpredictable and so UNGUARANTEED, then what is it if not for absurd gestures and delusional proclamations of being UNKILLABLE, though all history and biology and evidence is to the contrary. Who fuckin cares, we’re all worm food in the end, so just go for it.

5 years later and I’m undeniably a different person, in ways more tempered and humbled, while also the same raging 20 something looking to change the world by first setting it all on fire to start again. This is all for me though, of course, this consideration of etching a proclamation into my body, this acknowledgment of my continued mortality, which is interesting because over the past 5 years many people from all over found themselves drawn into my story by varying degrees, some fleeting and others more lasting. I’ve never tried to fully dismiss their interest, though remaining aware that this is my story, for me.

With half a glance over my shoulder for accountability, I’ll say this. I didn’t often dwell on dying, because living well has always been my intent, before and during cancer. It is and always will be a guiding premise for me, which has garnered me tremendous personal rewards that are hard to convey to those without the fortune to actually experience them. It’s one thing to say how great life is without smoking, but no one buys it, even though all of us who don’t smoke don’t just KNOW it, we FEEL it. We LIVE it. My intent to not just live, but to live well is no different. If others watching with interest get anything from my experience, I would hope it would be some manner of perspective that adversity isn’t the obstacle, but rather how one lives through it. We all exist with experiences that can erode our quality of life one way or another, but how we meet these experiences, how we filter them through our narratives, and how we move forward is what defines the severity of each obstacle. Cancer, and the potential of abbreviated mortality, was/is my primary obstacle, but it really just exists as another opportunity to test my narratives, to test my resolve to not just live, but live well. Cancer gave me the opportunity, the excuse, to lie down and die. It gave me the excuse to crawl into a hole and just let existence drift away…but that’s fucking boring.

Without going into all the specifics and what’s and who’s, I continued on with cancer in the same ways I had with all the obstacles that came prior, with a careful mix of hopeful potential and pointed revenge. I don’t claim that I have a formula for anyone else to follow into adversity, but rather just the evidence that continuing on is a reality, that living well is always an option.

Each year I watch various friends and loved ones succumb to the weight of modern life, either devoid of a narrative that lifts them above the drowning, or blatantly letting the fog of perspective cloud their vision for other open vistas. They accept some pathetic baseline of health through the most destructive vices, resting in the comfort of everyone else’s apathy. They allow the sedentary pulls of modern convenience drag them into physical and psychic paralysis. And worst of all, they allow the mechanisms of civilized life build a wall between them and the rest of existence, forcing their hand to pull the guillotine down upon it’s victims. Lives held as respectable are just dressed up versions of dying.

If my experience with not only facing my mortality but absorbing the sufferings of treatment and the edges of dying are to mean anything, it will be to point to all the victories of joy experienced along the way, the miles run towards greater strength and speed, the continued drive to find optimal ways to cooperate on behalf of the less fortunate, and to just prove the possibility of a life well lived in the face of what could have been the end of that possibility.

That end, of course, will come. It may be through this cancer or something else after this cancer has been killed within me. The proclamation of being UNKILLABLE will fade with the ink, death laughing at the hubris, but along the way, if it wasn’t the body that couldn’t be killed, then at least it can’t be denied that it was the spirit that continued unrestricted, expansive, and alive. It’s all we can hope for as individuals finding ourselves thrown into this consciousness through the most improbable chance. Throughout this improbability, death is not to be feared. It is letting the dying take over while you still have the opportunity to be alive.

5 years as a testament to a unique sort of living. “Unkillable” I like to put it.

Get Better Soon

Surf culture has a distinct set of rules that govern the pecking order at lineups, where groms (new surfers) and kooks (bad surfers), not to mention non-locals, give way to all those not situated in such categories. Even among those non-grom, non-kook locals, a recognition of respect and, therefore, wave permission succession is given to the surfers who have accumulated the most time in the water (over years, not the day), developed the skills to make the most of each wave, and a hefty dose of straight aggressive posturing no doubt. From my landlocked understanding, you simply don’t drop down the face of a wave without the express, if not verbal, permission of those around you. It’s not necessarily a “fair” and “just” setup by the way pure egalitarians view such concepts, but culture itself isn’t predicated upon fairness and justice. It’s about what works for those residing in the boundary waters of said culture, fairness as it’s victim.

The specifics of surf lineup culture are somewhat understandable, in regards to eschewing fairness for a functional process. Waves themselves, being a permanent resource in the long term, but a resource of scarcity in the moment, lend to a cut throat sense of immediacy, of blood in the water panic, of extreme fear of missing out for all hoping to catch a wave that THIS TIME JUST MIGHT BE THE PERFECT WAVE. Get barreled. See the future. Look god in the face.

