Thursday, February 16
Frank Shorter regularly ran 120-140 miles per week, once topping out above 160; some of the top ultra runners will top out near 200 miles in a week. That's not me. But when a friend asks what I've been doing lately, the answer's pretty simple: running. Running and eating and sleeping and working and sleeping and eating and running, I tell him. Beyond that the details grow fuzzy: all the days and weeks run into each other, and I'm just not very good at keeping them straight, honestly.
These days slide between the spaces, the distance between awake and dreaming so often indistinguishable. There's fatigue, and there's bone tired, and then there's going until there isn't any more get to go, well past where the reserves say gone. I'm well past gone already this week, almost definitely, lost as I am in the fatigue of these hours, but I haven't fallen off completely yet, not quite, not entirely.
We wake at four twice a week, she and I, sometimes intending even for more miles than that, but mornings come early, and dark, and the waking is hard when the slumber seems so short. Bedtimes of nine (or eight even, as we crave seven), and still we're tired; I've each day a thermos of coffee and a mug or two beside, and still struggle through the afternoons. Monday we hadn't the reach, the requisite oomph, the urge; the alarm went; we snoozed on, beat. We're trying, anyways. I know this, besides: we are most ourselves in our shortcomings, and waking's never - by any definition of the word - been my particular gift. I dream best in shadows, perhaps, cowed by where I've fallen short.
To the shadows I've returned this evening, awake as I am in the space that should well be sleep. There's adrenaline coursing the raceways of these tired veins, though, enough to overpower the fatigue, at least for the moment, and so, beat as I am, battered as these weeks' miles leave me, more yet do I find myself knocked wide awake. Calves screaming and knotted, the rest of me near as much a mess, I work my way through Raymond Carver shorts. I'd forgotten the wounded simplicity of his stories, and so straightforward are they that even as I'm reading my mind's elsewhere, making lyrical, thinking in pictures and phrases and the passage of time. I'm remembering a man who might himself have been a Carver character once, lines he spoke as equally irreverent and holy as "his hair was like Montana." The simplicity with which he spoke such phrases, the cadence, no different than if he'd said "I like butter on my toast." Such was his speech: straightforward and addled by poetry and riddle, alit with images of the runaway plains. His mind was fractured, broken, and his life, as he told it, was worse - but the way he spoke was beautiful.
I don't know what causes me to remember such things. That was years ago now, in a West Glacier hostel with a small yard and a barking dog and a lopsided tire swing. The cabin open for lodgers abutted a Mexican place that was open late and served cold Coronas and outside of that didn't have much going for it. I don't know why I remember this. The fatigue I feel in my bones, the warm worn-down feeling of heavy mileage, has awakened the fatigue of bike miles, maybe. That's just theory, though.
What I do know is how this fatigue is a peculiar pensive; bike miles, old training sessions, forgotten races, nearly forgotten trails, tired memories and hurts long ago scarred over: these are the things bubbling up and over and through the surface of the moment. Faded, worn lives of the past - made present.
This fatigue's turned over through accomplishment and into something resembling fire, and every synapse's jaded edge; open, exposed nerves trill deliciously, equal parts in the past as in the present. I shift my weight in bed, and every memory is more deftly bladed for the discomfort it causes; I wade through time and distortion and all these currents - to and fro; swaying, shifting; pushing, pulling; ebbing, building - are the very pulse, guardian timekeepers of inflammation and distillation alike. She's a music of her own, memory. A sea of fatigue. Swimming, I am, towards sleep or back in time or through haze or until I cannot any longer see even a speck of land through the snow that flecks softly in these cold, quiet waters...
Sometimes the miles feel like drowning, the fatigue a warm vice. These ankles crack and grind and roll with the treasures of snow and ice and muddy, gritty trail; these hips pop with each awkward stride; these knees jar as I twist to answer a student's question; these shoulders groan as I slide into my bag and astride the saddle. I am broken, and I am full, and I am overflowing with the satisfaction of floating through a world where the days are not so unlike the dreaming.
A wave of calm's come now; I ride it into placid satisfaction. Long enough it's been since the most recent round of trauma that the adrenaline now eases; long enough has it been since the last big run that my stomach's now settling; long enough has it been now since the last night of truly good sleep that the fatigue is full and round and soft and overpowering, a pregnant belly in the night. I'm floating in it. Brilliant is the moment, the sun, the satisfaction of another day's training vanquished...
It'll all start anew tomorrow, anyways.
Wednesday, February 1
Amidst all the busy, a day of hooky I gifted myself. From responsibility I for one day fled; luxuriant with quiet and rest it was. Oh, to remember: miles will come, once last week's soreness fades; for just one day, students' problems need not also be mine; momentarily I can put aside the likelihood of our program this year failing. Failing is for me nothing new, of course - this is what education and non-profits do best, after all - but somehow this place feels more necessary that most of the others. We're addressing a need otherwise not discussed. Or so I tell myself, running late in a sleepless night - such is the shortcoming of memory, such is the spectre of the seemingly-near future.
About those miles: tucked in among the other runs have we found these twice weekly four a.m. jaunts. At such an hour, the night is still dark, morning still a thought long yet from the horizon. In the cold, our legs turn over under the stars and in the heavy silence there is not much else - and that is altogether perfect. Winter's comforting, these miles, and the ice familiar, the apathy shown our ankles somehow a tenderness against the day yet hours ahead. I think what I love most about these mornings is how easily I in them forget the task ahead, the task of each day trying to build velcro brains where previously there'd been only loss. I think she loves these mornings best because it's when we're most alike while also most different - but then if I've learned anything at all, it's that I know her least where I think I'm uncovering the most.
Most evenings I now expect texts from students, asking for help; some evenings I also get full papers, some so rough as to defy description as drafts. A finalized essay due the next day, most often, and this one, this most recent plea for editing help? There was laughing, definitely, and maybe a bit of exasperated crying, and in hindsight, I might have - probably should have - reported her to CPS. But she loves her kid and understands classical conditioning, that much was clear, and so what if she can't write? Maybe sometimes love and effort ought to be enough. That's all she has to give, really, all any of them have to give, it seems - love and effort and doubts and fears. I try altogether too hard not to think about how many of them are about to fail out of college, and fail at that equally as often. I hope to forget that any one of their shortcomings could be the failure that kills our program's funding, leaves us short of the conditions of our grant. Cynicism comes easy, and hope with great difficulty, when numbers seem to count for more than lives - but I'm running more, and on steadily more treacherous trails, so I suppose there's at least that.
Still, I can't help but fear. For the program, sure, but especially for so many of the students. Also, there's this: fear of the dark, fear of my imagination, fear of the unknown, fear of success. The other night, running back down a dark canyon after nabbing a few peaks (sunset and early dusk, snow and ice and slush and so much vertical, the fatigue delicious), I mistook the grumbling of an empty stomach for a cougar's low growl. If I could say misidentifying hunger as fear was something new... but, well. We both know better, don't we?
I've a question from months ago on my mind, it this whole while waiting, even as I perpetually ignored it. What fears drive and shape you?, he so earnestly asked, and my immediate answer then - only everything - seemed both too glib and simple (even if true) to offer as a response. Which, I suppose, is really only another way of saying I still haven't found the answer he - or maybe, for that matter, I - desire.
So I run, as the stars shine and the cold breeze blows and the mornings and evenings and miles keep piling up. We're halfway through another quarter, and the successes and failures tally on their respective ledgers. We're making a difference, or maybe we're not, but either way, tomorrow it'll be as if today never happened. Which, I suppose, is rather nice - even as it's another thing to fear.