The Ups and Downs

Since I’m a runner, it probably comes as no surprise that I see running as analogous to life itself. I’ve been a runner for over 27 years, which is practically all of my adult life. I’ve seen some really good highs and disappointing lows in that time, much like I have in my life in general. The funny thing is that running has a symbiotic relationship to my broader life, an enhancer when things are going well and an antidote when they’re not.

When someone asks why I run, I tell them it’s like a habit similar to brushing your teeth. Once you get into the habit, it feels odd when you don’t do it. There have been a few extended periods in my running life when I couldn’t run as a result of injury, and not only did it feel weird to me, but I also felt like an animal in a cage, which made me irritable and semi-depressed. When I saw someone running during these interludes, I felt a strong surge of envy. Essentially, running is an addiction, a natural drug you’re not sure you should be on, and if you see someone else doing it, you want to do it too.

Needless to say, those moments when I couldn’t run were definite downers, but there have been other moments where I felt like I was headed for a trough. Getting older hasn’t helped. I’ve had to retrain myself to be thankful that I’m still running and hope to be able to run until the final curtain call rather than focus on beating my last personal best. I likely won’t beat my best mile time ever again, and many of my other personal bests seem to be slipping further from possibility.

In the past few weeks, I’ve experienced something of a running roller coaster. I ran a decent 5K time on one weekend and promptly ran my worst marathon time in nine years the following weekend. A few days later I managed to run my second best time ever in the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, a race I’ve run 16 times. Talk about ups and downs.

No matter how my running life proceeds it has often inoculated me from the other ups in downs in my life, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I’m not sure how I would weather those storms otherwise. As a case in point, my career has been on a sideways trajectory for several years now, which has been an irritating and major disappointment for me. I’m just not where I want to be at this stage in my life. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up. Every runner knows there’s always the next race, and as a marathoner, I know you can’t let the middle distract you from the finish. I’m glad I have running to keep me grounded.

It’s Been a While

I’m back in Seattle this week for the first time in over two years. The kids and I are rediscovering some of our favorite spots in the area and meeting up with some of the good friends we left behind two years ago. It’s been too long to be away from the place I consider home. My kids were born here, and my wife and I have some of our favorite memories here – more than half of our life together has been spent in Seattle.

There are many reasons that Seattle is my favorite place to be. The temperate climate and the unsurpassed natural beauty of the region are a couple of the my most cited reasons. I can’t say I’m missing the dreadful heat and humidity I left behind in Atlanta. I’ve run some of my favorite trails and taken some long evening walks without feeling like I have been dragged through a swamp.

It’s not just the natural beauty that makes me pine for Seattle. It gets a lot grief for the Seattle freeze from outsiders with misplaced opinions, but I find the area to be congenial and welcoming. I feel at home here. I’d much rather have that perceived coolness than fake friendliness and myopic judgment often found in far less appealing places. The zeitgeist here suits me just fine, too. I suffer less from cognitive dissonance in Seattle. I can’t say the same for many other places.

Seattle, it’s been a while. I’m going to enjoy my week here, and I promise not so much time will pass until the next time I come back to see you again.

I Think I Understand

Another Father’s Day has come and gone, the fifth one without my dad. The first year without him was really tough, and each successive year has been a stark reminder that I can’t call him and wish him a happy Father’s Day.

We’d have a lot to talk about right now. The Braves are playing great, but both of us know that getting too high on June baseball standings is like celebrating a win in the fourth inning of a game. You just don’t do it. We’d both agree we’d get more excited come September because the inevitable August swoon has killed many playoff hopes, especially for Braves fans. There aren’t many people who want to hear me drone on about the Braves, but Dad did. Our relationship was like that.

As the years have passed, I’ve tried to put my dad into the context of our lives together, to understand him on a level that I wasn’t necessarily capable of when he was alive. Looking back, the ending seemed so abrupt, like walking out in the middle of a conversation, but the truth is that I had the enviable luxury of saying goodbye. Most people don’t get that with their parents. Despite that luxury, it’s not any easier.

Dad was from a generation on the other side of the Baby Boomers. He went to work, came home to a meal that he expected my mom to cook, and often went to bed shortly afterwards. He was never a conversationalist. He didn’t spend much time with his sons outside of weekend errands and family visits. I have faint memories of him throwing the baseball with me and shooting baskets in our driveway on a few occasions, but once my brothers were old enough to do these things, Dad never joined us. He expected us to be quiet during his many naps on the weekend. I swear the man slept for half of my childhood.

I can remember being disappointed when Dad went to take a nap. I felt like he didn’t want to be around us. I didn’t understand it then, and maybe I don’t really understand it now, but I think Dad suffered from depression, and his way of dealing with it was to sleep it away. His life wasn’t exactly easy. He worked a dreary job for over 30 years, a job he hated but kept out of necessity to support his family. Even with the job, he was under constant financial duress, which is enough to drive anyone over the edge. The recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s left him unemployed for four years, and he never recovered from that. He had few choices in his life, nor did he have the drive to make the changes to get himself to a better place. He just curled up in his bed and hoped in vain that things would change or at least that his problems would magically go away.

