“The secret of knowing the most fertile experiences and the greatest joys in life is to live dangerously.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
“Running for a long time is hard.” - Me
Killing Yourself to Live, a book by Chuck Klosterman, describes his road trip designed to explore the death sites of various rock stars such as Buddy Holly. His title points out that some musicians only gained true notoriety through an untimely demise. Most poignant to me, however, is that in the book Chuck runs to decompress from the rigors of working for a music publication and complains of the humidity in North Carolina. Humidity and dying, or at least feeling like you are going to die are major themes in my running experiences lately. People run for exercise, out of excitement, or to avoid some sort of bodily harm all over the world. And by all over the world I literally mean all over the world. People have completed ultra marathons in Antarctica. I too have had the privilege to run, for all three of the reasons listed above, in multiple parts of the US as well as a couple of very exotic West Asian locations. However, I spent the plurality of my running years living in the Southeastern US and for the past year specifically in the southern half of Georgia. Now if you’re from Georgia, don’t be offended by what follows. If you’re from Louisiana, be thankful I’m not describing that state because I lived there too. Let’s just say that I do not consider the Louisiana Purchase to be Thomas Jefferson’s crowning achievement.
Extreme heat and humidity are the hallmarks of South Georgia in the summer, which runs roughly from March to October. Again, it’s not as bad as Louisiana (that’s the worst place in the world, including the afore-mentioned West Asian nations). Recently I awoke at 4:30 in the morning (not the best 4:30 in the day) to go for a run in order to avoid the heat and humidity. Seven hours later I sat at my desk pounding water still attempting to replace the 5+ pounds of sweat I shed during the run. Mind you, the sun was not up for any of this run. Georgia has such a miserable climate in the summer that it literally drains all the water out of you in order to sustain the 103% humidity, even without the sun. It’s as if the air extracts moisture from one’s body in exchange for the privilege of breathing. Running after the sun comes up is completely out of the question. I tried it last summer and got so dehydrated/heat stroked (a hard-to-detect condition for me as it’s not that different from my normal state) that I lost a really nice GPS watch. To this day I have no recollection of how I lost it or how I got home. Never run in the middle of the day during a Georgia summer.It could cost you $300 and your dignity.
An unexpected by-product of running when the sun isn’t out is the darkness. Granted, there are lots of streetlights in Georgia, just like most semi-civilized places, but there are not streetlights in the park where I like to run. There are, however, raccoons and other animals whose eyes reflect a very creepy green and yellow in the robust illumination of my headlamp. Fortunately, these are not fierce predators that eat runners but their eyes are a little unsettling at 5 in the AM. Unfortunately, their glowing eyes provide little to no illumination on the trail. Some animals do provide a useful function to runners- a squirrel paced me for about 30 feet the other day when he scampered away from me down the trail but squirrels are not committed training partners and quickly lose interest and/or are terrified of humans. My goal was to catch him, but the only good way to do that would be to step on his tail and that seems mean. Blame it on the dehydration but these are the thoughts I think as I plod along. There are lots of deaths I’m okay with, but snakebite at 5 AM in a park that’s technically closed is not one of them.
On the topic of death, legend holds that the first guy to run a marathon died at the end. Why humans see fit to repeat that is beyond me. That’s why I (try to) complete ultras- you have to keep going past 26.2 or you die. That logic is airtight. Don’t question it. Feeling like death is a prime motivator for running here in Georgia. As great as one might feel early in the morning, it feels way better to get covered in dirt and insect bites and to divest oneself of all excess water weight before work. Extreme sweating, snakes, frogs, the occasional fall, and being late for a dental appointment are just par for the course to achieve mediocrity in endurance events. Lastly, by reading this far you have signed an unwritten, non-verbal yet still legally binding contract in all 50 states and Puerto Rico committing to donate to the H.O.M.E. charity. You’re welcome.