Unfinished Business


This is Part I of an intermittent series I will be writing and intermingling with unrelated essays over the next few months.  Part II of this series may be in 2 weeks – or it may not be for 2 months. Only time will tell, and time is like a carnival mirror.  Stay tuned, and enjoy.

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Wake Up.  Move.

Nearly 3 years ago I gave my Jeep away in favor of being a bicycle commuter.  Roughly every 12 hours, six days per week, I have been on my bike peddling the hills of Fallbrook for 30+ minutes in each direction.  Later this week I will be merging my home and my fitness studio into a single location.  Once again I will be working from home and my bookend bicycle commutes will take their place in the story of my timeline. 

My morning ride, often before sunrise, has set the tone for my day, and been the calling into action of my body and my senses for 3 years.  Through the heat, the cold, the morning fog, rains, coyotes crossing my path, low flying owls, skunks blending into the blacktop, drivers texting and mismanaging their coffee as they fail to see me, I would become alert.  I became awakened though, from the exhilaration of climbing the hills, and feeling of the wind in my face riding them down. 

My new commute will simply be the act of stepping over Stroodle and trying not to spill coffee on him as I enter my studio each morning.  How will I call my senses into action now…?

Stroodle; the newest obsticle in my commute…

 The Jericho Mile

In the late 1970s a made for TV movie made an imprint on my fitness psyche that would last for decades.  To this day, The Jericho Mile, starring Peter Strauss, is one of the most inspirational movies I have seen with regard to athletic courage.  The Jericho Mile is the fictional tale of a man who was imprisoned for a murder he committed while trying to defend his stepsister from an abusive father.  While in prison, woven between several other story lines, Strauss’ character, Larry Murphy, spent most of his time in self-imposed isolation.  He would use that time to establish himself as a world class runner.  Impressed by his talent, prison officials even attempted to qualify him for the Olympics from behind bars.

In one scene, Murphy and a would-be running coach from the outside were discussing the feeling of a runner’s high.  They compared the experience of running to floating – running without feeling the ground beneath their feet.  I found that description simply poetic.  It left me wanting to experience it for myself.  Despite my blossoming passion for weightlifting, that floating analogy instantly made me a runner at heart.  The fact that I had never enjoyed running now had opposition.

After watching The Jericho Mile, at the age of 18, I felt I had to become a runner.  After my first week of running, I came to two conclusions; that running is both hard, and stupid.  I would not attempt to run regularly for another 25 years.  However, I really wanted to connect to that ideal of poetry from physicality – the floating thing.  Soon I began mentally mining that sensation from my weight training.  I began to view my strength training as analogous to anything poetic – and I still do.  That mind-set has served me well for 30+ years in the gym.  From that one scene in The Jericho Mile, I have developed an appreciation for the beauty and poetry that lies within all forms of challenging athletics. 

Running Men

My first exposure to the ideal of running came years before seeing The Jericho Mile.  In the early 1970s, my father, then a weight-conscious individual, took to running as a means of better health and weight control.  They called it jogging back then but that would soon change.  Jim Fixx’s book, The Complete Book Of Running, turned jogging into running, and running went from fad to fiber in the American fitness psyche.  In the late 1970s, you couldn’t throw a cat 50 feet without it hitting a copy of The Complete Book Of Running.

Around the same time my father began jogging, my brother, four years my senior, began competing for his high schools’ cross country team.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by running.  But I was a weightlifter.  Full biceps, a respectable bench press, and an obvious v-taper were my only agenda.  Running, I reasoned, was not consistent with my goals, and so it went for about 30 years.   Then, in my mid-40s, I became engaged to be married – to a woman who wanted to run a marathon.

If she was going to run a marathon, so would I.  That’s what a relationship is.  If she had chosen to become a cross-dressing Nazi sandwich maker, I too would have become a cross-dressing Nazi sandwich maker.  But she didn’t become a cross-dressing Nazi sandwich maker, she became a runner.  Shit.  Following my fiancée’s lead, in 2007 I began preparing for a marathon.  Over the course of a year or so, I trained for and completed the 26.2 mile event which most runners consider the supreme accomplishment within their sport.  Through it all though, I never considered myself a runner, and the so-called runner’s high had eluded me.  I never floated when I ran.  I had run many races in preparation for my marathon including 5Ks, 10Ks, and a half-marathon, but I never felt as though I was a runner – not in the spiritual sense.

