long road to ruin

For those of you who regularly subject yourself to this blog, you know that running has become an increasingly important part of my life over the last 18 months. And the one thing that should ring loud and clear in most of my posts on the topic is my love/hate relationship with the activity: I love finishing it, hate doing it.

The way I have fooled myself into spending 30-60 minutes a day on local streets and tracks has been by refusing to measure any aspect of my performance other than the distance covered. I don’t wear a stopwatch, I don’t check my heart rate, and I refuse to enter races (because I’ll start focusing on a “time”). I am convinced that this approach has allowed me to continue running farther and more consistently today than at any time in my life, pre- or post-amputation.

However, as I’ve also acknowledged many times in the past, I’m a tragically flawed creature, so all of that is about to change.

I am putting less is more Nation on notice: on October 21, 2012, I will be running as part of a relay team in the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s San Diego Triathlon. I have stupidly volunteered for the 10 mile run portion of this event. I say “stupidly” because that’s a considerable distance for someone who has been laid up the last 8 weeks with a variety of nagging injuries that have pretty much taken me out of commission. With October approaching at a frightening rate, I’m starting pretty much from ground zero. (For frame of reference: I ran two miles today and thought I was going to require supplemental oxygen.)

Those of you who are still awake after reading the last four paragraphs might correctly ask, “Dave – why would you do such a thing? You are, indeed, stupid. You’ve found something that works to keep you running, and now you’re going to ruin it by doing the opposite. You deserve everything that’s coming to you over the next four months.” I tend to think that you’re right, but let me try to explain myself.

My decision to participate in this race comes on the heels of attending the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s New York City Gala a few weeks ago.  While there, I saw Anthony Robles, 2010 undefeated NCAA Division I wrestling champion, take the podium. He shared his story, starting with a miserable first year of wrestling in high school that improbably formed the basis for a national championship run in college. A dynamic and eminently likable young man, Robles is one of those people who knows how to get an audience fired up.

Next up? Dan Gade, a member of the U.S. military who described his post-injury low point – his three year-old daughter shaking her head sadly and saying, “Daddy can’t do anything” – and how it motivated him to reclaim his physical life.

The story of Haven, an 11 year-old runner from Missouri by way of Vietnam, closed it out. This was especially cool because I had met Hazel and her mother just a few days earlier at the CAF Mobility Clinic in New Jersey. Hazel survived her Vietnamese parents’ suicide attempt, but the explosives they strapped to themselves as they held her resulted in her losing both legs below the knee. Today, she runs with prostheses obtained through a CAF grant.

After seeing this trio, you basically would sign up to do almost anything. But then spend a few minutes talking with world-class triathlete Sarah Reinertsen and Scout Bassett, who just competed in her first Paralympic trials this past weekend, and whatever shred of sanity you once had – “10 miles is a long way, isn’t it?” – abandons you.

Full of adrenaline the morning after, I sent the following email to my professional peers at the company I work for:

[I] would like to suggest that we field a [Company Name] Management Team CAF Relay Team – that’s [CN]MTCAFRT for short, and it will look great on race day singlets (no one will have any f@#$ing idea what it means) – this October at CAF’s big event in San Diego. I don’t swim. I don’t ride a bike. So I get dibs on the run. Do we have two other brave souls who wish to swim in the Pacific and cycle around La Jolla before watching me suffer through 10 miles on foot?

Don’t all jump at once, but if we don’t step up as a group, I’m going to publicly shame all of you by finding two other [amputees] to complete the race with me, and we will call ourselves NOT [Company Name] Management Team CAF Relay Team – that’s NOT[CN]MTCAFRT. People WILL ask what that means. And we three [amputees] will loudly announce that everyone receiving this email was too important, busy, frightened, lazy, or whatever other pejorative applies, to participate in this event. Then we’ll burn you in effigy outside [the company’s California office].

My favorite reply to this email came from my boss, who stated that he’d be happy to coach our relay team. In other words, the guy who’s in charge of things offered to be in charge of things. That, in the lexicon, is known as “playing to your strengths.”

I now find myself, a few weeks later, like the guy at the bar who agreed to some idiotic bet that he has to pay up: “I agreed to do what?

But there you have it. This week marks the beginning of the Push to San Diego 2012. You can be sure that future posts will focus on how I cope – likely quite badly, if I had to hazard a guess – with an event-based approach to running. I’m actually quite terrified now that I’ve committed to do this, but I forced myself not to leave any wiggle room by emailing CAF’s Executive Director and Director of Events to let them know I was “in”. I also advised the Executive Director that I hoped she’d forgive me if I threw up on her in October after finishing the race.

She said she wouldn’t.

The pressure is really on.

3 thoughts on “long road to ruin

    • I have no doubt it will be life-changing. However, that phrase cuts a number of different ways. I’m fervently hoping it’s life-changing in the way you imply, and not in the “I tore my Achilles tendon and am now using a walking boot for the next 3 months” kind of way.

  1. Congrats Dave! I know you will do great! The fun part about the CAF race is that it is all about community and cheering everyone on, and less about getting a personal best. It is a life changing event! Take your time, enjoy the day, and good luck!!

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