Running to Stand Still: Chapter 3

 

Maze [October 2004 – February 2019]

 

The overhead view is of me in a maze

And you see what I’m hunting a few steps away

And I take a wrong turn and I’m on the wrong path

And the people all watching enjoy a good laugh

Embarrassed with failure, I try to reverse

The course that my tread had already traversed

So doing the trauma engulfing my dream

Invaded through what was an unguarded seam

The torrent of helplessness swept me away

To the cavern of shame and the hall of dismay

Inside me a voice was repeating this phrase:

You’ve lost it, you’ll never get out of this maze”

 

[ Early February 2019 ]

 

“I thought that last one was good,” Gf reassures me.

But I can tell she’s just cold and ready to go back inside.  The air is frigid, made worse by the relentless wind coming in from the Hudson.  It is easily one of the coldest days of the year – a stark contrast to the inexplicably balmy sixty degree day we had just a few weeks ago.  On that day, I wore a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals on my run. It was my first run while training for Pittsburgh, and coincidentally enough, it landed on January 1st.  But today, it was the complete opposite. I’m wearing a hat, gloves, leggings, and multiple layers to keep my torso warm. Because just the heat I generate from running was not going to be enough.  So I knew she just wanted to go back to the car to warm up.

“Again,” I reply.  “Not good enough.”

I had just completed a five mile run where I ran each of the miles progressively faster.  The final mile I ran in well under eight minutes – the first time I had done so in probably half a year.  After spraining my foot and changing to minimalist footwear and retooling my running form, I never thought I would be able to ever run this fast again.  I was extremely encouraged. Yet here I was, still running.  

I can feel Gf’s impatience as I get in position to start again.  I had run in this area of Liberty State Park countless times before.  

But on this day, it feels different.

I start running, and the wind picks back up again.  The sweat that I had accumulated on my clothes during my five mile run was now making me even colder.  But as much as I don’t want to be doing this, this was our only real chance to get this done.  

So onwards I ran.  I focus on not going out too fast, but also making sure my running form is spot on.  Bend my knees, drive forward with my legs, make sure I don’t land on my heels. My breathing mechanical.  In, in, out. In, in, out.  

I turn and am immediately greeted with a gust of wind, funneled through the parallel stainless steel walls to either side of me.  The first time I ever ran through this passage, I got choked up. It was near the end of a nine mile run – the longest I had ever run up until that point – and the weight of that, coupled with the location, hit me.  But now, it was the wintry wind that made my eyes water.  

I look down at the ground as I run between the walls that tower over me.  I feel small, and it’s not just because of the size of the memorial.  

Just why exactly was I doing this?

I reach Gf who is waiting for me on the other side.

“So, what do you think?” I ask her.

“I told you already, there’s a lot of good ones,” she laughs and flashes a smile.

“I don’t believe you, let me see,” I tell her as I start to walk closer to her.  I also start laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

I grab her cell phone and peer at the screen.  She was right about one thing: there were some good ones.  I nod in approval. “Good.  Much better.”

“Ay, thank God, Bf I can’t feel my toes anymore.”

“But there’s too much of the sky in this one,” I retort without any hesitation.  “Make sure it’s centered. The ones before were good, but the walls need to be straight and with me at the center.  Do you want me to stand at the opening so we can get the positioning right?”

“No, I get what you mean.  But I really liked some of the other ones.  I think you can use them.”

“Again,” I repeat.  “One more time. If we do it right.”

She sighs.  Deep down I feel the same way too.  But the hilarity of the situation forces me to laugh as I turn to get in position again.  

I feel like a used car salesman filming a cheap commercial that you only see aired on late night television.  Or one of those cheesy attorney ads played before the previews at a movie theatre. On any other day, this five mile run would’ve lifted me up and had me walking on clouds for the remainder of my waking hours.  

Instead, I am now repeatedly running through the Empty Sky Memorial, looking for the perfect photograph that frames me between the two walls that bear the names of the 746 New Jerseyans that died on September 11th, 2001.  And with the Freedom Tower behind me off in the distance from the other side of the Hudson. Which serves as the tasteless cherry on top of this sacrilegious display.

I reason with myself that plenty of couples take their engagement announcement photographs here.  And tourists also snap a few keepsakes. In fact, the names on the walls are usually Photoshopped out when it’s for wedding purposes.  The horror.  

