State of the Union [September 12, 2019]

“If you can heal the symptoms
But not affect the cause
It’s quite a bit like trying to heal
A gunshot wound with gauze

If you instead attempt to wrest
The pistol from the hand
Then I would not be able to
Equate my life with sand

I would choose my own religion
And worship my own spirit
But if he ever preached to me
I wouldn’t want to hear it

I’d drop him, a forgotten god,
Languishing in shame
And then if I hit stormy seas
I’d have myself to blame”

~

 

I guess it’s fitting to start this with appropriate Phish lyrics for this particular occasion. Which would serve as a seamless transition between the end of one chapter and the start of another.

Hi. Yeah. Hey. This is me. Actually me. Not a heavily stylized and dramatized version of my first few races. Or the articles or posts I wrote while I was a blogger for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Or the poems I write before a race. Or the current series of posts that I’m working on that describe the events leading up to my first ultramarathon, my decision to leave my job as a teacher, and all that I learned about myself along the way.

No, these are just my unfiltered thoughts. Not that any of those other things aren’t. It’s just…a little touched up. I had time to let my thoughts marinade and crystallize into a fully functional post. This…well, I don’t know how this will turn out. I’m writing this straight onto the WordPress post editor thingy, not a Google Docs page beforehand. So I before I begin, let me get myself comfortable.

Dear Pookie,

Damnit, well I guess a backstory is in order. It would be a little weird to just go from saying “let me get myself comfortable” to “Oh, hey Pookie!” You would think I’m coming onto you or something. Not my intention, especially considering my mom is one of the religious readers of my blog.

So Pookie (pronounced poo as in…well, “shit”. And then key as in “a key to a door”. In case you were wondering) was my imaginary friend from when I was a little kid. I started this probably before my sister was born, though it’s hard to say for sure. I wasn’t particularly creative; Pookie was my reflection in the mirror. I guess just a weird kid’s solution to not having anyone to play with or talk to. Having siblings changed that…to an extent. But Pookie was a fixture throughout a good portion of my childhood. I’d talk to him about serious stuff, like when I experienced the absolute worst day of my life in kindergarten (I don’t actually remember what happened on that day, I just remember there was one really terrible day that I was convinced would never be topped for the rest of my life. I think I forgot my homework at home or something).

Pookie disappeared for awhile (thankfully), but returned from time to time when I was in college (uh, what?). Sometimes when I would – well, there’s no sugarcoating this – do some drugs and I wasn’t around anyone else (OK, not that I advocate drug use, but if you’re going to do drugs, you definitely shouldn’t do them alone like I did), I would write. If I was feeling particularly introspective, I would write to Pookie. I knew he would never judge me and would always be there when needed (and if you’ve ever done psychedelic drugs, you know that it brings out a latent childlike innocence within you, so writing to my long lost childhood imaginary friend just kinda fit).

So this is me going back to that. No, I’m not on LSD. I didn’t get hit in the head and reverted back to being a seven-year-old. This is just me. Sober. In sweatpants. On my futon. But addressing this to Pookie puts me in the mind state to talk about my own life. My life now. Not ten years ago or a few months ago or two weeks ago. Just my life. I mean, I guess that’s just…what a regular blog is? Not that I would know. So anyway, with all that being said…let’s take it from the top.

Dear Pookie,

Here we are again, old friend. I’m sorry I have to bring you into this, but you’ll see why in a bit.

This is going to be the new format. I know, I know. Just hear me out for a second. I know it was always between just you and me. But it’s bigger than that now.

As you know, my blog has been just an assortment of stuff. From my first series of posts “The Eternal Saturn Return”, where I talked about why I got into running and how I learned to not run from my past but to fully embrace it. To then when I started weekly posts detailing my training for the Pittsburgh Marathon. I didn’t like doing that too much so I scrapped it. I started writing poems before the races I ran. I liked doing that. And then I started on my new series, “Running to Stand Still”. I have so much planned for that. For awhile, I had Post-Its all over our bedroom walls, organizing all the different chapters and trying to put the events from January 2019 – when I started training for the Pittsburgh Marathon – to June 2019 – when it turns out I pivoted and completed my first trail 50K race. And I also quit my job. Just putting all those events in order and making sense of it all.

I basically have the story all mapped out. Every chapter has its own Google Doc now, and I’ve started on every single one just about. You should read what I have so far. I’m really proud of it. I also started on a short story – the first one I’ve written in about ten years. And I also have a race recap on the Virginia Beach Half Marathon I just ran. I ran my best half marathon time, and I’m also basically done with the recap. All this while I’m training for my first 50 mile race.

But I have to put all that stuff on hold. Not the 50 mile race obviously. I’m ready to absolutely crush that. I’m probably in the best shape of my life, and I can probably run that race right now. I just completed a week that saw my highest mileage total (69 – not on purpose, I swear), and that was a week after I ran my ass off and got 12th in my age group. Usually an effort like that would put me out of commission for awhile. But then I ran 69 miles the next week and I’m well on my way to another 60+ mile week. Seriously dude, you should see me with my shirt off. Well, I guess you already have since you’re technically my reflection. But I’m just saying.

