By Means of the Sole

Last Sunday I had planned on finding a new trail to run in or around Houston, or maybe revisiting one if I had too. As I sat in my living room trying to figure out where to go, I felt unmotivated to drive far, and settled for running the gravel path around Memorial Park. I had run only five other miles in the week because of some funkiness in my knee, but with the issue under control, I wanted to at least get in another hour of running before the week expired. I made two decisions. I would settle for a relatively dull run around the park, but would treat myself to a trip out of town the next weekend for something different.

Fast-forward four days, and you’ve found me writing this from a coffee shop in Austin, Texas. I found a AirBnB in West Austin, taking out a room in a house full of dudes designing an app. I was really excited at the prospect of inserting myself in a “Silicon Valley” type situation, but alas, I have no high-stakes shenanigans to report (yet). What I do have to report is that I went on a delightful trail run not long after arriving, which I’ll report on a paragraph or two down.

On my drive from Houston to Austin, I picked up listening to “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. I started it last September, on my drive from Los Angeles to Houston. It’s a dark choice, but I saw a gorgeous and grotesque artist’s interpretation at the Chicago Art Institute last June and got inspired to read (listen to) Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel. ANYWHO, a character in the novel, Lord Henry, is dependable for accurate yet somewhat depressing descriptions of human behavior and beliefs, and he tells Gray at one point that the senses are a cure for the soul, and the soul a cure for the senses. I mulled this over, as I was driving to the Texas Hill Country to cure something that I was yearning for in my soul- a taste of adventure.

When things suck, for lack of a better word, when life just doesn’t feel right, I throw myself into something that will startle, refresh, or at least be distracting for, my senses. Watch something mindless, eat like its going out of style, or seek out some sort of companionship because being alone is just unbearable. Then there are more rare moments, where nothing is as interesting as what is going on internally, and I’m pushing away all the distractions at once, so I can figure out what is happening in the space between my ears. Unfortunately I think I live more in the former mode than the latter, and I think it would be nice to flip the situation. I’ll never figure the world out, but I think I have a fighting chance of nailing down what really makes me tick someday.

Trail Running often joins those two extremes. Outside, alone on the trails I experience life first hand.  The sensory experience of the world is limited to how I take it in, no memes or sitcoms to interpret human behavior for me. This is how I get closer to answering, “Who am I”? For the record, I still am not sure.

Today’s run was great. About a mile in, as I was mulling over life events and major decisions, I crossed paths with two people on a tandem mountain bike, and they warned me about a rattlesnake they had seen. I tried to be chill about it at first, but called out as they rode off, “ON THE TRAIL?”

“YES!” they shouted back.

Yikes. I came across a freakin’ alligator on a trail not too long ago, and that was startling, but this gave me the willies. The trail had a decent amount of overgrown single track, and I didn’t feel comfortable letting myself zone out with my thoughts for the rest of the run, so I didn’t. I paid heavy attention to every step, taking in as much detail of the ground as I could with each move forward. I never saw the snake, but for my efforts in avoiding it, I caught sight of a bunny that held still as long as I needed to snap a picture, and as I turned to resume the run, three deer bounded right in front of me! If I hadn’t been looking for the snake, I wouldn’t have seen the bunny, and if I hadn’t stopped for the bunny, I might have missed the deer.

I have two more days of running to do here, and I’m really looking forward to them. Whether I see something new or think something new, its all good. Lord Henry was right, sometimes we need to get away from all the input, and other times its great to get out of ourselves.

THE RUN:

Slaughter Creek Preserve Trail

 

 

 

Here Comes the Airplane Mode!

 

To bring or not to bring the phone on your run? One day, I wound up putting it on airplane mode a mile in because the damn thing would not stop buzzing. Texts & app notifications were zooming in one after the other, and after the 5th notification I started getting irritated, so I cut the line. Since that day, I have been putting it on airplane mode before I even start my run, or leaving it home completely when I’m just in my neighborhood.

My current goal is a sub 22 5k, and I’ve structured my fitness training to a few runs a week, so I need to focus on what I’m doing in them. On my current runs, I don’t want my attention to wander too far from my feet. I was recently videotaped running, and my form needs work. That requires concentration. I have a habit of letting my mind wander when workouts get tough, and as a side effect, I slow down. Again, my full attention is needed for the task at hand, which is bringing myself to the pace and form that I want to eventually stick. That’s what training is- it’s practicing until you don’t have to practice anymore. When you get to your goal, you can relax or set a new one. That being said, sometimes I’ll allow, maybe even encourage, my mind to wander while I run, to take a detour wherever it wants. This is usually a part of my trail runs, and honestly not a big part, because when I don’t pay attention, I fall. It happened just today, and I’ll write about it in another piece about my run in Huntsville State Park, TX.

Leaving my phone off or at home allows me the space to meditate, without distractions taking me places I don’t really need to go at the moment. I found I like leaving my phone off so much on my runs, that I’ve started deliberately turning it to airplane mode at home as well. So far there have been no emergencies that called for me to save the day, and I haven’t missed any opportunities from diverting digital signals away from me. I hit the plane, and think, “I’m good, you guys can go on without me, and I’ll catch up to you later”.

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Wouldn’t you want to give this your full attention, too?

 

Of course, I like to have my phone with me to take pictures for this blog and my Instagram account, but it has become a level of obnoxious to bring with me. I have tried various methods:

  • Belkin arm-band (from Target)
    • Pro: it’s a well-made brand that I’ve never had to replace for wear and tear, only phone models, for years
    • Con: the size of my iPhone 7 against the relative thinness of the arm band feels uncomfortable- think “floppy”
  • Nathan water bottle (REI)
    • Pro: I love this product as a water vestibule, but…
    • Con: the phone barely fits, really have to wrestle it in.
  • expandable-mesh waist pouches
    • Con: they don’t rank high for comfort for me, and they can move around a lot.

