I have never really been a 5km racer. Even though track and field athletes consider it “long distance” it’s not what I think of when I think of an endurance event. And thinking of myself as a “recreational endurance athlete” has become a somewhat important part of my identity in sobriety. I can do hard things that were once completely beyond me. I can go run for 2, 3, 4, 5 hours at a time. Hopefully, by the fall, I will be able to complete a 70.3 mile long triathlon.
But 5km is a long way to run any way you slice it. 3.1 miles is no little walk in the park. It’s a real distance. It’s to work and back and then some for me. When I’m doing training runs, it takes me around half an hour. Running for 30 minutes is a long time. Even for someone who has run for five hours. A half-an-hour run is a long run. It definitely counts. 5km is an accomplishment.
So BB and I went out to a 5km race about 30 miles into the suburbs of ECC, at a nice highschool in a pretty little town. The course was a very-slightly-more than one-mile loop. According to my GPS watch it was a tiny bit short. Maybe 140 yards. But maybe not. GPS is always a bit off from device to device, and if mine shaved corners or the person laying out the course didn’t run tangents very well, then it could be a legit distance.
It was a serpentine course around the various buildings of the high school, and had a little hill on the back side for about 36 feet of elevation gain. Doing it three times meant the overall hill height was a bit over 100 feet. I went out fast, ran hard, and finished the first mile in 7:36. That is pretty close to the fastest mile I’ve ever run. Back when I used my phone for GPS, it thinks I ran a 7:26 once. But it reads long.
I had to slow some for the next two miles, because I’m not in good enough shape to hold up that pace for three straight. I dropped back to 8:10 for the second mile and 8:06 for the third. My heart rate jumped all the way to 192 by the end of the race, which is about 14 bpm higher than the doctors say is my “maximum”. So I was working really hard.
But I crossed the line in what the timing chip said was 23:59! Even if the course was 140 yards short, that would put me at 24:37 or so which would still be a PR (my old PR was 24:39).
I can’t begin to relate my disbelief that I can run five kilometers in 24 minutes. That’s so far from anything I could fathom only a few years ago that it still doesn’t make any real sense. But I can still be humble: there was a 9yo girl running the race whom I beat by only about 45 seconds. BB had a great race too, finishing in about 25:21. It was, all around, a great morning. And I’m grateful I can do this, I have a partner to do it with, and a life where I’ve learned to value healthy things.
This weekend BB and I are running in a random 5K race. For my readers who aren’t runners, that’s a 3.1 mile road race. The weather in ECC is unseasonably warm, but not hot (it’s expected to be in the low 60s this weekend for the highs) and the race-time temperature should be in the mid 40s. Perfect speed weather.
I don’t know anything about the organization putting it on. It’s held at a high school about an hour away. I haven’t run a 5K since November of 2014. So it should be fun to strap on those legs for a try again. My personal record at this distance is 24:39, which I don’t expect to touch Sunday. If I do anything like sub-27 it’ll be a great run.
But I also have a 45 minute run today, and a 10-12 mile run tomorrow. So the race will be after two days of hard workouts. Therefore, I’m not really setting any important expectations. Basically it’s a chance to get up early on a Sunday, drive out to the far distant suburbs, and run like hell for a few minutes and then get pancakes.
I like that I can do those things today, as I start my tenth year of sobriety.
Anyone who’s been here a while has read my story over and over. I don’t need to tell it again today. It’s funny how the details fade and fade and then erupt into shame in my mind suddenly, unbidden. Embarrassment I’ll never be rid of. But perhaps one vignette I’ve never shared before:
Once I was out with my ex-wife and friends at a bar and there was a live band one of her friends knew. During a break I met them and then they asked me if I wanted to sit in on the keyboard. I accepted. Even though I’ve never played in groups, and don’t know how to do it. I must have been awful, because someone sneaked in behind me and unplugged the keyboard. I continued banging away.
Alcohol humiliates us. I am immune from shame when I drink, only to find myself pointedly susceptible to it when I sober up. It sticks to me like a tar – uncleansable. One of the promises is that we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it. I am challenged by that one when I think of the times I made such a fool of myself.
But perhaps even those experiences can be useful to others. That’s my role in sobriety now. That’s the role I’ve tried to take for myself in life. I want to be useful to others. I can help people relinquish alcohol and drugs. I can volunteer and donate. I can work for an institution with a noble mission. Perhaps I can atone, slowly, for my catalog of misdeeds.
Being sober is a good life. I’m hopeful I can be of service in helping others achieve it. I hope people can see the changes in my life. I hope others out there struggling can recognize in my story that there’s hope for them. There is life and love and health and freedoms all to be had. For anyone. No matter what your situation is: if you drink too much, and need to change, you can.
Nine years. Nine years of putting my head down sober. Nine years of waking up clear-headed, unafraid of what I might have done the night before I can’t recall. Nine years of living, instead of dying. With love and loss and fear and deaths and joys and all those other things that happen in our lives. Experienced in unaltered reality.
This is how I live. I have a good life. And I even if I cannot unburden myself of all my past shame, at least, today, I do not add to it. And now, after a smile and a tear, today goes on like any other. I don’t think I’ll drink today. Tomorrow looks pretty good. And for now, Saturday will have to take care of itself. One day at a time.
Hi. I’m going to highlight some small charities doing good work in local environments. If you know of one in your area that accepts online donations, let me know about it. No rules for what they do except: they must be committed to improving social justice and communities in their own areas. I’ll post about my favorites. So: health clinics, shelters, community gardens, recovery organizations, you name it.
