Posted by: Matt | April 9, 2010

Clarity of Purpose

Yesterday I popped a bag of microwave popcorn and timed it so well that I could find only a single kernel of un-popped corn at the bottom of the bowl. This was a personal best for me and when I realized my good fortune in that very small moment I was happy for myself despite its smallness or irrelevance. I was, at that exact moment the world’s best, and perhaps more importantly, the world’s happiest microwave popcorn popper.

After eating my bowl of nearly perfectly popped microwave popcorn I went for a lunch time run. Not a long run, lacking a challenging pace, and over a course which is certainly less than remarkable. Shortly into the run I twisted my right ankle by stepping the wrong way on some mud which had hardened in an unusual fashion after hikers and horse riders had disturbed it while it was wet. My twisted ankle hurt. What was worse was the creeping sensation that maybe I’d just done myself in again. Maybe I’d just hurt my right ankle in such a way that now I’d need to take the next 11 years off. And as the run went on this paranoia built, I became a two footed, self-sufficient, completely-internalized, 12-step program of personal doubts and anxiety. Shit I may have just blown it “running for nothing”!

Eventually I made my way back to my truck and by this time I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or why I might be doing it. I drove home and finished my day’s work, the whole time trying to put a little blush on the constant tinge of pain in my right foot while maintaining a completely false smile on my face.

Today the foot still hurts a bit, but the hot bath and taking it easy have helped. In a while I’m going to jog over to the wine shop and tip a beer or two with some friends. Maybe it’s the anticipation of beer, but I’m now able to deal with my anxiety and yesterday’s run is rose tinted a tad.

I just read a feature article about Scott Jurek in Runner’s World who, according to the article, seems to have fallen into a bit of a slump. I don’t know Scott and I’ve never met him, but, like most everyone else, I’ve read about him and I can say that what I’ve read has inspired me to be a better runner and a better person. I’d like to point out something; every other paragraph of this article seems to indicate Scott is having trouble remembering “how-come” he runs. He’s got the “how-to” down better than anyone else I’ve ever encountered.

Near the end Scott is quoted as saying “‘A lot of people want to see the champion go down,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to have ego to be at the top. I wonder if I have that anymore…’ His voice trails off.”

First, the following message is directed to Scott Jurek, second it’s a reminder to me, and thereafter, if you’re reading this post and it means anything to you you’re welcome to file it however you’d like.

The reason I was encouraged to start running again after my injury, despite the pain, and despite the discomfort was because I read Christopher McDougal’s story Born to Run. When I quit running it was because I had no other choice, that part of my life was quite literally ripped away from me and I had to come to terms with the idea that I should be happy to simply have my left foot. That’s where I eventually found my balance again and anyone who knew me in 1997 is also aware of how much that personal journey hurt and what it ultimately cost. For that matter anyone who loves to run and has ever had to stop understands this sentiment, and from the bottom of that tunnel there isn’t much light visible.

So since the early spring of 2009 I’ve been lucky enough to be able to run again. I’ve been inspired by a number of thoughts one of which is this notion that there’s a guy out there who not only has the “how-to” of running really long distances down, but that he’s got that spark that lets him do it with a smile. That his speed and his unbreakable stamina aren’t something that might separate him from me when I’m good and ready to limp across some distant finish line hours after he’s finished. And probably most importantly that there’s someone else who gets as much joy from running around like a kid in the woods.

Last season those thoughts were present in my mind as I ran longer and further in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. They’re what got me out on the trail at oh-dark-thirty, kept me from shivering myself sick in freezing temperatures in falling rain, and all while knowing that I had to be back sitting in the office too soon. Maybe I’m reading something into a situation that isn’t there based on a second hand account from a journalist at Runner’s World, but I’m going to give this advice anyway. Here’s what you get from running Mr. Jurek. Joy, you run because it’s what you were made to do and believe me without that you will experience the difference. Stop wondering if someone is going to de-thrown you, if your there for a different reason it will never happen. Complete the course or trail or whatever with a smile and if you possess the fastest time then good for you. But that’s what you get from running, that’s all anyone should get.

Scott no one liked you because you had an ego and, be honest with yourself here, no one will ever love anyone for that. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Most of us would cheer you on if you came in with times like ours. It’s because you’re probably a really sweet person.

I’m looking forward to reading about Scott’s recent run through the Grand Canyon. He seems like a pretty swell hombre to twitter “Back from depths of #GrandCanyon: 92+ mi, 32hr self-supported #TontoTrail traverse in memory & celebration of my mother’s life. Thanks mom!” Its nuggets like this which inspire me to hope for more and put up with what I’ve got (and that’s still an average 2.875 MPH pace). Which will continue to include my personal best popping microwave popcorn. One kernel? I can die a happy man.

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