How I Became a Runner

Earlier this week, for the first time in 2014, I went running outside.  Fine.  It was the first time I went running at all in 2014.  I was cold, I didn’t make it very far, and I moved way too slowly.  Still, I am hopelessly addicted to running.  Well, I guess I’m not anymore; but I was last summer/fall/early winter till I gave up and ate a bunch of Christmas cookies, and I intend to be again shortly.

I have been a runner for a year.  I ran cross country in high school, entirely for the social aspects (read: it was how I made friends).  I slowed down (running pun!) for several years afterwards, most of college.  Then, on a cold, February afternoon I decided to sign up for the Chicago Marathon on a whim.  “I’m in decent shape” I reasoned as I bit through half a doughnut. “Even if I don’t train, I could still run 26 miles.  It would suck, but I could finish.”  I received confirmation for my entry and promptly forgot about it.  Eight months later, I crossed the finish line in Grant Park with a time I was proud of.  I am now certain that would not have happened without dedicated training throughout the summer and fall.  This is the story of how I began that training.

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I never get sick.  Ever.  Sure, I get a headache every once in a while, but it’s nothing a few aspirin can’t dispatch quickly.  You can imagine my surprise when one Sunday, I awoke from a lazy afternoon nap shivering, with a 104 degree fever.  I refused to admit that I could possibly be ill.  I crawled into a rather large pile of blankets to help break the alleged fever quickly, and settled in to watch an episode of The West Wing.  Eight episodes, three nurse hotline phone calls, and one Google search later revealed that the worst method for putting an end to a fever is to hunker down under the Mount Everest of assorted bedsheets, blankets, and pillows.  The revised plan included well . . . the opposite of everything I’d been doing.  For the record, to break a fever you’re supposed to wear loose clothing, and sit in front of a fan with a cool wash cloth on your forehead.  My fever was gone within the episode.  Unfortunately by this time my nose resembled Niagara falls, and despite my best efforts, several globs of nasal discharge still disappeared into the similarly colored cushions below.  (Don’t worry, that couch is gone now.  It has hopefully been burned.)  Additionally, my throat was in sore (hehe) need of some cough drops.

I sent texts to two out-of-town friends that were, at that very moment, driving from New York.  I suggested they find alternate lodging as my apartment looked like the set of Contagion.  But these are either very good friends, or very stupid ones.  At 10am the next morning, Tom and John knocked on my door.  “Welcome, make yourselves at home.  I’m going to get a strep test at CVS.  Feel free to eat anything, read anything, do the dishes, clean my room, et cetera.  But for the love of everything good and holy, do not sit on, touch, or even think about going near the couch that looks like it’s from the 80’s!  One strep test later, I stumbled back into my apartment and collapsed onto said 80’s couch.

I would like to take a brief moment to curse CVS Minute Clinic for taking advantage of feverish, delirious idiots who, despite the fact that they may have recently graduated from college, still don’t understand anything about insurance and that a reasonably priced strep test should not cost $175!

Several hours later, I woke up from another nap.  But despite the exhaustive regimen of pills the doctor prescribed, I still had a massive 104 degree fever.  This time, as I played the role of Job, I had friends to sit with me as I suffered watched Netflix.  Sadly, even the hilarity and drama of The West Wing, can grow dreary after twenty or more episodes.  Eventually conversation disintegrated into guess what the thermometer will read.  There, in the throes of misery, as I stared at a reading of 103.1°F; Tom saw fit to mention the incredibly interesting fact that prolonged fevers over 102 degrees can cause lasting brain damage.  Jerk.

The direct result of my burning, deranged brain was that, for the next few days, I missed the telltale signs that my car was rapidly falling apart.  I first noticed that my car was making horrendous scraping, grinding noises whenever I touched the breaks several days later.  I was relieved to discover that by simply turning up the radio this problem went away.  After several more days, the crunching noises reached the point that a trip to the auto-mechanics was inevitable.  That is how I found myself sitting on a stool with a picture of some famous Nascar driver in the front office of the local auto shop.  “Yes, I know the whole car makes an obnoxious clanging sound every time it moves . . . No, I’m not worried about that.  Yeah, I realize that just opening the door sounds like boiling a witch alive.  I don’t care about that either.  Really I just need to know if you got a chance to look at the breaks and how much they’ll cost.”  I finally gave in and accepted that in addition to new brakes and brake pads, I needed a (completely unrelated) new radiator.  Grumpily, I wondered how many additional months I would have to spend eating peanut butter and jelly in order to pay for the repairs.  I was driving away before he finished explaining why it would cost thirteen hundred dollars.

A phone call to a family friend/car wizard solved the issue.  He graciously promised to do it for six hundred bucks.  Sadly, he lived near my parents, 200 miles away in rural Wisconsin.  As fate would have it, the aforementioned parents were in town to visit me and celebrate Easter.  My ever obliging dad even volunteered to drive the car back, using the breaks as infrequently as possible.  My parents were kind enough to let me borrow their tire pump so I could inflate my bike tires, which had deflated over the winter.  It was bright pink, so I used it once and gave it back.

