3/29/2014

The Night of the Ten Mile Run

I woke up about 14 hours ago. I put on clothes I had laid out the night before. I even pre-pinned my bib, which turned out to be a mistake because one of the pins lied when it said it was of the safety type.

I woke up about six hours after I had gone to bed after a night in which I went out and enjoyed myself. I reconnected with an old friend and had a great time speaking with her, a fellow single parent with whom I have a lot in common. I stayed out past my rightful bed-time, but I didn't care. 

I hate waking up early, but I had absolutely no trouble getting up for this race. This was the fifth year in a row I was set to run it, and that's something that allows me to feel confidence in myself. No matter how inconsistent I might seem to myself, there are certain things in my life that I never fail to accomplish.

I fell asleep last night before UVA lost to Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen game. I put my head down and suddenly it was three in the morning. I never sleep more than three or four hours in a row now, much to my chagrin. 

But I fell back asleep, and suddenly it was time, and I felt no sense of doubt that I could run this race. After all, I'd run the past four and I had this sense I could do this one, even though I had not trained as much as I would have like to have done. 

So, I woke up, and I got out of the door. I stopped off at the GoCo to get a small cup of coffee, and then headed to my secret parking space. I got out and casually walked to the start line outside the John Paul Jones arena.

At the back of the line, I spotted Dave Norris. I was so happy to see him running, because he was there the first time I ran when he was Mayor of Charlottesville. Then Janis Jaquith came over and said hello. This was her second Ten Miler, and I remember a time when she thought her husband Harry was crazy for all the running he did. Harry, by the way, was someone who inspired me when I was just getting started as a runner. 

But, I had to find my friends, Jeffry Cudlin and his sister Karen Cudlin Lines. They drove down from the north to run the race, the same way they did in 2011 and 2012. We grew up together in Lynchburg, and we're piecing together a tradition of running races together.  One day I will head up to run with them in a foreign town.

So I left Dave and Janis and walked up and down the crowd, looking to see if I could see them. I didn't know anyone at all. I couldn't spot anyone who I knew. I began to feel like I was in a foreign town myself, but fought that feeling off by realizing that this was the fifth year in a row that I was standing there waiting to run. Waiting for the gun.


Why do we do this? Why do we wake up early to run ten miles on a morning where showers were called for? Why do we subject ourselves to running as fast as we can over roads that go up and down with the volatility of an uncertain stock?

Why was I so confident I could run ten miles when I've not actually done that since last March? Why was I absent of any doubt at all?

Because. I finally had faith in myself. I finally believed that  I am in control of at least the physical parts of my life.

And, because I found Karen and Jeff, and we were able to take this picture. I post it even though I do not find I make a good selfie.


Just about 30 seconds after this was taken, the race began. We were about halfway back in the column of souls seeking to cast footfall across this fair land, so that meant we jogged in place while we waited to cross the actual start line. This can be disconcerting if you've never done it before, but I was happy to be with my friends. Last year, I ran alone.

Of course, we separated very quickly after we crossed the line. I wanted to go slow and enjoy myself. Jeff was trying to move as far forward as he could. I lost sight of Karen very quickly as we climbed up the hill to the left turn onto Copely/Alderman.

Because I chose to run slow, I was able to just look around at all of the people around me. As we began the trek to the first mile marker on the roller coaster of that first road, I just detached from the moment and observed all around me. I was able to forget about myself completely as I fell into a sea of strangers, all of us united for a common and completely arbitrary purpose.

After I lost sight of Jeffry and Karen, I didn't see anyone I knew at all. I had no idea who I was with, but within a mile or two I was definitely in a peer group who could run at a certain pace. I may not have known who any of them are, but for the first time in a while I had something that allowed me to connect to strangers I'll never meet.  We were running together, we fellow affluent humans.

Of course, as much as I wanted to forget myself, it's tricky to do so because I was still running and when you have a goal of moving that far, and you've done this before, you know you have to have a game plan.

Sometimes when I am at my most depressed, it's because I have deviated from my game plan. This is so easy to do when you are pulled in so many different directions. It's easy to keep deviating and moving around and being flexible and ending up not quite where you want.