It’s the writing. Not writing in general. I love writing. You know that. I just have to…I don’t know. See, here’s the thing. At first, when I just wanted to write my story. What happened between January and June. The triumphs and the heartbreaks. I had freedom now and I wanted to explore that and explore the possibilities of just being able to do the things I love. I would write each chapter of “Running to Stand Still” while also simultaneously training for the JFK 50 (and the Virginia Beach Half Marathon I just ran and the New York City Marathon, but the 50 miler is the ‘A’ race I’m building up to).

But it’s been hard to write. I have, I shit you not, three different posts all backed up in the queue that are almost ready to publish. But I just can’t bring myself to push them through. Maybe I will at some point soon. And I’ll definitely post it here. But I’ve had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind.

It’s not social media or my family or feeling inadequate or comparing myself to others or even me sabotaging myself, as I am wont to do. This feels…different.

For the first time in my life, I have the ability to do just about whatever I want. I can completely remake my entire life from the ground up, brick by brick. Not many people ever sniff that opportunity.

At first, I was all like “Yeah man, I’m waking up when the sun rises everyday, going for a run, and then coming back and writing and building my blog. Keep writing for my new series to catch everyone up on my life. What is happening right now doesn’t matter, because I’m just getting after it all day, every day. No point in analyzing that. I’m a machine, bro.”

But then a disconnect happened. I would run and train for something in the future – all while thinking and writing about what transpired a few months prior. And then I’d meditate or do yoga, and then Andy from Headspace or Adriene from Yoga with Adriene would tell me to focus on the present. I felt like Desmond from “Lost” in that one episode (you know which one, probably the best episode in the entire series if I’m being honest).

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, I’ve seen this before.” This isn’t a cop out. Trust me. In fact, I’m probably putting even more work on my plate. That’s where you come in. Hear me out.

When I first started writing again, I had this large scale overall plan. “The Eternal Saturn Returns” was supposed to be a rough draft of sorts, the skeleton of what would turn out to be the first book in my series. Introduces you to me, gives you some background information, explains how I got into running and why, and how much it changed my life. It would represent the past and exorcising all your demons. The next book was going to represent the present and would talk about dealing with the world are you. This of course would tie in perfectly with running the NYC Marathon and the theme would be “There’s No Leaving New York” (thanks The National). Then, when I signed up for the JFK 50, it became about my first ultramarathon and also running that the same month as the NYC Marathon and it was going to be called “Mr. November” (thanks again The National!). But then of course I ran that 50K in Massachusetts, but then another theme emerged. Thus, “Running to Stand Still” was born. But that didn’t change what the next and final series was going to be about – the future. It was going to be about becoming a better person and taking the final steps to becoming an ideal dad and to just close out the entire narrative because it’s why I got into running. Past, then present, then future. And then who the fuck knows, but this was just a general outline.

If you’re confused, good. Because I am too. I have so many notes and ideas scribbled on my planner and in notebooks that it’s hard to keep up. It’s like my brain got so excited that we have all this freedom for once that just everything wants to come out. And I got so much coming out at times that…nothing comes out.

Seriously, I have most of “Running to Stand Still” done and planned. But I can’t bring myself to write it all. And why is that?

I think I figured out the answer: because my story is nowhere near done.

I know I say this a lot, but I’m just getting started. I want to continue to ride this out to the end. But in order to fully do that, I can’t look back. Or forward. I just have to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, take a deep breath in, enjoy the fragrances, and just fully appreciate everything I have. I owe that to my girlfriend, who gave me this chance because I think she knows where this can lead us to.

Although getting Instagram followers or hits on my blog or sponsors or book deals or anything else that might come of this would be nice, it is not why I started doing this. I’m doing this to become the best version of myself I can be. So that I can become a dad. And then this would be a record of sorts for any future children. I want to cure myself of the things that have plagued me for too long. Anxiety, depression, loneliness. And this is it: the blueprint for how I am achieving that.

When I quit my job, I knew I wouldn’t be out of the work force for forever. But I wanted to keep exploring this rabbit hole I’ve gotten myself into. Because I know that at the bottom of this, there are answers. Answers that we’ve been looking for for too long. A way to stop biting my nails or picking the skin on my cuticles. This is it, man.

The crazy part is, I already feel like I’m almost at a place where I can go back to work. But I know it’s just my body tricking me. It’s like I have a pie baking in the oven, but it isn’t ready just yet. As much as you want to eat that pie, you gotta let it bake. But I took the GRE a few weeks ago and I got my scores back. I did really well, even though I didn’t study at all for it. I have ideas of what I might do down the line with that, but for now, that’s just a nice thing to have. Scores don’t expire for five years, so I have time.