After an eventful Easter weekend, I settled in for a week of biking until I could take the train to Wisconsin and get my car back.  Come Monday morning, I ran through the halls wondering if it was unreasonable to believe I could bike the four miles to work in eighteen minutes.  I burst into the rarely used bike room, grabbed my bike, and was out the door without noticing that my front tire was less than enthusiastic about the upcoming trip.  I began to grow suspicious when the whole bike began protesting.  At first it was just grisly, creaking noises.  A short time later I saw bits of rubber marking the path that I’d just ridden.  Eventually I stopped, inspected the bike, and saw that my front tire was utterly devoid of air.

Okay, that is not entirely true.  Whatever air remained gusted in my face for a few seconds until the tire was just flabby rubber loosely clinging to a metal frame.  This tire was more flat than the Illinois suburbs through which I rode.  After a moment of consideration, I determined to press on.  What other choice did I have?  How much harm could three more miles on a flat tire really do?  Quite a lot as it turns out.

I’m sure you, dear reader, have never been dumb enough to ride anywhere on a flat tire.  I have.  I don’t recommend it.  The first mile was pretty rough.  By the end of the second I felt as if I’d already run a marathon.  At the end of the mile number three I seriously considered calling work, quitting, and passing out on the side of the road.  I pedaled on.  The fourth mile began with a car horn and an impatient scream “Good fuck, get a car!” and went downhill from there.  But only in the metaphysical sense.  Physically the final mile included the only geographical feature in the state of Illinois that remotely resembles a hill.  The appropriately named Summit St. contained quite a climb; but in a feat of unparalleled audacity, which I’m sure will be the subject of many future ballads and epic poems, I managed to conquer that hill.  After a triumphant roar at the peak, I received a bewildered, slightly concerned look from a postwoman.

As I rolled into work half an hour late, and was greeted by a coworker.  “Did you bike here?  I thought I saw you on my way here.  I honked and yelled ‘Good luck, It’s not far!'”  My manager quickly followed that up with her own comment.  “The kids you were scheduled to work with today didn’t show up.  You can go home.  You really didn’t even need to come in.”  Damn.

I decided to leave my bike at work.  It clearly wasn’t going to make the return journey.  The only option left was to run the four miles back to my apartment.  In jeans.  And so began my first run of the season which led to the completion of the Chicago Marathon and a personal dream.

Ukraine Explained, in Story

Our protagonist is a student named Ukraine, who is currently on the border (okay, bad pun) of being in with the cool group.  Some context:

Ukraine once had a good friend named Russia; awhile back they used to be extremely close.  Russia gave Ukraine many gifts, including a particularly impressive one called the Crimea; and Ukraine experienced separation anxiety whenever Russia was away for very long.  As they grew older, Ukraine made a few new friends.  One Saturday night, at a party, one of these new friends introduced Ukraine to a drug called democracy.

A brief interlude on drugs: kids, don’t do drugs.  They’re bad for you.  That said, democracy is widely considered to have decidedly beneficial side effects; for example, the ability to choose your own path in life without being executed.  There is, unfortunately, one extremely detrimental consequence of democracy.  The headaches.  Prolonged use of democracy usually results in a semi-permanent throbbing inside your skull.  The throbbing normally worsens during times of important decision making.  If you hear voices of dissent inside your head, don’t worry, that’s completely normal!  Also, every four years in the first week of November, your head may feel like it is going to explode.

So, Ukraine tried democracy once and was immediately addicted.  Ukraine’s life was completely revolutionized as everything quickly centered on how to obtain more democracy.  Russia quickly noticed the subsequent changes in Ukraine’s life and was not happy.  Sadly, there was a huge falling out; hurtful words said, names called, promises broken.  They spent much of the next few years apart and only spoke during polite, reserved conversations in the hallway.

Ukraine celebrated the initial severance with Russia the usual way: new friends, new hobbies, new party scene, and more democracy.  A few of Ukraine’s new friends were kind; they gave Ukraine gifts in the same way that Russia used to and began inviting Ukraine to their parties.  This new group of friends called themselves the Eu.  They were an eclectic mix and all of them were hooked on democracy too. The Eu was composed of a variety of people with wildly differing views.  This caused frequent arguments within the group, but such divisions were usually sorted out without too many problems.  (Though a long time ago there were two huge fights that resulted in a lot of violence; but that is not relevant to our story today.)

Unfortunately for Ukraine, the Eu was a clique.  Years passed, Ukraine’s relationships with almost everyone in the Eu deepened.  But, despite the fact that many members enjoyed spending time with Ukraine; the Eu as a whole wasn’t quite ready to make the commitment and invite Ukraine in.  They decided instead that Ukraine would need to undergo initiation and complete a series of tasks: buy new things, dress a different way, take certain classes, etc.  It was about this time, as Ukraine was considering the Eu’s offer, that Russia re-entered Ukraine’s life.  Russia had also tried democracy, and was fond of it, but used a diluted, less intense form.  Ukraine and Russia both realized they still had a lot in common and enjoyed one another’s company.  They grew close again and reignited the friendship they had before, though in an admittedly less intense form.