But, a race is a fixed point in time. You have to show up and do your best if you're going to get a result.

In 2010, my first race, I powered through to a 77:38 finish.

That fell back to a 80:00 finish in 2011.

And then 82 something in 2012.

Then 90 in 2013.

How would I fare in 2014?

I had a game plan. I knew I would finish, and I knew I would beat my expectations, even if I had already lowered them well below what I thought I would do when I signed up in December. I had planned to get in perfect shape and run, but I am pulled in so many different directions that I found it hard to train.

So I adjusted the game plan as best I could, and there I was at mile 2 running through the beginning of my body's first objections that I was making myself run so early in the morning. My mind was completely enchanted with the novelty, but I began to have doubts. I was running on the pace I had set for myself, and each time I felt doubt, I shut my mind down and listened to other people's conversations. I listened to bird song. The energy of every cowbell shake propelled me further.

And I ran. I felt more alive than I have felt in some time, charging through this city where I've had so many experiences. I chose to do this, chose to test myself to see how far I could go once the gun went off. And so I powered through all the miles, my advantage coming from knowing exactly how long each climb would last, and who I could expect to see along the way.

I ran and ran and ran and pushed myself as fast as I could, knowing full well I would score my slowest time ever. And I didn't care.

At mile 6 I caught up with Karen, said hello, and then slunk back to a slower pace. This was right as we crossed into the neighborhoods north of downtown, where I was glad to see many familiar faces cheering me on. I took fuel from them and charged on.

If you have never run the Charlottesville Ten Miler, it can be summed up in one word.

Hilly.

And the worst hills comes at the end. After the long straightaway on West Main Street, you suddenly start a roller coaster that doesn't stop until the end. I knew it was coming and was mentally prepared, but I needed all of the cheerleaders on the side of the road to motivate me.

Races are fantastic in the sense that none of it matters at all, but you're committed to doing something at your best. They are completely optional whereas high school gym was not.

So I ran those hills towards the end, not really feeling much exhaustion at all. In fact, I was sad when I saw the finish line in front of me. I wanted to keep running. I kept wanting some arbitrary measurement to help me define my life.

We always live in a sea of strangers. I don't know the vast majority of the people that I walk past or run past, but for slightly over 94 minutes this morning, I had common cause with everyone I ran with. I had common cause with myself because even though I'm out of shape, I was still able to accomplish a result by crossing that finish line. I opted to participate and to try.

And I supported a preschool that needs the money.

Hours later after finishing I am still giddy. I managed to execute my race plan.

Now, I have to figure out how to tweak my life plan. I know more about myself than I did when I woke up bleary-eyed this morning.

I feel I am on a life plan that I decided years ago. A picture like this makes me think maybe I have not deviated too far.






3/27/2014

On the Eve of the Ten Mile Run

Five years later, I've regained all the weight. 

I'm no longer the slim person I became in the months following the end of my marriage. I am in the worst shape since that time, and no longer feel motivated to work hard to exercise my body for the sake of my health.

A year or so ago, I was still motivated. I spent the spring working out eight times a week at least. I was swimming, lifting weights, and running. I got back in really good shape, but did not get back in the habit once I came back from England in late July. 

Slowly I've stopped making the time to get in shape. There are many reasons for this. I'm a single father, and my children are at my house a lot more than they used to be. I'm also a hard-working journalist and stories often pop up, which means I often change my plans for work.

But, there's a much more important explanation. 

I stopped believing in myself. 

Without going into the details, I pursued a relationship with someone last year and she didn't have the same feeling. I always knew this was going to be the case but I kept trying anyway. It worked for a little while and I was happy. We ran together, but then when she ended things, I just completely lost all interest in self-improvement. 

And then we had the holidays, a time that wasn't very easy for me. I should have thrown myself into running, the same way I have done with previous break-ups. But I did not. It was cold out, and there were too many excuses waiting for me to latch on to. 