I am a hoarder of fitness values.  That is, once I attain a new physical ability, I won’t let it go.  I simply add new values to my physical repertoire and expand it over time.  Through the mid-2000s I had worked hard attain the ability to run and did not want to let it go.  After my first marathon I kept running mixed into my fitness fold, and I have been running ever since.  Despite my cycling, strength training, hiking, stretching, and other conditioning activities, I still make time to run each week.  Running is something I continue to do because I feel I should.  After all, fitness is what I do for a living, and running is synonymous with fitness, yes…? 

Next Up, Floating…

With my bicycle commute not longer needed to start my day, I have decided to run each morning prior to starting my workday — in quest of floating.  I now seek to become a runner in the spiritual sense.  This process will begin later this week, and I will be writing about it intermittently over the next few months.  Whether I ever float or experience a runner’s I high, I won’t predict.  I will though, remain committed to my early morning run come rain, shine, or tonsillitis, as I did with my bike.  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender inside my head.  Oh, and there is this from Mike Stinson, formerly of The Replacments.  Enjoy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNJFUomPtfY&feature=g-all-u

16 responses

  1. Currently having a love relationship with my Jeep, you were a braver man than I’ll ever be!

    As you know Roy, I have run in the early morning hours for years, and I have experienced much of what you describe, the good, bad, and the ugly. I do know that I wouldn’t have traded it for anything!

    I’m not totally sure about the runner’s high. Perhaps it’s like religion, a highly personal thing and not exactly shared the same by everyone. I know that I’ve run very long distances where, after a time, running became easier, than harder, then easier again, like a second and third wind. I know that after 30 minutes of running or so, my mind becomes clearer, and ideas flow more freely.

    I can’t say that sanity would ever be defined in terms of picking up heavy objects and putting them down again or rapidly putting one foot in front of the other and repeating this until we are back where we started, but many people do seem to take pleasure in those strange activities.

    I’ll look for that movie, thanks friend!

    • I have nothing to add, except to say thank you for the great comment. I hope all readers take time to read your wisdom Dr. J!

      Truth be known, I miss my Jeep terribly…

  2. Running is not an activity I will ever love. I am doing it again, or my adaptation of it, but it doesn’t thrill me. If I’m ever to get that floating feeling you wrote about, I guess I’ll have to jump into a body of water. Lifting, on the other hand, gives me a feeling of power & strength which I love. I can see & feel results right away. The more weight I lift, the stronger I become. It just happens.

  3. The Jericho Mile, recall that movie well. Actually we watched/reviewed in high school films class. Yes, the rumors are true, I took that class because it was an easy grade.My mental take-away all these years; when the other inmate clans lay down their biases of each other just long enough to improve the running track for Rain. If prison nations can come together that productively to achieve a common purpose, you’d think nations outside of prison might be able to do so even more productively.

    While I appreciate your taking me back to the 70’s, a fine decade in my life, I appreciate even more your lesson here re: “I am a hoarder of fitness values”… I need to mull that over and absorb that lesson in my efforts to change my attitude. I need my attitude towards health to reflect a belief that I must achieve wellness & fitness and should not let it go.

  4. I started running in my late 20’s & even did 5K’s. I started to feel the knees yell at me so I decided long term exercise was better that pushing myself so hard to go fast ( I placed & won a couple). I kept running but not to race. I never “loved” it when I raced & never got that endorphin high. I still don’t BUT I like it for cardio better than other stuff & it is always a challenge for me AND when my feet went bad & I had trouble doing cardio – I missed it… YET, no endorphin high when I went back. I do it & appreciate it! 🙂

  5. I’m not much for the races either Jody. I have done them, and now it’s about me. Trying to approach it the Dr. J way. I’m lucky, my feet, knees, and ankles have never bothered me in any form of cardio — must be from all that proper strength training 🙂

  6. Pingback: Run And Done… « Roy Cohen's Contemplative Fitness

  7. One of my favorite quotes: you can’t out-exercise a bad diet… (and then my personal addition)…but that won’t stop me from trying. I basically run to lessen the calories I consume. Good luck with those morning runs.

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