“I lost some time once. It’s always in the last place you look for it.” – Neil Gaiman
A month ago, almost to the day, I finished my first half marathon. I trained hard for it, and because of that, it was the easiest long run I had ever run at the time. But after training so much on so little experience, I was still a little beat up afterwards. Because I had been battling ankle issues during the last few weeks of training and experienced minor discomfort all during the race, I decided that I should definitely RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) my ankles for as long as it takes to get back to 100%.
After giving that “R” a full week of no running, I started small with a three-ish mile run. But before I got to the second mile, my left ankle was already a little sore. Are you kidding me? I wasn’t sure if I could make myself go without any running for much longer, but I definitely didn’t want to keep running through pain and eventually end up with a real injury.
I RICE’d my ankles for two more days and then ran another short distance. That time I really focused on how my right foot was landing, and trying to pay attention to what I was obviously doing differently with my left. After a week of total rest with so little marked improvement, I felt like it had to be something I was doing wrong. And I was so determined to figure it out.
That run was a little better. I made it past two miles before my ankle started bothering me. It was minor discomfort, but c’mon. It’s only two miles. If I can’t run two miles without discomfort, I’d never be able to run another half marathon.
Towards the very end of that run, during a slight downhill section I realized that I was running with the toes of my left foot partially balled up and essentially limping on it in an effort to lighten the load on that ankle. That realization helped immediately. During my next run, I made sure to relax my foot and splay my toes out to avoid balling up my foot. I noted some improvement, but it was still not enough. Within only a few miles, I was again experiencing that same annoying sensation in my ankle. Dammit!
Then I read an article about rhythmic breathing , and how the foot that is landing as you release your breath takes a larger impact due to your diaphragm and core muscles relaxing during exhalation. When your core relaxes, it puts more of the impact of your body’s weight on your lower body. The math behind rhythmic breathing is that if you inhale for three steps and exhale for two, each exhalations will occur on the opposite foot-strike as the one prior. Could breathing really be the source of ankle pain?
I’d read about the breathing technique before but never with that explanation. I immediately started training myself to breathe that way. I started figuring it out while sitting at my desk at work, just tapping my feet while learning the rhythm. Then I’d practice it while taking walks during my lunch break. Then I finally got to put it to use on the road. Total game changer. I was immediately able to run longer distances before even noticing that I had ankles. And when I would experience a little soreness, I would take note that I had let my breathing slip out of rhythm and was in fact landing on my left foot on every exhalation. Immediate corrections would produce immediate relief.
Eureka! I had my answer. As funny as it may sound, I was actually hurting my ankle by breathing incorrectly. I love how the body works.
I kept utilizing that technique through my next few runs and continued to feel better, faster, and stronger. Like anything else, as I focused more intently on my breathing, I’d experience temporary lags in my cadence or slight deterioration in my form. But after a few runs, I can already feel everything coming back into sync and I can’t wait to start building up some miles again.
“There are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit.” – Ansel Adams
Yesterday I was all prepared to write a whole blog about this breathing/pain discovery and to somehow expound on the importance of keeping a wide view of the world in order to prevent tunnel vision during troubled times, or some over-reaching essay on self discovery and how the answers to our problems are often found in the most unexpected places. Yadda, yadda, whatever, whatever.
But as I was leaving work, I got a text message from my mom:
“Did you hear the news? Explosions at Boston Marathon.”
“Wow. I don’t even want to know” I responded.
That is generally my initial response to any violent news, whether it be a bombing or a bar fight. I never want to know. I’m always disappointed by the details. The more I learn in each scenario, the more bothered I become. Did that guy accidently bumping into your drunken girlfriend really require a violent response? Is there any reasoning that would make mowing down a bunch of elementary school students seem any less insane? Will finding out the motive behind blowing up the finish line at one of the world’s largest running events make it any easier to comprehend? I don’t see how.
I stopped watching television news over 10 years ago after watching coverage of the “Shock and Awe” beginnings of yet another mid-east war. During that coverage, the news channel I was watching presented a huge digital color graphic comparing the number of bombs that had been dropped so far to the number of bombs that had been dropped in the same amount of time during the previous gulf war. That graphic is a huge part of why I don’t watch the news anymore.
