My Sunday slow and steady 18-mile run left me motionless for a couple hours and could not get up out of my favorite chair except to hobble to the bathroom when necessary, so this episode is a little overdue. But a great run just the same…well, except for the last mile when I suddenly turned 80 and could barely lift my toes above the road to scrape my soles forward. Absolutely exhausted during this run, as I failed to monitor what I had eaten for the days leading up to this run, and of course, missed the mid-week runs thinking I would be fine. My legs did NOT agree.
A hint of this run came with the first half mile as my ankles popped, knees groaned, and quads burned a wee bit. Slowing down in pace, I let my legs adjust to what my mind knew was going to be a definite challenge. Turns out, my mind and I would have a constant battle from mile 14 and on, just to continue. Somehow, I had to send my mind elsewhere throughout the run, to think about anything but the numbness, the aches, and the pain. For these types of runs, where the latter half appears as a significant wall I have to slowly chisel my way through, I have ways to trick my mind into thinking the rest of my body is happy as a monkey slinging poop against the walls.
Mile 1-3 typically involve me searching for my groove, either speeding up or slowing the pace to adjust as necessary and find a level of breathing that is comfortable enough for me to think about other things. This point is usually at 3-miles and today was no different. At mile 3, I found my groove and enjoyed the beautiful weather that accompanies the slow changing of the seasons—clear sunny skies and cool, crisp, temperatures with a slight breeze—primo running conditions. Well, except for the chestnuts and acorns I have to look out for lest I turn over an ankle. Been there. Done that. Not pleasant.
Once in the groove, my mind scatters into all directions, certain things I see propelling my thoughts to memories and future possibilities. This is when the portion of my brain seems to splay itself open, revealing things that I cherish as my creative genes are unleashed and find sources for stories and characters.
Sure enough, during mile 4, I slowed my pace just a little to watch a woman slowly chase her diapered son across the lawn. Clearly, the boys legs were still new to this process as he teetered on first one foot, and then the next, arms to his sides trying to maintain his balance—and giggling, the sound alone bringing a smile to my face and tears to my eyes—literally. This one scene triggered so many memories of my own son at this age and gave me a moment to reflect on great times and sad times.
As most of you may know, I am a retired Air Force veteran, serving 22 years (12 as an enlisted man, 10 as an officer) before being medically retired due to my brain issues (97% closed Middle Cerebral Artery). During my first 12 years as a boom operator (inflight refueling—YouTube it—best job I will ever have) aboard the KC-135 (just shy of 4,000 hours in this airframe). Unfortunately this job was a blessing and a curse as, for during those very formative years of my son’s life (he will be 21 in January), I was frequently gone, traveling the world—I have literally flown completely around the globe, seeing places I may never see again (almost all 50 states, Guam, Philipines, Japan, Korea, Poland, Italy, England, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, Wake Island, Purto Rico, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Diego Garcia, Spain, Mexico, Jordan, and probably a host of other places I can barely remember).
These journeys made me love and appreciate my country more than ever, a place I would protect with my life if required. And do it all over again.
I once saw a very young boy, on what we would normally consider a school night, sleeping against an alley wall in Turkey, a box of trinkets for sale on his lap and sound asleep, head resting against the wall, mouth hanging open…at midnight. This had a profound effect on me as I thought about my own son at home who would never have to do this to bring food to the table. I have never forgotten this.
I still remember the sound of my son’s own diaper made when he heard the infamous “Beavis and Butthead” laughter coming from the television then walking/hobbling quickly to the screen—bottle hanging from his mouth by teeth clenched around the nipple with an accompanying mischievous grin— mimicking this laugh as best he could. These memories literally brought tears to my eyes as I ran ( just like now as I write this) as I realized just how much my son missed out on and the sacrifices he made without even knowing it as a military dependent child without a dad that simply wasn’t there much of this time.
We never really got as close as I wanted due to my consistent absence...I had only one chance to do it right (only child), and may have failed in a few things. He also sacrificed a lot in the hours I have spent in my room, locked away and writing, following a dream…a passion. I do hope he knows how much I love him and that I would change a few things if I could just invent a fucking time machine. He is and will always be my greatest creation! Some of these feelings were captured in a short story that is going to appear in the forthcoming second Anthology of Anthocon, “Inner Demons Out,” being released in November at the Anthocon, 2013 convention in Portsmouth, NH. I will be reading this story, titled “My Aching Black Heart,” at some point for those of you nearby that may want to stop in and ummm…party?
