I was going to write one last blog post about the 2016 Fred relay and call it “Happy Hour”. After all, the post would be about my last spur – which finished up just after five, and meant that the work was over and I was (eventually) getting a glass of wine.
Here is that post (a year later) One reason it took so long is that, as dominant in your life as all the challenges of a job are, they do tend to lose their significance to you once the job is done. Life goes on and new adventures capture your attention.
I did want to finish the story, though, after I took some time to process the ending of the Fred. Maybe that processing was another reason the blog post got put off. When all was said (or run) and done, I had a problem with the whole thing that I had to work out in my mind
My last spur was our team’s last. I was the one finishing the relay, running the last five miles.
Sure, I was looking forward to being done with the event; but the real truth is that I was just done with the event.
That’s not how I wanted to feel at the finish line. I put some effort into the development of this story, both the action and the narrative, it deserved a third act high.
The Last Spur
The last five miles was another out and back. That meant we had to park at our final destination but continue beyond it on foot for the spur. I had to literally cross the finish line and then run away from it; pretty hard to take after roughly thirty-two hours without sleep and two previous running stints, the second of which already tested my stamina and declared it was not my best effort.
I have to confess, I actually seriously considered wimping out. The day was wearing into the next evening, it was still good and hot, we were obviously not contending for any placement, and I was dying for the slightest creature comfort. Who would know or care if we stopped short?
The rest of the team were somewhere close to the same state of mind. We were no longer cheering each other on as enthusiastically. Sometimes we couldn’t be bothered to get out of the van when a runner finished, instead grazing on trail mix and nursing our own various discomforts. Everyone else was done except the current runner, who would be done when I started. I was the last thing keeping us from home.
And I really wanted home about then.
But I didn’t quit.
What I did do is whine sufficiently enough that the officials allowed me to start my spur before getting tagged by my team mate. Later, that team mate expressed disappointment that she didn’t have the chance to slap the hand of the last runner as planned. I still feel some regret about that, for her sake and for mine. It feels like I cheated. But having to wait an indeterminate time in a big crowd of folks celebrating their finish to do something only a single, tough thread of nerve inside me wanted to do anyway was just too hard at that point.
Surprisingly, I started out really strong again, kept my pace and ran a solid couple of miles without stopping.
I did not expect that of myself by then, particularly as this last spur featured a big hill, highly unique for a rail trail. The hill was created by a new bridge over a roadway and I remembered it soon after leaving the coveted finish behind me. My trainer, with me on a bike again, theorized that we were set to turn around before the hill but I knew better (or worse). The hill appeared and I chugged right up it like a trooper.
Despite that, I had the same experience as on the second spur at a point less than half way in when my body just stopped running. Again I was disappointed, felt like I was failing and letting my team down. Again I found myself in a cycle of walking and running. Again it felt like time had stopped but the miles shrank. I had to climb that damn hill again on the way back.
Eventually the finish reappeared in the distance. I picked out each of my team members waiting and focused on me and then coming forward on the trail to run the last few yards in with me as is tradition. This was the point when the music would crest in the movie and the whole complicated meaning of the production would converge for the viewer. I tried to breathe in the moment, that thrill of victory. I think I felt it briefly, the emotion like a teenager being roused from a nap to say something nice to a parting grandparent. I mistook the actual finish line (somehow not seeing the balloon arch) and stopped too soon, with a Homer Simpson panache, but quickly we all reached the exact spot where we could legitimately quit running for good.
Yay!! Right? I mean I personally brought us home! Kym was with me and John had even joined me for most of the spur! Then all of us running in together at the end! Then the congrats and the great photos showing us in full bravado! The cool tee shirt and lots of other prizes! The food (real food that someone prepared and cooked). Wow, what an accomplishment!