Twenty surfers floating in a limitless flood of water, but positioned JUST SO for optimal chances at ONE WAVE, over and over again. The possibilities do end. So each surfer sits in the lineup, searching for the least crowded sets, the algorithim of best waves situated during extreme times of days where most are working, asleep, or otherwise not in the water. Otherwise, the pecking order cascades down upon them until they sit trying to reconcile the functional processes of culture with the sheer luck of an unexpected perfect wave rolling through exactly when their lottery numbers are pulled.

It’s an ugly way of working out scarcity economics, but it does work, if sometimes a bit violently. At special breaks, the establishment of pecking order leaves the water and asserts itself in parking lots and as far inland as necessary to keep local liquid utopias uncrowded and tribal. Coordination to keep out non-locals entails walkie-talkie communications, knives in tires, looks that kill or at least threaten to do so. The dry land stereotype of dirty haired surfers too brain-soaked with ocean to think clearly gives way to military coordinated lawyers and foot soldier extremists hell-bent on solidifying the culture of lineup privilege through waves of violence separated by lulls of intimidation.

The end result is a functional culture, not so much pretty, or fair or just, but functional no less. To outsiders, notably the solid-footed of us, standing on ground high above sea level, on high-horses as such, our perspectives are viewed through the lenses of morality. We are anthropological amateurs, imposing impractical morality upon functional processes. And yet, we have our own cultures marred by their own imperfect forms of process, give or take degrees of severity.

Running culture, fortunately, doesn’t bring to mind such stark divisions or necessary permissions doled out sparingly, for our resources to partake truly are endless, in so far as the land runs to the water’s edge. There is no jockeying for access to the best trails, the clearest rail-trails, the hilliest road. The ground is accessible to all, by all. Admittedly, race entries to huge marathons sometimes necessitate an actual lottery system to keep resources manageable, but in comparison to the organic wave created culture of surfing, this is an institutionalized necessity and not an athlete established agreement. Maybe the most similar example that comes to mind is a pecking order at workout starting lines, where the ones who go furthest the fastest find themselves up front, toes on the line, after other runners parted the way for them to be there. This is less a cultural agreement, however, and more a physical necessity for everyone to find their way forward without the risk of tripping over legs not spinning as quick. The bottom line is that runners simply don’t vibe each other, if only because the needs to vibe each other off the road, out of the workout, back to the trailhead parking lot don’t exist. The running pursuit exists more in the limitless resource within our bodies than in any shared external object. We are free to run as individuals, by our own rules, rather than the demands of culture, of gathered beings, working things out between each other.

With all that said, let me pose one cultural proposition, one boundary of behavior…one wave to catch. It is this.

When I am sick, physically and psychically broken, and unequivocally unable to run….no one else is allowed to run either.

I know, it seems harsh. It seems unfair. Unjust even. But isn’t that the crux of culture? This unfairness, doesn’t it define us as a group, if so flawed and absurd in our own special way? What is a culture of runners if we can’t point to our ridiculous notions and say, “This. THIS ridiculous thing we do is what really draws a line between us and you.” If we must draw that line, and if no one else will propose a line of their own, then I say this line shall be drawn the moment I feel a sore throat and achy skin and opt to not tie on my shoes and head out the door and down the street.

It’s horrible really, wanting so badly to run, NEEDING to run even, but not being able to do so, and then even worse, watching a healthy specimen of an athlete bound down the street with a fluid grace, a perfect snapshot of right angles formed by elbows and knees feeling the sun and wind caress all exposed skin with the most gentle whispered touch. Meanwhile, you are rubbing sandpaper with each breath, each shifted position. They are rushing river and you are stagnant pond. They are minds filled with the joy and promise of what is to come and you are weighed down by the fog of knowing you will be sick like this till the day you die. It’s not fair, that others run when you can’t. It’s not just that your potentials go unfulfilled while theirs find new success. It’s plain bullshit that you’re sick and they’re not.

So let me reiterate this agreement I’m asking you to sign. When I’m sick, you can’t run. You can’t put your abilities in my face when I’m unable to return the favor. You can’t get better, experience more, take advantage when I’m getting worse, experiencing nothing, entirely disadvantaged. You can’t, COMPLETELY UNKNOWINGLY, add insult to injury with your unbridled joy. You just can’t.

Look, when I can’t run, the world can’t either. It’s not fair and it’s not just, but come on, if we need some cultural absurdity to help separate US from THEM, I personally can’t think of a better proposal on the table. As I rest my body, I rest my case.

