Friday, August 17, 2007

Seriously, Someone Else Can Get Your Boss His Coffee This Morning

In addition to being great exercise for the body as well as the mind, running offers many unsung benefits. One of these (if you do any amount of road running) is the excitement of knowing that you could become nothing more than a clumpy, hot asphalt grease spot at virtually any given moment during your run. I guess this knowledge is always in the back of your head somewhere, but it's typically manhandled and bitch-slapped around by that part of your consciousness that thinks you're basically invincible.

I don't mean to imply that I'm not extremely careful when I'm out there, because I am. Any runner worth his salt knows to treat every car as the instrument of death that it can easily be and to never, EVER assume that a driver sees you. We know all these things, and we're very careful, but just being out there is a risk in itself so you have to silence some of these cautious voices, if just a little. It has to be this way, or we road-runners would never really get any quality miles in because we would piss our already sweat-soaked shorts at every busy intersection.

Every so often, however, I experience one of those "Holy shit, I seriously almost died just then" situations that rock me harder than a Poison coverband. You know, the kind of thing you would never tell your mother because you're glad she doesn't have insomnia and two stomach ulcers from worrying about you. Today I had one of those experiences.

I have a half marathon tomorrow (which I'm not racing, but I'll be running fairly hard) so today was a very light easy day - about 4.5 m at a 7:40 pace. Really just to stay loose. Lately I've been doing my runs in the mornings because it's been hot enough to melt sky-scrapers in the afternoons. Seriously, if you wanted to replicate running in our current weather conditions on a treadmill you would need two assistants: one to continuously pour hot soup over your entire body and one to hold a soggy pillow over your face holes so all you are able to breath is recycled steam and sweat. Really, it's pretty bad.

The problem is that in a city like Charlotte, which has such a healthy population of bankers and other less important professionals, you've got some pretty gnarly morning traffic. Even at 6:00 AM, when most respectable analysts, fund managers, and what-have-you are either just starting to shake off that early morning wood or maybe letting Mulligan out to shit in the neighbors yard, you will indeed encounter several piss ant, bitter-because-I'll-never-make-it-to-the-top, no talent ass hats out on the road driving like there's a race to get their boss' coffee and they're in last place.

In addition to this, if you know anything about Charlotte you know we've got some pretty F'd up roadways and intersections. The best way to describe it is this: Picture taking a very complex system of trolley railways built around 1670 or so and placing another equally complex, yet totally different system of "modern" roads on top of it. Now convert the railways into roads too, intersecting and criss-crossing the existing roadways in all different ways and places. It looks this way because this is exactly what happened. It's about as tangled and unsightly as a Ukrainian orgy.

It was on my way through one of these hermaphroditic intersections (Kings and Morehead, for the natives) that my life was nearly ended this morning by this bluetooth cock-neck, wielding a semi-late model BMW 325i as his only weapon and source of self pride. His entry-level, helmet licker blue imitation luxury sport sedan screamed past me at about 1000 mph, missing me by literally inches as he body-rolled through his right hand turn (I had the crosswalk by the way).

First of all, if I go out road kill style, it better not be on the grill of some pussy ass wannabe-mobile. If I'm goin' down it better be the biggest, loudest, dirtiest, tires so big they're not even legal, banged-your-girlfriend-last-night Ford Mega-ExpeHummerExcursion out there. That way in my last breath I can at least say, "I lost the battle today, but at least I was laced up against the baddest mother fucker out there."

The thing is, these things happen when you least expect them. I know two runners who have been hit by cars (one by a bus, actually), and obviously neither of them saw it coming. We all have close calls - I once had to jump up on the hood of a Mustang that almost crushed me turning right into a MEDICAL center, of all places. When these things happen, it makes you realize just how much more defensive you need to be, and how much more of your focus needs to be on the traffic around you. I like to think that every close call makes me that much more aware of the cars around me, and in turn that much safer.

I guess in a weird way it just gives me a little comfort to think that maybe if I hadn't ALMOST gotten hit today, I might have GOTTEN killed tomorrow.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Progress is generally forward moving

I'm currently training for an ultramarathon. A forty-miler, to be exact. My first endeavor over the standard 26.2 mile marathon that once separated the men from the boys, but in recent years has become, well.... commonplace. I feel the need to go longer. To accomplish something that makes people say: "......What? You mean 40 miles over like a few days or something? I mean you don't run that all at once, right? I mean, come on, that's impossible.." To which you respond with a smirk and the fewest words possible, adding to the mystique and athleticism that is you.

For all the runners, as well as non-runners, out there, I want to sum up the progression of this sport as I have experienced it, and you may or may not agree.

Beginning: You're running 2 - 5 miles at a time, four or five days a week. You are awesome and in so much better shape than all those other NON-runners out there. You look good, you feel good, and so-help-me-god if someone steps to this while you're walking down the street you will race the be-jesus out of that bastard, beat him like a rented mule, and stand over his sweaty, losery body just long enough to say, "You should've known better than to think you could compare to this. You're lucky I even took pause in my awesomeness long enough to acknowledge and embarrass you." And then be on your fine-tuned way.

