running can be hazardous to your health

By SOLO

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

[On Joy and Sorrow, from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran]

Have you ever read the consent form you sign at every obstacle race? Like actually read it? You know… how you are supposed to read everything before you sign it?

I have. In fact, I keep a copy of consent forms from certain events, simply because they are so much fun to read.

Here’s an excerpt from a typical form: “I, [the participant], acknolwedge, appreciate (!) and agree that:

The risk of injury and/or death from the activities involved in this event is significant including, but not limited to the following: 1) drowning, 2) near-drowning, 3) sprains, 4) strains, 5) fractures, 6) heat and cold injuries, 7) over-use syndrome, 8) injuries involving vehicles, 9) animal bites and/or stings, 10) contact with poisonous plants, 11) accidents involving, but not limited to paddling, climbing, biking, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, travel by boat, truck, car, or other convenience, and 12) the potential for permanent paralysis and/or death.” With a cherry on top.

Now, snowshoes probably would not have helped in the Ultra Beast. And I didn’t even know we COULD paddle or travel by boat in an obstacle race. But then, I didn’t know that you could have two legs blown off while running a marathon either.

A typical consent form for a road race seems more tame, with a sweeping statement releasing the race organizers from “any injuries or damages I may suffer as a result of my participation in the marathon and related events”.

In retrospect, the consent forms seem incomplete. Maybe now, we should add a section on accidents involving, but not limited to: intentional violence, acts of terror, and man made explosives. Because you know… it could happen.

It has happened.

FRIDAY.

My mom is driving us to the airport. “Are you guys staying at a hotel? Or with friends?”, she asks.

“Racing family”, I smile. It’s the beauty of the racing community. I’ve only met Jeff once – at S.E.R.E. Urban Challenge. During our first encounter, we spent 16 hours crawling on our stomachs, doing lunges, getting out of plastic handcuffs and running through New York City. It’s friendship on steroids.

Few weeks later, when I mention that I will be racing at Citi Field, Jeff does not hesitate in offering his place, and even driving us from and to the airport.

Fast forward to…

MONDAY.

I find out about the bombings almost immediately. Teaching yoga later that evening, I take few minutes to compose myself in the change room.

Finally, I walk into the yoga room. “We are going to start sitting cross-legged. Resting your palms on tops of the knees, and closing your eyes.”

As I close my own eyes, my cheeks are wet.

Last time I cried at a public tragedy was seventeen years ago, another senseless death, as Vladislav Listyev, one of the most popular Russian journalists and TV anchors was shot dead in his own apartment building. Those responsible were never found. All TV channels shut down for the whole day, displaying nothing but his photo and a message about his death. I remember I hid behind a closet in my room, swallowing hot tears. I was 12.

I speak. “As most of you know, I just flew in this morning after racing in New York. Many of my friends could not run this race with me because they were running Boston marathon this weekend.”

I inhale sharply, and my throat gives out a loud whistling sound. Students look up, startled.

“They’re all ok”, I say hurriedly. “But… I’ve had better days. In fact… ”

I’m gripped by another wave of emotion, and I pause, frustrated at my inability to control myself. My chest is heaving. I place both palms against my heart. Firmly, as if trying to hold down a large dog.

“In fact… Humanity has had better days.”

Another pause.

“And… I could really use a drink right now”.

Students smile weakly, and nod vigorously. They all look like they want to hug me.

“We are going to start the class with one Om. Inhale.” The class inhales as one. That’s a cue for me to chant Om, as the rest of class joins in. But I can’t make a sound. I’m struggling for air again.

After an extra long silence, a sympathetic voice comes in with “ooooooooommmmmm”, and all join in, as I sit surrounded by the vibration of the sound.

TUESDAY.

Few seconds after I open my eyes, I realize that things are still the same as yesterday. There were two explosions near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Three people are dead. Almost two hundred injured.

Texts and emails start pouring in from friends and acquaintances who are not sure whether I was in Boston. My non-runner friends can’t possibly keep my schedule straight. I was racing in Boston only few months ago, and many know that I was travelling to United States for a race this weekend as well.

