Thursday, August 14, 2014

That Strength

So says the Oatmeal: 

Running is not about building strength and wearing it like a fashion statement.
It’s about finding strength and measuring yourself every single day.

A huge part of this journey back to being a runner has been trying to find my lost strength.  I ran a long time ago.  When I was in 8th and 9th grade I ran cross country.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  I always hated organized sports.  Then my very first meet was speckled with falling snow.  I was hooked.  Fighting the adversity of nature appealed to me.  I kept running until my freshman season was over and I had claimed a varsity letter.  We moved back to Kentucky from Ohio and there was no cross country team in Powell County then.  So I stopped being a regular runner after a failed attempt at running distance in track and field.
Occasionally as an adult I’ve taken up running in random futile efforts to get/stay in shape.  Instead of running it has always been hardcore hiking that has kept me fit.  And in those years of hiking until the shoes fell off my feet I forged a strength of spirit that I’ve never really been able to explain or to reproduce.  I've refined it through different activities and different perspectives.  But through it all I have tried to translate what I already learned into what I'm trying to learn at each step along the way. 
I’ve held onto that strength through the years.  Every time I was able to jump up off the couch and pull off a 5k, or scrabble up some rock climb that seemed too hard, or to do a century ride on too little sleep and not enough fuel in the tank I was delving into that bedrock of my inner strength.
At the Mohican in 2013 I mined a ton of it and chewed it up before finally giving in to my more mature sense of prudence.  I leaned heavily upon that foundation at Leadville last year.  I couldn’t have finished that incredibly hard race on high octane desire alone. 
I don’t do these things to change my appearance.  Sure, I have a poor self-image like a lot of people.  I wish I had washboard abs and the muscle tone of a twenty-something.  I don’t have them and probably never will.  But that’s not what drives me to do these things. 
If I wanted to be ripped I would focus on weight lifting and crunches and—as Inman so eloquently illustrates—punishing my genitals.  I hate crunches.  I hate weights.  I hate doing any activity that is simply fitness masturbation.  The thought of riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill crushes my soul.  Lifting weights is an abstraction.  I would rather split some firewood or work in the garden or hack out a trail from some steep hillside.  Even running only for the sake of gaining some negligible physical benefits crushes my soul.  I have to find meaning and enjoyment in running for its own sake.  For some reason I've never struggled with that issue in cycling.  I guess the speed and greater proprioceptive stimulation of cycling was more instantly gratifying to me that has been running.
This inner strength is what gets me through the non-athletic trials of life.  It’s carried me through soul-crushing days of cubicle dwelling, through seemingly intolerable situations, and through expanses of time that on the outset seemed hellish.  I’m a resilient person.  I can absorb a lot of stress and keep bending under the strain.  I’ve never broken.  Okay, maybe once I broke.  Maybe once above a lake in Colorado I shattered.  Somehow I regenerated and came back immediately.
Mandy insists that I would be able to do anything I set my mind to doing.  I don’t feel it, but I hope for that kind of strength.  There are a lot of things I have set my mind to doing that haven't happened.  Yet.
Believe it or not, I’m not sure what I really want from life.  I’m not sure what I want to give of myself to the world either.  All of this endurance racing garbage is distraction and self-deception.  It’s inauthentic.  And yet maybe it all works together with my multiple parallel streams of schemes to weave into a stronger thread as my life progresses.  I've seen it happen a few times; that my years of working toward some goal has paid off through patience and persistence. 

I finally convinced her to reach up and touch the ceiling
This is the kind of strength I want to feel

Maybe after I let go of my dream to be a rock climbing guide I didn’t truly latch onto anything else with as much fervor.  At least not in a “what is my purpose in life” kind of way.  Planning (as a career) had promise.  But being immersed in permit review does little for making you feel as if you have some sort of value to the universe.  It's hard to feel like you're saving the world when all you do is argue with would-be shed builders and zoning violators.  My to-present stint in transportation planning has been much more promising, but it’s not as sexy as you’d think (and I'm pretty sure you don't think it's as sexy as I do).  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it, just that there’s a lot of cubicle time and not nearly enough glam.  First world problems, I know.
So I seek my inner adventures through cycling and running and hiking and daydreaming about rock climbing again some day.  I try to maintain my strength of body and spirit for the day when I make my grand return to being physically proficient at something.  I don’t want to fade into middle-aged obesity and lethargy.  I can’t stomach the thought of being gobbled up by the Blerch. 
I struggle daily with self-esteem issues.  I know I'm smart and capable.  I know I have talents and that people love me, but those things don't matter when the waves of doubt crush me and pound me into the reefs of bad thinking underneath.  I think what keeps me from being totally self-destructive and from giving in to the overwhelmingness of the weight I feel crushing me down is the strength of spirit I have forged over the years and the hope I have that some day I can overcome my mental maladies and surf that monster wave of chaos that is my life.

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