The Week That Time Stood Still
The passage of time is enigmatic: even when seemingly bubbling past a slow happy brook it is truly a river surging quickly towards the ocean.
These past few months, an idea for a new blog post has been filtering in and out of the forefront of my mind, slowly being massaged by my subconsious into something more worth sharing. Like a slow happy brook, bubbling quietly towards a larger stream. Here, these months later, having found that much time has passed with scarce a blink, I suddenly find myself adrift in an ocean.
How did I get here? Step into this boat, dear reader, and allow me to revisit the voyage I have been on of late.
Our water source begins at the Willow Watering Hole, in Houston, Texas on a typical August morning last year: a short 2 Mile cross-country race. The race is a pre-season warmup for the team at my former high school. I have run in it a few years in a row now as a way to stay in touch with friends in Houston I would otherwise have no excuse to go see.
This year wasn't expected to be competitive, so I figured on runing it comfortably and seeing what comfortable gave: it gave questions.
At a then about-to-turn-29, I had counted out any possibility of having elite level running speed, but glimpses of past talent collided with years of hard work, a stronger running foundation and hard-learned lessons in consistency. Years of doubt that had filled my mind crumbled, leaving me wondering just how fast I could still be, and happily considering how many great years of running were still in front of me to persue them with!
Fast Trail Running is my joy: a long swift trail run overflows my spirit. To be completely cliché: freedom, flying, happiness, and limitless sums up about a quarter of the emotions I feel when running trails. A dream for some time has been to be a great ultra runner. I seem to have the right balance of crazy love for the long run, huge climbs, and speed.
Realizing I still had the ability to be fast also left me with the idea that I have a decade of great ultra-running ahead of me in which to run-fast. So I built a plan to pursue speed, and to then apply that speed back to trails and ultras, and set sail.
I wasn't prepared to commit to pursuing speed until after finishing several races already on deck, including an attempt at 100 Miles, a 100K, and another pass at the Death Valley Trail Marathon, but I figured it would be a good idea to begin sprinkling in some speed sessions anyway.
And so it was until December that I sprinkled informal speed sessions into my weeks, my training bubbling happily along.
Once I completed Death Valley Trail, I began to focus on speedwork in earnest. Other than a small setback from the flu at the New Year, a steady stream of miles and improvement followed. In addition to adding in a consistent speedwork schedule, I began increasing my mileage until I was consistently putting out 75+ miles a week.
My fitness began improving dramatically. Times I hadn't dreamed of hitting again were becoming easy training runs. And so I progressed until mid-March.
Rivers meander: sometimes rushing though narrow canyons and other times quietly but steadily progressing through the flatlands, occasionally meandering around bluffs and getting caught in eddys. The varying intensity but consistent momentum of a river is a fairly good analogy for the training of mid-March through the end of April where I oscillated between 100 Mile weeks and 55 Mile Weeks while getting caught in a few eddies.
In general, I did a poor job steering my boat to smooth out the journey, and while my fitness kept improving my ability to race well ended up suffering.
Members of a project I contribute to at work meet twice a year in Greece to work on building consensus on the project's direction and to tackle current work items with more focus.
I love the Greece trip for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is the hill running. After a poor start to the spring season, I figured it would be a great place to reconnect with running in a more pure form: no speed, no times, lots of hills, just run. After that I could figure out how I wanted to navigate getting back into and down the river.
And so, at the end of April, I packed my bags full of running gear and nutritional and electrolyte needs, and set off to Greece.
The running was amazing. I spent an afternoon putting in 30 Miles to run towards the center of the island of Lefkada from the coast (and most the way back).
I've learned that one of the easiest ways to explain my love of running to my friends and family is to capture it in ways that they can experience it too. So I took a lot of photos and video on the way.
This run taught me a lot about the progress made since committing to speed, but it especially taught me that I'm more or less ready to begin taking on shorter ultras competitively. Reprovisioning complete, I was ready to jump back in the river.
Coming back from Greece was a rush. In addition to jumping back into the flow at work, I had a team offsite beginning Wednesday evening before a Thursday flight to San Diego for the bachelor's party for my Fiancée's brother. Then on Sunday I would be flying back with her brother to meet my parents and my fiancée's parents to celebrate Mother's day, her Birthday, and her graduation from her Master's program (which would be on Tuesday).
Between travel fatigue, travel time, and all the life events, I figured running would happen if and when it happened, but I brought all my gear to San Diego hoping to make a few great runs out of the trip.
On Friday I put in a little over 12 miles around downtown, mostly as a shake-out, and plotted a 30 mile run with a nice climb near the middle for the next morning when I figured most folks would still be asleep.
Nearly everyone in the bachelor's party had Chicago roots or still lives in Chicago, and so Friday evening we went as Cubs fans to watch the lovable Padres lose to our rivals the Cardinals.
Afterwards, we went back to our place to regroup and play games. Around 1am, just as I thought everyone (especially the folks from the central time zone) would be ready to call it a night, folks decided to try to find a 4am bar to hit the town for the first time. I was tired, and I wanted to run in the morning, but the groom wanted to go out too and so I happily figured I should go along.
The co-best-men for this trip had gotten us all team Jersey's for the event. While everyone was going to wear them for the excursion, it was a rare cold and rainy weekend in San Diego. Some folks put them over their jackets, I put it under mine. We headed out on foot to the Gaslamp Quarter to find a mythical 4am bar.
Every parent ever tells you that nothing good ever happens after midnight.. I'm 29 and at this point I pretty much am the grandpa that 100% agrees with that sentiment.
