Life Colored with Your Drug of Choice, A Run
I didn’t realize it until later but I was a captive. A captive of my own motivation, my own intensity, my own desire to be better than everyone else. To this day people say I’m intense, but I’m not sure what they mean, because I stopped running in 2003. Running was my life. And I ran. A lot. I got to 90 miles a week. But eventually my body broke down.
Because it was so hot in Houston, I got home from sitting on a lifeguard stand in the summer and went running at midnight. I got chased by the police for being out after curfew, I got chased by field marshals on closed golf courses and I chased myself, even on my days off. But the summer before my senior year I was running 60 miles a week while my friends were playing video games in the air conditioning. I came home to hose myself off and watch 120 Minutes on MTV.
The summer before, my nose bled out for 6 miles at altitude because my friends dropped me off 8 miles from their cabin in Jackson Hole. In 1995 there were no cell phones and there was no other option than to run to where I knew people would be. It was a stunning landscape, even if my shirt turned scarlet and my red blood cell count dropped precipitously. I got to the door and remember saying “I’m tired”
That same trip I was asked “Why do you have to ruin vacation?” I didn’t mean to, but I knew I had to meet my quota. If I didn’t meet it, someone else would have, and they would be standing on the podium instead of me. That picture at the top is from another camping trip with friends in Colorado. We were at 11,000 feet. I ran on a 400 meter long flat strip back and forth to keep up with training.
I got lost in the woods behind my house once. I think I was out for three hours and I’m sure I ran a marathon. I can’t race a marathon today. I know I can finish, so what’s the point?
There was the night I was driving home from a post race dinner and I saw a car near my street overturned, smashed, no one could have survived. It was a teammate who was stupid and racing his car. I went home and called my coach crying. I woke him up. No one wants that call. I begged my parents to let me go for a run. They locked the door. I still remember the feelings of withdrawal. Don’t let anyone tell you running is not a drug.
I had intense feelings for a girl that looking back might have led to my putting my nose down and running even more. Losing weight. At 6 feet I got down to 140 but that was too low. I could stay at 143 at the least before my body started telling me no. So I stayed there. I was in a poetry class at the time, and all my writing was about running, reflecting on my toenails dropping out or anorexic features caught in a mirror. A girlfriend would tell me that I looked like a skeleton. I’m thin now, but people don’t believe when I tell them I gained 40 pounds when I stopped.
The pain from a breakup is muted by the pain of a long run. Some nights I couldn’t sleep and decided to replace the pain. 90 minutes at 6:00 pace at 3:30am is cathartic. Or so you tell yourself
Sometimes you remember a race only from the video you saw afterwards. I remember Tyson Chicken, next to the indoor track in Fayetteville, I remember throwing up the two cups of coffee, but I don’t remember crossing the line at 4 minutes flat with my teammates screaming my name. And for the life of me I couldn’t hear anyone on a track or a cross country course, except my mom. Though when I blacked out in Charlotte for a few seconds after finishing Footlocker South, I certainly couldn’t hear anything.
It was all worth it. All my loyalty comes from a sense of pride and accomplishment. I did it for them, not for me, but for history, for legend, and duty to my teammates. Duty to those that came before, who blazed a trail that I was to follow. I know my place in the world, I’m intensely loyal. For me running is a personal journey wrapped in a team sport. My brothers are my teammates, and we all bled together, spiked in the shins and pushed into trees.
I don’t know how I got this way. One day in middle school, I just went for a run. And then one day after college, I stopped.