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Rigor Mortis is the Gift of Life

Back in early October I shuffled about my kitchen one evening, earbuds in, juggling pots, pans, spices, powders, and other knockoff whole foods fad items as I cooked up a meal I hoped would to refuel and reenergize my body to recovery after the 18 mile slog fest of a long run I’d put it through earlier that day. As I tried my best to put together a digestible combination of fruits, veggies, and two kinds of red meat, I doubled down on my time by listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Unmistakable Creative, a show that tells the stories of up-and-coming innovators, idealists, and creatives.

That day’s episode featured Adam ‘Smiley’ Poswolsky – one of those life coach millennial types whose real job you can’t quite peg down but still, somehow, there’s no question he’s made it – on promoting his new book “Quarterlife Breakthrough: A Career Guide for Millennials to find Meaningful Work.” His being by no means a household name, and I myself going through one of my frequent existential crises (poetic considering the topic of his book), I listened with the half-hearted blasé attitude of a man fully drained of energy and optimism. Despite my deaf ears, I couldn’t help letting my mind wrestle with thought as Poswolsky touched upon something so wonderfully insightful yet blatantly obvious, that having now seen the light, I’m not quite sure how or why I hadn’t reached the conclusion sooner.

Poswolsky, a success by any millennial definition, vehemently attributed his experience as a mediocre high school cross country runner as a major contributor for his current glory. The lessons he learned, Poswolsky urged, were invaluable:

“I think running is a very useful metaphor for kind of the creative process, because it’s all about practice; it’s all about what you put in, and not the output,” continuing to say, “It’s about waking up on a cold day, in Boston, on Sunday, at seven in the morning, and you can’t really go out the night before… because you have to wake up at seven in the morning and go run 15 miles in the freezing cold Boston winter.”

As these words rang from outer ear to eardrum, I slowed my frantic pacing to a halt. I wish I didn’t have to paint the scene as some cliché moment of sudden epiphanic realization, but that’s the happysad reality and truth of it all. I suppose I really am a cliché then, because there I stood, hearing these words, and a slow smile started to take shape like Harry Potter’s wizarding world swirling into action for the first time. And as the pots steamed, and my ears listened to those words ringing true, and that magical smile took shape, I reached a pivotal realization about the defining role running has played in my life: it’s all about suffering. Running is about suffering, and it’s beautiful.

Spare your scoffs and dismissive shrugs; running is 100% about suffering, and every runner deep in their heart knows this to be as true as the tearing forces of gravity. Highlight reels show our successes, the moments we were champions, at least in our own eyes, but those races don’t make the athlete. Any runner will readily admit their greatest victories were often their easiest days. Few win trophies feeling like a dog in heat, hit by a bus, dragged through the mud. No, those feelings are reserved for the worst of the worst, accompanied by 30, 40, 50 second gaps, leaders lapping you on the track, posture compromised as your head hangs in the balance, lolling backing and forth as you painfully will yourself forward.

And that’s it right there. On a runner’s worst day, they still push forward. They must push on, find within themselves the strength to keep moving forward, to take the next step, to lean into the pain and summon the deep down buried ability to overcome a mind impulsively begging for relief and a deteriorating, crumbling body.

I myself have had the privilege of experiencing a large spectrum of successes and failures. Last year I crossed the line at Penn Relays the collegiate winner, my Dad smiling on from the stands after six hours in the car and years of support to see me race. It was amazing, a memory I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, the reason we love this crazy sport. It was great, but I am so much prouder of the two years in a row I finished in the bottom twenty at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Both years I was dead in mile one, fully diagnosed rigor mortis, body wobbling with six miles to go, completely finished. I was in such pain, struggling by all measures to find the same pace I’d do casually in training. I never found that pace, but I did find the mental resolve to finish. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, suffer through the whipping wind and sinking mud to that Terre Haute finish line, but I did it. I did it twice, and I’ve never been more of an athlete than when I crossed that line.

Those are the days – the days we’re suffering beyond imagination and understanding – that make us better athletes; they’re the days that make us better, stronger people. We fight so hard for those seldom few moments of glory, but I believe the true gift is the fight itself. Through logging the long run on a blistering 95 degree day, through finishing every brutal rep on a lonely day that just wasn’t yours, through hearing the pity claps with ten laps to go and still pushing through the finish line, we train ourselves to suffer. We train ourselves to suffer through every hard, difficult, soul crushing moment life has to offer us, and we train ourselves to move forward anyway, and that is the gift of a lifetime. 