And although no one has yet signed this unwritten agreement, and the parameters are so undefined as to be non-existent, just know this, that as I’m sick and you’re running, I’m going to vibe you. I’ll side eye your fluid form. I’ll squint until you’re only a sliver of movement. I’ll look away as you click off effortless 6 minute miles, just so you know how unimpressive they really are. I’ll mutter to myself, “this fuckin guy. stupid ass runners”. Like I said, I’ll vibe the shit out of you bruh, grom, kook. But hey, at the very least, I’ll stop at knifing your tires in the trailhead parking lot…I mean, because I think I’m starting to feel a little better, so maybe such drastic measures aren’t needed….not right now. For your sake, or your tire’s sake, I hope I feel better soon.

 

Luxurious

There is a certain luxury to running…just running. Without distinct goals. Without training plans. Without a race settled into the concrete somewhere far off, always getting closer, as a beacon on a peninsula, surrounded by waters acting as boundaries. The boundaries being the miles prescribed, the speeds at which are necessary for progression, the formulaic methods created over years of others experiences that you shall not break from, lest you sign this waiver of risk. Running for the sake of running is an act of complete dismissal, of throwing off the shackles of obligation, accountability and just plain common sense. It’s not always smart. Stressing the body with tension and ease like a string attached to a bouncing Yo-Yo can lead to complete failure. A snapping, of muscles if not mind. It’s not always effective either. To run against the best advice of coaches and the millions of feet that have tread this ground before you is not too dissimilar to just running off a cliff and hoping the wind is strong enough to keep you aloft. It’s not. You’ll fall. On the other hand, with a bit of luck and a lot of previous physiological adaptation, some pretty incredible magic can happen. Weeks of barely running can unwittingly turn into a 70 mile week stretch, that folds itself over into the next week, and where the slope was gradual, it now becomes slippery, until the angle tilts drastically into the shape of a cliff. And you go flying off, this time aloft.

Sometimes, this flying momentum, however, takes a bit of drudgery through the luxury. Sometimes, without the common sense to ease into the effort, steadily increasing stresses, forcing a sort of evolutionary adaptation hypersped to daily increments, but instead just going full force into a week of running, the body breaks down. Without a sneaky whispering to your body, like a kid behind you in class avoiding teacher detection, breathing out “We’re going to run a little further today, not a lot, just a bit. It won’t hurt,” you break. You run far and fast and it feels amazing, until the stresses of the effort rise above the adrenaline like cars passing in the night. Neither could tell the other was on the road. You lay on the couch, prop your legs up in great satisfaction, replaying the run in your mind, but when you get up to go about other business you find your legs have filled with a heavy, gelatinous fluid, threatening to harden into immobility. The true effect of what you just did to yourself makes itself apparent with no small touch of naive shame. “I should have known better.”

You do it again, of course, because with just enough muscular loosening the mind is willing to take the body out more than the body is convincing the mind to chill. You take legs beaten to a less optimal beginning state, a new weakness to start the run instead of ending it. You are not necessarily broken, but you are less strong. Still, you run, because the luxury of feeling the wind on your face, finding moments of fluid form, watching red-winged blackbirds take flight as you pass their batches of reeds instead of watching your watch tick over at mile markers, far outweighs the common sense speaking through a very pointed spot in your quad, and the heel speaking too loudly for library volume with every impact.

The next day you do it again, a body broken even further yet again, this time more because the pain in your heels prevents you from digging into the slippery slope now turned downward in a state of unavoidable gravity. Body be damned, we can keep going, if only for the sake of going, because the luxury to do so has risen in importance above doing so right.

And the next, with a bottom half now congealing into a thicker and thicker solution that requires considerable effort to warm up the muscles to an appropriately flexible state, as far as they will let you go without snapping. Legs swing past each other with abbreviated steps, morse code cut short, until the loosening allows for longer sentences written out upon the pavement. The pain, however, writes it’s own stories, cramming small angry words into a space defined by quads and calves, as if they would hurt less if they could only be scribbled off the page. But they can’t. The words typed into the body with every impact is a sharpened typewriter arm, hitting forcefully and focusedly.

The luxury is a powerful force, because at this point we run a very thin thread, threatening to snap at any moment, during or after any particular run. We run out of form, arms clasped into prayer hands, asking no one for the absurd will to leave our bodies intact, to make it back home one more time, to keep the luxury luxurious, if still so painful.

Here’s the ruse. The luxury to break is the luxury to keep running towards a new strength. The body heals itself and where it is wise to slowly build strength on a trajectory of pain-free running, to see the beacon in the distance and follow it’s light, the luxury to run the body into breaking will, if the thread stays intact just enough, then lead to a strength quickened by consistency. The tight rope walker sags in the middle of the wire, the weakest point, where the luxury of running takes us, threatening a full on plummet into the pit of not-running. If, however, we take another step and pass the weakest point, every step thereafter will lead to a new strength. We will have passed the breaking point, the point of breaking.