After logging three decades as an adult myself, I can understand. Life likes to sucker punch you every once in a while. Disappointments outnumber wonderful surprises. It’s rare for things to turn out exactly how you envision them. It’s enough to make anyone want to crawl into bed and ignore the realities raining down on them. I personally prefer to punch back, and it bothers me that Dad never did. I can understand being down for the moment, but spending your entire adult life that way makes no sense unless you suffer from chronic depression.

Dad never discussed such things. He rarely let go of any emotion or opened up about how he felt or why he behaved the way he did. He never offered any explanation. To be fair, I never asked either. Those questions were too painful to speak out loud. There were times when I wanted to scream aloud my frustrations with him, but I bit my tongue. He was my father. I loved him dearly, and some lines you just don’t cross. Instead, I just try to understand and be thankful for what we had. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

 

 

The Time That We Lose

Yesterday, my wife and I dropped our son, our youngest, off at a week-long overnight camp on a local college campus. As we were walking back to our car, we had a flash forward moment. In five very short (and I’m sure very fast) years, we’ll be doing this for real. The realization was unsettling. In adult land, five years is not very long.

Every parent wants his children to grow up into healthy, independent adults. It’s what we work so hard on as parents. Everything we do is geared toward that goal. It’s a bumpy and treacherous road because few things go as planned, and quite frankly, some days you wonder if you’ve failed miserably at the one job you have as a parent, but there are so many wonderful, beautiful moments that wipe away any fear of failure you have. In those moments, time seems to stand still briefly, and you know it’s all worth it because if this isn’t, nothing is.

It’s those moments that we treasure so much. Over the years, I’ve taken pictures of some of those moments, and others just reside in my treasure chest of memories. I remember the first time my infant daughter (my oldest) grabbed my finger and looked at me like she really saw me for the first time. My heart melted in that moment and I knew then that I’d do anything for that little girl. She will always have that hold on me. I remember when I came home from my first long business trip when the kids were toddlers. I had arrived in the middle of the night. The next morning, I woke up before the kids and when my son finally came down the stairs and saw me he jumped from the last few stairs into my arms because he was so happy to see me. You don’t get those moments back, but they fill your heart with such joy that it runs over.

Before you know it, those sweet, little kids that once followed you every step of the way outgrow you. They no longer need (or want) you around. It’s a perverse thing in that you want them to grow up, but you don’t. Sometimes, I wish I could freeze time in those joyous moments with the kids and keep things as they are because I know that the next moment will come too soon. It’s all that time we lose that bothers me. In our hectic daily lives, time just slips away. The moments pass like the slightest murmur in the night.

I like to think I’m ready for the time when my kids pass into adulthood, but the truth is that I probably won’t be. I’ll be happy and sad at the same time, but I will always have those memories.

14 Remain

On Memorial Day weekend, I traveled to beautiful Burlington, Vermont to run the Vermont City Marathon. Despite the warm temperatures, I enjoyed the race and finished within the time I expect nowadays. Vermont marked my 40th state in the quest to run a marathon in every state in the U.S. before I turn 50 years old in December 2020. I started this quest around my 40th birthday, so I’ve been running marathons regularly for almost nine years. It’s been equal parts thrilling and frustrating because just when I think I’ve cracked the code on running these things time and gravity conspire to do a number on me.

There was a time in early 2014 after I suffered an ankle injury when I feared I’d never make it this far. It took a long time to recover from that injury, and I didn’t run a marathon for over a year after that. Truthfully, I haven’t been the same since. My right ankle still gives me fits nowadays, but we’re like an old married couple in that we bicker and ignore each other hoping that the issue just goes away. I still don’t fully trust the bastard because he’s always looking for an excuse not to run.

Despite my love-hate relationship with my right ankle, I’m still running and I’m on track to finish my goal before I turn 50 unless the right ankle reads this and reacts in a pure fit of spite. Stranger things have happened.

Friends ask me what’s next after I finish the 50 states. Well, I won’t be quite done with marathons at that point. I’d like to run a marathon on every continent as well. I’ve already run one on four continents, so what’s three more, right? Also, there’s the small matter of Washington, D.C. It’s not a state, but it seems weird to leave it out if you’re going to claim you’ve run marathons all over the U.S. By my count, that means I have ten marathons left for the remaining states plus another one in D.C. I need to race in Australia, South America, and Antarctica to finish off the continents. That leaves 14 marathons to go. That’d put me at 62 for my career, and that’s just enough for me.

After that I’ll hang up my marathon running shoes and retire to running 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons. Those distances accrue less abuse to the body, and let’s face it, if I’ve learned anything from this marathon challenge, it’s that I’m not getting any younger.

