Fight or Flight,
It's hard to say when I first became a long distance runner. And
it's equally difficult to say what allowed me to deal with the pain
associated with running long and hard. Was it from running to
keep up with the neighborhood kids on their bikes when I was a child? Or was
it an alternative between fighting a city boy I didn't know and
didn't particularly want to hurt, to running 6 miles home? Was it
the fear of being late for dinner again and needing to be there
now? Or was the glory that comes with being on a winning cross-
country or track team? I often wonder what caused me to start
this sport that continues to drive me 30 years later. I tend to think
it began as a child when I was forced into a fight or flight situation.
For a ten year old boy, running away from the city 6.2 miles home
was a big undertaking. But then so was facing up to being the
loser in a game of hold the towel. I don't know if that's the correct
name of the game, it's a contest of strength and brutality in which
two boys hold onto a towel and beat up the other until he lets go.
I immediatly lost my match. I didn't want to have to stick around
at the day camp and deal with the humiliation of being a loser.
They were teaching me to kill or be killed and I wasn't going for it.
I ran and cried all the way home, two towns away. At least I could
run home and survive, that had to be worth something.
So when I decided to try out for the cross-country team 6 years
later it was no surprise to me I that I could run the 4.5 mile loop
without stopping. What did surprise me though were the tears
that filled my eyes during the run. I cried not from physical pain
but emtional pain. I cried because now I had a legitimate reason
to run. And that maybe I could be somebody, that maybe my Dad
would see I was worthy of his love. That here I thought at last I
had a future out of harms way, something I could put my energy
into and reap some benefits. A way out for a much troubled
youth. Maybe get some peer respect and maybe even get to the
Olympics. Perhaps this was my calling?
When I finished the practice loop, the coach was surprised to see
me so soon. I was surprised to see four blisters on the bottoms of
each foot. I was too busy dealing with emotional stuff to feel the
physical pains for what they were. Needless to say, I made the
team, and I was anxious for the next workout.
I had a relatively successful four years in running but learned I
wasn't nearly talented enough to make to any regional
championships let alone National. But I did know I was better
than most at running.
I still find the fight or flight instinct strongly embedded in me. I
don't mind bicycling an hour to the pool, swimming hard for an
hour with the team and then running 15 miles in 90 degree heat.
But when it comes to slugging out a living and standing up for
myself I wimp out. I really don't want to compete against anyone
in the work-a-day world. And I still seem to be looking for who and
what I am. I feel my inner turmoil over this will chase me to the end.
And so again, I will run away.