Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Running for My Life

The day after my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor was the day I started running for my life.

I'm going on two and half years of major life upheavals, and just when I thought I might get a respite, I found out my mother needed brain surgery. Major brain surgery. I'm not a self-pitying sort of person normally. But these last couple years, I've woken each day, usually around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., with a heart-pounding sense of impending doom: "What bad thing will happen today? What important thing did I forget to do? Who's going to call with bad news? How much will the next bill cost me?" At 5:30 a.m. that morning, I got out of bed, sat on the porch, and decided to outrun the doom. At about 10 minutes after sunrise, I took off.

I can't say that first attempt was a resounding success: I walked three miles and managed, under the cover of the thick cedars along the nature trail I hoped would conceal my belabored effort, two pathetic 15-second jogs that threatened to kill me. It was more like running toward my death.

Now, a long walk with two short jogs has turned into mostly running the whole way, whatever "the whole way" happens to mean.

I've started exercise regimens before in the name of losing a few pounds, usually with friends, and it has never worked out (no pun intended). Those past attempts usually ended because the whole business started to seem onerous within days: "Crap, I've got to go exercise... again." Strangely, I wake up now, thinking, "Crap, it's too dark to run. Hurry up! I need to run!"

I've been wondering why this is so, and I've come to some conclusions. Here are the things I've learned from running:

  • Abandon goals: Lao Tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Others have said it's about the journey, not the destination. Phooey. There's no use in trying to background a goal. If you have one (a journey which implies a destination), all you'll think about is how much farther you have to go in order to get there, no matter how hard you try. All the coloring books, car games, and breaks along the way do nothing to prevent the age-old question "Are we there yet?" If I wake up thinking "I don't have to run if I don't want to," I inevitably want to. Because I don't have to.
  • Be surprised by something every day, even if it's the thing you were surprised by the day before. I learned this from rabbits. Two of them reside along my normal route. They know I'm coming through every morning at the same time, and yet they sit in the same spot and wait for me by the trail, one of them standing on its hind legs, nose a-twitch. They hold back until the very last safest second, and then take off running in an exuberant bunny version of hide-and-seek. So, when The Loose Rooster of Bruce Street cock-a-doodle-does every morning when I run by, I still laugh and it still feels like getting a little unexpected present. I like unexpected presents.
  • Don't fight what you don't have to. Like the guy I met coming the opposite direction down a trail near my mom's house who only uses it to get to and from work, smoking like a chimney the entire way. While I've been known to imbibe in a cigarillo once or twice a year (I know, disgusting and unfeminine, whatever), I am NOT into sharing a ciggy-butt with a stranger sporting crotch-at-the-knees gangster shorts while I'm running. The best course of action, once you've determined that nuisance humans are invading a route, is to abandon it for a less cancerous one. Do not attempt to explain to the offender why and how he should get a life (this dude was in his 30's and vertically challenged; his choice of fashion only served to accentuate his "shortcomings"). This could result in hard feelings...and a fat lip. And even if it didn't, people never listen to the advice of others...except to rule it out.
  • It doesn't hurt to plan ahead. There is a certain kind of charm about running in the rain, the fog, a heat index into the 110's; if you refuse to truck wimpy excuses, you're among the running elite. Sprinting at lung-burning speed while peering over your shoulder at a monster thundercloud that looks like a skull with fangs and a gaping maw churning the darkest most evil hocker ever to be coughed up as it attempts to gain on your skinny little ass to spit the vile thing all over you is not that charming. Even if it does conclude with a personal best.
  • Cross-training is good for the body and mind. If you pair running with biking (or another activity like roller-blading or swimming that works your largest muscles, which are in your thighs and rear-end), you will develop your muscles in more ways and gain better balance. You will also cultivate hot legs (while not the point and certainly not the goal), which has shown to boost one's ego. (Yes, the link is sexist and borderline pervy. I still love Rod Stewart.)
  • Whatever you do, don't stop. Chiggers, mosquitoes, ticks, and other nasties are waiting for you. Your hot, naturally tanned, legs won't look so hot bathed in pink calamine lotion.
  • Apply liberally. The calamine lotion, that is. Also, a sense of humor.
  • Give up on your bad self and allow those corny thoughts. Maybe it's runner's high; I'm not sure, but I think the most worn-out, trite things while I'm running...and I don't care anymore. Case in point: Crotch-Pants forced me to run the same trail in the opposite direction. The opposite direction runs along the cemetery where my dad was buried last year. Sunrises in our part of the world are humbled by trees and our need for sleep, outshone by their evening counterparts. But, on this particular trail, I found out that if you get up early enough and head toward a place where the rising sun is visible, like a cemetery, it is every bit as majestic as the setting sun. I don't believe in an afterlife, but my father did, and it comforted me to think how happy he would be to see this sight every day...as if he occupied the place he was buried...because it was glorious in a way that defies description. But I also thought about how every day we wake up to a roomful of choices. Every morning (every minute, really--the sun is just there as a reminder) you can change course. Or not. It's up to you. CORNY!
  • You are stronger than you think you are. The last time I ran for the hell of it, just to move, just to feel alive, I was probably 13. Then I gave it up for boys. In other words, I didn't want to run or do cartwheels or hang upside down from the jungle gym because I didn't want to appear foolish. Now that I'm no longer interested in "boys" I feel like I cheated myself. I define "play" as doing something for the sole joy of doing it. Once we give up play we forget what it means to feel joy. I think we're tremendously weakened by this. But joy is about the easiest thing to get back. I did a cartwheel today. It was as pathetic as my first attempt at running: my knees were bent, and I'm pretty sure they were at about a 45 degree angle from the floor rather than being perfectly perpendicular. Perfection was not the aim. I was just playing, permitting myself to look foolish, and I think I'm a little bit stronger than I was before (admittedly, only my two cats were watching, but they're a pretty tough crowd, believe me).

So that's pretty much it. I'm running for my life, but I'm swiftly catching up to it.

Photo: Me and My Mom Two and a Half Weeks after Her Brain Surgery. Credits: The Hubs.

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