Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Flying Pig Has Flown

Yep....that's me in the yellow shirt, somewhere between mile 0 and 13.1.

Six months ago, on a whim, I decided to do something that radically altered my life for the better; I decided to run the Flying Pig Half Marathon with Jason. At the end of November in 2007, it was quite hard to know whether we could stick to such a thing. I'd never run a marathon, much less any kind of race since 8th grade track. I never would have considered myself a "runner" nor have I at any time in my life. I had tried running back in my last pastorate, but that was for only a few miles at a time, a few times a week and for only a few weeks it seemed.

About two years ago, I had tried running with Spen around what would later become my 2.1 mile loop (I can still remember the thought of how daunting even that distance seemed late last year). On mine and Spen's run, I nearly collapsed from fatigue and nutty pains radiating up my right leg. I couldn't even muster one mile without stopping. In fact, Jason, my future running partner, caught me as I was hunched over in pain. Spen had long left me as he was having no such difficulty. That was my ticket to not even think about running again. Ever. Never mind that I didn't hate running, I just wasn't liking how this had turned out. The thought of doing this again was resolutely expelled from my mind.

Now I can't forget how bewilderingly joyous and high I'd felt after deciding on that cold December night in 2007 to go ahead and run that 2.1 miler in which I'd so miserably failed. I couldn't get past the image of my sad sack of bones hunkered over in pain. But with each step, that haunting memory faded and finally, into oblivion, when I burst through the front door that night, feeling that runner's high and greeted Vega and Cathy with a barely containable elation. I wasn't going to look back.

Our plan was to try and run in December and January and then, by January 30th, the first registration cutoff for the Flying Pig, decide whether or not we were going to do the marathon. I knew in early December after that 2.1 run that I was sold on it. So, I read all the magazines, books and online material I could and Jason and I came up with a graded running plan. We just had to get our bodies used to running and our goal became to train without getting hurt and realize that the real winning mark was making it to the starting line some six months later. I began to alter my eating habits and began dropping weight as my miles increased. I got all the reasonable gadgets I could get to help me keep track of my training and I kept a dedicated training log online so I could monitor my body and my training habits. I began to be able to monitor my heart and keep up with how my body was doing on my runs over time. That intimacy with my body was a new thing for me. Learning how to listen to my aches and pains and knowing how to take care of it across the board was eye-opening. To date, I have been rewarded with a greater overall health and well-being and a loss of 26 pounds of weight that I didn't need.

I am truly not the same person now as I was 6 months ago. I was becoming mildly sedentary, but not completely out of shape. But it wouldn't have taken long to get there. I still relish those cold, 11-degree nights running alone on the roads under the crystal clear night sky and a full moon lighting my way. Not once in all those runs did I ever feel cold. It was hard to see as often as the ice would coalesce on my lashes, but cold, I was not. There was, too, an intense communion with God, myself and the spaces in between my thoughts and my music. There is a joy in just being and just putting one monotonous step in front of the other. And there is a subtle discipline therein that runners know, not to mention numerous life-analogies that can be extrapolated from this whole experience.

For me, my training is divided by Vega's passing back in February. Somehow, in some semi-subconscious way, the training and the race became a last, major connection I had left to Vega, if for no other simple reason than the fact that I had begun this endeavor when she was still alive. It was just an easy emotional conduit for my longing for continuity with her. Training for this particular race was implicitly a connection to her....I could bear my own
body's pain, fatigue and exhaustion when I compared it to what she must have felt as she laid her head on my lap one last time as her body succumbed to the euthanatic drugs coursing through her veins. I'll always know it was the right thing to do with her but it's hard to divide myself from the guilt I feel over seeing my signature on the release form authorizing the administration of the act. Some days I simply ran to escape that memory. You see I've never had a heart to kill anything. Ask anyone who knows me. Just tonight, I stopped my cleaning duties at the church to secure a cup and napkin to contain the giant wolf spider that was loose in the fellowship hall. That's what I's what I've always done. I've never hesitated to go out of my way for some creature, gangly, spindly, hairy, bipedal.....whatever. I just feel the joy of life coursing purposefully enough through my own veins that it offers me an empathic insight into the "other" and their desire to have/need life.

Curiously enough, all those raw places came welling back up as the Finish Line came into sight. First, I saw Cathy and Andrea's Tennessee flag waving high (so's we could see them along the course). Crossing it meant crossing another place in how I am to maneuver through Vega's death, especially as it has called up some other painful emotional memories that I am only beginning to connect with.

That finish line was an accomplishment for Jason and I. It accomplished a shared goal that we did together. We struggled through quite a bit to get there. And the way we got there is not to be traded for anything. As usual, I had to hit the restroom at about mile 4. Jason didn't have to, but he waited with me. He didn't have to take the hit on his own personal time record in his first half marathon, but he waited with me and for me, just like he was with me and for me all during our training. You may think I'm reading too much into a piss, but, under the circumstances, that is a monument to our friendship that I shall lean to for all time. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of life that happened leading up to the 2 hours and 25 minutes it took my lumbering butt across the Finish Swine. And there is much, much more ahead.