Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Drunks, Running, and the Old School


I finished Caleb Daniloff's book Running Ransom Road today and it got me thinking about two trends in my reading. One, I love to read books about recovering addicts. Two, I like things that take me back to basics. That second thing has led me to my current reading, The Complete Book of Running by James F. Fixx which came out in 1977.

Daniloff's book is very good. It's a memoir of addiction and recovery and all about a drug addict and alcoholic who is recovering without AA or other programs. Instead, he runs and, in the case of the book, he runs mostly marathons. I don't hear him preaching. He's just talking, telling a story, and it's easy to see how a person could fall apart this way. It's also possible to understand how someone could find their way back and be on the path of becoming.

My wife wonders sometimes why I like books about drunks. It's simple really. I like the idea that we can recover from mistakes and I love the idea of "becoming." See, there is no cure for alcoholism, there is no finish line to that race. It's a continuous process of being sober one day at a time. That appeals to me because for all too long I thought I had to arrive somewhere, that I had to become someone. Instead, I have to follow a path of becoming which isn't all that different from sobriety. It's a continuous process of kicking the habit and finding new habits to take the place of a bottle.

I've never had to struggle with alcoholism and for that I'm grateful. Instead, I struggle with a bunch of other demons all of which I have constructed and made fierce. A few years back they were tougher than I was, out of my control, and I was hurting. I was also hurting people around me. Getting control seemed too big. I couldn't do it.

Around that time I started running, I got together with a therapist, and of course I got deep into writing. All of that has led me to a place where I feel safe saying that I am recovering. I know for sure that I am becoming.

Okay, so what about the second thing I mentioned in the opening, about getting back to basics?

In the book, Daniloff trades the calculations he did as a drunk for the data collection so many runners live and die for. Not until the end of the story does he see that he doesn't need the numbers, the pace, the finish time, the GPS watch with up to the second data. He just needs the run, the meditation of it, the peace of spirit he finds in the slap of his feet on the road. He talks about how his next marathon he will run without the GPS and how he won't worry about getting it done in 3:59:59. He's just going to let the run happen and be there.

It's a simple idea that is tougher and tougher to find in Runner's World, but it's easy to find in Fixx's book from 1977. I'm wishing I could subscribe to Runner's World from the 1970's instead of the current issues. Those would really speak to me.

I do this in my teaching too. I don't much care for the newer books that come out aside from a few that feel suitably radical. I prefer James Herndon's and Frank Smith's stuff from the seventies and eighties or John Dewey from way back.

It's like listening to classic rock. The music wasn't so much better back then, it's just that we get to hear only those tunes that survived the test of time. Fixx's book, seems to me, does just that. It's a book about running and what it can do for you. Already in the introduction he has me:

But what I found even more interesting were the changes that had begun to take place in my mind. I was calmer and less anxious. I could concentrate more easily and for longer periods. I felt more in control of my life. I was less easily rattled by unexpected frustrations. I had a sense of quiet power, and if at any time I felt this power slipping away I could instantly call it back by going out and running.

For my money, there's nothing that new to say about running and no real gear necessary to enjoy it. In the summer I'm fond of going out with a pair of shorts and maybe a hat. No shirt, no shoes, no watch, just me and the run. There's nothing wrong with the other things so long as they don't get in the way of understanding that the run is about the run and about me. Nothing else matters.

I've got more demons to slay. Actually, I've got more demons with whom I need to find some peace. When I can invite them in and live calmly with them, I will feel more whole. Running helps. Reading books about addictions and recovery from them helps. And it helps too to keep writing on.