They were comparing the number of bombs dropped in the same way you compare opposing NFL quarterbacks’ completion percentages. They were doing it over live video coverage of a city being destroyed, and under the wonderfully patriotic red, white, and blue “Shock and Awe” header. It was disgusting. Those bombs were killing people; very likely innocent people. And I was sitting on a friend’s couch watching it on live television with a fucking beer in my hand. The entertainment nature of the news media had gone too far for me. I was done. And I still am.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers
I managed to avoid the Boston story on my short drive home from work, but got another text message expressing concern for the victims and saying that hearing about it had just reminded my friend of me and my new found love of running. By that point I had thought about it a bit more and together with all of the other senseless violence we’ve experienced in the last several months and years, I was just overwhelmed with total disgust for my species. How do we continue to deny the similarities in all mankind? Why do we instead insist to seeking out our differences and try to segregate ourselves based on such insignificant things as different sexual orientations, religious beliefs, and/or ethnicities? Why can’t we accept those differences? Why do we seem to feel the need to persecute and discriminate against others based on them? Why is violence such an accepted expression of and response to anger? Why are we such fucking assholes all the time? I just don’t understand. Life is so short, and people want to spend so much of it hating others. It’s just so goddamn STUPID!
I had to get away from the news. I didn’t want to hear anymore about it. I was too disgusted with yet another violent act. And anticipation of the soon to follow political bullshit about guarantees of justice or some dream of American solidarity in the face of “terror” was already making my stomach hurt. I turned off my computer and my phone. And I left.
I went to the gym to escape the immediate coverage, as the race to be first by our news media usually leads to rampant guessing, superhero caliber leaps of logic, and a whole lot of stupid graphics and redundant video loops. But I failed to realize what should’ve been obvious; the coverage would likely be on every television in the gym. And it nearly was.
I tried to ignore it at first, but I wasn’t going to stare at the floor the whole time I was on the stair climber or the exercise bike. That would only make my neck hurt on top of my stomach cramping frustration with mankind. So I watched as blankly and as uninvolved as possible. I’m glad that I did, because in the few segments that they were looping, I managed to see what I needed to see. I didn’t plug my headphones in to hear any of the coverage, but they were showing what seemed to be the same eight-ish minutes of combined video footage over and over again.
I saw a man just feet away from finishing get blown down by shrapnel as a coward’s bomb exploded in the stands adjacent to the finish line. I saw spectators and runners turn in shock to see what had to be unfathomable chaos. How do you process that scene? You can see the finish line; that finish line you’ve dreamt about. Your heart is pounding. You’re going to do it. You’re going to finish the Boston Marathon. You’re feet away from achieving a longtime goal, about to leave the pain and torture of training behind and pass into the relief of after-party bliss, about to notch a huge accomplishment off of your bucket list, about to feel unprecedented pride in yourself…and BOOM! Some unidentified asshole’s gutless expression of who-cares-what destroys that moment. How do you process that?
I don’t know how I would’ve, but I know that my heart goes out to every single person affected. It’s just unbelievably senseless.
As I watched the footage for the second, third, and forth time, I finally saw what I needed to see. It was right there the whole time, but my disgust wouldn’t let me see it. I finally noticed how many people immediately went from runners and spectators to first-responders and good samaritans. Bystanders were immediately running to lift debris off of victims. I saw people of all walks of life (military personnel, city police, bystanders, runners, etc.), shedding their coats and shirts to be used as blankets, bandages, and tourniquets. I saw people not only being human, but humane.
It took me a few loops of the carnage to clear my sight of the blinding effects of disgust, but eventually I saw the helpers. And it made me feel better. There are still more good people than bad in the world. We just seem to pay so much more attention to the worst among us. I do not understand why. But I’m glad I watched the news yesterday, at least for the half hour or so I was on that bike riding nowhere.
Sometimes you find the answers you need in the most unlikely of places.
“Think of success as a game of chance in which you have control over the odds. As you begin to master concepts in personal achievement, you are increasing your odds of achieving success.” – Bo Bennett
In the coming days and weeks as coverage of the investigation wanes and personal interest stories make the cover of a dozen different magazines, I’m sure at least a few of them will try to make the Boston Marathon more universally relatable to the masses by calling it the runners’ Super Bowl or the World Series. But it is neither of those things.
I have never run a marathon, so I certainly cannot speak with experience about what Boston means to people. But the Super Bowl and the World Series are both events where tens of thousands of people gather to watch a few dozen athletes work together to achieve a collective goal. The Boston Marathon is where tens of thousands of athletes gather to achieve a personal and individual goal on their own…together.
