"What are you going to write about?"
"I'm not sure. I don't know that I have anything more to say. Maybe I should just thank everyone for reading, it's been fun, and shut it down like I've been thinking about."
"But what have you learned?"
"..." "I don't know that I've learned anything."
"Surely something has changed in all this time."
"...and since your blog is still here, what does that mean?"
Act I: If You're Not Growing, You're Dying
I'm not going to compare this to a journey. It is too trite, too cliché. Let us think of it as a discussion at intermission, where we both know what has transpired, but we want to get a better grasp on what it means so far, before going back in to see the rest of the show.
Is it possible that in 499 posts, I have used up all that I have to say about life, running, and my health? I have been thinking about this post for a week; knowing that this is a milestone a lot of blogs don't achieve - fading away a few dozen posts in or being angrily ripped out of the fertile soil of the Internet, leaving only disconnected roots behind, broken links elsewhere all pointing to a space that was once a vibrant and energetic thing and is now a drying hole in the web. I had things to say, but now I don't know what.
Is it possible I have been running for five years? My blog feels older than that, my running doesn't. Hell, most days, I feel like I'm taking my very first steps, constantly relearning what my body can do and how far my mind can push it. It is always a surprise, usually a good one.
If something isn't growing, it's dying. By this, I mean that true stasis is the stuff of science fiction. If nothing else, a lack of growth indicates stagnation. And that is just very slow death. So let it be with blogs, with running, with our health. Growing older doesn't necessarily mean declining - it can mean growth, an expansion of capabilities, an enhancement of routines. In that sense, these last five years have seen a remarkeable growth in my abilities as a runner. Oh, perhaps not in speed or raw ability, but I have grown smarter; I finish races feeling human still, have no problems with hydration or fueling, and suffer injury a lot less. I've learned longevity. The lessons I've learned that have brought me here have been hard-earned and could hardly have taken less time than they did.
Act II: The Raw Soul
I've accomplished a lot in my 37 years, very little of which matters. I became an Eagle Scout at 13, graduated 3rd in my class at 17. I was an leader in college, earned two education degrees and a masters, then went on to earn my MFA from a prestigious arts school. I've earned awards for my design work and have been involved in some memorable and high-profile projects. I became a homeowner and a landlord. I've visited national monuments and been in every state. I even slept at the Arctic Circle. But all of that is superficial, for deep down inside there is the raw soul. There is a part of us that is shaped by our experiences, but is not defined by them. The very core of our being is almost immutable - and unseeable. From day to day, we know not who we are. We act our characters for the different audiences around us and are satisfied that that is who we are. But it's not true.
Running has brought me to the extreme white edge, where all that is superficial is - for a moment - stripped away and my raw soul is laid bare. For a brief moment in time, I saw myself as I truly am. I believe it happens to anyone whose endurance is pushed beyond reasonable limits; and then a little further still. It may not be pretty - our raw souls are often more noble than we thought, but have ugly edges, too. Certain events will open up your shields, strip your defenses, and make you shed all the bullshit you clothe yourself with. My first marathon certainly did that to me, as did the half-marathon where I set my PR. Why do people do their first endurance event? Many reasons. But ask any returning endurance athlete why they're doing it and the answers are likely different than when they did their first. A lot of those answers conceal the simple fact that they want to expose their soul again, strip away the trappings of civilization - and see if they're still human. It's addictive. It's the non-bannable drug of the extremist.
I have sometimes tried to capture that moment in these 500 posts, but you can never adequately describe that moment of being stripped of all you think you are. The experience of encountering your raw soul is akin to pain; you may use words to describe it, but you can never do it justice. You can remember moments of having been in pain, but can't recall the actual sensation - until it returns.
Act III: An Economy of Entropy
Time will win out in the end. But for these five years, I've managed to reverse some of the effects of working too hard and not getting enough sleep through college, grad school, and beyond. The rain and sunshine and cold and heat is taking its toll on my shell, in exchange for hosting my efforts to keep my heart and lungs young.
What has helped me stem the flow of time is a different outlook on life than I had when all this began. Exercise is far more important to me than it was back then; eating right is more important. I'm trying to prevent the inevitable, I suppose, just like every runner out there. (I'm certainly not running for the sheer joy of it - I've never learned that trick.) Many people run for their health, and that's of supreme importance to me. When I began this blog, I had one chronic condition; now I have four. Running helps all of them, believe it or not. Bone density can be helped partly by weight-bearin exercise; the gout seems to stay away if I abstain from heavy drinking and run regularly; my lungs do as well as they can, given the constant fight against infection; and now diabetes has come along and running is an easy way to get blood sugars down for a while. And despite all that - and several rounds of IV antibiotics - I have to ask, "has my health really gotten any worse?" A little, but not nearly as much as if I hadn't started running.
What hasn't changed? What things has Time been unable to degrade around me? Well, my hair is still long, still untouched by gray, and my eyesight is as its been for seven or eight years. Though it has gone up and down temporarily, my weight is the same as it was when I left grad school: 122. I am still single, still looking. I'm still here, and I guess I'm not going anywhere for awhile.
"I'm not sure any of that means anything yet. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention along the way."
"Well, it certainly sounds pithy enough."
"Hey, that's just how I-- naw, I'm not using that ol' line. Perhaps it's time to return to the main event, see what lies ahead."
"Once more, dear friends, unto the breech?"