If I am to reconstruct my life, it needs to be completely. I may never have another chance at this. I have already fixed so much, now it’s time to completely rewire everything. Which is why the writing is going on a hiatus. The writing about my past at least. Because here’s the thing, I already have all of that written down. I have a ton of notes. That story isn’t going anywhere.

But I don’t want to miss what’s going on right now. Because that’s the good stuff. As boring as it may seem on paper, this isn’t why I got into this. I got into this to document my transformation. To leave myself – and my future kid(s) – notes and something to look back at.

And that’s where you come in Pookie. I need you one more time. Because I feel like everything in my life has led to this. I am right where I need to be. I am on the verge of something, and I don’t want to miss it because I’m looking backwards of forwards. I am going to write to you. Every day. It might be short some days, it might be long others. But right now, this is what needs to be done. I haven’t accomplished anything yet, but if I write about what little I’ve accomplished in the past, I will put a limit on what it is that I might be able to accomplish in the future. It might not be sexy, but it’s what needs to be done.

Also, I didn’t tell you, but I’m doing this whole ten day silent mediation retreat. So that is definitely factoring into this. Because I can’t have that just be a one-off thing, like after you get a massage or something and then you go right back to fucking up your back. I am going to start training for and getting ready for that. I want to be equally as hard on the mind as I am on the body. Because only good will come from that.

So here’s my proposed schedule (writing this out also because it helps me stay accountable): wake up, twenty minutes of learning French on Duolingo, meditate, drink some tea, go for a run, eat, do some yoga, clean the apartment, meditate, post a journal entry in my blog, cook dinner, clean the apartment, read, and then sleep. That’s it. Simple living. I want to see what happens to the mind when it is completely unencumbered from the unnecessary, superfluous stuff we feed it. Social media gets the brunt of my hate, but even things like catching up on news, updating my fantasy team, looking for concerts to go to.  All that is gone. Speaking of which, I already have my last concerts that I’m going to planned out. You’re shocked I know, but I love how fitting it is that one of my first concerts was over thirteen years ago and it was seeing my favorite band Tool during their first tour releasing their new album. And now thirteen years later, they put out their next album and it’ll be the last shows I go to. At least for the foreseeable future.

And why? Because it’s time to put my energy and money into getting married. And having kids. That is my life. And that is why I’m doing all of this. Everything else is just noise. And because I know that if I do that, if my theory holds, I won’t be beating any of my PR’s by only five seconds like I did in Virginia Beach. As proud as I was of that PR, I know I’m only scratching the surface. If I keep up this path, I’ll be able to do so much more.

Next up is the New York City Marathon. I would like to get a PR, but the main goal is to not get injured. I would have to beat 3 hours and 46 minutes, which I feel is totally doable. Maybe beat 3 and a half hours. But again, the goal is to not get hurt. Because after that is the JFK 50. It’s hard to have specific goals for that, because I’ve never run 50 miles before. So my main goal is to just finish and have fun. But in an ideal world, I would like to beat 12 hours and finish around dinner time.

For next year, I’m already signed up for the Miami Marathon. And the Naked Prussian and Naked Bavarian, two trail races in Pennsylvania. And then the Strolling Jim, a 40 mile race put on by Laz Lake – the same guy who does the Barkley Marathons. For that, I want to be able to get a finishing time that earns me one of the coveted t-shirts.

But then I have a few things in mind. If I can get in, I might do the Yeti 100 and do the Vermont 100K as a tune up race as I build up towards my first 100 mile race. It would follow my slow progression up. Alternatively, if I don’t get in I might do the Ultra-Trail Harracana of Canada, a 125K trail race. And I might still do the Vermont 100K as a warm up race for that. Ideally, I would like to get 100 miles under my belt, because that would bring me to my real goal.

I think I want to work towards a “backyard ultra” race. It’s too early to tell considering I’m still improving, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be the fastest. But the idea of a backyard ultra – which is basically a “last man standing” kind of deal – intrigues me. Because it’s not about speed. It’s a true test of grit. And maybe this is what all of this is leading up to.

But before that, in the meantime, at some point I’ll be getting married. And we’ll then try to have a kid at some point after that. And maybe we’re still in a situation where I’ll be fortunate enough to be a stay at home dad and take care of our kid. And when they’re old enough to go to school, then maybe it’ll be time to put my GRE score to use and go back to grad school to become a psychologist. Which is a better fit for me anyway, I think. Hell, maybe a school psychologist. And I can be the track coach or something. And then maybe in the meantime while I’m going to grad school and taking care of a kid while also keeping a journal of it all on my blog, I’m training for a backyard ultra, ready to give one of these world-class athletes my Rocky Balboa in Round 14 moment. Maybe this is what this is all leading to, and I’m just writing my own movie script here.

Yeah, I like the sound of that. But in the meantime, let’s just keep these two feet planted firmly on the ground and take one step at a time. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. As always, thanks for listening.

– Coach

 

 

 

Running

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