Instead, I was honoring them.  I was taking a photograph there, just as so many other people had done.  But in mine, the names were staying.  They were a part of the story. This was fine.

And perhaps it was.  But for me, it wasn’t really fine.  I had strayed.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  As I ran through the memorial for the eighth time, I am hit with a thought:

How the hell did it come to this?

 

wtc-real83 likes on Instagram

~

 

 

 

[ January 2019 ]

 

I didn’t know what participating in a virtual training run entailed, but I was about to find out.

The company in charge of the Pittsburgh Marathon, P3R, also puts on training runs of varying distances for varying skill levels.  The first training run coincided with my first week of training. Which makes sense since most marathon training plans are eighteen weeks long.  

Naturally, as an Official Blogger, I had to be a part of the training run.  Plus, it would help me network and grow my blog and social media channels. There was only one catch: it was taking place in Pittsburgh.  Which of course makes sense. But I was all the way in New Jersey.

Normally, such a distance wouldn’t faze me.  I’ve driven to Pittsburgh spontaneously before to visit my younger brother, Chucky, when he was in college.  I’ve driven there for concerts. I’ve driven there for football games.  

But with the training run taking place early Saturday morning, it would’ve been tough leaving immediately after work Friday, getting there late, and then having to wake up early the next day.  

So I emailed the coordinator that was in charge of the bloggers to see if I could participate virtually.  I would run the mileage back home in Jersey – which I was going to do anyway – and then…

Well, I hadn’t figured that part out yet.  But she loved the idea. And so, I was going to participate in my first ever virtual training run.  

I am relatively new to the running community, and even newer to the online community of runners.  I had seen the phrase “virtual race” or “virtual training run” before but had no idea what it meant.  Was there some way to prove the distance you ran? Did I have to FaceTime with someone the entire distance?  Was there some sort of software that I had to download onto my cell phone that tracked my every step? Or maybe an ankle bracelet?  Did I have to run…with my cell phone?  

Fortunately, it seemed to me that all I had to do was take a few photos, throw out a few hashtags, and just run.  Seemed simple enough.  

According to my training plan, my dosage for the day was ten miles.  Longer than any of the distances offered at the training runs back in Pittsburgh.  But Pittsburgh did have one advantage. It was apparently gorgeous that day. And in Jersey, we were treated to freezing rain.  

This was a dilemma.  How was I going to take photographs in the rain?  My normal ten mile route would take me into Liberty State Park, which would’ve been awesome.  The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, downtown Manhattan. Photos of those landmarks would’ve been prominently featured on my Instagram Story.

That is, if the weather had held up.  But it was cloudy and rainy. You wouldn’t have been able to see anything.  In my short time on Instagram, I had not once seen anybody put up running photos in the rain.  Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.      

And that was another thing.  This whole social media thing?  I was completely new to it. Of course, I’ve had Facebook, Instagram, Twitter before.  Even Myspace.  But that was in the past; all of my accounts had since been deactivated.  It had been years. And the game had changed so much since then. I would have no clue what people would even consider entertaining or amusing anymore.  After all, I’m a writer, not a marketer (which has become abundantly clear to me in my experience with this blog).  

Worse still, who the hell would even want to follow my run?  I am the most boring runner ever, the exact opposite of flashy.  I have a methodical pre run routine. I wear the same handful of running outfits that reek of sweat since I’m too cheap to buy more (plus, there’s not enough space in our drawers anyway).  I don’t take my cell phone, I don’t listen to music. No selfies – fuck no.  So what exactly was I going to post for this virtual run?

I woke up and boiled some water for a cup of tea, part of the aforementioned pre run routine.  I checked Instagram (not part of the routine) and saw the other Official Bloggers all updating from the run in Pittsburgh.  Photos, Boomerangs (whatever the hell those are), videos.

I felt completely inadequate.  And silly. Runners were posting two second long videos of them posing or smiling or jumping or whatever the fuck else that would just loop.  Forward, and then back. Forward, and then back. Forward. And then back. It was like some bizarro version of Kevin Costner analyzing the Zapruder film that was meant to personally torment me.  

Here I was, this doofus with just over 200 followers.  And most of them, well into the thousands. To me, they were practically professional runners/bloggers.  What I wanted to be. And I on the other hand was a fraud.  

