Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Coming to Understand Me.

Over the Christmas break, during my freshman year in college, I talked a buddy into driving nearly 400 miles out of our way just to see a girl.  Not just any girl though, as she would eventually become my wife.

My family was living in Brunswick, Georgia at the time and a high school was driving seventy miles north to the Savannah mall to exchange a Christmas gift.  I went along for the ride.  As we crossed the I95/I16 interchange a road sign foretold that Florence, South Carolina was 185 mile ahead.  Andria's family resided in Florence.  An idea flashed in my mind and a plan was hatched.  Since we had gas money (that's how I remember it anyway) Jeremy agreed to make the detour.  I called Andria to make sure she was home and off we when.

The funny (and infuriating, for Andria) part was that we ended up meeting a a McDonald's off the interstate for fifteen minutes.  She hoped we would follow her back to the house, but since neither Jeremy nor I told our parents about the change of itinerary I felt we didn't have much time to spare.  Needless to say she was a little pissed.  Andria, her sisters and mom went to the trouble of cleaning the house especially for me.  I like to think I have repaid the debt in the years since.  And it is one of the funny memories of our twenty years together.

So in reality, my buddy and I drove a total of six hundred miles on a whim to see a girl I had been dating for two months.

Who does that?

Apparently my dad.

During the road trip a few weeks ago to visit my dying grandmother our conversation broached many subjects.  A couple of stories told of his time in the Navy, stationed in Charleston, South Carolina.  On one occasion he and a buddy drove from Charleston to Macon, GA, visited with my grandparents for about an hour, then hustled back to base before they were reported late for duty the next day.

Another time he was driving from Charleston to Atlanta to see a girl he met in Daytona Beach while in high school.  They were pen pals (a quaint relic of the past) and he knew both her home address in Augusta and that she was attending college in the Atlanta area.  Well, Dad got as far a her parents' home in Augusta before her father explained the impossibility of continuing on to Atlanta and returning to Charleston before his next duty aboard ship.  Twelve hours for at least a twelve and a half hour trip.  Not to mention time to find his friend and make have a cup of coffee.  Dad reluctantly faces facts and returned to base, only half way to his destination.

I have not taken many spontaneous road trips in my time.  But I like to think this wandering spirit, this urge to strike out is a trait handed down from my dad.  Part of that wanderlust that make ultramarathons so appealing to me.

On occasion you have time to take time.  Other times you are short of time and must make haste.  There there are the days that you recognize your own or imposed limitations and rearrange your course.  Today feels like the latter.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Motivation For Getting Out of Bed

What reason would I have for posting this clip to my blog?  To illustrate just how crippling self-pity can be.  There are many days I feel like shit and can read a laundry list of reasons to justify those feelings.

To understand how and why self-pity can be so dangerous read this post by Paul Gilmartin.

In case you are wondering, in this little play I am both Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes.  Sucks.  Doesn't it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Losing To Gain

I spent some time in a hospital ICU ward this week.  Not the place I expected to be on Monday night when I woke up Monday morning.  My role was that of visitor.  Comforter.  Remember-er of times past with more joy and laughter.

My grandmother has lived a long life.  There are incredible memories of summers spent with her and my grandfather in Macon, Georgia.  A trip to the space museum in Huntsville, AL.  A tour of the Bluebird bus factory - I rode one of their buses to Catholic school as a child.  Even a lookeeloo around a cigarette factory.  Weird I know but it was their way of keeping my moving, exploring, learning.

I recall times when I was not a stellar grandson.  That visit while in college was not great.  I wanted to be anywhere but with them at the time.  At this moment I feel like an ass in that memory.  That may be where the distance began to grow.  But are relationships ever the saw as we move from childhood to adulthood.

Then there was the Christmas Eve mass.  I won't go into the details but my grandmother made a statement that caused great offense in my heart.  I resented those words for a long time.  I convinced myself that I did not love her the same way I did as a child, her only grandchild.

Several years passed before I gained perspective on her words and the significance of her statement.  What I chose to ignore in the moment I embrace now.  Oftentimes my feelings of worth or value are based in misunderstanding.  There was no malice in what she said.  I wish I recognized that at the time.

As I said my goodbyes yesterday I considered forgiving her.  Then I realized I am the one in need of forgiveness.  My heart was hardened to her love, to the joy that she obviously felt for me and my daughters.

Days will come when we are forced to say goodbye.  Don't be afraid.  Don't avoid the moment.  Express your love and appreciation and heartfelt thanks for what the special people bring into your life.  I am forever thankful for my time with her this week.  I am thankful she knew I was there - to feel my love, my warmth, my embrace.  We don't always get that opportunity.

*Update - My grandmother was moved to hospice care.  Thank you for all the prays, well wishes and expressions of concern.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Naming My Demons

I am afraid.  I try to put up a brave front and not let these thoughts rule my life or inhibit my forward progress.  Some days these fears seem bigger than myself, overpowering in their pervasiveness.  Some are general, some are specific, yet they all affect me on some level.

The purpose of this post is to acknowledge the fears that paralyze me and attempt to defuse their inherent power.  I may not be able to overturn them in the short term, but by writing them down I hope to lessen the impact they have over my psyche.  Before you label any of this notions are ridiculous or silly take a moment to example was affects you on a deep personal level.  I am not asking for responses.  Just consider what keeps you awake at night.