Today: Puentes de Salud, a charity in Philadelphia that provides health, wellness, art, and social support to Latino immigrants. Supporting immigrant communities will be more crucial than ever in the coming times. This organization provides much-needed support to a marginalized population that deserves better. If you can donate (and I donate $100 to every single charity I promote here), please do so here: DONATE.
Yesterday I did a good hard workout that I hadn’t done before. I’m relatively new to running workouts – as opposed to just going for a run – because I never had a coach. The closest thing to a “workout” I did was the tempo run. Which really just means, push a little harder for a run. But I didn’t do anything really considered speed work, like intervals.
For the past month and a half I’ve been working with a coach and she’s been planning speed work drills that challenge me to go faster than I would ever go on a tempo run, but for shorter amounts of time. I’ve said it before, but running fast is an entirely different exercise than jogging. More muscles, harder work, impacts you in different places. It’s good, but it’s a real challenge. Running is hard.
Yesterday I did a workout called a 3×3. First, a 10 minute warmup jog at a 10 min/mi pace. Then three minutes at “60%”, three minutes at “70%”, and three minutes at “80%”. I don’t really know what those percentages are. So I went with a “quick jog”, a “run”, and a “hard run”. After that I did a three minute “walk” to stop gasping for breath. Repeat that sequence three times, then jog home for about seven or so minutes.
I was really pleased with the paces I hit. I averaged about 9, 8:30, 8 for the min/mile paces of the three by three. The middle set, for the hard run, I even held a 7:45. The walk was, of course, down around 16 min/mi. But the overall average of the whole workout was 9:43, even with about 7.5 minutes of walking included (I cut short the last walk break and started jogging home early).
The entire workout ended up being close to 52 minutes, and about 5.3 miles. I’m basically hoping to get to a 9 min/mi pace for the half marathon at the end of March. I might. I might not. But I feel good about the goal, as opposed to how I felt about the full marathon plan – I just didn’t have the mental energy to get that one in. And that’s ok.
So I’m enjoying having a coach. Gives me accountability. Gives me ease of planning. And sets me up with challenges that continuously drive improvement.
There’s blood upon your brow again, my dear.
Your shirt is ripped, your elbows scraped and torn.
And though your voice is hoarse, your words are clear,
It’s time to fight, and not yet time to mourn.
I’ve watched the fire crackle to its height,
From spark to flame to resolute, to forge
Our breath the bellows, steel from red to white,
In Justice’ hidden hand is gripped a sword.
How could I fail to love that fearless fire?
And you, who stand within it unconsumed.
We strive with forces grave and hateful, dire.
We fight with victory fraught and unpresumed.
Whatever end it comes to, side by side
I go with you: my heroine and guide.
So many otherwise good people turn into hateful xenophobes when watching the news. Television and internet news is focused on fear and harm, because that’s what they think gets the advertising dollars. And they’re probably right. And then, we see people suddenly terrified of the mysterious “others”. The barbarians at the gate. And in fear, they harden their hearts.
This is why I say that it is essentially impossible to be both a Christian and a Trump supporter. Jesus and Paul speak extensively about the hardened heart and how it is anathema to goodness, and Christianity. It makes us behave inhospitably towards one another, ignoring the person in need. Hardened hearts make us cowards – quivering in fear from the brown-skinned refugee who looks like a terrorist, but is in fact simply starving and hopeless.
I know that many people don’t think that the people who fear and hate can be “otherwise good”. But I think that that misunderstands humanity. The people of the populaces where genocides and atrocities happen are not monsters. They’re just people. Just like us. And people with ordinary jobs and responsibilities will do atrocious things rather than lose their livelihoods. Rather than be encircled and regrouped with the victims rather than the perpetrators. It’s a survival instinct.
We have to fight to be good. We have to risk our lives to be good. We have to accept risks to our security and comfort. We have to embrace the unknown. We have to be willing to accept that fear is a normal response to the world, and recognize that our fear is not always rational. We have to see that our biases are instinctual and must be resisted if we are to align them with the truth.
I have it. I admit it. When I am walking alone at night, I am more afraid that a black man will mug me than I am of a similarly dressed white man. I’ve been trained to see blackness as menacing. But I have come to recognize that my fear of being mugged (perhaps rational) needs to be decoupled from my irrational biases about race. We all have racial biases. We need to consciously work to change them. So I make a point to adjust my behavior so as not to act on biased impulses that entrench injustices.
The constant diet of fear reinforces those biases. Fear of dark skin. Fear of stranger. Fear of terror. Completely out of line with reality-based risks. I have the same problem with airplanes. They are incredibly safe, but I can’t stop thinking about flames and vertigo. Because we don’t report the hundreds of thousands of safe interactions. Of smooth landings. Of peaceful refugees. We report on the one-in-a-million that goes wrong. And humans are bad at feeling statistical likelihoods.
I don’t have an answer except to say that all of us should look to see others’ humanities rather than their barbarism. When I see a white nationalist racist spouting hate, I have come to see a frightened child, terrified of the monster under the bed, unaware that it’s not real. That doesn’t make their tantrum less objectionable. But at least I can see them as human.
But understanding a thing isn’t the same as accepting it. Those ideas need to be eradicated. If possible through education. If not, through the courts, through political action. And eventually, as in World War II, if necessary, through combat. Hatred is totally unacceptable. And the fearful children who advance it need to be corrected. It’s a tall charge that will require sacrifice on the part of those standing for inclusion. It will require we face their hateful cowardice with the courage required to act on truth.
And maybe it requires changing the steady diet of fear blasted through the information channels of the modern media age. Advance the stories of goodness. Share.