Saturday, June 6, 2015

What I Write About When I Write About Running

It's that season of life again.  The time to change eating and exercise habits.  I’ve gone through and beyond such seasons of life at least 10 times since I was a college freshman.  The hard part is that by the time the balance of "motivation vs inaction" finally tips to the point where I am motivated, I have that many more pounds to overcome and that many more years working against me.  So here we go again... I'm eating better, and attempting to begin running again.  I always have had a love/hate thing with running.  And I've always had a love/love thing with eating.

It doesn't happen overnight for me, though it may seem all of a sudden to those around me.  The reality is that my intrinsic motivation (negative or positive) usually builds up over time.  And then one day, I’ll just inexplicably start eating better, or going to the gym, or walking... or running.   This “season” officially began Saturday, May 30, 2015, at 3:18pm, with a half walk/jog in sweltering 90 degree weather.   But let’s backup some, so as to transition from the season prior.

From January 2013 – January 2014 I walked 2+ miles every single day, regardless of weather.  I had thought that doing that little habit would have taken ounces off me every week, until I reached my high school tennis team figure, but I was wrong.  I think I replaced the few calories burned walking with additional food, resulting in maintaining weight, or only gaining a little during that time, instead of losing a lot.  After that streak ended, I still walked 3-4 days a week.  But frankly, as I took a new job last August, I have been more and more busy.  And here I am, back at a starting point I don’t even want to write in this blog.  Let’s just say I am about 10 pounds away from a milestone reserved for really big NFL offensive linemen.  In all humility, I don't think I look as big as the scales say, but the physics must be respected.

Lori asked me what prompted me to start this regimen again.  It’s a good question, and I wanted to capture it here. 

On April 1, my brother-in-law Scott tragically died after medical complications.  He was only 54.  Though Scott wasn’t in great health, from outward appearances, he was just as healthy as or better than I was.  I will miss his sense of humor and beach golf trips.

Within 2 weeks, my first boss Danny McBee died.  He was 67, but was an avid runner since I knew him back in the 80’s.  He posted on Facebook frequently about his running adventures, and I always admired that he kept up that activity even as a senior citizen.

I am a mere 50 ½ years old.  I know we are not promised tomorrow, but even an avid runner like Danny McBee didn't live to be an old man.  With the deaths of Scott and Mr. McBee, I quickly came to grips with my own mortality, and a realization about how fragile life is, and that most likely I have more years behind me than ahead of me.  As Andy Dufresne said in Shawshank Redemption, "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."

My favorite band is Rush, the Canadian trio celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, who now mostly appeal to balding guys in their 50s.  I also play guitar, mainly for my own amusement and relaxation – or stress relief.  Sometime in May I was in a melancholy mood and was playing with an acoustic effect on my Strat.  I thumbed through my Rush guitar book for the 1000th time, looking for any missed gem I could reattempt.  I began playing “Between the Wheels,” the last track on the “Grace Under Pressure” album released in the spring of my freshman year of college.  As a side note, that time of my life was when I was first gaining weight (the freshman twenty, or was it thirty?) thanks largely to PTA Pizza, which was consumed in large doses on the 3rd floor of Tucker Dorm at NC State University.  It was also when I was just beginning to run some, for recreational purposes.  But I digress.

This song was not originally played acoustic - and has never been played acoustically by Rush, to my knowledge - as it’s a pretty powerful rock song with lots of driving synthesizer bass from Geddy Lee.  The chord progression is rather sad, starting with some sort haunting "Dm7 – Am" chord loop over a marching type rhythm.  But then the chorus comes.  When played acoustically and slowly, the lament was very moving to me. 

You know how that rabbit feels
Going under your speeding wheels
Bright images flashing by
Like windshields towards a fly
Frozen in the fatal climb
But the wheels of time
Just pass you by

… and on that “Just pass you by” part there comes another chord progression and deep bass drop that just screams Andy Dufresne to me.

I am about to take a business trip to Japan.  Our company airline ticket policy does not include business class, or even aisle seats.  So some of the “best fare available” seats I’ve been finding are in Coach class, in the center of a section of 5 seats.  The thought of sticking myself in that shoebox sized seat for 14+ hours is not a pleasant one.  Maybe I need to get smaller.

Since I am working on a project with a Japanese partner, on May 25, I decided to revisit the only Japanese author I’ve ever read - Haruki Murakami, the author of the 1Q84 3-part epic I 1/3 finished.  Reading through Murakami’s books I was attracted to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  

Subconsciously, I was looking for some catalyst to kick me into a more healthy gear.  I learned that Murakami was an avid runner for many years, and multi-year marathon participant.  This book was somewhat of a memoir about running, writing, and growing old.  I can relate to all three, and thought that perhaps reading this would inspire me.  Yet, when I read the reviews, some said “this did not inspire me to run – it made me want to quit.”  That intrigued me further, so I started reading, highlighting as I went.  Here’s one: 

When I’m running I don’t have to talk to anybody and don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at the scenery passing by.

Like most Murakami books, his wording is simple, yet makes one think.

I really believe that I am blessed to have no major health problems or issues.  Other than male pattern baldness and poor vision, my only health problem is self-inflicted.  As a result, I’m not as flexible as I should be.  Tying shoes is an effort.  Scratching nether regions of myself is not as easy it used to be.  
I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank.   
 -- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I have 18 pairs of dress slacks.  Only one fits me.  I have over 25 pairs of shorts.  Only one fits me.  I have 5 pairs of gym shorts, and fortunately, thanks to elastic waistbands, three of those fit me!  I have over 30 pairs of jeans, and three of those fit me thanks to generous sizing of the Wrangler brand at Target.