I had written these eight chapters about my past races – and my life – and called it a blog.  Then, I applied as an Official Blogger and – as luck would have it – was selected. Over some legitimate competition too.  I would know, because most of the people who weren’t selected ended up following me later on. In my mind, they were thinking to themselves as they scanned my social media pages, “Wait, how did he get selected over me?”

These were some of my fears and insecurities going in, but there was no time for that.  I had to post something for my training run.  

So I took a picture of my cup of tea.  “My pre workout routine!”, I captioned it.

I took a selfie in front of one of the many concert posters hung on the walls of my apartment.  Because this is one of the few spots in my apartment I’m not entirely ashamed to photograph myself near.  I took no less than fifteen shots looking for the right one, because I’m pretty sure I had never taken a selfie with that cell phone before.  I settled on one where I don’t feel completely clumsy in and where my nose doesn’t look too big. This is going out to the world, after all.

And then, well…that’s all I got.  I’d figure out the rest of it when I got back from my ten mile run.

And the run was perfect.  I went slow, I didn’t feel rushed.  I felt present in my own body.

At least that’s what these notes in front of me say, because I don’t remember that run at all.

And that’s the sad thing about it, I guess.  When I trained for Cape Cod or D.C. or even Montreal, certain runs would be ingrained in my memory bank.  Even to this day, I remember most of my long runs. Where it was, what I was thinking, what I wore, how I felt.  I have a really good recall for that kind of stuff. It used to be the scouting profiles of NFL draft prospects or details of particular Oakland Raiders games.  Now, it’s Saturday long runs.

But for this run, all that I remember is everything that surrounded it.  How clumsy and awkward I felt trying to document the moments before my run.  How small and simple I felt compared to the other bloggers. Only these brief mental snapshots remain.  

Luckily, it didn’t affect my running much on that day.  I was just happy to run ten miles – my longest run since the Cape Cod Marathon a little over two months prior.  

I got back home and checked my running watch.  My pace was under ten minutes per mile. Not bad, especially since I wasn’t trying that hard and hadn’t run at all in over two months.  So I took a photo of just that: the stats on my watch. To post onto Instagram as well.

But I needed one more pic, since I wanted to make an actual post about the run.  My original idea was to take a photo near The Statue of Liberty holding a Terrible Towel – the one thing from Pittsburgh I owned.  But the rain nixed that plan.  

Not knowing what to do with the Terrible Towel, I threw it on my head and got ready for another selfie in the comfort of my apartment.

After being away for a good portion of the morning, my two cats were circling me and clamoring for food as I’m trying to take the photo.  The bolder one, Carson, when it comes to demanding food – well, he becomes bolder and climbs onto the dresser to swat at my face. As if to say: “Stop with your stupid human shit and feed me!”

“Well, if you’re gonna be that way, now you’re gonna get in here too!”

I gently grabbed him by his nape and try to steady him for the camera.  I’ve never ridden a bull before, but getting Carson to take a selfie must feel like trying to stay on a bull who’s trying to buck you off.

In spite of that, I couldn’t have snapped the most perfect photo.  It would’ve netted me a ton of points on Pokemon Snap.

 

neko76 likes on Instagram

 

But what sticks out to me about his expression is that it’s exactly how I felt deep down.  

I want to run.  And write. But social media was now a whole thing too.  I got off Instagram in its infancy, when people were only posting vacation photos and pictures of fancy meals.  

Now, it’s how we document our lives.  It’s the only place some of us have voices.  Where we’re seen. And it’s how we market ourselves.  My running, my writing, my life – it was now a brand that I needed to push.  

It was more than just running now.  I had to show people that I ran. And how much fun I was having.  Or how much fun I wasn’t having. But how not having fun while running is so motivational and inspiring.  I was swimming in cognitive dissonance.    

There was now a whole component of running that I was completely new to.  Because when I started running about two years earlier, those thoughts had since never crossed my mind.  For me, running was the only pure – only real – thing in an artificial world. And now, it was slowly being contaminated.  

I knew at that moment that this was going to be harder than any 26.2 miles I had ever run before.  

~

 

 

 

[ October 2004 ]

 

I was one of the first people in my high school to have a Myspace account.  I had never heard of it, but my friend Moo told me about this new website that was popular with the artsy girls.  We took the plunge and signed up when we noticed that a lot of the good-looking girls in one of our electives were on it.  Of course, we didn’t have the courage to, you know, actually talk to them. So we figured a profile would help our odds.

