To live and breathe

I struggle to maintain my weekly mileage, even after recently committing (then uncommitting?) to train for a new post-cancer diagnosis marathon PR. I pushed towards 80 mile weeks, began hitting them consecutively, but suddenly each week was followed by an obstacle that took a day of running away from me and I started falling off. It wasn’t that I had lost the motivation to chase 80 then 90 mile weeks, but that when getting a full day of running in the log became a challenge, I chose not to find a way. It made me question what was different in the past.

Prior to diagnosis I hit 90, 100, 110 mile weeks without fail, no matter the obstacles that came my way. It didn’t matter if I had appointments, travel, or unexpected issues pop up, running was non-negotiable. Now, I guess it IS negotiable. Back then, I also used to live and breathe running. I rarely created art, didn’t tend a garden, had no medical appointments, wasn’t chasing down jobs, etc. Running was my sole focus, and the mental energy put into considering the act of training and seeking my goals took precedence over all else. It was my reason for waking up in the morning. I know I’ve lost some of that now, and even with scaling back my non-running activities (bye garden), the idea of redlining so much energy towards running seems not only fragile, but somewhat absurd too. There is also a part of me that wishes I could get back to the point where I lived and breathed running and could enter the zen state of doing little else but putting one foot in front of the other. This is real life though and dreams don’t surmount needs.

I simply don’t live and breathe running anymore. In the past I would force runs in no matter the obstacles. If I had to leave town at 7 am to travel all day, I would get up at 4 and get a run in first. There was NO excuse. Now, although there could be no excuse, I find little reason to avoid them. I just don’t NEED to live and breathe running anymore, to get a run in every day, even if I want to.

The funny thing is, the reason I don’t necessarily need to run every day is that the act of running seems inconsequential and selfish to the bigger problems of the world, and yet, whenever I try to focus on the bigger problems of the world I find myself wanting to just bury my head in the act of running. In the face of all THAT, I WANT to live and breathe running. Then there are the necessities of daily life. A working life and managing the obligations that allow us to navigate the complexity of just getting by can’t be ignored, especially when the security and routine of work disappears and suddenly every bit of mental energy is put back into getting a paycheck yet again.

Living and breathing running to the degree that I once did also takes a support structure of others who are also living and breathing running to a similar degree. Before I was meeting twice, sometimes three times, a week to run and train with other obsessives chasing down goals always pushed out of reach. We leaned on each other, if not literally, then simply through the understanding that we were all trying desperately in the face of everything else. We lived and breathed it together. Now, I am more solitary. This has it’s own benefits, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier, just different.

Living and breathing running to the extent that competitive runners do is not easy. It takes a certain amount of leisure time, a lack of obligations, and a reliable routine that is interrupted only occasionally. It is repetition and ritual. Not being able to live and breathe running like I used to doesn’t mean it’s no longer valuable or enjoyable, but it definitely means I’m not waking at 4 am to get a run in no matter what. The part of me that refuses to get up that early to run says, “You don’t need to live and breathe running anymore, there are more important activities in life.” The part of me that tries to engage with the world, however, says, “Set your alarm. Nothing else matters.”

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Time to make the coffee

Running is like making coffee. Or making coffee is like running. Take your pick.

You wake up tired and weighted. Gravity has become stronger and the kitchen is darkened by eyes that won’t open fully. You need coffee. And you know that once you have the coffee you’ll feel better. You’ll be alert and lightened and functioning, your biology will react to the chemicals and you’ll turn on, so you know you must have the coffee. But before you have the coffee, you feel terrible. You are lethargic and apathetic and the idea of making the coffee you need sounds impossible. It’s the catch 22 of every morning, that coffee will dilute your fatigue but you’re too fatigued to make the coffee that will dilute your fatigue.

Thank ingenuity for automatic coffee maker timers.

Running is rarely different when you’re emotionally struggling. You need to run, because you know it will make you feel better. You know that once the run is over you’ll feel alert and lightened and functioning, that your biology will react to the chemical release and you’ll turn on, so you need to run. The act of running, however, when you’re emotionally weighted, sounds like the most unconquerable obstacle known. You sit on the couch knowing that if you get to the end of your mileage you’ll be an emotionally stable and energetic person, but the idea of even getting to the door seems absurd. It’s the same catch 22 of making coffee. With running though, there is no automatic timer function. You have to metaphorically pour the water, grind the beans, and start the pot if you want the reward.

Still, the coffee needs to be made and the run needs to get finished, if you want to get yourself to that physical and emotional state you know lies at the bottom of the mug and the end of the mile. I have no secret insight for any of this. There are no shortcuts or, coffee makers aside, automatic timer functions. You just have to start running, knowing that it will be worth it in the end. You have to somehow transcend the temporary emotional weight of your current moment and look ahead to the transformed emotional state that will come with the act of putting one foot in front of the other. That’s it. It sucks to start, but it never sucks to finish. That’s the “secret”.

Oh, sometimes a cup of coffee can help.

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.

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.