That breaking point is marked by an unmistakable pain in the quads, Marathon Pain. That pain is there at the start of the run, quieted towards the end of the run, though not silent, and most prominent for the hours that follow. As worrisome as this pointed, stabbing pain is to the runners moving on a commonsensical trajectory of great potential, it is a sort of beautiful pain for those of us with much greater luxury to go until we almost break. We go to the depths of our bodies and stand on the edge of that cliff, in the middle of that tightrope, hands in prayer formation, and if all goes well, if luxury hasn’t reached past it’s own boundaries, we find a strength in our legs that pulls us up short, turns us gradually along the edge and swings our momentum back to ground more solid, more responsive, more rewarding.

It is then that the potential tragedy of too much luxury turns into the powerful magic of running…just running. Of the body’s ability to recover, to grow stronger, to find new momentum and new boundaries. This luxury turns unbelievably luxurious.

It is all always with us.

The road is always with us. As a gentle incline lulls us into effort, like waking up slowly from an afternoon nap, heavy drunk, the struggle to understand where we are and what is happening fills our legs. Some sort of trickery changes an easy effort into lungs searching for more space, legs reaching out but finding ground too quickly. Arms relaxed are suddenly tensed, grabbing for ropes to pull the weighted body forward, up. The resistance forces struggle, forces tension, forces everything necessary to push into a body fully awake, fully strong, fully capable of turning inclines into just simple ground. The road is always with us. It dips downward, finding not just lesser elevation, but a reversal of time, sending us into memories of childhood, careless meandering, imagined flight. It gives us the magic of levitation, a reprieve from the burdens of gravity and a moment to abandon the tethers of physics, to be the superhumans we pretend to chase. The road is always with us.

The rain is always with us. Ceilings perspire upon us to leak into every crevice, every surface, every path of least resistance until we are swimming in a mix of liquids. Running through walls of water, eyelids slanting like brims on a hat for the same purpose, we expect to finally break through where a release of effort will meet us head on, like sun breaking through clouds, rain clouds. Rarely it comes though, and we run on, into an accumulated flood, our feet touching down into small oceans that part and converge back together before we can escape the embrace of cold water surrounding our feet and forming cold lakes that come along for the ride. Showers that cleanse turn into unwelcome baths that shock and fill our clothes with a weight we can’t shake. Grey clouds reflect the emotional struggle running allows us to transcend. The rain is always with us. A pounding of water on pavement turns into a rhythm, drums of war, beating us forward with an intensity that matches the anger of oncoming storms. We adapt to run as an adversary, stronger in spirit than the weapons of wind, water, and crashes of thunder. Minds steel themselves as swords, to forge bodies into machines that match pace with the rain, racing raindrops over and over, throwing water from our faces and letting it penetrate into us, refilling our emptying vessels with a liquid fuel to keep us going, faster and faster, buoyant and swift. The rain is always with us.

The wind is always with us. A whisper and a roar at the same volume, invisibly inhaling the oxygen from our lungs we try desperately to withhold. It shrinks our lungs and ties our bodies up in fabric, pulls our bodies down in sand, halts our momentum with laughs and mockery and jumps from behind walls to scare us stiff. It steals breath and turns fluid bodies into sand, wet and cold and hardening, unless we breathe back to keep from lulling into statuesque figurines of athletes, mid-stride, stuck, forever. Leaning forward, in the intuitive way we seek to change the laws of physics, or at least use them to our advantage, we try anything to change the mind of the wind, to see things from our perspective. We conjole and convince and manipulate, to build our capabilities and persuasions. Or we just join em. The wind is always with us. Quietly, silently, it lifts us up and takes us toward new successes measured by timelines, but never perceived in effort. It gives us moments of romanticized running, where everything is easy and nothing hurts and forever is entirely possible. At our backs it stares, an altruistic deity, perfectly zen and devoid of ego, it exhales as invisibly as it inhales, inflating our lungs with a helium that lifts us skyward and takes us away. The wind is always with us.

The horizon is always with us. A storyline never ending, a monologue, an On The Road to nowhere, a self absorbed one-sided conversation. We move towards the obvious finish line with the sun as our only competitor, and it’s gaining. The closer we get, the more desperate we become, our bodies filling with the weight of everything we’ve emptied along the way, making every step more important, more valuable than the last. We die just short. Second place. They kill the lights to the stadium. The horizon is always with us. The forever promise of something more, less a finish and more a wise friend, with a better view of the future, waving us forward and promising a visible utopia, just ahead, just a little further, if you just keep coming, you’ll make it. Even though we won’t. It’s the promise we want, not the scenic overlook, of which the edge of the earth keeps circling back upon itself, so we can keep chasing the promise, believing in better instead of reaching the cliff, stopping, stopping running. The horizon is always with us.

The geese are always wit…wait…no they aren’t. The geese are never with us. Stay away from them.