For the next few months, Ukraine waffled, and the headaches began.  Ukraine popped some ibuprofen, spent some time with the Eu, and some time with Russia.  This only exacerbated the headaches.  But because the Eu and Russia absolutely refused to spend time together, Ukraine could not wholly commit to one for fear of upsetting the other.  Still Ukraine vacillated.  The headaches grew unbearable.  Eventually, in what almost everyone agreed was a free and fair decision, Ukraine chose Russia (though the voices of dissent continued to ring inside Ukraine’s head, refusing to acknowledge defeat).

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This brings us to recent events.  A short time ago, the Eu, sensing that Ukraine might slip back firmly into Russia’s camp, offered Ukraine a deal.  Still not membership in their elite club, but a chance to move in that direction.  Ukraine initially declined, still siding with Russia.  This caused a new bout of headaches, and what could be described as a violent inner struggle.

A second interlude, this on Ukraine’s violent inner struggle.  One might say that the inner struggle Ukraine went through is similar to a group of protestors rioting in the town square after their government made a decision they didn’t like.  These protestors begin by complaining about a single decision they disagree with.  But these protestors stick around, they realize there are other things they don’t like about their government.  Some of them begin to advocate use of extreme violence.   The protests last for months.  Eventually, the government agrees to a truce and shows willingness to cooperate with the opposition to form a new government.  The rational part of the protest movement agrees and an interim government is formed until elections can take place.  The next day, the violence-advocating section of the movement believes the government to be too rational and takes action to bring about more violence.  The situation deteriorates into utter chaos as protestors charge administrative buildings and light everything they can find on fire.  Government employed snipers begin firing on the charging crowd (no one knows if they were ordered to, or if they just panicked).  The president, concerned for his personal safety flees the country.  The protestors storm government buildings and demand that congress approves the mob choice for president.  The new (still interim) president agrees with everything the protestors suggest and dramatically changes the direction of the country.  One might say that anyway.

So it was that Ukraine suddenly, violently changed paths.  Ukraine dramatically turned away from Russia and focused entirely on the Eu.  Upon learning this, Russia became very upset and decided to take action.  That is why, when Ukraine arrived home yesterday, Russia was standing in the living room rummaging through the cabinets:

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY HOUSE?!”  Ukraine demanded indignantly.

“You abandoned me in favor of the Eu.  I’m here looking for the Crimea, you know, the one that I gave you awhile back.”  Russia replied, attempting to sound reasonable.

“Fifty years ago?” Ukraine asked, aghast. “No.  I like the Crimea, I’m keeping it!”

“Just give it to me, don’t make me take it from you.  I’m bigger, stronger, and have few morals when it comes to taking things from other people.” Said Russia, fists raised.

“Over my dead body.”

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Well, that brings you up to speed regarding the situation in Ukraine.  If that story was at all confusing, it’s not my fault;  the evolving circumstances are literally unbelievable.  If you want the full story with its many intricacies, I would suggest the BBC.  While all media, western or otherwise, is very biased on this issue, the BBC seems to be the least so.  This will get you started.  You could also stay tuned for more updates here.  I will probably follow with some serous reflection on the crisis and journalistic integrity.  Still, writing this was a lot of fun, I may attempt it again!

The Commencement of this Blog

I am not entirely sure what I want this blog to be.  I haven’t put serious effort into blogging since Xanga was prosperous (that is, the pre-Facebook era); and I am certain that does not count as legitimate experience.  At the time I was a high school junior and assumed the world cared what I had to say.  Though apparently one part of it still does.  (Hi Mom!)  More to the point, my writing has undoubtedly progressed in the past ten years, and I would like to use this blog as an excuse to hone my writing style.  Theoretically, this means my writing will improve as time goes on; no promises though, you may be stuck reading cruddy, nonsensical blabbering for some time.

There are numerous reasons why I’m attempting to develop my writing.  Primary among them: I enjoy writing.  As eccentric as it may seem, I love a well crafted sentence that uses the perfect words to paint the picture of my thoughts.  I do realize that seems a little quirky.  Unfortunately, I haven’t written nearly as much as I wanted to since graduating from college a few years ago.  I won’t go into the other reasons now, I’m sure they’ll come up eventually.  In any case, it is my hope that this blog will be the catalyst for a resurgence in my writing.

I only have one main reservation with the idea of starting a blog.  I think a fairly successful argument could be made that blogging is a symptom of some of the narcissistic tendencies of our culture.  Like social media, blogging can lead to self-centeredness – intense focus on myself and my thoughts – at the expense of real conversation.  I realize this critique is not original, and I am by-no-means suggesting that all bloggers are vain and egocentric.  It is just a fear I face, as I begin blogging, that I could fall into the trap.

I am not a fan of long, drawn-out, posts.  I often have a difficult time reading through friends posts that are longer than a few hundred words, and those are even humorous!  So, for my own selfish reasons, and in the interest of anyone who has bothered to read this far; I will try to keep this, and (most) future posts, short and to the point.

Thanks for reading!
Eric