I am afraid that
  • I will become on my worst days exactly what  I think I am.
  • I will never be able to contribute meaningfully to my household.
  • My children will be just as emotionally compromised as I am.
  • My wife will realize I am not the partner and spouse she deserves.
  • In a moment of weakness I will cheat in my marriage.
  • I will never have money.
  • When a friend truly needs me I intentionally not respond.
  • My children will not have enough to eat.
  • The people I most care about will eventually realize I am worthless and shun me.
  • I am less that other people believe me to be.
  • That people will hear the negative thoughts in my head and agree.
  • I will push everyone away just to prove that it would eventually happen.
  • My passive-aggression will drive a wedge in my relationships with family and friends.

I may add to this list as other ideas float it.  The sad fact is that this list will probably grow.  These are not concrete fears.  Nothing to do with the weather or the economy or geopolitical upheaval.  I cannot control that shit.  The fears that consume me all originate squarely between my ears.

You will not see any fears related to running on this list.  My desire to run my fly in the face of work and personal commitments, however the act of running does not elicit a fear response.  Running takes me to my happy place.

I will conclude on this - I am feeling better as a result of types these thoughts out.  I began writing this post Friday afternoon and within an hour or two the fog was begin to lift.  The reason my writing has been focused on mental health issues of late may be due to a lack of racing.  Training is not the same as racing.  I have two months to prepare for my next race.  Soon...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hell, Rearranged

The trials of life can either forge us into something stronger, unbreakable.  Or reveal the true nature of human frailty and leave us fractured.

Just as the Japanese sword maker repeatedly fires, hammers and cools a blade to temper the steel and remove impurities we can strive to become hardened for the pitfalls that await us in life.  One certainty is that it will hurt.  You must not simply endure the pain, for no one can endlessly endure.  You have to learn to fight back.  And fighting back often requires a supported effort.

I am learning that sometimes fighting back means asking a friend to pull me from the railroad tracks.  I may be aware of the speeding train.  I see it barreling toward me.  The shriek of the whistle is audible.  But my body is paralyzed.  Getting out of my own way becoming impossible.

Then I see another person in my place on the tracks.  I shout a warning.  No sound escapes my throat.  Maybe they are unaware of the danger.  Or possibly they are paralyzed in the moment as I was.  Do I have time to pull they clear.  Am I even capable of saving them.  Only time will tell.  Unfortunately the hands on the clock face are invisible to me.

Hang on a while longer.  I won't discount that the train is purely a fabrication of the mind.  Real to both of us.  Real as anything in the physcial world, yet completely of our imagination.  

Please hang on for a little while longer.

Friday, June 3, 2011


It is interesting how the last year has gone.  I finally tackled a few hurdles.  After a couple of false starts I managed to earn my first two marathon medals and qualify for Boston under the new timing guideline.  ::I totally forgot to mention my first ultra and that my wife is running as well.::  There have also been the friendships and connections made during that time.  These people have not only been great sources of information, they have also afforded me the opportunity to see myself in a different light.  They have enabled me to expand my realm of possibility.  These friends/acquaintances have also enabled me to think more clearly, more critically about myself.  Not "critical" in a negative sense, but in a way that strips the unnecessary for my being and boils everything down to the essential elements.  

What I find is that today I like myself more because of these people.  Not that there is more of me to like; rather, these folks afforded me the opportunity to discover what is valuable and important in life.  Not accumulation.  Not status nor position.  Its experience.  "You can't take it with you" is a common refrain.  Worldly possessions remain in this world.  Objects can be misplaced, lost, stolen.  Memories are forever.  Whether they are locked in my mind or the collective memories of my accomplices or committed to paper.

One lesson that the last year reinforced is that few things are permanent.  There is definitely an ebb and flow to life.  Change is constant.  What I choose to cling to on this day may be cast aside with barely a second thought tomorrow.  That does not minimize the impact of the encounter.  The impression stays long after the person has moved on.

These impressions made the deepest impact on two facets of my life.  Ultras and alcohol.

I may not be a true run-junkie, but I love the fix running brings.  And I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from running a long damn way.  Going further than before.  Building the training schedule with seemingly impossible numbers and then having to mesh it into my life with grace and balance.

The breakthrough for me is that alcohol had been the roadblock to achieving any sort of grace or balance.  While not an alcoholic I did drink to feel the affects.  I did drink to experience the buzz.  And when life interrupted my dance with the buzz I would get pissy.  I'll be brief but this is how I explained it to my wife last night
Drinking with a group or at an event is fun and part of the overall event.  Its fun and engaging.  Drinking at home is just sad and lonely.  Rather than being part of the experience it becomes the experience.  Not that I don't want my daughters to see me consume alcohol, nor do I consider alcohol bad on any level, my ability to be an engaged nurturing father is compromised when I drink at home, alone.
She responded that she was proud of me.  Proud that I am considering these ideas in a critical way.  Proud that I set myself up to walk away from temptation.  She is proud that I am testing myself not giving in to what is easy.

So to the people that opened my mind to the possibility of a better me - thank you.  Even for some of you that were only here for a passing moment, your impression will be felt for a long time.