Monday, June 23, 2008
I remember the first pair of real running shoes they bought me. They were on clearance and cost $30, and my dad was cursing the whole way home from the store. The second pair cost maybe $40, and they refused to buy me another pair for a year. To this day, I cannot walk barefoot for more than 30 minutes without feeling like someone has beaten on the soles of my feet with a 2X4. I didn't get a really nice pair of running shoes until I had been running for three years.
For the first three years I lived in Florida, I worked a crap job standing on cement floors for 8-10 hours a day. My feet were hurting pretty much 24-7. The past year has been nice, since I've not had to be on my feet so much, and the pain actually subsides every now and again. I started wearing moccasins and loafers, which was a mistake. They just don't supply much in the way of arch support. So, back to the running shoes 24-7.
A week ago, I picked up my first pair of real, serious running shoes in a decade. They look cool, they come in my size(10 1/2 4E), and they are springy-feeling. More importantly, I only wear them when I go on my walk/jog/walk expeditions with my dog. When I lace them up, my mind focuses in a way that's pretty damned satisfying. It get's my head on straight, which is a cool and groovy thing.
I plan on getting more than one pair a year... even if they are $140 a pair.
Let's go back two decades.
I remember being scared out of my mind. I had never been particularly assertive, and in truth I would often find myself paralyzed by fear and crippling shyness. I walked into the classroom right after school, and said "Coach, I want to join the cross country team." His response? To tell me that he'd heard about me, how I was smarter than everyone else but I was also kind of lazy.
I spent the next few years proving him wrong. I ran hard for years and years. Even though I wasn't anything more than average and never could be. Even though I almost certainly didn't have a future once I got to college. I got to the point where I was running anywhere from 7-14 miles a day, 6-7 days a week. I ran all summer, over long holidays, even on vacation with my parents. It was cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, then track all spring and into the summer. Summer vacation, and all year long when scheduling permitted, I'd run in local road races, mostly 5K and 10K races.
It wasn't important to me just because it changed me from a fat kid to an athlete. I was able to make friends, and be part of something where I actually fit in. We were all of us weird guys, misfits, cut from a strange sort of cloth. I was actually able to feel good about myself, and I broke out of my shyness in a big way. At some point I became a leader, which has served me well throughout my life.
When I got to college, I kept running. When I quit school and joined the Marines, I kept running. When I broke my leg in two places and almost got kicked out of the Marines, it was running that kept me sane and rebuilt my body and my spirit. It was running that got me promoted instead of discharged. I had such a strong sense of who I was that nothing could stand in my way for long.
When I got out of the Marines, something changed. I got roped into a destructive relationship and a soul-crushing job. I became... less. I lost a lot of my pride and self-esteem. I felt lost and out of control, like I was living someone else’s life and couldn’t get out from under the weight of it all. I had been tan and fit, and I became pasty and flabby. I lost the will to do anything about it, and didn’t have any reason or energy to care.I’m in a much better place now, but I’ve always had this empty place inside me where I used to keep that perfect sense of who I am, who I am supposed to be. In a lot of ways, the past year has been about going backwards. I’m back in school finally, and this time I’m getting the grades I should have gotten the last time. I’ve got a dog again for the first time since I was in the Marines. I’m reading a book every two days or so, which I haven’t done in probably 10 years. I’m actually listening to music again, which I had sort of given up on. Heck, I’ve even got a collection of odd toys and sharp blades again. There’s one more thing I’ve got to do.
I remember my last moment of panic after I started running. It was my first race of my first track season, and for some reason I was overwhelmed by anxiety right there at the starting line. I ran over to Coach and asked him what I should do, if he had any advice, could he tell me ANYTHING to calm me down. He looked at me like I’d asked him the dumbest question in the world, and said “Turn left.” That’s it… and that’s the lesson I forgot for so many years. There’s nothing so complicated that doesn’t boil down to something simple like that.
So. I’m out there every day in the heat, sometimes twice a day. It hurts a whole lot more than I remember. I’ve got years and years of injuries and age to cope with. It is mostly walking, with some short spurts of something that barely qualifies as jogging. Slowly, so goddamned slowly, I’m shedding the weight, working out the kinks, regaining flexibility and lean muscle. My head is getting back in the game.
December 6, 2008. I’m going home, in more ways than one. I’ve got a half-marathon with my name on it. I’d say “wish me luck” but I don’t think I’m going to need it. I just need to keep turning left, and the rest will take care of itself.