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Ode to memories of my past miseries

January 31, 2017

I can empathize with people in pain, people in misery.  Moments when things don’t look achievable and your personal miserable pain.  I can also analyze those who are overdramatic, such as myself.

Running is amazing.  It opens your lungs, it burns calories, it boosts metabolism.  The form of exercise increases “good” cholesterol HDL, which helps to keep “bad” cholesterol LDL in check.  I know this, but every time I run I hate it.  It’s not a secret.  I do it, but I complain.  I complain about my sore muscles, my lack of breath, how out of shape I feel every time.  I particulary feel bitter during mandatory runs.  This is my sob story:

It is cold.  It is cold and bitter.  Either that or it is just before dawn and HUMID.  The temperature doesn’t matter, but usually low 70s but feels like it is 95º already.  Everyone is gaggled together to run a mere two miles.  TWO miles.  At first I think, “Ok, I got this.  Two miles is nothing”.  As we start out all together, the group quickly segregates into those who are in shape and have great timing and athletic ability, those of us somewhat in the middle that think we are going to beat our own personal best time, and those in the rear who either don’t give a shit and start out walking or those who are just ate up beyond repair and never work a muscle except during forced times on drill weekends.

As my feet beat the pavement, I realize the route is at an incline.  By a tenth of a mile already I am sucking wind.  If it is hot I have beads of sweat forming on my forehead heading straight to my eyes.  More likely it is cold. It feels like I am in Antarctica.  Bitter, dry air laced with Constantia wire scrape past my bronchi and down looking to make a home in my alveoli.  I focus on how important it is to breath through my nose and keep pace.  My nose is a faucet that drips incecently.  I wipe the snot onto my sleeves.  I spit beside me, carefully making sure no one is trying to pass me from that side.  The artic air chills my bare legs – the cold wind slamming against them turning the pale skin to a bright pink.  They begin to itch and burn at the same time.

Although in training we ran up to eleven, my civilian self feels that two miles is an eternity and I will die right here on this road.  My muscles will freeze and I will fall over.  The stars I am seeing will turn into tunnel vision and then complete blackness. I will pass out on the pavement.  People will stop and try to help.  That is what medics do.  It will be a good excuse for everyone else to get out of this forced torture.  No, that will cause them to fail.  They need to succeed.  If I stop, it gives everyone else an excuse to.  Who thought up this torturous exercise and test of physical agility?  I go on.

There comes a point where I have passed the one-mile mark and I secretly throw a celebration in my head.  I decide somewhere before the 1.25 mark it is time to treat myself and walk.  I’ve told myself I have enough time, I am doing well.  One person passes me and I’m OK.  Two more pass and I don’t think it is acceptable for those people to pass the finish line before me so I speed back up, only to instantly want to stop again.  But I don’t.  Breathing through my nose is long past.  Now my mouth is dry from the bitter cold air, my entire pulmonary system is on fire.  My legs are on fire.  My head hurts and I convince myself everyone must be seeing stars.  Perhaps I have developed stitches on my right side.  Those too will pass.  Now I am convinced my ankles will give way with each hard foot landing.  I will trip and fall because my legs will crumple.  But I round the corner for the last time.  Although I can see them at the finish line, I don’t think I can go any faster.  For a moment I think about walking.  Perhaps I take five steps, but those same people start to pass me again.  No.  These soldiers can’t see me walking.  I need to make up time for these detrimental steps I took in a self-pity wave of slowness.  I jog again.  I start to lengthen my stride.  My head is pounding and swimming at the same time.  Inner thighs be damned – stay raw.  I slowly start to speed up.

As I get closer I can hear the chants of encouragement.  I lengthen my stride more.  I know if I full out sprint I will collapse before I pass the finish line so I just run.  My arms swing rhythmically with my legs: back and forth.  I breath hard.  At this point I don’t care.  I have stopped envisioning the lengthening and shortening of my muscle fibers.  I have stopped reciting the oxygen exchange system in my brain and how important it is to breathe deep to ensure the capillaries even on my small toe have enough oxygen to make me propel forward.  All I think about it giving it my all.  I have slacked off the last twenty minutes.  It should not take me this long to get to the two-mile mark.  I start to hyperventilate as I cross the line.  Stride still wide, I slow down, move to the side, and dry heave.

My arms crossed above and resting on my head I walk around attempting to regain the ability to breath. I longingly look at the flock of soldiers heading to the showers. I just oxygen, an IV, and a cold shower (no matter what the temperature actually is, I am now convinced it is 100).  I look back at the others still on the track.  I realize there is still time they can make it across.  I head out.  I fall in beside them, just moments after I thought I would have been hospitalized if my leg muscles had to move a millimeter more, I am now jogging beside them.  My lungs that felt as if they had collapsed, now regained the ability to expand enough to utter words of encouragement “Lengthen your stride.  Pick up the pace.  SSOOOO close.  Just a bit further.  You are almost there.  Come on, keep up with me.  You can’t let these other people pass you!”

My misery, which was personal, and at the time, the only misery occurring, is now projected onto the others.  They must feel the same as I just had.  They need to know they can do it too.  They cross the line.  Perhaps they never sped up at all, but they didn’t stop.  That is what mattered.  Maybe they made their time, or they didn’t.  But they didn’t give up.  They didn’t slow down or stop.  They pressed on.  If they can, I have no excuse to engulf myself in the self pity and body loathing felt during my run.  I’ll do better next time.  I have to make myself better to show them that they can too.  I will run when I can.  In my moment of inspired leadership, I believe it.  I believe I will be able to push myself faster and further on my own.  With that thought, the sore muscles, fatigue and sweat are worth it.

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