Thursday, 6 July 2017

Let's Run


This isn't so much a blogpost on running. It's a personal account, that includes running.  Maybe it's important. Maybe it's not. But it gives some perspective at least, on myself. If anyone is interested.

The Human Runner

The human body is well adapted to running. We have relatively long legs, a narrow pelvis, a valgus knee and a rigid toe.  Within the animal kingdom, we are superb endurance runners. Many of us can, and will run 42 km without stopping. Few animals can match that. We do it because its fun. We do it because it's a challenge.

I find running to be calming (running does produce good things). It gets you outside, the kilometers pass by your running shoes, for a time modern life is shut out.  You don't have to think, to interact, just settle into a rhythm and run.  You're out feeling the sun, or the wind, or the rain.  That inner African plains ape is released.

The Teenage Runner

I wasn't particularly athletic before then. I hit the teen years though, as family-life took a hit. It's somewhat too personal to go into here, and there's nothing unique about the teenage years being rough.  Still, one relationship has never recovered. Running was therapeutic. It was an escape.  I started to win races.

Later we moved. It was to a rural village. There wasn't a lot of things to do there. By the time I was 15, there were 5 other boys my age there. By the end of the year, only 2 of us were left alive.

J took the longest to die. He was smart. Really smart.  He was probably smarter than I was (and I've got a PhD so not lacking there). He got leukemia though. The bad kind. He withered away over the months and died.

His sister committed suicide a few years later.

I stayed in contact with his mother for years afterward.

K was also my age. A gangly kid teenage boy. Got on well with lots of people. He died suddenly. One day he was catching the bus to school with us. Then he wasn't. He swung some irrigation pipes over his shoulder at his farm. They hit power lines.

I never saw his mother smile again.

I wasn't close to the other two. They died in a car crash. Old cars, rural roads and teenage boy drivers aren't a good combination.  It was still a shock.  There were too many funerals that year.

I ran a lot. It helped. There was an isolated lake over some hills I could reach if I wanted to. I could disappear for a while. Feel the dry summer grass crunch under my shoes.  Feel the sun on my skin. I ran a practice marathon once, just to see if I could do it. And I got fast and fit. By the time I'd finished High School I'd got several athletics awards and cups.

I met the only other survivor of that year, G, years later at his mother's funeral. He was the one with the prison guard. He'd been let out for the occasion. He'd got fat. Teeth were missing. We locked eyes, but he didn't recognise me.  I remembered though.

I still think of J.  He'd already won scholarships at his age.  He should have lived. 

The Raw Runner

I'd got back from university for a summer break. Xmas had past. I was at  remote beach in NZ.  R was also there. Older than I was. Wife had died a bit earlier.  That was the catalyst.

He drowned himself. 

It was before cellphones hit the market, not that we'd have had coverage out there.  Getting to a landline took time. That sense of panic is still there, despite the years. It took 3 hours from the drowning, to when emergency services arrived at the beach.

That's not an optimal duration to be left with a dead body.

The nightmares started soon after.  Sleeping crashed.  Being asleep was worse than being awake.

I ran in the night instead. If you push your body to the limits of physical exhaustion, you can over-ride the brain. You'll get some sleep. My feet quickly got blisters. The blisters would burst or bleed. And I'd keep running.

After a while the insomnia wins. There are vast holes in my memory from that year.  I'd hallucinate stuff.

That was the first time I used therapy.  I was practically ordered to by the University.  There were things outside my friends' experiences. Outside their comprehension. It needed something for the experts.

Edit: I've only ever told one other person the full story of those hours at the beach. And that was my therapist. Nobody else really knows. Not my parents. Not my wife. I can't.  

I didn't stop running. But I eased back on the damage.

Everybody Hurts

I wasn't ignorant of what it was like to parent a child with a disability. My uncle R was born late in my grandparents lives. He had spina bifida. And significant intellectual impairment.   It was tough on my grandparents. It was from an era where there was little social support for such problems.  He died when he was a teenager.  As my parents were starting their family.  All that is left of him is a few scattered memories and a name on a tombstone.

At the very end, my grandmother would dream of him and her late husband. Despite the gulf of the decades, and numerous children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren, it was R she came back to.

Something is Wrong

He didn't talk.  That was the first sign. I read to him every night. It was part of the therapy. Sometimes my wife would come in to find us both asleep, book open in my hand. It exhausted us.

Along the way there was the trips to the hospital. The school years, when nobody ever invited him to a birthday party, or to hang out after school.  The sudden collapses and seizures without warning. You entered the world of MRIs, and of specialists. Of teetering on that edge of uncertainty of whether it was a terminal illness or not.  Of battling the system for the promised support, that never seemed to be as timely or as fulsome as promised.

And along the way, your friends and family find reasons not to visit as often.

Eventually you notice they don't come at all.

It's not just the people with disabilities who get marginalised, and pushed to the edges and cracks of society. Their families get carried along with them.

I like to run. It takes me back to those years when I was running as a teenager. That for a period of time, the world is calmer and simpler. I'm slower than I was then.  But the calm of eating up the kilometers in running shoes remains.

So I run.


  1. What beautiful writing.
    Your sparing use of words is haiku-like and evokes lasting images and impressions.
    No self pity - just life.

    1. Thank you for those kind words. I'm glad you divined I'm not wallowing in self-pity or misery.

  2. I keep your comments on my blog out of courtesy, but I can't help but notice you delete mine from yours. What should I do? Your comments certainly do nothing to enhance viewership. Any recommendations?

    1. Dozens of your comments remain on my blog. I removed only those asking to be unblocked on twitter and the comments here, as they are redundant. If you think that is grounds to delete my comments from your blog, go ahead. It's not my blog. Why would I care?

    2. My comment on this blog was to commend you for your writing skills. Anyway, I won't delete your comments as they help me to think deeper about my arguments. Have a nice day.

    3. You tried to exploit my experiences to push your religious beliefs. This is so typical of the games you play. We're not friends Stephanie.

    4. Beautifully written mate! Never been to where you live but your writing did take me to a run on those plains, hills and the lake :)

      I run, but I run on concrete jungles of Bangalore, India. Perhaps the calmness that it gives me is similar if not the same.

  3. To me, this is a story of determination. Running can be an escape, just letting your mind wander and emotions settle. But, it's a lot more, too. Self-care, and a kind of therapy. I often dream of running. Not away from, or to, just... in that moment. There's no other peace quite like it.

    1. Thanks for reading Hallie- yes, I agree. Running just seems to clear the mind, and put you back in a good mental space. It's gives a sense of calm that's therapeutic.

  4. He wasn’t talking. By age 3 he was put on the spectrum. By 3rd Grade we were walking into school. He was melting down. A classmate was trying to say hi. The other boys told him not to talk to my boy. I knew life would be different. He has a BFF now and learning to drive. Just my beautiful guy.

    1. Thanks Jen- I'm very glad your son has both a friend and a measure of independence. I don't doubt it was very tough at times.