Miles 3-8 were spent in a comfortable bliss and at mile 9, I passed the newest cemetery in our town and of course, had to go through it again. I immediately noticed the new rows of blooming flowers decorating the entire cemetery. So great seeing the resting place of many future souls getting so much attention, but still wish the older cemeteries would receive the same attention. Another beautiful site was the gleaming headstone of a Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Paxon, resting smack dab in the middle of two rows of flowers with not another stone around. As though this individual were having a private picnic on a luxurious lawn and enjoying a glass of red wine. Hope my resting place is just as nice.
Miles 8-14 were uneventful and just had me enjoying the sights and sounds and smells and looking at every plant and tree to come up with a concoction that will have a place in a story of mine. Bwahahahahaaa.
Things changed at mile 14 when my mind and body were having one hell of a fight as to which received my total attention. This is when my knees started to throb just a little, hot spots started to form on the bottoms of my toes (arthritis also kicking in on my right big toe), something in my groin starting to grind together, and a small hill made my quads burn. Everything below my waste wanted me to stop, stop, stop….just as in a marathon, the same thing appears somewhere between miles 20-23—when the marathon REALLY starts. A wall that requires more chiseling with some mind tricks I have.
Amazing what the mind can do, really—half of the game in long-distance running. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t, so you need a bag full of tricks just in case. Some will always remain private, but I will be the first to admit that I sometimes choose the nice pair of shorts and accompanying sexy legs of a woman in front of me to keep the feet churning—hey, it works! But today I used one that never fails: a dedication. I dedicated this one to the troops…in particular, to a crew of three that recently sacrificed their lives in Kyrgyzstan a few months ago on takeoff in the same plane I used to fly on.
Some of you may have seen this on the news, but I fear much of this story went under the media’s rug as their preference is much more horrific than anything I could write. Random events more important than the lives of Americans protecting their country. Sad … but true.
To Tech. Sgt. Herman Mackey III, 30, from Bakersfield, California (Boom Operator); Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27 from Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Capt. Mark Tyler Voss, 27, from Boerne, Texas (Pilots), this run and the Wineglass Marathon I will complete on October 6th in Corning, NY is dedicated to YOU! Thank you for your service, your sacrifice to our country, and to your families who supported you wholeheartedly in your efforts to protect the rest of us here, safe at home. I will be wearing a tribute shirt for Shell 77 (Their call sign that dreadful day) on the day of the marathon. And I will finish…there is no other choice.
So, many you know I love running, and I have many reasons for this: my creative exploration, my health, the fresh air, the exercise, the challenge, etc.. But probably, the most important reason, is to fight a demon with serrated teeth on some days, chewing just below the surface; and on other days, plunging with the longest, sharpest incisors, cutting quickly and deeply.
While my neurosurgeon, friends, and families alike warn me that running might, in fact, kill me should I become extremely dehydrated (like during a marathon), resulting in a complete stroke, I still choose to run. As safely as I can—kind of like skydiving (which I also used to love to do). While I really do appreciate the concern of everyone that also realize the risk and worry about me, I still run … and here’s why:
This is the first time I have openly spoken about this, but it will help me deal with this angry demon and maybe help a few others on the way that have the same demon existing right next to them as well.
Like so many others out there, for years I have battled the ugly, hellish demon of Depression, went years undiagnosed (partly due to my denial and worry how it would affect my military career). But, finally receiving the diagnosis and medication I need for anxiety/depression, I am much better. But the meds don’t always work. Sometimes, that demon bares its teeth and creates ugly, nasty thoughts that quickly lead me down a dark and dismal path.
I wear my emotions on my sleeve and sometimes even have to leave a room to compose myself if something strikes me emotionally, or sometimes, just let the tears fall where I sit, not giving two-shits who’s watching. It comes that quickly…even the smallest of things can trigger this. And it hurts. A lot. Sometimes to the point that I want to venture into a dark forest and not come through the other side.
So I run. As much as I can, knowing that depression will kill me long before my brain will cease its critical functioning. Given a choice of letting the demon consume me as I sit idly by drinking or smoking my life away; or running, creating endorphins I need much like an addict needs a fix, I will run. And run some more. It makes me feel good, makes me feel alive, and more importantly, KEEPS me alive.
There you have it folks, an open glimpse of me, flesh splayed open and revealing muscle and sinew. I do NOT seek sympathy in any way, shape, or form…nor do I want it. This is simply my way of battling a demon that will always exist. Thank you all for listening (if you’ve read this far) and thank you for being an impromptu therapist with a single click of the LIKE button.
Until next time…and there will always be a next time, because I really do love running. Running is the only way I have to keep this beast at bay.
I will NOT let it devour me.
And I will NOT change a lifestyle due to some physical limitation.
I WILL RUN!
I simply have no choice.