The issue was we were two teenage boys in the early 2000s.  We didn’t have a lot of photos of us online. Hard to believe I know.  But remember, this was an era before Facebook. There really wasn’t any reason to have current photos of us at all.  At least ones that we weren’t embarrassed to put online. Ones not taken at a Sears portrait studio. Because let’s face it, you’re not going to be popular with the ladies in high school if your Myspace profile pic had one of those laser backdrops from when you went to JCPenney with your entire family to take posed photographs.      

His solution was to just use a photo of Tom Selleck in short shorts that he found on Google as his profile picture.  Mine was going to require a little more work.

My younger sister, Chicky, had a digital camera.  So I begged her (though I’m pretty sure there was more blackmail and bribery involved) to take photos of me so I can put on my new webpage.  A webpage that I could put out there and be perceived as more approachable to the school community. 

How I imagined a conversation between two girls in our class would go, stylized as a typical Doug Funnie daydream. 

Cute Girl #1: “Look at how moody and mysterious he is.  He’s SO hot!”

Cute Girl #2: “Yet so approachable and silly!  He’s hilarious. That turns me on!”

Of course, I didn’t tell my sister all this.  We just sat down and came up with all of the different poses in the photo shoot.  And with that, a solid base of photos I could upload onto my profile.

Unfortunately, only one photo has withstood the test of time.  Most of the online relics from my high school days faded away or were deleted by me in a bout of self-consciousness.  

But sometimes, I think about how I wish I could access those old pages.  I wish I still had my Myspace blog entries or my Xanga posts. Or my old AIM away messages.  Because growing up in the midst of the advent of all of that technology – a new medium for self expression – was wild and exhilarating and frightening.  It was a new frontier, and shaped the Internet as we know it today.  It shaped who we are.  It’s weird to think that my generation had such an impact on our modern day society.  And I wish I still had access to the remnants of the inception.  

After all, who are we but the millionth incarnation of ourselves?  A snake who constantly sheds it skin. We are all shaped by our past.  Whether it’s in the digital or analog form.

And if I’m going to solve this puzzle, it might help to go backwards a bit.  Where it all started.      

 

nirvanaNot on Instagram yet, but lingered in the dreams of many young women at the Bergen County Academies from 2004-2006    

~

 

 

 

[ January 2019 ]

 

The next day, I concluded my first week of training with a five mile run.  But when I got back home, more work awaited me.

Just as I had done the previous two months, I wanted to set aside the weekend to write for my blog.  November and December was when I wrote my first series, “The Eternal Saturn Return”. Keeping myself on a schedule like that worked really well, so I wanted to continue following something similar.

But I wasn’t training for anything specific in November and December.  I was recovering from Cape Cod. In fact, I was hardly running at all. I had all the time I wanted to write.  This was going to be the first time I was going to work full-time, train for a marathon, all while updating my blog and social media.  

I learned my lesson from the previous day.  There was no way all of the people I follow on Instagram actually took photographs during their runs.  They were serious runners I reasoned; it would just get in the way.  

So instead, when I got home from my run, I showered…and then promptly put on a fresh running outfit.  But I wasn’t going to run again. 

It was time for a photo shoot.

I figured I would post on my blog once a week, recapping that week’s training.  This would also be a built-in excuse to post on Instagram and Twitter – to announce my blog post and also plug the Pittsburgh Marathon for P3R.  Part of the deal that comes with being an Official Blogger. The ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ arrangement is they give you and your blog free publicity and you try to get as many people as possible to sign up for the race.  For a neophyte blogger like myself, I had much more to gain from this deal than they did, so I wanted to do the best job I possibly could. Both for them and for me.    

So a blog post once a week with accompanying social media posts.  Sounds like a plan – but I needed content. And if I wasn’t going to take my cell phone with me on runs to not distract from the most important part – running – then this was going to be tricky. 

That’s where the photo shoot came in.  Going back to the same well from fifteen years ago.  

As I stood posing at various spots inside and outside of my apartment building, I came to the realization that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.  Back in 2004, I didn’t know where I belonged. None of us did really – it was high school after all.  

