The Pit

It’s Thursday night, somewhere around 9:00. I jerk awake when my Kindle thumps against my chest. The words on the screen have long since blurred together, and, in fact, the device has shut itself off. How long ago, I’m not sure…five minutes? Five days?

My eyes are half open, my mouth wide open. I feel like I’ve just resurfaced from the depths of some dark sea. I roll over onto my side and try to blink the room into view. Ah, yes…the living room. I’m on the couch. And my bed… my bed is so, so far away. The dog lifts her head, and eyes me if to say, “Get it together, man.”

I pitifully look at my wife who I register is on the opposite end of the couch, and I summon the words, “I think I’m going to go up,” consciously using the word “think” rather than the more definite “am” because this is going to take some doing.

When posed with the simple question of “How’s it going?” bleak may be the only suitable answer, although we would also accept grim. Such is the life of this runner when he’s in the pit.

I am well acquainted with the pit. My coach dropped me into it about five years ago when we started training for Boston 2013. It snuck up on me, like a creeping, low-lying fog that, before I understood, had wrapped its tendrils around my legs before completely enveloping me. I couldn’t pinpoint one run that sent me there. Rather, it was the accumulating fatigue that brought on the darkness.

I typically visit the pit on high mileage weeks that range from 85-100 total miles. It’s particularly cruel the first trip back after a few months away, as this week has been. But funnily enough, it’s a place you come to miss if you haven’t been there in some time.

The schedule calls for doubles Monday-Wednesday with a daily total mileage of 13-18 miles. The week starts ok, brimming with optimism, but it’s the Tuesday morning workout where things start to dim. I normally finish the mile or 1-2K repeats, tempo runs, or whatever goodies my coach has on the calendar in high spirits. But Tuesday night’s easy 5-6 feels slightly off. Wednesday morning, I eye the alarm clock suspiciously as if it has betrayed me, and I pull running clothes on while on auto-pilot and trot into a darkness both literal and metaphorical.

During those first few strides, I question how I will possibly be able to eke out another 5-6 that night, but those are questions (and challenges) for future Brad to confront. Wednesday night arrives and we curse morning Brad for being done with his run already. Sleep comes easy and deep and heavy, but never long enough. I am well beyond riding waves of tiredness and fully drowning in an ocean of exhaustion.

Between runs, I merely exist, emotionally blunt to the world. There is the constant pang of hunger. My stomach is a roaring furnace that continuously needs stoking. Good news is met with a weak smile, bad news a look of melancholy (not hard to pull off). Nerves are frayed. Patience is razor thin. Colleagues look worried. I’m prone to empty stares and temporary breaks from reality. I wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat as though I’ve intruded on my body frantically stitching itself back together. I do my best impression of a human, but the bus, as it were, is most assuredly running on fumes.

Thursday morning, I stare down 12-god-dammit-just-get-them-in-no-matter-how-slow-miles. I’m brushing my teeth and the eyes looking back at me in the mirror are vacant and haunting.

Last week, I addressed “the why,” and being in the pit certainly conjures up that heaviest of all questions. John L. Parker, Jr. wrote, that “The question that plagues the runner [in the pit] is ‘Why am I living like this? The question eventually becomes, ‘Is this living?’”

The answer is of course, “yes” because, though Thursday morning may be the darkest of runs, the night, as they say, is darkest before dawn. My good friend runDanrun knows this better than anyone, because he has accompanied me in the pit for the last year since we started sharing the same coach. When I put this post to him, he said, “We may question the why, but we also know deep down that we answered that question long ago, so it doesn’t need revisiting. Just lace up.”

The first time I told my coach of these feelings, he merely said, “You sound like you’re training for a marathon.” What I had taken to calling the pit, he reframed as “good tired.”

Friday morning dawns and something is different. It’s been 24 hours since my last run. The light has returned to my eyes, the fog lifted. Somehow having that extra 12 hours of rest has returned the bounce to my step. My feet don’t hit the ground with a dense thud – nay, they spring from the blacktop! My stride comes easy and dare I admit, I feel good. The long run on Saturday is even better and I half wonder if those two days of darkness were even real as I rip off long run miles on seemingly fresh legs.

When I started writing this week, I kept thinking of “the pit” in The Dark Knight Rises and descended into my own Batman wormhole, finally coming across the “Lazarus Pit.” Apparently, the Lazarus Pit is a natural phenomenon that possesses restorative properties that can instantly heal injuries and even grant immortality. It got me thinking that maybe the pit – given the weekend rejuvenation – isn’t such a bad place after all.

A chorus of savage chants echo off the walls of the pit. “What does that mean?” Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne asks in the final installment of Batman as he’s about to attempt to make the climb out. “Rise,” his fellow prisoner utters.

Indeed.

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