04 October 2012


A few weeks back, while still mired in the Interminable Slump, the annual Forrest Quasi-5K was fast approaching (I call it the Quasi-5K because everyone knows it’s considerably over 5K, though with a great picnic afterwards, nobody cares). I couldn’t fathom racing anything, let alone a short one that would require – gasp! – that I’d actually have to run fast. But having won it the prior two years, I felt there was sort of an expectation that I’d defend my crown, the tiny little local crown that it was. What to do?

An obvious solution appeared: Darling Daughter the Younger had the desire to dip her toes in that puddle. Double bonus! Family time, and the complete elimination of all pressure to perform. Race day came and I ran a warm-up with my local club-mates merely for the fun of running a mile with them, certainly not due to any need to warm up. Race time approached without a care in the world; no timing of that last bathroom stop, no chugging a gel fifteen minutes ahead, no last-minute strides or stretches. Just hang with the crowd, chat it up, and, oh! They said go, let’s go for a run. This must be how the other side lives. It’s really not bad, not bad at all.

The irony is that a couple days before the race, along came what has proven to be the dramatic end of the Interminable Slump (hereby rechristened the Terminable Slump). There was great rejoicing, but the plan was in place, the Forrest would not be a race. Time was irrelevant, no watch, no worries. Darling Daughter scored an age group medal, making the day and unqualified success. And a fine day was had by all at the famed picnic. I’d already considered the day a total winner, having just relaxed and soaked it up, and then when I pulled down the pictures from my mini-camera I’d carried during the event. I was treated to this absolute gem of one of my local club-mates in action.

One word came to mind: Joy. Anyone at a hundred paces could tell from this shot what was going through her head. Indeed, when I sent this to her, she responded, “I did not realize how much fun I had had until I saw this picture!” And therein lay a great theme: Step back and recognize the joy that our sport, our lifestyle, can bring to us, if we let it. Fast times are great, but there is so much more, and so I share a few tidbits on my mind.

The Joy of Letting Go – Because We Can! This is, of course, what started the whole theme. The fact that we don’t have to push every day; that we can just go out for a day of fun, and leave it at that. It just doesn’t matter, so enjoy it.

The Joy of Excess - Because We Can! On the other hand, we do crazy things. A good portion of my running friends just experienced another Reach the Beach, that thirty-hour two-hundred-plus mile odyssey through New Hampshire. I skipped that one this year, but celebrated the end of the slump by hitting DAY FIVE HUNDRED of my streak, and that day turning a planned twenty-three miler into the longest run of my life, twenty-seven-point-two. Yeah, a marathon and a mile, and too bad it didn’t count or I’d have my Boston Qualifier less twenty for 2014. Excess? You bet. Love it, because we can.

The Joy of Relief, Part One – Go Jump In A Lake! A few weeks back, Rocket John and I headed out for a dozen or so, and it was great – for about five miles. After that, it just wasn’t pretty. Hotter than expected, both of us fading, still a mile or two back to the ranch as we passed by a local lake, and we figured…why not? Off with the shoes, into the lake, utterly perfect. Sweet relief, and freedom like you’re a kid again. You simply can’t feel so good as when you bounce from feeling so bad. The lows make the highs so much sweeter.

The Joy of Relief, Part Two – It Feels So Good When You Stop! So what if it was chemically cured? (I just hope the cure sticks!) The slump is over! To steal a line from Monty Python, I’m not dead yet. In fact, I feel good, I feel like I’m flying. What was it I just said? You simply can’t feel so good as when you bounce from feeling so bad. An old friend used to say it was like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. Relish the high!

The Joy of Great Friends – And Benefits! (No, not friends WITH benefits, this is a family column.) I’ve often said that running with friends is just a mobile coffee klatch. We get to know the best people without having to endure a golf cart. They’re active, they’re interesting, they’re involved people, and hanging with them sometimes has unexpected benefits, like last weekend when our local club supplied judges for our city’s famous annual Chowderfest. Now, this event has been a highlight of my year for as long as I’ve known about it, a veritable feast of the best we have to offer. To have the opportunity to sit as an official judge was, well, let’s just say I can die happy now.

The Joy of Living Vicariously: In a sport where actually winning is pretty rare, we certainly have rivals whom we like to race against, but we don’t worry about their successes, we celebrate them. Big or small, running friends’ triumphs lift us – indeed goad us on to our own. That’s quite different from most sports where one side wins and the other clearly loses. We can all win, and this week has brought plenty of that good news and lots to celebrate.
My accomplices in last fall’s Bay State Marathon, Kim and Ryan, crossed the line together to win – for real – the Half-Moon Bay Marathon out west in the California fog. My rival E.J. smoked a 5K personal best time that makes my mouth drool a deep shade of envious green. And my neighbor Greg, on his weight-watcher quest combined with a couch-to-5K plan, achieved it non-stop at the Forrest, and is already plotting his next conquest. They’re all an extension of the energy we share with each other, providing each other with little sparks, and I am thrilled for all of them!

The Joy of Classic Little Moments: On a totally different tack, while running past a nearby school a couple days back, I was not a bit surprised when a mother with her little ones oh-so-safely strapped in back proceeded to cut me off as she raced out of the school lot. Experience has shown that it’s usually those moms so worried about how people drive around their kids who are the worst offenders around others on foot, like me. Whatever, I’m used to it. I dodged, gave her the usual barking “YO!” and an arm-shrugful of disgust, and carried on. Only to have the mom who trailed her and watched the whole thing pull out, pass me on the street, and shout out, “You tell ‘em, Gary!” I have no idea who it was. But hey, really… cool!

And The Simple Joy of What We Do: Day in, day out, we find an hour, strap on our shoes, and just go. Many if not most days I have no idea where I’m going when I depart. I’ll decide that in a mile, when I decide how I feel, consider how much time I’ve got, assess the weather, my mood, the phase of the moon, whatever. It just doesn’t matter. We just run, and absorb the joy. So turn off your MP3, stop staring at the four square feet of road right in front of your feet, look up, soak it in, and find the joy.

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