 

My Favorite Thing

I’ve traveled quite a bit over the past 25 years. I’ve been all over the world and have visited most of the states in the United States (only New Hampshire and Maine remain untouched by my feet). One of my favorite things to do when I arrive in a new place is to walk around and see what there is to be seen. In some cases, it’s nothing much, but in others, I usually discover some interesting sights and learn more about the local area than I otherwise would if I just drove around.

What I consider walkable is probably a bit wider radius than most people would entertain. If it’s within a three-mile radius, I’m walking it. Of course, I could rent a car or take an Uber, but it’s hard to see things when you’re driving or speeding by in an Uber. You can’t really see a place until you slow down enough to actually look at it. Although my walking pace is brisk, I never miss an opportunity to stop and explore. I have hundreds of pictures on my phone to prove it.

I’ve done this just about everywhere I’ve been. I’m not sure exactly how it started, but I do remember traveling with a former coworker back at the start of my career. We worked together at a paper products company and it seemed that every location we traveled to was as dull as a butter knife, but she wanted to go out and explore it nonetheless. I remember a trip to Phillips, Wisconsin, which is barely a dust speck on the map, where we discovered a park full of sculptures made from cement and broken glass. It was odd and seemingly puerile but interesting much like many oddball roadside attractions scattered across the U.S.

We drove to a lot of places, but we also walked a lot too, and since then, I’ve always enjoyed a walking tour no matter where I am. I learn so much about a city or town when I walk it. I can almost form the map of the town in my head. I can drop down into the middle of anywhere and get a good feel for the streets just by walking around. It’s fun to see how everything is connected and then expand my reach from there.

This weekend I’m in Burlington, Vermont, which is a place I’ve never been to before. I arrived late last night, so I didn’t get to see much then, but after breakfast this morning, I walked a few miles snaking through the town center and meandering through the myriad shops. Afterwards, I walked down to Lake Champlain and strolled across the bike path at the waterfront. Later, I took a walk up the hill from the lake and visited the University of Vermont’s beautiful campus, which was erected in 1791 when the U.S. wasn’t even 20 years old. The campus architecture is phenomenal and particularly picturesque on a gorgeous spring day.

I’m only here for a couple of days, but after walking through so much of the town, I feel like I know it or at least I have learned enough about it to keep it in my memory. That’s why walking a town is one of my favorite things to do.

Legacy

This past weekend I, along with my family and brother, moved my mom to a new place. It’s much smaller than the old place, but plenty big enough for one person. Most importantly, the place is on a single level, which removes the danger presented by the steep staircase in her old place. When my kids were babies, I worried about their ability to maneuver stairs safely, but I had thought little about stairs since. Now that my mom is old, I can see how they present a serious obstacle for her. You really do come full circle in life.

My mom, who has had little change in her life or little that she has acknowledged, does not deal with change well at all. Her life-long battle with anxiety has become more pronounced in her later years. The smallest disruption to her daily routine can cause a tsunami of anxiety, so moving from one place, even if it’s one she’s only lived in for five years, to another just a few miles down the road provokes all sorts of hand-wringing. In the weeks since I told her she was moving, I’ve worked to quell her anxiety and assure her that my brother and I would take care of everything. That didn’t stop the worrying or the countless phone calls fretting over the impending move.

By the time moving day arrived, the tension was as thick as the fog rolling off the Golden Gate bridge on a chilly morning except not as peaceful nor as pleasant. In the weeks prior to the move, my brother and I had worked with my mom to winnow down her belongings. She’s something of a pack rat. She rarely throws anything away or donates things she doesn’t use even if they haven’t been used in years. Surprisingly, she seemed willing to turn a new leaf and had committed to sorting through her stuff to relieve the load quite a bit. We threw stuff away and made multiple trips to Goodwill, but come moving day, the amount of stuff still seemed overwhelming.

We had packed up most of her things the night before, but even the few things that remained unpacked seemed endless. A closet that didn’t seem so big the night before became an endless pile of stuff that stretched over the decades. Cabinets and drawers that seemed fairly innocuous in their contents felt like one of those circus clown cars where clowns keep coming out one after another. What seemed liked one more load became two or three more loads. By the end of the day, we were all tired down to our bones.

The hardest part of the move wasn’t even the physical labor or the jockeying about what to do with yet another unused kitchen item among the endless sea of unused kitchen items. It was the small things that reminded me of Dad. His watch, the one he received for working 30 years at Ford, almost reduced me to tears. The jacket he wore forever, tucked away in a closet, no longer had that familiar aftershave smell that rekindled memories from my childhood. I couldn’t even bear to open the garment bag that held his National Guard uniform. His presence and his legacy had been reduced to these inanimate things. Moving them or considering what to do with them felt like desecrating his memory.

A day that was physically exhausting quickly became one that was emotionally exhausting as well. As I lay in bed that night, before I quickly succumbed to sleep, I thought about how we will all be reduced to the things we leave behind. Our legacy will persist in those few things that only matter to a very few, and those few will hold in their hearts the memories of us that matter most to them. My dad’s legacy lives on within us. Sometimes, I fear it has faded too much, but then, I’m reminded he’s still there.