 

So my question for anyone reading this is- Being that I still like to have my phone on me for emergencies, does anyone know of arm-band that fits iPhone 7 and sits securely on runs? Or is there some other type of phone carrying device I haven’t thought of or mentioned above? Thanks and

Running away from Nihilism

I spent considerable brain power last year trying to find “THE MEANING OF LIFE”. Lofty, I know. I found no universal answer to share here, but I found an answer for myself, and thus emerged from a quarter life crisis which had stagnated my whole being in apathy for quite some time. At the end of the summer I read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. An insightful friend recommended I look into it after listening to me describe some of the things about life that left me feeling uninvolved with it, to put it mildly. A more descriptive account is that I was terrified that nothing meant anything, and it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, because the world would be the same regardless. I was accepting of being insignificant, but that acceptance became a larger belief that probably nothing else mattered either. Life would simply progress until it burned itself out, for me and for the rest of us.

 

As for the book, Frankl was a psychotherapist, and his book covers two main subjects- his experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, and the mode of therapy he subsequently developed upon his release, that sought to help patients find meaning in their lives. One poignant thing he points out about living in the camp is that it was evident when a fellow gave up trying to survive, and that the people who did make it typically had something to live for, to keep them interested in their own survival. That spoke to me- I wasn’t feeling meaning myself, purpose is another word that works, and I wasn’t super thrilled about spending more time living with the feeling I described above. So I realized that I had this problem, too, that I had lost a sense of purpose in my life and maybe finding one would pull me out of my angst and despondency.

 

I thought for a while that my ego was the problem, because maybe I was craving attention or recognition, some outward indication about the significance of my existence as I was not finding validation internally. However, my behaviors did not signal attention-seeking behavior. In the same span of time that I was pondering and self searching while trying to come up with a new life plan, I was deleting my Facebook account, posting less and less on Instagram, and letting the blog go. When I did post I’d leave off the slew of hashtags that used to accompany every picture. I didn’t care about the quantity of likes I received. I was beyond caring if people “liked” my life, because I certainly didn’t. The only approval I was looking for was self-approval. For my life, it is at least a boon to discover that I have finally shed the restriction of peer approval when it comes to my choosing my actions and behavior. I’m not looking to go full-tilt sociopath and turn away from all social signaling, but I can live a little more authentically because in most cases, my opinion is the one that is going to drive me.

 

So, looking for clues to what gives me a feeling of purpose, I examined some aspects of my life, including my hobbies and interests, my career past and present (right now I’m studying to be a personal trainer), how I spend my free time, and how I participate in relationships- family, friends, and romantic. I decided to put a particular focus on my running life, because it is such a big part of who I am and what I do, and of all the parts of my life, that held the most information over the longest period of time. When you land on the handle “shestherun” for social media, you might find yourself asking what else you are.

 

Even before reading Frankl’s book I had a sense that running made my life feel more substantial. I felt it before I ran, as in a general push from the universe to do it, while I was running, like I was exactly where I should be, and after the fact, as I looked to see where I had made progress and where I needed work. I didn’t know if running actually made me feel purposeful, but the fact that I kept at it and would come back to it after many set backs seemed significant. It showed I did have perseverance, even in the face of hardship or difficulty. What I found was just acknowledging that characteristic of perseverance, could energize me into creating a life more meaningful as a whole.

 

I think by now most of us recognize, either thorough experience or through some saccharine quote that makes its way onto our Facebook feeds, that the process of working towards a goal is rewarding in itself. I’ve experienced this in my running life, and not always because of some obvious accomplishments, as in finishing a marathon or placing in a race. Sometimes just showing up for a workout when I know I was on the verge of bailing makes me feel like a pretty super human being. The opportunity and ability to experience progress is what makes running so fulfilling to me, and I can absolutely apply that concept to other areas of my life to create more meaning.

 

What I took from realizing this is that there if I want to progress, I have to do the progressing. I think since running came so easily to me, I didn’t concern myself with much else. As I plateaued in athletic ability, and didn’t add some variety to the mix, either in the form of new challenges or new activities altogether, I became bored. Boredom turned into apathy, and apathy turned into depression. I DO NOT want to go back there. I also don’t want to pursue goals just because they make someone else’s life more exciting. I haven’t found that to be very fruitful. For example, I used to think I’d like to be a good cook, and now I realize that I am perfectly happy making simple meals for myself, and leaving the gourmet cooking to someone more passionate about it. I do want to write, not just this blog, but literature as well, but by the end of the 2016 I couldn’t bring myself to sit and do it for five minutes because of that “pointless” feeling. But the pointless feeling disappears when the goal becomes to challenge myself. If I say the goal is to get published, and I’m not even sitting down to make an outline, then progress in that scenario would be to sit and write for a period of time daily. I don’t know if anyone can identify with this, but I now believe what I thought was apathy was actually fear, that since other things weren’t coming to me as easily as running was, I wasn’t supposed to be doing them. If I tried, and failed, then I’d really be in a lurch because that fear would be founded, I would be as one-dimensional as I previously believed.

 

Running had such a central position in my life, which did serve a purpose and still does. When everything else seemed to be going awry, if it was going anywhere, here was this one thing, that no matter how difficult or arduous, that always revealed a reason why I had picked up my feet in the first place. Nothing else made sense, but running gave me the opportunity to experience progress, even when it was just in circles around the track. So now the challenge to myself in 2017 is to keep that idea of progress in mind, to find new ways to add layers to my life, because the meaning I was looking for seems to be just to create a better version of myself.