I signed up for Saturday's Ten Miler on the first registration was available. My goal was to train to run it as hard as I did in 2010 when I ran it in just under 78 minutes. On that run, I poured all of my pain into my footfalls, and felt like I had finally grown up, and that I'd finally found a way to stay healthy. 

But, the pain of the end of my marriage faded as I learned to breathe, learned to cope, and began a tremendous set of friendships. My times in the Ten Miler got slower and slower, and last year I ran it in just under 90 minutes.

On Saturday, I hope to be under 100 minutes. 

And that's okay.

I didn't make my goal to be in the best shape.

And that's okay.

I'm going to have a good run, and I'm going to enjoy every second of it. I'm going to be with people as we travel on foot throughout the place that's most important to me. This is where my children were born. This is where I have managed to be somewhat successful in the career I chose for myself twenty years ago. 

This is where I have so many memories of what's happened already. And I'm hoping that I can use this particular ten miler to reflect on how far I've come, and I will ponder the possibility that there may be new memories in the future.

I'll be joined by my best friend from childhood, and my best friend from college. This race is a chance to take stock on where I am at 40 and will remind me that I can choose who I want to be.

In recent days, I have confirmed that I want to continue being a journalist and I want to get even better at the work I do in my community. I am energized by recent conversations with my boss and editor and think that my best professional days are yet to come. 

Now a similar choice faces me. Do I want to get healthy, or do I want to stay on the same path I am back on? I'm more lethargic than I was, less positive, and it's so easy to just give in to sloth. 

Will I manage to forge better habits than I have now? 

I don't know. I'm just the version of me that existed on March 27, 2014, a day in which I managed to balance the many aspects of my life except exercise. I managed to write a story on deadline while also taking care of my children. I got all my work done freeing me to actually have time to spend on writing this post!

I will write an account of the race. And I'll try too write here more often to keep myself somewhat accountable. It's my theory that if I write about how good things are, that will keep the good things happening. After all, we're all just stories in the end. 

(I stole that last line and I am not ashamed of it. Matt Smith became the Doctor the first day I ran the Ten Miler and the Doctor is the closest thing I have to a religion) 


3/19/2014

A realization that should be marked publicly

Is this thing on?

I'm writing this from a crowded tasting room somewhere in Charlottesville. I'm ostensibly finishing up work for the day by going through a list of stories to see what I need to do next. My job has been merciless of late, and I have a rare chance today to catch up on looking forward.

So, what is this realization that should be marked publicly?

I don't really know, to be sure. Of course, I have an idea or two, but I don't have any ability to commit my private thoughts into the public realm at this time. This is something I was able to do in the past, but I'm much more hesitant to do so now. 

Instead, I'm sitting in a public space writing out ideas for future stories, tackling a tickle list of stories. I don't know anyone here, and no one knows me. These are my fellow residents, skewing in age from mid-twenties to mid-fifties.

But I don't know any of them. And I never will. 

I was going to write more about how little family I have, and how I mostly live alone except the times when my two American children are here. I've mostly created a family for myself through Court Square Tavern, but for whatever reason I don't seem to be adding any more close connections through there. It's not a place where I feel I can totally myself anymore. 

So, tonight I came here to the Three Notched Brewery to do some work and prepare for the next set of feature stories I will write for Charlottesville Tomorrow. I am about to celebrate my seventh anniversary there, and I am at a point where I am wondering if it's still what I want to do. I am so torn about this but I need to decide who I want to be soon. 

I'm so proud of this place. There's a good crowd and I don't recognize anyone here. I'm sitting in a comfortable chair drinking a 40 Mile IPA, so named after Jack Jouett's epic journey to Court Square to warn the Virginia legislature that British troops were on their way. I'm sitting in a building that used to be the Monticello Dairy, and where I once worked for a catering company. I remember being in this space, or somewhere close to this space, when I was 20 and visiting a good friend who lived in Charlottesville at the time as a UVA student. 

I have a connection with this building, the same way I have a connection with the former Monticello Hotel. Yet this is more of a third space than the one I wish I could create. 

Maybe there are several realizations in this post. I don't know anymore. I just know I'm going to hit publish.