Running on Empty

I am not, by nature, a runner.  I know there are many people who claim to really enjoy running, but I suspect those people are masochists and liars.  They’ll claim running gives them the opportunity to ‘unwind’ and ‘get in touch with themselves’, whereas my experience has been that running gives me the opportunity to wheeze and gasp and ache, all while looking ridiculous in public.  I prefer to get in touch with myself on the couch – possibly with the help of my sea-faring pal, Captain Morgan.  I’m sure no one that’s ever seen me out jogging has thought to themselves, “Wow – that guy really looks ‘at peace.’”  In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say they’re probably thinking either, “Oh my God!  Should we stop and help him?!” or, “Lock the doors and look straight ahead so he doesn’t try to wash the windshield for money.”  This is why – in my opinion – there are only three valid reasons anyone should ever run:

  • You’re being chased (i.e. by a rotweiler, armed convict, or angry husband)
  • You’re playing a game (such as tennis, football, or the flaming-doggie-doo on the porch game)
  • You’re in dire need of a restroom (Number 1 only – Never run with a pressing number 2)

Number 3 becomes more relevant with each passing year, but I want to focus here on number 2.  I make pretty extensive use of that exception, because I feel like short bursts of running are more or less required for any competitive activity, and that if you’re not involved in some sort of competition at any given moment of your life, you’re really just wasting oxygen that the rest of us could be fighting over.lose friends

I have, at times, been accused of being a tiny bit over-competitive – this year alone I’ve been in two tennis leagues, two seasons of kickball, and played weekly Ultimate Frisbee games – but those accusations have mostly come from people that are losing, so I don’t put a lot of stock in them.  In addition to the competitive streak, I feel that – much like a Border Collie – I’m a lot happier and better behaved when I’ve been properly exercised.  So – for the sake of my marriage – I make the sacrifice to leave the house and play with my friends whenever I can, even when it means being gone for most of the day, just so I can be a better husband and father.  While she’s never said it out loud, I’m sure my wife appreciates this selfless act.

Generally my criteria for choosing sports are pretty broad; basically, if a given activity would send a 10-year-old screaming gleefully across the yard, it will have pretty much the same effect on me.  It probably has to do with the similarities in our diets.  However, running for the sake of running has always struck me as rather dull and awful, so when people have invited me to races – even as short as 5Ks – I would often less-than-politely decline.  Given my staunch adherence to this rule, I was as surprised as everyone else when, a few years back, I started signing up for obstacle races, the latest of which happened to take place last weekend at The Battlegrounds in Wright City, MO. battlegrounds

This is a great race that’s 5 miles long and has somewhere north of 30 obstacles to climb on, jump off, or swim through – however, it’s far greater in May when the water is not so cold as to prompt concerns over whether you’ll ever see certain thermally-responsive appendages again.  So on a crisp Saturday morning, I rolled myself out of bed, loaded up on raspberry frosted mini-wheats – in spite of the fact that, for some reason, be it greed or ineptitude, the stingy people at Kellogg’s still refuse to frost the other side* – choked down a five hour energy drink** – which a friend summed up best when he said, “It tastes like bile, but it works!” – buttered myself into a brand new pair of running tights, and set out to compete!  spaceballs

Let me pause at this point in the story to speak to all the males in the crowd…I know there are any number of embarrassing and emasculating things we’ll do for women, or glory, or glory from women, but if you, as a man, ever find yourself in a situation that requires you to wear tights in public for any reason – be it a running group, a production of Peter Pan, or perhaps a trapeze show – you should immediately find a way out of said situation by any means necessary, up to and including faking a major medical emergency.  Do whatever you must, and remember to choose a convincing lie you can remember, as in the following scenario:

Woman: “Alright Howard, here’s your costume!  The leggings may be a little tight, but I think that…”

Howard: “Call 911!  I am having a major medical emergency!”

Woman: “Howard, I think you’re fine.  Now look…”
^Howard throws himself down several flights of stairs^

I guarantee you that – assuming they are males themselves – the paramedics will understand, and probably give you extra morphine.  However if, like me, you are dead set on going through with the activity, then at least make sure the tights come off immediately thereafter.  You don’t want to be walking around in those goofy things for too long…that’s how rumors start.  not-that-theres-anything-wrong-with-that

So I lined up for the race – tights and all – mentally prepared to compete against the kind of masochistic loons that enjoyed running on a regular basis.  However it turns out that, for a group of people that I would categorize as “just this side of clinically insane”, runners are an exceptionally friendly lot.   A buddy of mine recently married an ultra-marathoner, which – for those of you who live in the mortal world and have never heard of such a thing – is a crazy person who runs races of up to 100 miles or more, and she’s the nicest girl you’ll ever meet, and very calm, due to her resting heart rate of approximately 7 beats per minute.   Also, every person I encountered during my run offered some sort of encouragement, be it a hearty “Good job,” “Keep it up,” or “You’ve got this.”  At least I think that’s what they were saying…it was hard to hear anything over the screaming in my lungs and the constant “thud-THUD” of my heart pounding in my ears.   So I was pleasantly surprised, and it turns out that runners are generally the kind of people you’d want to hang out and have a beer with – assuming you enjoy Michelob Ultra.  This is a relief, considering that’s exactly what I plan to do a couple of weeks from now in Cincinnati; because somehow – soaking wet and outfitted in glorified yoga pants – I managed to win my division and qualify for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships.   The staunch anti-runner in me is screaming that I’m an idiot, and will probably die, but the competitive Border Collie in me is counting the days.  Meanwhile, my wife has already started packing my bags – probably because she’s so proud…

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* All I’m saying is that, if they’re gonna sell those tiny hay bales for twice what Fruit Loops cost in a box that’s roughly one tenth the size, they could quit stiffing us on the sugar, am I right?

**This particular bottle was pomegranate flavored which I cannot, in good conscience, recommend except in the case of practical jokes, such as, “Ha ha, Steve – I secretly replaced your red Nyquil with Pomegranate-flavored 5 hour energy drink!  Enjoy your evening!”

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