Last weekend an ex-colleague of mine contacted me to say he had read my book and, seeing as a good chunk of it was dedicated to how much time I spend training, he asked me if I still ran and rode my bike as much as I had when we worked together. My simple reply was, “Of course”, followed by, “probably more than ever”. As is the case with most non-endurance athletes, he was perplexed and asked me the same two questions I get several times a month: “Why?” and the requisite follow up, “Why don’t you just relax and take it easy for a while?”. I am not certain he was ready for my answer. In fact, I’m not so sure I was either, but I had just turned 53 a couple days before so perhaps I was a little more introspective than at other times when I would simply respond with something like, “I dunno. I guess cuz it’s fun”. What I offered instead was, “because a couple of years ago I witnessed what regret looks like first-hand”. He didn’t ask me to explain and gave me the standard social media ‘thumbs up’ emoji to signal the fact that he wanted nothing more than to back out of the conversation. Normally I love it when I get that response because it means that I can put down my phone and go running, but I elaborated anyway.
A couple of years ago my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was given an indeterminant period of time left with us (basically, anything from 30 seconds to maybe a couple of years). She was admitted to hospital for a routine biopsy (if you call taking a horseshoe-sized plate of her skull out, carving off a golf ball from her brain and stapling the pieces back together ‘routine’, that is) to be used for study. We were all informed, as was my mom, that this surgical procedure was NOT a cure. The cancer was most definitely terminal. The surgery itself did not last that long, and she was awake several hours later. When she came to, she was completely lucid and was eating, chatting, and even joking around a little. It was not expected that she would be required to remain in the hospital for more than a couple of days and she came out of the operating room around noon managing the rest of the day quite well. The following day continued in similar fashion and she was doing well enough for my father, who hadn’t left my mother’s side since driving her to the hospital, decided to allow my sister to take him home for a rest and a shower. Not long after they left things went south and my mom began to experience a series of violent seizures that only very high doses of debilitating medication could subdue. Because of this, it appeared she would be staying in the hospital longer than had been predicted. For the next couple of weeks, she would float in and out of consciousness and was capable of a barely audible whisper when she was compos mentis. During most of these moments I would watch as she and my father would hold hands, my dad squeezing so tightly in an attempt to give time to her that he was willing to spare so she could stay with us longer, and they would gaze into each other’s eyes communicating without the need for words. I looked on as they relived so many important moments: the day they met, their first kiss, and how they used to dance together in the kitchen. Holding hands, they reminisced about the best of their fifty-plus years together: their wedding day, their first house, creating a family and watching their children succeed and fail, seeing grandchildren play soccer, football, and basketball. For a couple hours every afternoon they would memorialize the thousands of moments they had shared. It was evident that they were bringing one another back to a time when they never imagined they would ever be anything but young.
After a couple of weeks of this, as my mother’s condition deteriorated precipitously, their sessions became shorter and shorter, but increasingly intense. They both knew that their time together was approaching its permanent end. Everything they could ever remember knowing was about to disappear forever. The day my mom passed my father sat clutching her hand as he had done every day for a month and stared at her motionless body as tears rolled down his cheeks. I am not sure if my siblings noticed, but I could actually see the regret pour from my father’s eyes with his tears. There was so much he had wanted to do with her and for her that, for whatever reason, he never got around to. I saw that he was devastated that in their 55 years as a couple he had missed so much. He believed that he hadn’t always done everything he could have; he hadn’t taken stock of or even noticed much of the minutiae that is the substance of a life. Too often he put aside doing the things he would have loved to do with her so he could get ‘real’ stuff done without realizing that his definition of ‘real’ was most likely ‘off’. He realized that, though he had been alive for those 55 years together, he had not ‘lived’ as much as he could have.
This is why I run and ride so much and so hard. Life is chock full of incidental, trivial moments that sap us of our energy to do the things we would do if we truly had the freedom to do only what we wanted. When I choose to run and ride, I get to choose not to heed that minutiae. I set the tone and I can think about anything I want because there is a rare singularity of purpose that does not exist in everyday life where there are very limited opportunities to cherish a singular meaningful moment. When I run, all the moments are cherished because they are my everything at the time. Thoreau said he “went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately, to front the essential facts of life and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came time to die, discover that I had not lived…I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life…to drive life into a corner and reduce it to its lowest terms”. That is precisely what running and riding do for me. Because I carve out large swaths of time every day to train, I truly understand the importance of each moment, including those spent not running. I have never commented after a run, “well, there goes 90 minutes I’ll never get back”. I say that about every commute to work, every staff meeting, every moment spent in line at the grocery store. I understand that each of these tasks is required for my life to exist, but running and riding, in addition to love and family, are what I live for. For me, the tiny, tedious tasks don’t make up the life, as is the case for so many people out there who, again to quote Thoreau, “lead lives of quiet desperation”, but, rather, allow the real life to be possible. They are mere means to an end or tools used to make my real life possible.
So, I say to my friend, yes…yes, I still run. And I will never stop until I die, which I hope happens while out running or riding my bike.
OR, maybe I’m just an immature prick and want to ride my bike all day long to avoid responsibility.If you enjoyed this post, leave a comment and be sure to like and share it on Facebook and Twitter by clicking on the appropriate boxes below. If you would like more, please visit the rest of my website and get yourself a copy of my book, My Coworkers Think I’m A Pro which is available on Amazon or wherever books are sold. Also follow me on Instagram https://instagram.com/gibbs.brock/.