Monday, May 09, 2011

Blah, blah, blah. On running, journeys, and the meaning of suffering

Dear Diary,

I'm happy to report that this weekend I did not crap myself while running.  And if you're wondering why I didn't say that last weekend...well.

Moving on.

The lowest 'knuckle' on both my big toes hurt, and my quads are stiff, and some toes on my left foot are a bit raw on the ends, and I've still got a bit of that post-race narcolepsy. But, I'll go to work tomorrow morning.  Meanwhile, now that I won't be required to read and write I'll be doing more running and writing.

You know, as I run these things I realize, in the grand scheme of things, my own epic struggles are ridiculously and completely self-imposed.  I wonder what the onlookers think, as we run through their town, especially the ones who didn't come out to watch but were just going about their lives and there's this marathon in the way.  I imagine that guy, the one leaning against the fence as he might sit all day, staring, and I wonder what his life is like.  I wonder if he wonders what my life is like. Does he imagine that it is easy?  is he right?

There are those whose epic struggle is complete a marathon, just one, and then they are done.  Or a 10K.  Or a 5K.  They have meaning.  They have done something more than most will ever do and that, for them, is enough.  For others, there is a quest for more, and for so many different reasons.  For some, it might be a type of penance; for others, a triumph of will.  For sill others, a voice in their head whispers, ordinary, ordinary or something far more malevolent, is something to be quieted.    

We create our own struggles, our own dramas.  Some like me seem to enjoy them more when they hurt. The struggle I undertook to leave behind welfare and food stamps seems to have imprinted into me the need to meet goals, especially ones that are crazy and hard. I know that I'll hurt.  I might even cry.  It's all part of the fun.   :-/

I've passed lots of people with Vibram five-finger shoes, or just barefoot, who are clearly suffering.  My first instinct is to mock them: Did Born to Run convince him that running barefoot is natural?  Well, it is.  26 miles of cement and asphalt, however, is not.  Personally, it's weird, to me, to create that kind of suffering, to give one's life meaning, but that's their journey, their need to do something extraordinary. As my mother might have pointed out to me, You ran 62 miles when you could have taken a car.

Towards the end of road marathons especially, I pass a lot of men who are healthy and athletic-looking.  (Sweet Baboo thinks maybe most men do not pace themselves as well as women do.) Their slumped shoulders and shuffling feet speak their fatigue, and they are tired, suffering, and determined.  Perhaps if it was easy, it wouldn't mean as much.  It means more to overcome it on your own.  It is uniquely personal.

It's not to be imposed, however.  The woman at the Kalamazoo marathon who pulled a small boy along by the hand, a small boy of about eight, who was wearing a Tee-shirt that proclaimed: CHOOSE LIFE. CHOOSE ADOPTION, didn't know this.  As I passed, he asked mommy if he could rest for a moment, and she urged him on.  If you want to make your children walking advertisements for your beliefs, fine, but don't drag them 26 miles.  The journey, THEIR journey, means more if they push THEMselves.  You can't give the meaning of the journey to someone.  They have to find it on their own. Otherwise, they'll hate you for it.  When they think of your beliefs, they'll think of suffering.

There are the stories, and the journeys. Take none of them for granted.  They are uniquely those that belong to the people who created them. The sign at mile 12 that says "Jeanette you are a 13.1 rockstar!" made me smile because my guess is that there is a story behind that sign and the people who wrote it.  Jeanette, wherever she is, is a rockstar. We all are.



  1. This is a really cool post. Except for the very last part. ugh. Poor kid.


    If you want to make your children walking advertisements for your beliefs, fine, but don't drag them 26 miles.



  3. What a nice post! Yes dragging a little boy 26 miles is harsh!! But you are right we all have our stories!

  4. At the Flying Pig, I like the girl with the sign "Free Hugs!". I gave her one. For whatever reason, she got up and spent HOURS on that course hugging sweaty runners. I wonder why... Glad she was there though. It helped!

  5. Nice post.
    Don't knock the barefoot or minimalist runners. BF running allows many people who love running and yearn to run to actually run when previously they were not able to because of constant injuries when shod.
    Helen, bf/minimalist marathon finisher

  6. You know, Helen, I appreciate that point of view that I've never heard before. I wasn't mocking; I just assumed they had their own reasons for suffering. It never occured to me that people would have an easier time barefoot than running with shoes. I'm glad you (and they) are able to find a way to run.

  7. Anonymous10:45 AM

    Love this - when I think back on my own childhood and how I was constantly told I could that I should just choose to be happy but a mother who was anything but, in a household that was anything but...I wish someone wise had taken my hand and told me that it was ok to be sad on the journey to being happy and then told me I had to go on it alone.


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