“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
-from Invictus, by William Ernest Henley
Invictus is Latin for unconquered. And I love Henley’s fuck you attitude in the poem toward what life has thrown at him. Henley grew up poor and contracted tuberculosis, the complications from which led to other health issues. Ultimately he had one leg amputated in order to save his life. Later doctors wanted to ampute his other leg but Henley resisted, choosing instead to risk undergoing rather complicated, and painful surgery on his foot in order to save the leg. It was during his recovery from this surgery when he wrote Invictus. So you can understand where he’s coming from.
Life isn’t fair and the forces that propel it forward do so with total indifference to the individual creatures in its path. Life, for lack of a better word to describe it, has one aim to keep pushing on. It does this through means of birth and death. What is born and what dies is almost immaterial. They are pieces that will come and go. Unfortunately and as far as we know we humans are the only animal aware of its mortality. The brain whose incredible development over millions of years has enabled us to thrive has also gifted us with other capabilities, such as the ability to know from a very young age that our days on Earth are numbered, that we will die. And a great deal of the myths we’ve developed have been in response to this knowledge. Myths began as a way to try and understand the understandable. To make sense of and converse with something that doesn’t necessarily want to talk back to us, at least in any way that would make it easy for us to understand. So, I think it’s good, in fact it’s healthy, that every once in awhile, when you’re pushed to your limits and you have two choices: you can check out or you can fight. It’s a fight you can never win but there’s definitely a certain amount of satisfaction in picking yourself up and looking back at whatever it is and saying, “Fuck you. Is that all you got? Well get ready because here comes mine.”
My Sunday long run was cut short by the heat. I didn’t get out the door until close to 11:30 am and it was hot, hotter than its been here since early spring. As usual I set out with the idea of going for two hours trying to rebuild my stamina. I’m still not looking for pace and I’m okay with walking some of the hills so I don’t burn out my legs. I stashed a Gatorade by the guardrail at the entrance to the development and planned to pick it up when I completed the first loop about an hour into the run. I felt good the first fifty minutes or so, better than I expected to feel given this was my sixth run this week my rest day being Thursday. I was glad I dressed in all white; my t-shirt was soaked through early on and I could feel the sweat running of the bill of my baseball cap and down my neck. I like to run with my hat on backwards except when it’s raining hard then I turn it around to use the bill for some relief for my eyes. It was a clear sky so there was no relief from the sun’s rays. I was glad I remembered to apply sunscreen before I left. It was an afterthought but a good move.
For the second week in a row my body felt good enough that I was able to put it on
autopilot and get inside my head. For me, those are the best runs. I was talking with a good friend, also recovering from an injury, and she agreed. For her, like me, running is about the mental experience and any injury to the body that impedes this has a greater mental effect than anything. I don’t even like to run when I have something weighing on my mind, like a deadline at work or being stuck at a point in my research. My mind just can’t relax. It doesn’t go quiet and so I can’t enjoy myself. I can think of nothing else but getting back to what’s bugging me so what ends up happening is I become dissatisfied and cut the run short. So I’ve learned to work on whatever it is that’s bugging me until I get to a point where I feel I have a next step, somewhere to go. You see, when I run, for me it’s a time, besides sleep, when I can shut off the conscious mind and allow the unconscious to come out in full bloom.
I had a new playlist I’m working through; something to use when training for the Marine Corps Marathon starts. Not surprisingly it’s Bruce heavy but more on the house party music side. Good bar band music. So far I’ve got some J. Geils (a great live bad), Doobie Brothers, and others who escape my mind at the moment. It’s good but it still needs work. Some songs will undoubtedly be dropped and most certainly others added. Also, the order’s a bit off. It doesn’t have any flow yet. But it’s a start. In a way, I am recreating some of the playlists from the cover bands I used to go see down the Jersey shore. After all it is the time of year for Senior Week when the high school graduates from Philly descend on the Jersey coast.
I was about fifty minutes in when I descended down High St. toward the courthouse. The courthouse is surrounded by news trucks and you can’t go through downtown without falling over a reporter from one station or another. Jury selection is complete and the trial of Jerry Sandusky begins tomorrow. I may or may not end up on one broadcast, WJAC TV around here because I ran run through a crew while they were filming.
