Last Saturday, on the eve of turning 37, I ran my first 5K race… I hated every minute of the training month and detested every step of the way. I’m also genuinely happy I did it.
Disclaimer! This is NOT a popular ableist narrative, rehashed. “I pushed my body to the limit, gave it my all and triumphed in the end.” I am a genetic lottery winner who has abused the privilege of taking basic mobility and functionality for granted. With great luck comes far less responsibility than with great power, evidently. I’ve read too many of these stories in the past few weeks. I quit smoking a dozen packs a day, lost a gazillion pounds,
insert your wishlist here, ran 5K and so can you! F*ck off. Some simply cannot. Some just won’t. Some don’t wanna. #NoPreaching … I was curious to try. My body (very) reluctantly cooperated. Let me frame this. At the start, my registration number was 13… “Fine, I don’t like you either!” is what I thought. At the finish, there were no insights, breakthroughs, accolades. The kind volunteers simply motioned for me to turn in my chip. All meaning is assigned. Here are 5 things I learned about running and myself.
1) It ain’t the legs, it’s the lungs. Leg muscles may build & recover with impressive resiliency on a couch-to-5K program. I followed the most basic plan I could find (the graciously laconic schedule byand I combed through dozens of ’em. Anything more detailed/demanding then “run this many minutes today, don’t run tomorrow” would have scared me off. Capacity of lung tissue for regeneration, however, is still a contested topic. I smoked for twenty years. I didn’t smoke for the last six months. So for me, it wasn’t the threat of thigh cramps, buckling knees or ankle strains. I had to re-learn to breathe, re-ration the oxygen, re-consider every cigarette I ever had. While I am cautiously ecstatic I don’t smoke now, I cannot say I regret smoking in the past. It must have mattered then. I own it. Nothing fun runs on regret.
2) Failure tastes like sweat, and bananas. I completed the race with the 26:57 time in 171st place of 300+ participants. My finish line was not pretty. It didn’t feel good and, thanks to official website, there’s proof it didn’t look good either. I presume organizers selected the best available shot! According to RunnersWorld calculator, my age-graded results median was 49.78%. I am utterly average. What a wonderful and challenging reminder! I had secretly hoped/dreamed of coming in last… In the all-or-nothing cultural dichotomy we inhabit, there is equal glory in the self-made catastrophe. “To score 100% as a 37-year-old man, you would need a time of 13:25,” says the page. No shit. I would probably have to die, be cremated and get my ashes spread downwind to achieve that. I’ll take the delightful 26:57 as my lawfully witnessed result to cherish in sickness and in health. Also, as I ate my official finish line banana and cheered the last group of arrivals I became very aware that I could not possibly have run 32-37-41 minutes straight… These “late-comers” were clearly stronger runners than me. #MediocreFailure
3) You are what you eat. I am Campari. Having just given up on the smoking, I was not ready to face up to the drinking. A fair share of my caloric intake historically comes from grapes, if you know what I mean. I mean, I am a (mostly wines) drinker. Fun fact: if you drink three generous Campari cocktails for dinner, the morning run will feel like a bona fide act of atrocity. #ExperientialLearning is an efficient instructor. I made
sacrifices adjustments. Here’s my only tip: don’t drink and 5K. I am hypothetically thrilled to have segued into addressing my alcohol habits. However, as of today, I am resolutely unresolved about this. Because running has the strong aftertaste of existential crisis in full bloom and Campari is f*cking delicious. No preaching, just questioning.
4) Inspiration is not guaranteed. Nor optional! I could not get into it: the tales of ultra-marathon miracles, tumblrs full of yes-you-can quotes over images of puppies doing yoga atop ocean cliffs at sunrise, anything remotely “motivational”. I could not even get a running soundtrack together. Techno, country, Beyoncé, 90s Russian pop?! The demoralizing morale of this story was simple. I just did not want to run. Solace came from unexpected sources (as it does). Haruki Murakami’s memoir “What I talk about when I talk about running” was a fittingly uneventful meditation on putting one foot in front of the other. It did nothing as a book. It worked well as a pendulum. Run, read, run. Turns out, Eurovision Song Contest entries are 3 minutes each. Campiest way to measure time, 2016 edition: Amir. Samra. Justs. Drink water. Carry on. Last year two of my college friends participated in the Loch Ness Marathon in Scotland. I thought, whoa… alma mater mates ‘n Nessie, wish I was there! So on my training runs I imagined myself
retroactively vicariously alongside them. Inspiration is sought.
5) Do whatever you want/can to experience your life in new ways. I follow an Instagram account of Jean-Jacques Gabriel, an artist, yogi, father, partner, handsome devil, beautiful soul, a guardian of many truths. Once upon a moonlit lake shore nestled deep in the tumultuous heart of West Virginia, we shared a series of seemingly inconsequential experiences that resonated with a provocative “does this make you human?” For me, the challenge of this 5K endeavor was to embody a different aspect of being alive, hopelessly struggling for love, haplessly hustling for attention, ah the bustle of midlife
crisis re-emergence. I did it. It is done. And so it is. There is freedom and beauty in those sentiments. I’ma let ’em seep in.
Would I sign up for another 5K? Highly (un)likely. In the meantime, thank you to the fine organizers of IV Espíritu Triabona, my psychotherapist extraordinaire Bogdan Bova, friends & foes near ‘n far, and my partner in too many crimes, Giada.
Y’all’s support, ambivalence and side-eye mean the world to me.
P.S. For good measure, here’s a good piece on ableism for y’all to read 🙂