But I felt completely lost in the shuffle, even more so than my peers.  I had a close group of friends – many of which I’m still friends with today – but felt like a ghost to everyone else.  Especially the opposite sex. Everybody else assimilated so easily. They were fun, friendly, and easy-going. I was more reserved towards the people I wasn’t close with.  And when it came to “dating” (I use this term extremely loosely here), I was more often than not deemed – and I know this may be hard to believe – to be too intense.  

And now in 2019, I wasn’t struggling in the same way as I did in high school.  But once again, I was trying to find a way to stand out and be seen. This time, it was in relation to something that I had felt so strongly connected with: the running community.  

Running has changed my life in so many profound ways, and I wanted to tell my story and contribute to the collective narrative.  As a small stream prays to one day make it to the ocean. I had made many fleeting but impactful connections in training runs and in races and loved reading about other people’s journeys as well.  

But that’s all I had: memories.  I wanted connections that would stick.  A forum to share ideas and to listen and to communicate with others.  Thus, the idea of a blog with accompanying social media accounts was berthed.  

Naively, I expected the digital running community to mirror the human one.  Sure, there would be hints and traces of compassion and empathy along the way. But they were the exception, not the rule.  For the most part, the landscape is littered with people trolling for followers and ‘likes’ to boost their online reputation.  In the end, I reached the same conclusions and saw the same things I first saw in 2004 that have followed us all the way to 2019.  

Social media is simply the version of ourselves that we want to put out into the world.  These people I was coming across of course weren’t professional runners. But it is how they want to be perceived.  The photos they take while running doesn’t distract them from their focus, because it is their focus.  For the likes, for the follows – whatever their reason may be.  And that isn’t what drives me, so it’s hard for someone like me to coexist in that space.  I’m a dinosaur, an outsider. My life as a runner was established – my purpose cemented – before my online presence was.  And there’s just no putting lipstick on this pig.    

We are what we put out there.  But we often don’t know what lies on the other side of that cell phone or computer screen.  Are these pseudo-influencers really content? Or are they so deluded that they don’t know any better?  Am I the one that’s crazy – just out of touch? These are the questions you ask yourself in a phony and artificial world such as this one.  And it was abundantly clear to me that we were now playing by their rules.    

And all I wanted more than ever was to keep up.  Because some things never change.    

I would stick to my schedule: updates just once a week.  A breadcrumb trail I left myself to ensure that I had a way out of this disorienting space.  To make sure I did not get lost in that world. My once-a-week postings would pale in comparison to the amount of updates the typical runner on Instagram puts up, but my humanity was the only thing I had going for me in this sea of androids.  And I didn’t want to lose that. It had taken me awhile to find some inner peace. I didn’t want the thing that caused me such freedom and joy (running) to morph into a monster overnight.  

So here I am, heading back into the wilderness with no compass, no guide, and no direction.  My first post promoting the marathon, while also promoting myself. I’d play by their rules, because I had no choice.  And because deep down I wanted to keep up. But somehow, I also wanted to preserve my integrity. To never lose my purpose.  I didn’t want to lose myself.  I couldn’t.  

All of that is what I see in this photograph.  I had no idea what I was doing. The brutal irony of it is that this was my most liked photograph on Instagram for a long time.

 

IMG_075798 likes on Instagram.  Somehow.

~

 

 

 

[ INTERMISSION: January 2018 ]

 

 

~

 

 

 

[ December 2018 ]

 

Everyday when my alarm sounds at 4:45 AM, I wake up and fumble for my phone.  The easiest way to wake up at this ungodly hour is to go on my phone until the light forces my eyes open and tricks my body into feeling like it’s awake.  I then eventually muster up the energy to get out of bed and get ready to go to the gym before work.  

I scroll through the usual lineup: Reddit, Twitter, Instagram.  If there’s something particularly interesting to read on one of those, that should give my body time to acclimate itself to being awake.  If not, I also check the app I downloaded – Followers – for the latest stats.

See, since I returned to Instagram, what I was noticing was that after I would post a pic, I would see a surge in my number of followers.  And then a few days later, a sudden decrease. In my naiveté, I would follow some of these people back, thinking we were about to embark on a digital friendship.  But when they would unfollow me later, I would be none the wiser. The app Followers would combat that, tipping me off as to who had unfollowed me.    