“Are you in Toronto?”, one email says. “I hope you are.” “Just wanted to make sure you are ok”, says a message from a friend I haven’t talked to for over two years. “I heard about the bomb blast at the marathon in Boston, so I have been thinking of you, so I decided to check on you”, says an email from a student. My grandmother in Russia wakes up my parents in the middle of the night to check up on me after seeing the news.

In class, I wear a race shirt from Around the Bay. Today’s topic is happiness. Oh, the irony. “Older than Boston”, the shirt reads. The 30k road race is the closest I’ve ever run to a road marathon.

“Miss, are you afraid of doing another race now?”, a student asks. I don’t know how to answer.

WEDNESDAY.

Survivor guilt. The guilt we sometimes feel after surviving a particular traumatic event when others did not.

I wake up at 4.30 in the morning, covered in cold sweat, and feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. Oh, the drama.

I hate going all PTSD on your ass, especially given that I was never really in danger. However, the body does not differentiate very well between an actual threat and a perceived threat.

Long time ago my dad told me a story about his friend who missed his flight. After being struck in traffic for hours, he finally made it to the airport and missed boarding by few minutes, and despite his pleading, was not allowed onto the plane. To say that he was pissed would be a major understatement. That plane crashed hours later, and everyone on board died. My dad’s friend drank for a week.

After spending Saturday morning along with 12,000 racers at Citi Field stadium in what can be best described as loosely organized state of chaos, I feel like I dodged a bullet. Or a cannon ball. And I almost feel like drinking for a week too. Almost.

After travelling to over 20 countries, there are few places around the world where I feel safe, no matter what. A Starbucks. A book store. A gym. A race?

A race. No matter how radically different a country is, show up to the start line of a road race, and you will see same shoes, same dry-fit shirts, and same energy gels. Asics. Salomon. Garmin. Gu. Familiar logos. Universal runner staples.

“Runners undeterred by Boston bomb killings” seems to be the common theme of the media today. Undeterred, my ass. [There is a lot of ass in today’s post]. I am very much deterred. I lost a safe place this week.

Many posts about the event have surfaced. Some cooked, some ran, some rambled. Some organized a charity. Most finished with some sort of inspirational message. About the need to run. No matter what. About the close-knit community that is brought together by the tragedy.

I have not run since Citi Field. A pause seems in order. Last time I ran, a road race was still a safe place. Last time I ran, April 15, 2013 was going to be just another day on the calendar. Last time I ran, we already had a close-knit community.

Maybe next week I will get inspired. I will register for a marathon. I will run. This week I just want to climb under the covers and stay there. Because this week the world sucks, and I kind of want another one.

And so I write. I write the only way I know how – personal and raw, slightly self-deprecating, and spiced with poetry, music and a dash of nutmeg.

I have no words of wisdom for you this week. Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet, best known for “Prophet”, a series of poetic essays exploring all the angles of the human condition, says “Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil”.

… as much as I want to finish on a positive note, this is my blog, not a freaking chick flick. Happy end is not mandatory. Happy end is blasphemous. And it is too soon to see the silver lining. The asphalt is still soaked in blood.

Dear Ang Young Reynolds, Andi Hardy, Alec Blenis, Robert Blenis, David Mick, Olof Dallner, Junyong Pak, Ramona Gellel and all others – I’m so glad you are ok.

My favorite band seems to know just how I feel. [Ironically, this song is from their “Unbreakable” album.]

Down, I am down
On the ground, sad and tired
I’m down, it’s over now
Yes I’m down, should I like it

It’s deep and dark
Deep down in my heart
It’s deep and dark
Since we’ve been apart

Is this love that comes around
That takes me up light years higher
’cause I wanna feel love once again

It’s deep and dark
Deep down in my heart
It’s deep and dark
Since we’ve been apart

It’s deep and dark
Deep down in my heart
It’s deep and dark
Without someone’s love

P.S. I was planning on a different post after Citi Field. I really was. But this blog writes itself, and I gotta respect the creative process. My muse… She’s a finicky bitch.

Signing off,
Solo

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Posted April 18, 2013

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