The Music of Success

Over the weekend my running life slapped me in the face with a sweaty sock. Reality. Business. Life. Fate. The universe.

Biggest of these, but the news I will spend the least time on out of respect, is that a friend and former training parter passed away after a multi-year struggle with cancer. She was a ferociously determined half-marathoner who almost always brought her dogs along on long runs and trained with an infectious smile. We all hoped for a better outcome, obviously, and there will be grief and honour and memories to be shared sometime soon.

The lesser, but devistating in it’s own way, news (just a day later) was that the running store that has been the central beacon of our run club (quietly, unofficially, secretly because the manager also gave notice and doesn’t care about corporate secrets anymore) announced that they are moving precisely 3.1 klicks (I routinely wear a GPS on my wrist) from their current location, sometime in the spring.

Rumours. But credible.

The two are linked temporally, but there is another bridging theme to be noted: people who are, have been, will always be the heart of our training success can’t be taken for granted. They quit. They get injured. They don’t get into lottery races at the same times as you. They move. They are moved. They burn out. They slip and break a bone. They lose their meeting place. They buy a treadmill. They have a baby. They get sick. They die.

People change. Just keep running, right?

Having run through the local neighbourhood for twelve years, I’ve lost track of the hundreds of routes and trails. I’ve lost track of many of the people, too. I’ve run new routes with new people who never came back to run again. I’ve run familiar routes with friends who have been by my side for the better part of a decade. Millions of steps, tens of thousands of klicks, thousands of hours, countless conversations, hundreds of people, and a handful of friends. I’ve trained my body and simultaneously created this weird network of people, friends, cohorts, professional bridges, (probably) enemies and rivals, followers, mentors, and ersatz coaches. And every race, every new challenge, would have been exponentially more difficult alone. So I’ve dutifully helped to hold that group together through participation, planning, and sheer force of will.

I bumble through this kind of navel-gazing friendship philosophizing because when life hits you this way, and you suddenly stand in a place where you can choose to be stubborn, yell and scream at the corporation who despite your years of support abstractly decided to pull the rug out from under your snow-covered sneakers and abandon over a decade of not-their-work to build a club — or you can just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Because it’s a decision I need to face down myself soon, and it bums me out.

People change. Just keep running, right?

In the Distances

Lucidity teases from just beyond the water beading down a rain-spattered window, a hint of blue sky on the horizon, perhaps no more than fifty kilometers away.

Moments of such clarity are rare these days.

Blame work stress. Blame middle age deterioration of the mind and body. Blame self-doubt in a politically strained world. Blame bad shoes. Blame cheap fast food in the mall. Blame a half-baked attempt at training for… well, for almost anything over the past three years.

Mostly, I blame myself. (That’s called accountability.)

Ten years ago I discovered the secret to breaking through the metaphorical rain-spattered glass pane. No, it was not a general secret or a bit of wisdom that has any meaning beyond the confines of my own befuddled brain. But, yes, it was my little secret. My personal hack. My golden ticket through the locked gates and into the whimsical world of epic personal achievement.

It’s words.

My secret was just as simple as that: words.

Specifically, the writing of words. The sharing of words. The construction of sentences from words and then stringing those words into coherent thoughts and ideas and eventually something so much more. Words that no one but I may ever read, but words, dammit… words!

I make no claim that words are a mental hack for anyone but myself (though I suspect that writing stuff down probably works for many people) but I do know damn well that somehow they work for me. Writing. Words gushed into blank digital realms. Words posted into the distant miasma of the internet. Words traced into social medias, filtered through layers of personal accountability, searchable, traceable, readable, out …there. Words wrapped around personal goals and structured into meaningful objectives ultimately bleeding to actual action.

I write it down. I do it. I write about it. Then I do more of it. Ad naseum.

I had been fairly certain of this notion about the creepy grip that words hold over me even prior to this rare lucid moment. Fairly certain… but not locked into the possibility with any sort of conviction. No conviction. No certainty. No… I wouldn’t have written that down with any sort of confidence. No, not until I stopped writing those words and that truth kicked me in the ass.

Yeah, just words did that. Why?

Words found me my first marathon through the carefully plotted plan and accounting of all that training.

Words traced some impossible path to where I, some guy who had once seen a concert, wrote and practiced and wrote some more until after two years I found myself sitting on the stage of the city’s renowned concert hall performing the violin.

Words gilded a path through parenting a beautiful little girl into adolescence as I hashed out the nuances of responsibility clashing with common sense. Words made sense of the chaos.

Yet for a million stupid, cowardly reasons I repaid those words with neglect and dismissal.

I walked away. I silenced my keyboard. I stopped writing.

Lucidity to this point teased me through the window as a storm raged on the far side of the glass. Nineteen stories in the air, gazing into a different sort of miasma of dust and water, swooping birds, wisps of cloud, construction debris, and a single helium balloon in the shape of a child’s rainbow streaking past the mirrored glass of a nearby office tower. Nineteen stories and in a moment of lucidity it was obvious that not one of those was my own story. I had lost the thread, lost my path, and lost myself.

To be honest (and we can be honest now can’t we?) no one is reading these words to unravel my complex relationship with writing.

Though it may becoming clear that to lose oneself in such a neglect is a path fraught with the perils of self-doubt, depression, anger, confusion, and personal struggle. I did not seek any of these things, but they had found me as surely as falling rain had spattered onto the glass of my office window. Words of another sort began to haunt me, never escaping onto any sort of page or into the world through a welcoming keyboard. Words of that sort burrow into the mind, down into the heart, and take up residence in the soul. Words of that sort infect and destroy, and on those rarified occasions when I found myself trying to gaze out into the world then words of that sort had speckled the view with droplets of discouragement and fear.

Lucidity teased from just beyond that clutter.

Lucidity teased in the form of a simple realization, a new conviction forged in the understanding that the absence of words had left me unbalanced, unguided, lacking direction, hope, idealism, and worth. Lucidity offered two simple glimpses through the speckled glass, past the rain, beyond the miasma, and into the hint of blue sky off on the horizon. Lucidity suggested purpose, a plan, and perhaps one last anchoring inspiration: Write. And find something to write about.

But what?

How that conviction spun into the vague possibility that the “something to write about” could be an almost year-long effort to do anything and everything possible to become someone who could run an ultramarathon, fifty kilometers through wilderness trails, to tune my mind and my body into a state of preparation and readiness for such a feat, well… that is the subject of these words.