My tank was empty when I climbed Allegheny and Curtain so I had to walk. After that my pace was much slower. I tried to run again after I completed the first loop but even the Gatorade couldn’t fuel me. After a couple of false starts I decided to live to fight another day and walked to until my body temperature cooled down.
Hardwired Intelligence. It’s been warm enough lately to sleep with the patio door open. This morning when I awoke there was a moth stuck between the screen door and the curtain. I went to send him out the door and on his way but the moth had other ideas. He flew into my bedroom. Moths, like all creatures, are born with certain knowledge hardwired into them, like impulses and survival mechanisms, things a creature needs to know to survive from the start. There is no one to teach these things, to pass them down from generation to generation as it were, and if you make a mistake it’s usually fatal.
Well, it took me the longest while to find him. And when I did I realized why. He had set
up shop on a tan patch of the bedroom wall, a patch that best matches his own color scheme thus providing him the safety of camouflage. If he had chosen a spot a foot over where the wall is red, he would have been easy pickings.
Training report for the week. This was the first week since before Philly that I was able to run six days. In addition I also got in a tempo run on Saturday. I’ve noticed I’ve been able to keep a quicker pace. When I started back after the injury I was running three to four times a week at around a 10 minute per mile pace. Over the weeks it has been dropping steadily into the nines and now into the eights. I’ve also been able to get out there five days a week the last two weeks and now six. Good news heading into my training cycle.
The workouts have been steadily increasing as well plus they’ve been really good. I’ve been working out three to four days a week on top of the running. Over the last 21 days I worked out 12 times and ran 17. Next up for me is to design a nutrition plan to use during training.
When you step out on the ledge you better be committed. Sometimes I say things without really knowing why. A thought, usually funny, will come to mind and I’ll share it regardless of its appropriateness for the situation. That’s what happened this week at our monthly staff meeting. I was to give an update on a project I’m working on and when it was my turn on the agenda I was called up to the podium to address everyone.
Well, currently they are doing repair work on the brick facing of our building. I work in an architecturally ugly building. Its design is an unimaginative mismatched block design that they wrapped in that tan brick that was so common in the 1970s. The brick is forty years old and chipped and the cement in between is cracking and falling off. The workmen are in the process of replacing the rounded brick with a styrofoam composite made to look like brick. For the last several months the workmen have been climbing up and down with scaffolding banging away at the building.
Well, it just so happend that a pair of workmen set up shop outside the conference room where we were meeting. So before going into my update I shared this with everyone:
“We all know they’re working on our building. But did you know they are replacing the brick ledges with a styrofoam composite? And you know what that means, don’t you? It means that if any of you are thinking of jumping you’d better be fully committed before you step out the window and onto the ledge. Because if you aren’t the ledge is going to make the decision for you.”
I was relieved when my observation was greeted with laughter and not repulsion. It could have gone either way.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
A funny aside. I’m sitting here on my deck writing this post and what comes on Pandora but Free Falling by Tom Petty. I like Petty. I always thought he was a good lyricist who wrote tunes with cool grooves and nice hooks without crossing the line from rock to pop. Free Falling is one of those songs attached to a specific moment in my life. I had just gotten out of the hospital and was still fairly not right in the head. I had lost my home and was living back with my parents until I found an apartment. Anyway, that gave me the chance to run in the place where I fell in love with running in the first place, Pennypack Park. During one of those runs Free Falling came on and I remember it captured perfectly how I felt. Somewhere along the way I had stepped off the ledge and I was in this continuous fall, into an abyss, or bottomless pit, or something. At that time I was running because it was all I could think of doing to exercise some control over the situation. It’s the strangest feeling, knowing you’re falling and knowing you can do nothing about it. Not knowing what the outcome is going to be when you finally hit the ground.
Things seen while running:
- A McDonald’s bag that lost a fight with some kind of animal.
- All the news vans with their huge satellite antennas parked around the courthouse waiting for the Sandusky trial to begin.
- Old men sitting on benches keeping watch on the world.
- Judging by the number of bunnies I’ve seen, the rabbit mating season was an unquestioned success.
- A sweet cherry-red Mustang with a white rag top cruising up Bishop St.
- Lots of people out in the evening tending vegetable gardens.
- Kids cruising around in cars.