Intermediate: You're running 6 - 8 miles at a time and you might even have a couple 10Ks and a 1/2 marathon or two under your belt. You're pretty much a machine, and you make this known with the condescending looks you toss to all the "joggers" out there which you so kindly share the sidewalk with. You're doing speedwork. You're doing long runs. You know your VO2 max, and you make every run count. If anyone F's with your run, they will be lucky to merely get a tongue lashing, because you take this shit SERIOUSLY.

Advanced: You're starting to adjust your life around your running. Up at 4:30 AM? It's necessary to beat the heat and be able to hit your normal tempo run speed. 70 miles a week? How else are you going to build your endurance for the Stump Jump 50K? Pretty much all your regular friends are runners, and you talk about PRs incessantly. You are always training for one race or another. You plan vacations around races. If you're single, you probably won't date anyone who doesn't run because they just "don't get it." You are becoming more boring and annoying by the day, but you don't care. You just want to run. This is a warning sign, but you do not take heed..

Obsessed: You've done a marathon or maybe a few, but you're not really satisfied with your accomplishments. You either want to run a faster marathon, or you want to run longer (ultramarathon), or both. You spend a lot of time studying and analyzing race results, ranking yourself and your closest competitors. You probably have an arch nemesis or two. You have a race or a time goal on your calendar that you may or may not be able to complete without dying. Oddly enough, you've stopped talking about running as much, because you actually wish to hide the obsession that has taken over your life. "What did you do this weekend?" "Oh, I saw Rush Hour 3." Forgetting to mention that you spent 3 hours on the trails Saturday in the 90 degree heat, and another 30 minutes picking gravel out of the open wound that your shoe had created in your heel, and another 10 minutes "talking" your legs into controling the pedals of your Ford Ranger, at least enough to get you home. And then got up the next day and did it all over again.

This sport takes all kinds of people. There are those that do it for the excercise, those that do it for the glory, and those that do it because they have reached the point where they know nothing else. The beautiful thing is that they are all right.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Love

The other day I became involved in one of those conversations that starts out very small and casual and progresses through a series of seemingly innocent tributaries until eventually what you've got is a roaring class 5 rapids of big ideas and very opinionated positions, all tearing and lashing out in an attempt to solve the world's problems. It was late at night and my sister and I had somehow found our way onto the topic of "humanity", or more specifically, "human value." We were in disagreement.

Before I continue I feel I must clarify exactly how we are defining the concept of humanity here. We are not arguing the concept of mankind or the human race in terms of it's existence or lack there-of. Neither my sister nor myself is irrational enough to argue against something as concrete as human existence. What we were tangled up about was the concept of humanity as it applies to man's unquestioned and unconditional deserving of sympathy, love, and resources regardless of effort, morals, or contribution to society. In tandem with this, the discussion included the debate of whether or not these qualities can be used to determine an individual's worth, or value, or if value is inherent simply because one exists.

My sister's stance on this is that all individuals - from the lowest crack-head infant killer to the most brilliant medical scientist months away from developing a cure for cancer - all have the same value, and in turn have equal claims on love, accolades, and the comforts that are available in today's world. In short, these things need not be earned but rewarded based solely on the achievement of being alive. We should love and reward everyone unconditionally. Put yet another way, we reap what we do not sow.

And my sister is certainly not alone in this view. Our current Robin Hood system is designed to take from those who have produced and give to those who have not; to penalize those with skill and drive and reward those who have neither, nor the desire to attain these qualities. The problem is that resources, like energy, cannot simply be created. If one consumes more than he has produced, this difference must be found somewhere.

I believe that man is the summation of his actions, morals, and contributions, and should be valued on the merit of these things. Love is not a flippant commodity to be doled out to anyone who may happen to pass by. It must be earned. And this is, in actuality, how we live our day to day lives. People typically do not walk the streets hugging and loving up on every stranger along the way. This would not only be very time consuming, but highly irrational. As a people, we have a natural air of indifference toward strangers until we have cause to feel otherwise. This is normal and rational. It is not until we are confronted with the ideological aggregate of "one love" that we switch gears to comply with social and religious statutes which hold us responsible for "loving our fellow man."

The issue has of course been debated extensively on both sides of the aisle. In fact, one can take it a step further, as Robert Pirsig did in Lila, and separate value into social value and biological value. Taken this way, our crack-head infant killer certainly has biological value as he is a living, breathing being. But it proves difficult to argue that he provides value to society in any way, and in fact could be said to have negative value in terms of contribution to the world around him. But in my opinion this is too easy as it gives us a means of breaking the issue down into unrelated segments, when what we're really after is a solution in it's entirety, which can only be achieved through examination of the person as a whole.

So does a crack-head infant killer have less value than our medical scientist with the ability to improve the quality of life for millions of people now and in the future? I do not hesitate to say that Yes, he does. As a people we have countless systems in place, both qualitative and quantitative, for measuring the value or "quality" of everything from fruit to financial systems. We do not hesitate to value dog breeds based on coloring or gait. Human athletes are measured by speed, accuracy, endurance, etc., and ranked accordingly. Students are rated by test scores and rewarded for superior performance. Yet when it comes to determining the overall value of an individual - something that should fall into place fairly naturally given the multitude of factors that can called into consideration - we stop short. That voice of reason that we use for virtually every other activity in our lives tries to pipe up - "Of course there's a difference! Isn't it obvious!!", but it is quickly and efficiently stifled by socially and religiously imposed thought structures which prohibit the use of reason for answers to all but the most insignificant questions.