– Liam

A Few Takeaways from The Blessing of the Fleet

Shane and I had the distinct pleasure of taking on our first race of the summer last night, braving 10 miles down by the beach. Here are a few things we took away.blessing footage 1

*** Photo credit George Ross @ RaceRhodeIsland.net

Ten Miles is a Long Way to Go

10 miles in the training log doesn’t compare to a 10 mile race. It’s a long way to go, and a large amount of time spent working your threshold. However, while the running is tough, you can also use it to your advantage, because you’re working at a pace that’s within your control. Unlike a 5k, which is short and fairly straight forward, a 10 mile race is long enough where you go through ebbs and flows. Shane and I both found ourselves cruising through some miles, working through others, back cruising again, working, cruising… In the end, I think you may be able to use longer distances to your advantage, even if it’s a tough day. Which brings me to…

Knowledge is Power

This year, thank god, I ran smart. Shane and I went out with a pace in mind, found a rhythm, and worked away at a solid rate. What we didn’t do was try to go out at a pace we knew we couldn’t handle. Compare that to last year, when I didn’t enter with much of a plan and, to my extreme detriment, didn’t listen to my body. I was toast by mile four and suffered the remaining six; it was rough, but it was an important lesson to learn, and I knew not to do that again. Knowing the race, having a plan, and listening to my body all led to a positive experience.

The Blessing is what running, to me, is all about

If you’ve ever had the privilege of running the Blessing, then you know just how special the event is. All walks of life convene at a small little middle school in Narragansett, amidst an evening ocean backdrop, in the late July heat, to test themselves. Ten miles isn’t the local church 5k, so it takes a certain level of motivation to get yourself out there, regardless of ability. Still, this year the Blessing had nearly 2500 finishers; that’s 2500 people who wanted to go out and collectively engage in pain. Whether your goal is to break 60 minutes, crack 2 hours, or just finish, the level of joy you get for accomplishing it is the same for everyone. There aren’t many sports that can give you that.

Go Rhode Island

Any race that doesn’t end by the beach just can’t compete. Sorry.

-Liam

Because It’s Not Just for Mad Dogs and Englishmen

“That’s what you’re training for?” While I’m omitting explicit language and not talented enough to justly convey the fluctuating volume of my super-Italian, super-animated, and evidently super-stunned landlord, I can say his jaw hung for a brief moment after Julian and I casually dropped that we were not, in fact, training for the Olympics in August, but rather had our eyes on the CVS 5k and a half-marathon, both in the fall. I’m sure he has no disrespect for the roads and those who brave them, but he seemed distinctly disturbed that anyone would hop out the door to run 16 miles under a thick, muggy, 93 degree sun when the end reward of months of work is that race that finishes in front of the mall.

Fair point Dante, but I respectfully disagree, at least in my own case. Channeling a little David Foster Wallace circa 2005, I can’t sit here and pretend to have any inkling as to why anyone does anything, and I refuse to generalize, but I like to think I at least know why I do things [close friends may disagree]. In that vein, I’m going to challenge Dante, because I agree, my place when I cross the finish line in front of DSW – or well, anywhere – is a terrible driving force for days and weeks and years of stepping out the door. There’s far more to it.

Up until recently, running was so defined: a three season cycle, teammates, “Providence College” on the front of my singlet, big races on the calendar, time barriers in the mind – the rewards made sense. Four good college years and a fifth year to sign off, and what do we have now? Well, Dante, now we have pure running with the frills of organized athletics stripped away; in juxtaposition with the mindless tedium of the working world, running is an escape, and a damn good one too.

I’m not really sure how to best describe the feeling, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably either a runner, so on some level you get it, or you’re a friend who’s just being nice… sucker. But at this stage, the rewards of my running are in the rhythmic strikes of a long run; they’re in the energy boost I feel after 8 miles early on a Saturday morning, or the meditative, revitalizing cleansing I receive from 60 minutes of fresh air after 6 hours of staring at a computer screen.

There’s some proverb about things being about the journey, not the end result. For me, running is like that… literally. The physical journey of each run and what I go through on them can work wonders. In 8 miles my rotten mood can vanish; I can actually have more energy finishing a run than when I started. In 16 miles, on a 93 degree July day, I can soak up the sun and the sweat, the trees and people passing by, and get blissfully lost each and every time my foot hits the ground. So no, Dante, there’s no way my mind is off fantasizing about crossing the DSW line in September. There are far better reasons to open the door.

-Liam