The Boston Marathon is not some community 5K where anyone with an entry fee can just sign up, lace up, and run it. Each of those more than 23,000 runners had sacrificed months and years of their lives to qualify to be there. They had dedicated themselves at some point to do what so few can do; to run a marathon. And after accomplishing that monumental goal, they decided that they not only wanted to do it again. They wanted to do it faster. They wanted to do it fast enough; fast enough to qualify for Boston.
And I won’t even get into the registration hurdles they had to conquer once they finally qualified.
Those 23,000 runners had forgone time with friends and family to put in the many training miles needed to prepare their minds and bodies for the challenge of finishing one of the biggest races in the sport. They watched what they ate. They stayed in on Friday nights so they would be fresh for that no frills, no finishers’ medal 20 mile training run on Saturday morning. They put their sore bones in bathtubs full of ice to relieve the pain afterwards. They persevered through painful IT bands, planter fasciitis, swollen knees and ankles, stomach cramps, and shin splints. They did what they had to do to prepare to achieve a personal goal that no one else could do for them. And some shithead tainted or destroyed that dream with the most cowardly of weapons.
It’s hard now, not to again feel disgusted. But I remind myself of those helpers. I remind myself that this was the act of a few. And I remind myself of the perseverance of runners.
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” – Walter Elliot.
I don’t believe that the Boston Marathon is in any danger as an institution. I haven’t even heard anyone hint at it. But then again, I’ve been avoiding the news for almost 28 hours now. Runners, in my limited experience, are the most dedicated and headstrong people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating myself. They battle through so much personal pain and suffering week in and week out during their training, and for what? None of the runners I know were in any position to “win” any of the races I’ve participated in. They do it because they love running. They love challenging themselves. And maybe above all else, they love rising to that challenge and experiencing the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success in those goals.
These kinds of personalities will never let the dishonorable and spineless act of a few take their event away from them. Sure, there will be some runners who cannot stomach being on that ground again, and I don’t blame them at all. But there will be others that refuse to let fear invade their passion. There will be new runners who refuse to take Boston off of their bucket list. The Boston Marathon will likely experience a boon in registrations next year. Not in some back-patting brewhaha “look at how brave I am” pageantry, but as a result of the rallied support of arguably the most dedicated community of amateur athletes in the world. Runners will never give up their “Super Bowl.” Because unlike fans of the NFL Super Bowl, they’re actually going to play. And every one of them that crosses that finish line wins.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
In my short time running, I have learned many things about myself. I’ve learned that I can do anything that I set my heart and mind towards. I’ve discovered inner strength that makes me want to do so many things that I’m constantly battling against that daily 24 hour time limit. I’ve learned that I’ve got a shitload more to learn too. And if I don’t leave myself open to new experiences and possibilities, I may never figure it all out.
Yesterday I was reminded that we are not guaranteed tomorrow, and that just makes those 24 hours every day seem that much more limiting. Statistically, I’m over half way through with my short time on the planet. I’ve wasted a lot of it. Monday’s chaos did not make me want to run a marathon. Yesterday made me want to run Boston. Not because I think that it needs me to, or because of any silly “If I don’t run Boston, then the terrorist win” bullshit. I want to run it for the same reason 23,000 people wanted to yesterday. Because it’s the Boston. Fucking. Marathon. And not just anybody in a pair of Asics gets to say they’ve done it.
I was in a sour mood this morning (still am) and I was very tempted to call out of work and then justify that irresponsible act to myself by putting in some epic long therapy-run in tribute to those effected by the events in Boston yesterday. But in the end that seemed kind of self-righteous and silly to me. If someone else did that, I get it. But for this newbie who’s never been to Boston, never run a marathon, and thankfully did not lose anyone in yesterday’s tragedy to do that seemed a bit out of place.
But I did run today. I ran four short miles just as I already planned to. And I’ll run again on Thursday, and again on Saturday, and so on and so on. I will because I’m a runner. I will because if I ever want to run the Boston Marathon, I’m going to have to start somewhere. And it might was well be here. And it might as well be today. We’re all running out of time. Let your loved ones know how you feel. Do the things you want to do. Tomorrow might be too late.
I’m not disgusted by the events in Boston yesterday because I’m a runner. I’m disgusted by what happened because I’m a human being who expects more from society. And I’m tired of having to seek out inspiration in the face of overwhelming disappointment. Treat people better. It’s not that hard.