Even if there were two of me, I still couldn’t do all that has to be done. No matter what, though, I keep up my running. Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again.   
 -- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

On May 28, I attended a concert of my favorite band, Rush.  This was special because I attended with my friend from high school Mark Hickman, and my 6th grade best friend David Doyle, who I had not seen since around 1977, when I moved away from Fayetteville to Charlotte.  Seeing your school friends as 50 year old adults does put an exclamation point on how time has passed.  Mark is basically the same as I remember him as a teen, and as I’d seen him at our 30 year reunion a few years  ago.  David had changed.  When we were kids, I was the regular athletic kid and David was the big one.  I’d seen pictures on Facebook, but if it were not for his eyes I would not have recognize him at age 50!  He was in great shape and didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat on him.  We’d switched roles – except he still plays drums, and I guitar.  He made his healthy change after high school, and seeing him really inspired me… and frustrated me because I was nowhere near normal in size.  (pictured: David, me, Mark... aka Neil, Alex, Geddy)

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that.  
 -- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Once we entered the Greensboro Coliseum, we headed to the souvenir table.  I scanned the display of many cool and overpriced tour and band memorabilia.   I have to search by size first, looking for 2XL or larger.  Single XL is out of the question.  2XL has become more of a stretch, pun intended.  I’ve bought many concert tees over the years, and their price has far outpaced inflation. 

Mark and I attended the 1982 Rush Signals tour and got the ticket and a T-shirt for probably under 40 bucks total.  Not so in 2015.  The ticket was $115 and the shirt I wanted?  An R40 mention with the Dalmatian dog from the Signals album cover running away from that fire hydrant he’d just peed on.  “Do you have anything larger than 2XL?” I asked, as I stretched the shirt, testing it as I tried a mock fitting by beginning to put it on.  “Nope,” the really fat lady said who was also tightly wearing a Rush shirt and also needed something bigger than 2XL.   “OK.  I’ll take it,” I said, and plopped out $55, the most I’ve ever paid for any T-shirt and most dress shirts.   This one having the unique characteristic that I would not actually be wearing it anytime soon.  Sort of like buying next summer’s clothes at the end of this summer.  I don’t understand why my favorite band is not more sensitive to its clientele.  Clearly, they could sell many more shirts to the people I saw if they offered a big & tall selection.  

You make do with what you have. As you age you learn even to be happy with what you have. That’s one of the few good points of growing older.
-- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

At the Rush concert, the band reeled off all the songs I was expecting based on the set lists of the recent shows.  In this tour, they started with their most recent songs and worked backwards in time, playing 0, 1, or 2 songs from their catalog of over 20 studio albums.  Lo and behold, when they got to the 80s and to the “Grace Under Pressure” era, the only song they played was “Between the Wheels.”  While it was not done acoustically, I sat in bewilderment as I recalled sadly playing that song a few weeks before.  If there was a tear in my eye at that time, it was a tear of joy for being so blessed to be able to go to see my favorite band with 2 of my best friends ever.

I don’t care about the time I run. I can try all I want, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to run the way I used to. I’m ready to accept that. It’s not one of your happier realities, but that’s what happens when you get older. Just as I have my own role to play, so does time. And time does its job much more faithfully, much more accurately, than I ever do. Ever since time began (when was that, I wonder?), it’s been moving ever forward without a moment’s rest. And one of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honor of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.   
-- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

The concert ended and we all went our separate ways home.  My R40 Signals Dalmation Rush T-shirt sat on my bedroom chair. Beckoning me.  Mocking me.  What 50 year old Rush fun is able to even fit in that thing?  Not all of them, that’s for sure.  What Rush band member could even wear it?  Geddy, for sure.  But Neil and Alex – it might be tight. 

Thus the seasons come and go, and the years pass by. I’ll age one more year, and probably finish another novel. One by one, I’ll face the tasks before me and complete them as best I can. Focusing on each stride forward, but at the same time taking a long-range view, scanning the scenery as far ahead as I can. I am, after all, a long-distance runner. My time, the rank I attain, my outward appearance— all of these are secondary. For a runner like me, what’s really important is reaching the goal I set myself, under my own power. I give it everything I have, endure what needs enduring, and am able, in my own way, to be satisfied. From out of the failures and joys I always try to come away having grasped a concrete lesson.   
-- Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

So having finished the concert, and finished the book, I stared at the R40 Signals Dalmation Rush T-shirt.  I glanced at my running shoes mostly used for walking, and then back at the T-shirt.  Before I knew it I was putting on the shoes and stretching.  And then I hit the trail.  Walking 1/10 mile, then ever so gingerly jogging 1/10, alternating the best I could for the duration.  I have to build up strength and drop many pounds to be able to run safely, and so far, my knees are not liking this new idea.  But I hope my next T-shirt purchase will be a road race souvenir.

June 20, 2016: I started this post on June 6, and completed it while in Tokyo.  I am about to head to the airport for departure and return to the USA.  My left knee has been giving me issues since I started what little running I've done since May 30.  So I've had periods of recovery and injury so far.  But I am not giving up.  I am going to lose weight and build leg strength, and at some point, the balance of the two will work.

No comments: