So, first blog post.
I'll jump right into the why and how I'm here. To the point is good, yes?
I joined the service in '99, and during bootcamp realized that while everyone else dreaded the one to twice daily five mile runs, I really dug them. I actually looked forward to them because it was a vacation from being there. I wasn't being smoked on the quarterdeck, being bellowed at by red faced DIs, or doing pushups unitl I couldn't breath. Running was escape, and I was good at it. When I graduated bootcamp and hit the fleet, I was leaving my taller, thinner running buddies in the dust. I come from short, stocky German folk, by the way.
When I got out of the service, I had nagging injuries (I beat the tar out of my ankles, and often) that kept me from running...and sadly, I forgot that I loved it. I'm not sure how that happened, but it's a crying shame that it did. I developed a pretty severe case of clinical depression over the years, and inactivity became an even larger part of my life. It was difficult to get out of bed, much less even consider putting on a pair of running shoes. When I actually did convince myself to attempt running again, my form was terrible, I hurt, I sucked. It was demoralizing. I had starts and stops over the years, all of them ending with shin splints, pulled muscles and a lot of misery.
Fast forward to a few long months ago. The expectations I had for how my life was going to be shifted drastically, and I found myself completely lost. Everything that I was used to and made sense to me was just...gone. I'm not entirely sure where the transition came from, but instead of falling apart, I started coming together in every way. I started taking care of myself again. I started using the free weights that had been collecting dust in my workout room every other day. I hit the treadmill at UC Santa Barbara's gym, which I hated...but I needed as a springboard to "real" running. A few months later, I was in a place I'd not been in years, running six days a week, going longer and faster than I had in years. Running was my therapy. It was like bumping into a close friend I'd lost track of.
When I was good, I was pretty great. I would give myself a goal, accomplish it and still feel like I had the juice to keep going. Seven miles from my house to UCSB and back? Done. Eight miles if I added the loop around campus? Done. I'd put a little extra trail, sidewalk, asphalt under my feet each week. Finally, I was running half marathon distances with little wear and tear.
Fast forward once again, to last month. I started hurting myself every few runs. I'm not sure what it was, but when I started trying to push, I'd do something unpleasant to my hip. I'd feel knots in my calves. I'd have to take a day off...two days. I was incredibly frustrated. I'd run in spite of the pain because after a while, it would fade away and I could enjoy the run. Yeah, it would hurt the next day, and for the first half mile or so when I started again, but I figured as long as it faded I was good to go. Anyhow, hurting was a part of running so far as I was concerned. That's how you knew you were doing it right...RIGHT?
It didn't take me long to realize that I couldn't swing that method or mindset anymore. I knew I was going to put myself out of action if I didn't take a week to recover from the last injury. I couldn't break my hobble and turn it into a simple jog.
Now, a detour that ties into my introduction to Eric Orton, my trainer. I'd recently found out that my Aunt Debbie has stage four lymphoma. She's a pretty incredible lady. She's always worked in spite of her treatment, even doing so after her first round of real chemotherapy. She's dealt with her cancer for a while now, using less intensive treatments in the hopes that they'd send her into remission. Unfortunately, they did not. Cancer is pretty common in both sides of my family, and the closest I'd been to it emotionally was seeing it take the mother of a close friend of mine a few years ago. My Aunt though, that was new to me. I'd never had a close relationship with or even knew most of the people in my family who had passed from or had cancer. I grew up with my Aunt. I basically lived with her and my cousins.
A few weeks ago I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and head to the bookstore to sit with a stack of running books on form. I figured if I wanted to get better, keep going, and not hurt as bad...I'd have to do something. Without really thinking about it, or evening meaning to honestly, I added Born to Run by Christopher McDougall as my last book. Every book said something different. Lean forward while you run, run with your arms almost limp at your side, wear these shoes, meditate and center your Chi (ugh...), on and on. I was as demoralized as ever after watching these books basically yell liar at one another.
So...I gave up, and picked up Born to Run. Yeah, it's a running book...but it's really more like a great novel. The Tarahumara Indians in Copper Canyon in Mexico run everyday for miles, everywhere...well into old age. They run and they love it. The story in Christopher's book covers lots of ground, but it all leads to an incredible foot race in the unforgiving terrain of Copper Canyon, following folks that seem like characters you'd have to create in your head, rather than the amazing people that they are in reality. My trainer Eric was one of those people. I put it down three days later, and was happier than I had been in months. I was actually closer to giddy, but that's not very manly. So, happy. Yeah. I always felt like part of running was kind of like penance. "You ate WHAT?!? Six miles, you'll run through a terrible hitch in your side halfway through and your knee will start to hurt a mile before you're done. It'll suck, but do it." It was always worth it to me, because in the end...you feel electric. I never even considered the concept that I could feel that during an entire run, that I could keep going, and going...and going. It was such a foreign thought that it sort of amazed me when I realized that some subconscious part of me had always wanted that. Just to keep going, keep digging the hell out of the run, and feel that electricity the entire time.
As I sat there that last night when I finished up the book, I knew I wanted this for a reason. I had a goal, something I thought would always be great to do but had to that point simply been a fantasty. I always wanted to run across the country. I was never sure how far, but I'd daydream about it while I was putting one foot in front of the other over and over again. "Wouldn't it be GREAT if I could run past the city limit sign and simply keep going?" Again, I'd always seen this as pure fantasy. It was up there with doing a guitar solo in front of my senior class at a talent show and getting all of the chicks, and being a space man. After reading about the Tarahumara, and that last extraordinary race (it's not fun trying to hide getting choked up from the cute girl sitting next to you), I knew I could do it. I knew I was going to do it. It just hit me. I was going to run across the country. I was. I am.
My aunt had her first chemotherapy treatment after Mother's Day. Her and my mother talked not long before and she asked my mother how bad it would be. She's a nurse, who has worked in oncology for a long time. She was blunt...it would be pretty awful. I had talked to my grandmother eariler that day, and in between reflecting on things that I had read, the book sort of blended with my thoughts for my aunt and our family in general. The fact that the Tarahumara don't really deal with heart disease, high blood pressure....cancer. They live well, they run, and they love it.
The idea that had me writing an e-mail to Eric Orton late that night really came to me fully formed, all at once.
"I'm going to run home to West Texas, and I'm going to do it for charity. American Cancer Society. That's what I'm going to do."
That's it...that's why I'm here. I wrote Eric, he wrote me back, and the next day we were talking about training. I intend to kick this run in the ass in August, and enjoy every second of it. I can't wait. I have a lot to do in the meantime. I need a team to follow me to make sure I'm fueled, safe, and not going to run screaming into the desert somewhere between here and Texas. I don't have a lot of resources, but hey...a few weeks ago I didn't have a trainer, and shortly before that I had no idea this was even a possibility for me. I thought there was a good chance I'd hit my wall, and I'd be stuck running ten to fifteen miles six days a week from here on out, and it was going to hurt half the time. Nothing wrong with that by the way, other than the hurting part....it's just not what I've wanted in my heart. It doesn't satisfy my goals.
I get the chance to answer that now very much NOT subconscious desire. I'm going to run far...very far. Scratch the hell out of that itch whenever I want. This time in particular though, I get to raise some cash (hopefully a substantial sum) for a cause close to my heart. I get to run home and see my family and friends. That's awesome. This, to me, is the real start to my story as a runner.