Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Brain Chemistry

Running is about talent.

Running is about physique (skinnier the better, with muscles in all the right places).

Running is about mental toughness.

The End.

Just Kidding, or "JK" as they say nowadays.

I started running at age 12. I mean, I ran before age 12--all kids run, but usually they get yelled at for it ("no running in school!" "no running in church!" "no running in the house!" "no running in the grocery store!").

But at age 12, I ran intentionally. I ran to start getting faster, to consider the possibility of winning races. I started taping pictures of Alberto Salazar on my wall.

Talent? Not really.

Physique? Nope.

Mental toughness. Well, yes, I guess so. Aye, there's the rub.

I have decided: Running is about Brain Chemistry. Has anyone out there ever experienced depression? I am not talking about: "Geez, I am so depressed that the Giants lost again." Or, "I find that movie "The Fault in Our Stars" rather depressing". Or, "Are you as depressed as I am that the Supreme Court is in bed with a store as stupidly named as The Hobby Lobby?"

I am talking about the crush of despair, for no good reason. There are plenty of reasons to be down and discouraged in life, but depression is pure darkness.

It is challenging to run in the dark. There are head lamps, of course. Last time I used a head lamp, a 15 year old had to lead me out of the woods. My vision is fair by day and abysmal by night. Close your eyes and imagine an abyss. You are not sure if your next step will lead to oblivion or if your last step did and here is where you landed. Oblivion is nothing to crow about. And crows are the darkest birds I know.

Alberto Salazar talked about depression in his book 14 Minutes. He took Prozac and ran faster for it. He got a lot of flak for that. We say depression is accepted, but it is not. Yet here I am writing about it for all the world to see.

Mental toughness? In running, it means you accept pain as a fact. You cope with it. You are capable of telling yourself it is a limited condition. You get in a zone, probably not unlike an accomplished meditator (is that an oxymoron?).  But depression completely messes that up. You start to run and from step 1 you question: who am I to think I can do this? Clearly I am too fat and old to do it well. So, therefore, what is the point?

Depression ="what is the point?"

Ponder it: what is the point?
OK, there can be many good answers to this question, normally. But with depression, there is not a single answer worth uttering.

Practice your music, and still not be as good as you want to be. What's the point?
Study your profession and still deal with a broken system. What's the point?
Love your children, and still find your heart broken. The point?

I come from a tradition of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. I believe in hard work, sacrifice, and compassion.

But I am no longer clear that I am a runner.


  1. You are a runner because you run. It may not mean what it meant 30 years ago, but you run, so you are a runner. Thirty years from now, it will mean something else again, but I have no doubt you will still be a runner. LIfe is something we make up as we go along. Figuring out what it means is a full-time, job we never finish.

  2. Don't listen to that toxic voice. It has no connection to truth. If you lace up and stride out into the fresh air, you are a runner.