We hadn't been gone 10 minutes before we were beginning to realize there very likely was no such thing as a 4am bar in San Diego, at least, not in the Gaslamp Quarter. The bars around us were all in the process of closing, and bouncers while happy to still charge us covers should we choose to go in for the last few minutes had no suggestions for where we might find a bar open late.
As we passed yet another bar, a small group of guys lowered their shoulders and barrelled through our group. With twelve of us, mostly tall and athletic, and 3 (maybe 4?) of them, short-but-athletic on a crowded street full of cops and bouncers, there was a lot of sizing up and mostly a stream of "we're sorry's" from our group and a stream of "we're going to come back and shoot you's" from them. Guns or no guns, we didn't want a fight, just a 4am bar, and this seemed like just another bunch of stupid boys throwing stupid threats.
As we began to walk away, I looked back and noticed one of our group was now on his own surrounded by those guys, apologizing profusely for the fact that he'd been the one shouldered into, and seemed to be having great difficulty getting away from them.
That was probably the moment that I realized the night wasn't going to end well. That whatever was about to happen, it wasn't good. These folks had tried hard to pick a fight, and when they didn't get it, seemed bent on trying to make it happen anyway. I signaled to the rest of the group that we needed to help our guy out, and went back.
This was one of the few decision points in the evening where if I wanted to drive myself crazy I could relegislate my choice to no end. Do I pull our friend away? Turning our backs on folks that have been aggressively pushing into us and exposing us to a blind attack? Does no attack happen? Do we just go stand there until they get the idea that there's a lot of us and few of them?
One of them in particular in a red-shirt was being belligerent and seemed hellbent on getting into a fight. I didn't trust the look in his eyes enough to think that he wouldn't punch one of us in the back of the head.
I stood next to our friend, figuring the rest of the crew would pull up in a moment, and getting the ever increasing feeling red-shirt was about to launch an attack.
And then it came. Another of their group in a gray shirt had been standing aggressively and combatitively but not actively engaging like the redshirt. That is, until he launched a fist into the side of my face. The red-shirt followed it up immediately with another blow to the same spot, at which point I felt the crunch. Still on my feet I tried to back up, by this time folks were pouring into the fight and someone else was pulling me away. A third glancing blow hit my face again, a little lower on the jawline.
I let others figure out the nonsense, I knew things were broken and the only thing I should care about was getting to the hospital to ensure my eye and my brain were intact. Most of the next while are a blur. I was given ice, an ambulance came, a cop took a partial statement. The folks that had gone out looking for a fight were stupid and came back looking for another fight (so yes, the cops arrested them).
We learned later that the bar we were passing had just thrown them out when they barrelled into us. And that they were in the military. My friends gave statements, meanwhile at the hospital a CT Scan confirmed I had 5 fractures, but thankfully my vision and brain would be alright. The weirdest part was having my eye numbed so that a nurse could remove my contact lens for me before my eye was more permanently swollen shut: as it soon was. Over the waterfall and into the depths.
The passage of time is enigmatic. The longest week may pass in an instant. As my eye swelled shut and the blindness on that side set-in, time began to stand still.
The lack of depth perception combined with only seeing half of the usual world has odd consequences for your other senses. Some folks claim that when one sense is injured or removed, others are strengthened to compensate. Perhaps this is true over great lengths of time, but the opposite was felt here.
I rely fairly deeply on peripheral vision, and where my focus lies is usually where I filter conversations from. As the world closed around me, my ability to follow conversations going on around me deteriorated. Everything was unfocused noise. Objects in the room were unlearned obstacles. Leaving a room I wouldn't be able to tell you any details of it.
It was like seeing, hearing, and feeling the whole world from underwater.
Without the ability to sense, time too disappeared. How many days had passed? What day of the week? I'd close my eyes and try to sleep off the strain and wake minutes, hours, or a half day later completely unaware of how much time had gone by.
This was the most mentally taxing and frustrating part. At first it hurt to talk, but even once it didn't, the inability to observe the world as normal meant a reluctance and frustration with trying to engage with it. All I could do was wait, but I couldn't even tell time. Wait how long? How long had I waited? Adrift in limbo I was left to stew in frustration.
On Monday night, after another medical appointment, my eye finally was open for a while. Some slight humanity restored. Exiting the timebox, I found a new but familiar foe to fight: restlessness.
Sidenote: I feel as though I have a little bit of a Tom Hiddleston Loki going on.
On Wednesday I was informed I would need surgery: my cheek bone is about a centimeter depressed into my face and I'll get a fancy titanium plate installed to pull it back into position. A friend has joked that this will take me from having Ryan Reynolds to Ryan Gosling cheeks, but I prefer to think I've got a metal up on Ironman.
When I wake up in the morning, the initial rush of blood to my head puts me in crippling pain for the first short while and a lingering headache for a while after that. It's a bit like I would imagine this to be.
The surgery is scheduled for next Thursday (a week from now), and it will I am told essentially cause me to revisit all the same trauma as before, including likely swelling around my eye (and it being shut). To say that I'm not looking forward to another plunge into darkness would be an understatement.
But what I have in all of this is time. Lots and lots of time. Four to five weeks more of time.
Lots of time in which I'm not running. Lots of time to think about running. Lots of time to be frustrated about running. Lots of time to be adrift in an ocean of thoughts with no ability to act on them.
If it wasn't me that night, it was probably someone else in our group. And if it wasn't someone else in our group, it was probably some other poor soul. Ultimately, that night someone wanted to assault someone, whom didn't matter.
Wrong place, wrong time? Nothing good ever happens after midnight? Should have gone to bed? None of that matters.
Sometime in June I will start running again. Tow my boat back to the start of the stream, and try to navigate downriver yet again. Hopefully, more smoothly than last time.
Sometime in June I will start running again. And when I do, it'll be about time.