Remember, I was the kind of runner who – after finishing the Cape Cod Half Marathon in a Nor’easter – waited at the finish line cheering everyone else on.  Despite the freezing rain. And despite the fact that I myself just finished running over thirteen miles. Everybody was a winner that day and deserved to be celebrated.  I always thanked volunteers at races any chance I had. I high fived runners at races that I volunteered in. On the last leg of my very first marathon, I had enough energy to encourage struggling runners.  And I was eternally grateful when people did the same for me when I was struggling in the Queens 10K, unbeknownst to them that I had actually sprained my foot and was still running. I thought the running community represented the best aspects of humanity in some respects.  It certainly brought out the best aspects in me.    

So when I saw that people weren’t as supportive on social media as they purported to be in the real world, it took some getting used to.  I thought the traits would translate. I would follow people back, comment on their photos, read their blog posts. Only to later get dropped.  Some stayed. But so many left that I was forced to download Followers to make it easier to detect who unfollowed me. As someone who only has a handful of followers, I needed all the tools at my disposal.  

You can’t help but feel gutted when you see the username of someone who has unfollowed you.  In my mind, all I needed was for one major player in the running community to read one of my blog posts and I was golden.  I know how runners are after all; they’re obsessive and they soak up everything about the sport. But it was getting increasingly harder to be seen with my follower count fluctuating so greatly, like the comings and goings of a college frat party.  For every great success I had on social media (like the one time legendary ultrarunner Dean Karnazes ‘liked’ one of my photos or when a prominent ultrarunner and podcast host followed me back), it was met with an even bigger failure (like getting unfollowed by someone affiliated with the Pittsburgh Marathon or that same prominent ultrarunner and podcast host even after we had interacted a bit)*.

(*Editor’s note: The name has been redacted at the counsel of my editor – my girlfriend – who also doubles as the voice of reason in most situations.  She said there was no point in dropping names, and I would only seem petty. While that may be true, I also think it interferes with his facade of trying to be a man of the people – a common man that runs all of these incredible races.  His mission statement is to hope to get people to run by being his most authentic self, and using automated software that follows and then unfollows users to boost your own numbers is in direct conflict with who he portrays himself to be.  So I would’ve liked to name names to expose him as the fraud he is. Regardless, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out who I’m talking about.) 

Eventually, the process just became so routine that it didn’t hurt anymore.  I became desensitized to it. It became just like popping zits.

A weekend warrior with 30,000 followers unfollows me?

Pop.

Someone I worked with seven years ago unfollows me?

Pop.

The girlfriend of someone I know?

Pop.

What about someone I went to middle school with?

Pop.

Because hey: if you want me to look at your vacation photos or whatever the fuck you ate for breakfast, the least you could do is just follow me back.  Or just do what everyone else does: hide me from your feed.  

~

 
[ November 29, 2018 ]

 

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 1.51.46 PM

 

“Why I Hate Social Media: Part of the reason I took a long break from social media is because of how it dehumanizes us. Something that is billed as something that brings us closer together really is just isolating us even more.

Our lives are worth more than just clicks or likes or follows. We are not a commodity. The purpose of my Instagram and my blog is for you to see the humanity in me. Who I truly am behind all the barriers we put up. Because this photograph is just the tip of an iceberg. Every photo has a story.

Nothing has made this clearer than this past month on Instagram. In a short amount of time I’ve gotten a lot of follows. But a lot of people also follow -and then after a week or so – will unfollow. And apparently I read online that this is a common practice. By doing this, you rob two people of their humanity: the person you unfollow, but also your own. I don’t measure my success in follows. We all have stories we are trying to share. It’ll make it a more enjoyable if we all do it TOGETHER. Not just you trying to get your story out there. We all have something we want to “sell”. If you want me to like your photos of your delicious meal or your kids making a snowman or whatever, the least you could do is not unfollow me. Because like at the end of races when I’m cheering and clapping for everyone long after I finished, I promise you I’ll be your biggest cheerleader. I care about people that much. Let’s put the SOCIAL back in social media.

In this picture, I want you to see my humanity. My story. This picture was taken in 2011, the day of my graduation, right when I walked off the stage with my diploma. I was very emotional that day and at that point, this was my greatest accomplishment as a person. I faced and battled the demons inside me and I didn’t stay down on the mat. In this moment, I stood triumphant.

