Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An e-mail to a friend

I received an announcement today that a friend has decided to do the Paris-Brest-Paris Randonnée this August.

For the uninitiated, this is a 745 mile bike ride in 90 hours with NO support. It's an exercise in self-sufficiency and personal commitment.

I found myself so cheered by his news that I composed a reply that, after I sent it, I realized would be perfect for my blog. It follows at the end of this post.

In addition to getting back to CRON (which I've finally been doing lately), I'm beginning training this weekend for the October marathon here in Chicago. Lengthening my life through calorie-restriction, then shortening it again through ridiculous endurance-running. I've definitely got myself a confused little masochistic streak.

And gentle readers (if any remain, given my hiatus), go ahead and note my falling off the CRON wagon, but then recall what you read right here a couple of months ago:

Quit attempts should be thought of like practice sessions in learning a new skill—at some point one hopes to “get it right,” but one should not put undue hope on any single given quit attempt, and take solace in knowing the probability of success increases with each try.

Indeed. I'm living for that probability right this very second.

Okay, so on to my message to my inspirational cycling friend:


I'm extremely delighted by this pleasant news. Allow me to make it all about me for a moment.

In 1999, as I was hatching my plans to move from DC to Chicago (and my plans were only that: to move here; I had no plans beyond my arrival), I decided to run the Marine Corps Marathon.

I was 29 years old, I'd never been a runner (or an athlete of ANY kind), and I was then--as I am again--about 40 lbs overweight. I also have some mild foot problems that require special running shoes, but thankfully that was an easily solved challenge.

They call my running cohort "Clydesdale." I wasn't terribly amused by that, but then again, Clydesdales are very sturdy, handsome horses, and they haul beer around, so what's not to like?

The point is that as I was contemplating major life changes, and I needed a powerful shot of confidence, proof that I could muster a bit of some weird thing called "discipline," and actually finish a long-term, hard project before I packed up the truck and headed west. I conjured up the idea that in running the marathon at the end of my time in DC, I wasn't running away from my old life, but running towards my new one.

I trained for six months, and then I ran (and sometimes hobbled) that race, crossing the finish line barely before they closed the event. Then I came to Chicago and staggered around on unsteady legs for several weeks. I was wrecked physically, but high as a kite emotionally.

It was easily in my top three majorly awesome life-changing experiences (even above my first CCM) [Author's Note: CCM is "Chicago Critical Mass"]. That sounds corny, but I'm a sentimental guy, and I was as self-satisfied as I could be. I also didn't feel too badly about raising nearly $2000 for AIDS (it was a fund-raising program), though that wasn't honestly why I did it. I did it for me.

Here I am at 36, fat again, getting ready to finish school and start my interim-career (yep, working for you-know-who), and finally making some serious and steady progress on the novel I've been belaboring for years (that's my REAL career). I'm at another crossroads, another moment when my whole life is gonna change around again. Everything's good--no everything's GREAT, but...I need a serious kick-start to push me out of the gate. Not to mix metaphors.

So, coincidentally I've decided to train for and run another marathon, and my training begins soon. Of course, what you are doing requires a much greater level of commitment and self-sufficiency than doing a marathon, but I bet the results will be similar in some ways.

While I don't really know what your reasons are (or mine for that matter), I bet there's at least a bit of some of the following: Maybe we are having pre-midlife-crises? Maybe we want our youthful bodies back, and all the fun and health and even MORE fun that promises. Maybe we're hoping to impress others (at least a little). Maybe we're bored, or curious. Maybe we're in pain (physical, psychological, spiritual), and more pain seems like it might be curative, like some bizarre metaphysical homeopathy. Personally, I sometimes wonder if I'm looking for ways to dig the knife in a little deeper and give it a twist--after all, it can't feel worse than what I've been doing to myself over the last six years, with all my addictions and self-destructive impulses. It's like a bleeding, a cleansing ritual. Maybe you just wanna see France by bike, and I wanna see the backsides of 44,999 other runners.

Whatever the reasons, I promise you will enjoy what happens to your body along the way (provided you're careful to avoid injuries--and injuries are NOT inevitable but preventable, so do take care).

But the big surprise to me was realizing that these things train our minds as much as, no--more than--our bodies. Endurance sports require, to my mind, a great deal of mental discipline that is much more difficult than meeting the physical demands we place on ourselves. Our bodies are just the vehicles, and they are very adaptive and malleable ones, at that. Our minds are where resistance is located. That's where the real workout is. Enjoy this trip--it's mind-blowing. You'll be a whole new T.C. when this is over. (Not that there's anything wrong with the old one.)

I'm really excited for you, and I'll read your blog faithfully. (Actually, I read anything you write. I dig your "voice.") So make sure you actually post to it.

And thanks for the shot of inspiration on this depressingly gray, damp, April (the cruellest month) day. My conviction was wavering today, but now I'm fired up again!




Deborah said...

Hi Chris,
I'm still reading (thanks to Google Reader BTW) and I enjoy every word that you write.

I wish you a lot of luck and discipline on your journey. I also hope we'll get to read about your training too.

Congrats on finishing school and heading on towards your interim.


Illiah said...

I've been reading your blog and I really enjoy your writing. I'm sure you'll let us all know when the novel is finished!

I have a novel written for each marathon run (gee, I just realized that; ten of each, and an ultra) and find that nothing beats a long run for working out plot holes.

Good luck to you in both your endeavors. CRON and marathons are a paradoxial mix, but I do both as well. Though I'm better at the marahon part.

Sierra said...

Whoohoo! We'll be running on the same day! I'm training for the Portland Marathon on Oct 7. I'm a non-runner too, and a former couch potato. I officially started training last week, although I've been running since Feb just to get started so that the first 3-4 mile run wouldn't kill me. :-) We'll have to stay in touch during training. I'm training alone - no one I know runs or wants to - so it would be fun to stay in touch. My email is in my profile.

Congrats on a life change! It's good to know that someone else has done it and is still willing to do it again.

Arturo said...

Yes, Chris, some of us check from time to time your blog, saved to our favorites, to see what you've been up to, respecting that you're busy and not having time to write.
Having a pre-midlife crisis? Is that like being slightly pregnant? It's a funny expression I hadn't heard. It's amazing that people attempt energetic things at advanced ages, although yours is not an advanced age. But I mean, for example, how a friend of mine's father went on a cycling trip through western states in his late 60s or early 70s. Someone I met in a hiking group climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with an 80 year old man who wanted to prove that it could be done at his age. It must be clarified that in the climb took several days and that guides carried all of the packs, camping equipment and supplies. However, the 80 year old carried his body up the mount, and down it too He didn't go back home in a box.
Well, here cheers to you resuming CRON and exercise.