14 December 2015
It’s barely after six in the morning. This isn’t early for some, but it is for me, a certified night owl. And only a small number of hours after battling ugly weather on the freeway for hours, it seems even earlier, sinisterly early. But I’m dragging myself to consciousness, stumbling across the hotel room, momentarily having to think to remember where I’ve woken up.
I’m hundreds of miles from home, somewhat unexpectedly, which isn’t unusual. My job does that now and then; though I’ve usually got a good deal of control, or at least advance knowledge, over where I’m going and who I’m seeing, on occasion a surprise pops up, like yesterday, when it became known that my presence at today’s event would be of assistance to further the mission. Stuff a bag, hit the road, battle the wind, the rain, the invisibility only a dark and wet highway can create, not the bright sunny ride that sometimes makes this job feel like a great adventure, but the hard road fight that sometimes makes this job feel like an adventure of a different, less pleasant sort.
It’s bleak and barren out there. From my hotel window I can see the dim gray overcast of pre-dawn, the still-wet pavement from last night’s tempest, the trees still shuffling from remnants of the wind that made a new set of tires on the Thruway feel like bald rubber on an oiled runway. My phone tells me it’s still drizzling and barely forty, certainly not cold, but when mixed with rain and wind, nowhere near inviting, either. And though I’m in my native Upstate New York, a place I still revere for its unequalled beauty, the particular spot I’m in holds no great scenic charm, just mostly straight paths through mostly flat farm country, and at this time of the year, it’s barren, heading for winter’s hibernation, utterly devoid of the green and life that makes this place what it is. In short, it’s really attractive to sleep another hour.
But I’m here for two nights, and tomorrow’s forecast is no better – perhaps worse. A day off is fine, and one might say that after last night’s exhaustive battle, needed, but if the forecasters are right, that might stretch into two, and on the other hand, after last night’s exhaustive battle, stretching the legs might be just the ticket. Not to mention that the day’s plan has the word ‘meeting’ written in every slot until the evening, when ‘consumption’ is certain to take precedence. By day’s end, I might regret it if I don’t do this. Then again, I might regret not snagging that extra hour of sleep. This yin and yang could hold me in a state of indecision all day, if I let it.
The balance is broken by the word expectations. Expectations drive me out of bed, through the morning ‘shock-the-system-into-reality’ routine, and out the door of the hotel to the puzzlement of resort-goers who don’t come to this place for physical exertion. Expectations that are both mine and those that spring from others I know I’ll encounter today, which of course are still mine to either hold or ignore, but real nonetheless.
After nearly eleven years of the running lifestyle, this is what I do, and hope to continue to do for as long as I can do it. I place this on myself, but do so willingly knowing that the reward for the effort, the planning and logistics, the bearing of unpleasantries like weather and worse, is a worthy deal. I accept that there will be days when taking that first step will be seriously unattractive, but that backing down from that starting hump represents a small mental defeat, likely inconsequential, but the tip of what could snowball into decline. Is that fear? Or is it just a self-motivation mechanism? I accept it as the expectation I place on myself.
I also accept that after these many years, those around me have expectations as well. It’s not for me to run in order to please them, but it is for me to run in order to inspire them. Over many years, I’ve had the joy of knowing that my actions have helped to light that fire in many of my colleagues. And later in this day, my colleagues, who in part define me by this lifestyle, will inevitably bring up the topic. They’ll ask if I’ve been out for my run, shaking their heads in amazement or pity or both when I respond affirmatively and, in answer to their guaranteed follow-up, add the detail of, yeah, eight or nine miles. They too know the ugliness of the weather and the fatigue of travel and the open-road nothingness of the surrounding area which must be traversed to ring up those distances. They’ll turn to others, our customers, or new colleagues I’ve yet to meet, and expound on my human-driven escapades. Conversations will erupt about others’ attempts to break out of corporate-induce physical inactivity, and invariably, in a gathering of this size, some will express intent to get out there and start doing something good for themselves.
I don’t like to let them down. I don’t like to let myself down. So I head into the gray, wet, chilling, forlorn pre-dawn and start pounding the miles toward the next hamlet over, where I might get some scenery other than a road shoulder and a farm field, before pounding my way back. I’m out there, driven by expectations, and an hour later, pulling in just in time to clean up and make the end of the pre-meeting breakfast, I’m very satisfied that those expectations have done their job.