For six years, this was the only picture I had of myself. When I left my family and cut off ties and started living completely on my own, this was my one memory that I physically still had in my possession. I hung it up on my fridge and there it stayed as a reminder of that moment. That moment that I didn’t let the darkest moments of my life define me. It was one of the happiest days of my life. But it’s hard to notice all of that just by looking at this. We all have our stories. What’s yours?”

~

 

 

 

Mid February 2019 ]

 

A vision I had during a training run:

That montage in Rocky IV – where Ivan Drago is training for his fight with Rocky in a state of the art facility, with all this high tech gear, getting pumped up with steroids.  While Rocky is chopping wood, doing pull-ups in a log cabin, and running up snowy mountains. The two training sessions are juxtaposed and set to a cheesy but tasteful 80s soundtrack.  It foreshadows the eventual winner, because he is all heart.

A modern reinterpretation of that scene would go as follows:

I put on the same plain running outfit I wore just last week.  

RunningForLikes18 has a special color coordinated outfit for every day of the week.  With matching KT tape!

I leave my cell phone on the bedroom drawer as I get ready to set off for my run.  

RunningForLikes18 takes a selfie to show everyone they’re about to run.

I run the same one mile loop in the park twelve times, because it is the only place in the entire damn park the city decided to plow.  

RunningForLikes18 goes to the treadmill and floods their Instagram story with Boomerangs of them walking on the treadmill.

I nod at the only other runner I see outside.  And they nod back. It is a profound and respectful nod, where we honor each other’s passion and dedication.  A single tear streams down my face because of how profound that exchange is. That tear begins to freeze because it’s so cold outside.  

RunningForLikes18 spends most of the time on the treadmill scrolling through their feed and ‘liking’ any photos of corgis that they see. 

I look for the biggest hill in the area to finish my run at and do hill repeats until I hit my prescribed mileage.  This goes unaccounted for when I log my mileage.  

RunningForLikes18 brings the treadmill to the highest setting, but steps off of it from time to time to catch their breath and take a photo of the dashboard.  The clock keeps running despite this respite (an aside, I have always wanted to organically write a sentence where the words ‘despite’ and ‘respite’ were adjacent to each other – I have finally succeeded).  

I go back home after the run and guzzle a tall glass of chocolate milk.  

RunningForLikes18 goes to a bar with their friends and orders one of those fucking White Claw drinks that everyone seems to be drinking these days.  

I read a chapter from the book I’m reading before bed, and then Gf and I share with each other what we are grateful for before officially calling it a day.  

RunningForLikes18 continually refreshes their Twitter feed to see if anything new is up, and then cries themselves to sleep in a bout of crippling existential dread* (* – hopefully).

This of course would be set to…oh who am I kidding?  It would still be set to “Heart’s On Fire.”  That Rocky IV soundtrack still slaps.

~

 

 

 

July 2017 ]

 

 

Host: The real problem is when it’s being projected to the world.  And you’re looking for likes. And you’re looking for people to agree and support.  That’s one of the most toxic things about the phones and social media. Everybody is playing for likes.  And the virtue signaling. And the throwing up the flags of righteousness.

Guest: You know, I was talking to a friend of mine.  She’s working with a young woman doing a research paper on the very thing, and she handed me some research that I kind of suspected.  The purpose of oxycontin when it first came out. They discovered in that drug something that interrupted and helped fix people who were meth or heroin addicts.  It was helping them get sober and off the heroin, because it replaced that feeling that they were getting. That dopamine womb-like feeling – that escapist thing that they were getting from heroin.  The problem with oxycontin is that unless you cut your hands off, you’re going to take another one. So you just replaced the heroin with another thing that’s like the dopamine dump. And so the research they’re now finding is that the whole process of likes and validating or not validating.  You get depressed, because nobody likes your post. It’s the analogy of the rat in the aquarium that keeps hitting the cocaine button. It’s the same thing. It affects the same part of your brain. And they’re finding that connection. So if you can’t go ten minutes without looking at your phone, you are an addict.  You have to understand that the actual chemical reaction in your body to the charge you get on that – it’s the rat hitting the cocaine button.