So why did I just want to get the hell out of there? Why was I finding it impossible to muster any emotion? Well, I was exhausted, yeah. I mean, I was beyond exhausted, I’d actually reached the point of quitting. I’d stopped running out on the trail. Repeatedly. I’d negotiated internally about even doing the last spur and decided that was an equally valid alternative to going on. I’m not sure I even cared at the end.
I didn’t feel anything like heroic. It felt much more like “yadda, yadda, yadda”.
So I guess the problem I had with the whole thing can be summed up by the question: Is the exhausted, rather than the exalted, victory still even a victory?
The exhausted victory does not make good drama. You just cannot tease a third act out of “yadda, yadda, yadda”. You’ve been there, though, right? You pass the Bar exam but on the seventeenth try? I can actually think of a lot of examples of the exhausted win. It isn’t exactly a Pyrrhic victory, its still all gain; but the action in the second act went way long and there’s no editing in real life and nobody’s really watching anymore and you just need to move on without that moment of glory.
I think history is full of exhausted victories; the emancipation proclamation comes to mind immediately, for example.
In fact, maybe life itself ends in an exhausted victory if you get the chance.
Perhaps I (or we) should have more respect for the exhausted victory.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy my victory. Two very happy things happened that evening when we eventually got home (there was a van to clean out and return, etc.):
There was a late happy hour, a glass of wine; a crisp, cold white in a frosted glass. One was actually enough for my body at that point. (Oh the luxury of having such a thing at hand!)
There was a bath. I needed a bath, a cool bath. I needed every inch of my body to be under water simultaneously. I needed to be clean. (Oh, the extravagance of owning a bathroom with all the appliances and clean, fluffy towels in a stack on a shelf, and no line of grimy strangers on the other side of the door!)
The next day we slept in and just pursued pleasure, going out for a decadent brunch, strolling in parks, stopping by a cidery on a whim, and every moment was blissful. This has been consistent each time I run the Fred, for about twenty-four hours afterwards I experience euphoria during ordinary activities.
But even this is sublime compared to what we normally think of as the runner’s high, the thrill of victory, the climax of the jock film. So perhaps, I should also have more respect for the sublime reward.
The Permanent Benefit and Running Today
One thing did change forever after the Fred. As you may know if you’ve read my other blog entries, since rectal cancer I had been carrying an emergency repair kit with supplies that would help in case of an accident. After running a 200 mile relay over night, I realized I just don’t need that any more. It worked for me more as a safety net than a practical need. I took everything out of it and put it all away. I don’t carry it now.
As for running, you may have guessed that with an entree like the Fred training, I have become a disciplined long distance runner. I locked in a habit, solidified my ability to achieve new distances and developed an attachment to all the consistent benefits for my body and soul. Yeah, not so much. As I believe we have covered before, running sucks. I pretty much stopped doing it at all quite soon after the event.
I have picked it up again lately, but it aint no nine miles at a time. I really really like not having any pressure about running. But as most runners know, without the pressure, your accomplishments are considerably more modest. I do have some current running goals, three actually, and they are these:
I want to run that spur again, you know, that bastard of a spur that put an abrupt end to my ideas that I could probably run a 10 k in the middle of the Fred without too much trouble and have that excited, exalted victory. I want to go out to Howard City some day when I have every advantage (plenty of rest, great weather conditions, training, etc.) and run that spur without stopping or struggling.
I want to run a ten minute mile. Screw distances. They take way too long and they are SO boring. Geez, can you even imagine the kind of time people who train for marathons are putting in? I just do not want to spend that much time that way. But I think it would be fun to be able to do a ten minute mile fairly consistently. I got close last year.
And lastly, this one could be the hardest of any of the running goals I’ve ever had. I’m not sure even the best runners I know have achieved it. I don’t know that I’m capable of it. I want to be able to enjoy running. I blogged once about running way back before deciding to do the 2016 Fred and I said this, “I make up for my lack of speed, or any other indication of skill, with a disproportionate glee and pride in my accomplishments.” That, really, is all I require of running (well, I wouldn’t mind if a few calories got zapped along the way).