Host: Well, I’m glad you used that analogy, because here’s one of the things they found out about that.  Some biologist didn’t like – he didn’t jive – with the rats and the cocaine. So then they thought about the environment that the rats live in.  And then they said, “Well, let’s look at this environment, because these rats are in a cage. It’s a very unnatural environment. There’s lights and these people staring at them.”  So instead they put them in a rat-like environment – woody and grass and trees. A natural rat world. And guess what? They didn’t hit the coke. They left it alone. They only hit the coke when they were destroyed.  Like their life was turned upside down, and they’re living in this completely unnatural environment. In a prison basically. So when you’re in prison, you’ll do the coke. But when they were in a very natural world, they didn’t find it attractive at all. 

 Guest: You just get caught up in it.  It’s something you don’t realize.  People don’t realize that it’s rewiring the way we think and the way we behave.  The only way to undo that and to get away from it is to turn off and unplug. Go out and do something. The world we’re living in right now…there’s just so much disconnected behavior.  We really just need people to reconnect with their loved ones. Especially in your community. You need to connect with people. I would suggest – and I’m going to request and beg people to do us all a favor.  Turn your phone off. Turn your computer off. Turn your TV off. Go for a long walk. Go somewhere else. Go out. Talk to a stranger. Find out something about yourself. Just go do.  

 

…   

~

 

 

 

Late February 2019 ]

 

There was just something I had to post.  

I try to go over the details in my head of the day prior – a day in which I had off from work.  I knew this was going to be my most important Instagram post to date.  

Even more so than when I announced my first blog post (73 likes).  

More so than the photo of me at my college graduation where I railed against the ills of social media (72 likes).  

More so than the photo Dean Karnazes liked (90 likes).  

More so than my weight loss pics (73 likes) or me when I was three (82 likes).

This was going to be something else.  

And even to this day, it resonates with me on a very deep level.  Sometimes when I am taken by the current, it slips through my fingers – like trying to catch a fish with your bare hands.  But the message is tattooed somewhere deep inside of me.  

I forget sometimes.  But I have a feeling this time it’ll stick.  

Because when I read it now – on this day – it feels different.                 

 

“Something ignited inside of me listening to Colin O’Brady on the The Joe Rogan Experience at the gym yesterday.

I had gotten my four miles in (unfortunately indoors as the roads were still slushy and icy) as prescribed by my marathon training plan and was cooling down on a stationary bike. He was talking about how he only had 200 Instagram followers but had all of these aspirations and he sat down with his wife to come up with a game plan. They literally googled “what is the difference between PR and marketing.”

I have become completely disillusioned with social media, especially when it comes to the fitness/running community. No kidding, I’ve come across people who have run TWO half marathons with over 10,000 followers. That’s more than some of the runners I look up to the most!  We live in a world where people pay for followers and will do whatever it takes to get more. At this point, I’m content with the number of followers I have. I don’t need or want anymore. In fact, at some point, I’m going to unfollow everyone. Don’t take it personally, I’ll still occasionally check in and look at and “like” your stuff. I just want as few distractions as possible standing in the way between me and my goals. And I want the people that are actually in my corner to be the ones that stay. All the fake followers will flee. 

I’m done posting updates about runs. No times. No pace. My feed is clogged with it already: people who post their daily mileage. I’m not posting gym selfies. Or the numbers on the screen at the end of a treadmill session. I don’t even want to write about it on my blog. Because I don’t want my follower count to be etched into my tombstone. I want to actually accomplish SOMETHING. And all of the self promoting is just noise and distracts you from what’s important. If it works for you, great – but it’s not for me. I don’t need you to see me. I’ll quietly go about my business and then write about it after it’s all said and done. I want the daily grind to be so routine in my life that it becomes like brushing my teeth. And you certainly don’t tweet or put an Instagram story up about brushing your teeth.

Why the half eaten cheesecake?  Because this is what I ate at 3 PM after being in the gym for six hours yesterday. You know, to refuel. It’s the only unhealthy thing in my fridge at the moment, so I wanted to get rid of it. But more importantly, I wanted to test my stomach. Because I was going to go back to the gym. This was the only photo I took yesterday, a day in which I was at the gym a total of 9 hours. No joke: I was on single machines longer than some people were even at the gym. I wasn’t on my phone or tweeting or taking selfies. I was getting after it.

Something ignited inside of me. I have goals. And I don’t need to share them on here. I just need to put my head down and work. I can talk all I want when it’s done.

No plug for my website this time. Or the Pittsburgh Marathon – just me. I know where this train is headed. It’s time to get to fucking work.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-07-30 at 1.59.17 PM51 likes on Instagram

 

 

Running

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