Tripod


I ran two hundred seventeen kilometers in one week. From Monday, December twenty-first to Sunday, December twenty-seventh, 2020, I ran thirty-one kilometers each day. In the morning, I ran 20.4 kilometers and each afternoon 10.6 kilometers, on the same two routes.

Each day was identical. I ran at the Großer Garten, the largest park in Dresden, one and a half kilometers from where I lived. At five o’clock I was awake and at a quarter to six out the door for three laps of the park, returning as dawn broke. I showered, stretched, and ate breakfast. My workplace, the university, was already dormant for the holidays, so I skipped working from my laptop for the week and instead read, wrote, or programmed. I ran again in the early afternoon, ate, and repeated the hobbies. Maintaining intermittent fasting, I ate two meals directly following the runs. In the evenings I went to the nearby dormitories, where some buddies and my girlfriend lived, who traveled twice during the week to visit relatives.

The morning run was mostly peaceful. My only company was my footsteps and breath. The laps seemed to pass progressively faster, although I never checked my splits. The flat, mainly gravel, and damp paths softened the pounding, as did my intentionally reduced pace. The park was quiet at this hour. Few people appeared and few cars occupied the roads, but I still ran clockwise to avoid the shine of headlights in my eyes. At the western corner, the animals in the zoo rested. At the northwestern corner, the glass factory stood dormant. Along the northern border, individuals boarded or left the trams, which drove by every quarter hour. Streetlights illuminated the perimeter path, shining through the nude branches of the trees lining the road side of the path. The forested interior of the park remained dark.

The afternoon run was exciting. This route took me along the main alley of the Großer Garten. Hordes of people occupied the park, especially on the sunny days. The sun! On four of the runs, I enjoyed sunshine on my face and legs. Through the preceding autumn, I had only run in the early morning, and so now found great joy in the sunlight. I rose early to place the run before all else, and to avoid crowds. In the afternoon, unfortunately, the herds of city people served as obstacles, which quickly got on my nerves. Although I intentionally ran slower than would have been most fun, the morning run served to loosen me up and irritation excited me, so I ran faster on the second runs. Upon completing the afternoon runs, I pumped out ten pull ups at the laundry bars in the yard, to ensure I wouldn’t go soft in the arms.

Through the run I found meaning. I ran first thing in the morning, all else – studies, work, girlfriend – came second. Through the run I strove to develop and prove my discipline, grit, and toughness. Through the run I breathed deeply and gained insight. Calisthenics had given me some muscle and other endurance feats – triathlons, swimming – had provided variety, but I preferred above all the run

I didn’t fuck about for this week. I concocted a mean brew of misery: darkness, cold, solitude. Because fuck you, that’s why! I’m no bitch! I am the desolate depths of the northern winter. I don’t need anything to run, I have fire in my heart to light the way and keep me warm!

For the past year, I had sought increasingly difficult physical tasks. If I completed something sufficiently challenging, I might become a man. I sought respect from men, men like my father, my undergraduate professors, my former cross-country coaches.

Such a mission was a fool’s errand. No German that I had met in two years valued discipline, grit, or toughness, they simply found me strange. I sought approval from men tougher than me, and didn’t even find men tough at all.

The stage appearance of British comedian Eddie Izzard disguises the athlete within, and the self-proclaimed “executive transvestite” lives up to his declaration. In 2016, to honor Nelson Mandela, Izzard ran twenty-seven marathons in twenty-seven days across South Africa, visiting various significant locations in Mandela’s life and raising over a million pounds for charity.

Izzard’s 2016 runs followed his failed first attempt. In 2012, Izzard, manifesting the reckless spirit of the run, decided to wear minimalist running shoes – basically slippers – before noting that the first marathons would involve treading hilly gravel roads. His feet, of course, were soft and deformed from years of ill-shaped shoes. In four days, he pounded his body to hamburger meat and started pissing blood. Taking all kinds of supplements (“supplements”) probably blasted his kidneys as well. When his doctors told him that this condition, exertional rhabdomyolysis, could take up to two months to resolve, Izzard canceled his remaining runs.

In 2016, Izzard attempted the feat again (wearing fat running shoes on the rougher terrain). He had blood work done regularly to help preclude pissing blood again. In a move of caution, he rested on the fifth day. Afterwards, in a maneuver of grit hearkening to Steve Prefontaine’s day, Izzard compensated for the lost day by running two marathons on the final day. He completed his mission.

Izzard’s marathons show that if one really wants to, he can simply smack his body into shape on the spot. His support crew of doctors and trainers helped, of course, but they were always cautious and skeptical of his ability to run as he wished. Personally, I found that if I could handle three days of a new habit, I was fine. So I didn’t hesitate to run a lot. Just slap your metabolism and hormones into shape, if you’re not a bitch!

“I run like a sack of potatoes on a mission” – Eddie Izzard, 2012 (Unintentionally blurred to reduce glare from pasty thighs)

On the first day of my big week of running, on the second loop of the morning run, I had insight. At the time, I was reviewing and writing about my first winter in Dresden, and suddenly understood my disinterest in religion and gods. It was a beautifully simple matter: when I called upon something beyond myself to withstand loneliness, my parents’ love came forth. I nearly cried on the run.

The insight was why I ran. When I stepped outside my normal self, I saw my life from another angle and who I was a little more clearly.

I worked on my writing throughout the week and twice became overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness. My gratitude extended towards my parents and the immense fortune it was that they had raised me, imbuing me with capacity and agency to reflect, learn, and grow. My sadness was for my girlfriend, whose parents’ divorce had ripped apart their family and children’s hearts.

The week was to provide all sorts of lessons.

The first time I listened to Alice in Chains, I was studying and thought to broaden my palette in grunge. I put on their eponymous album, also affectionately known as Tripod, for no apparent reason other than singer Layne Staley nudging my hand from beyond the grave. With albums I enjoyed, I usually found a certain context or mood in which I preferred to hear them. On this day, the first listen coincided with the right context. Jerry Cantrell’s sludgy guitar slamming in at full stride immediately won me over; I wasn’t in the mood for buildup, I wanted action. Such an album intro is second only to that of the band’s previous album, Dirt, which really starts with a kick in the balls. Then Cantrell joins Staley to harmonize, giving the band a surprisingly pleasant sound, despite the distorted guitars.

The acute listener is not distracted from the desolate tone of the albums instrumentation and lyrics. Staley struggled for a significant portion of his life with heroin. At one point, he was clean, but relapsed after his father showed up looking for the stuff.

My father taught me to avoid drugs, and would also recommend that I be careful with idiots. He predicted that I would encounter people who would see me as I was, and they would try to knock me down the very second I made even a small mistake.

“In the darkest hole, you’d be well advised
Not to plan my funeral before the body dies, yeah
Come the morning light, it’s a see through show
What you may have heard and what you think you know, yeah”

“Let the sun never blind your eyes
Let me sleep so my teeth won’t grind
Hear a sound from a voice inside”

Tripod, the most grunge album cover of all time, second opinions not welcome

On the first day after the first run, one of my (relatively new) roommates approached me and demanded that I clean the toilet better after use. This comment in itself – that I did not take proper care of the toilet – was reasonable. However, that he demanded I do anything at all was entirely out of place. He was a loser: he had no friends, spoke no German, did no sports, and spent his free time playing video games or watching entertainment alone in his room. He was a master’s student, as was I, but international students were a dime a dozen in Germany, perhaps enrolled for promising intellect, perhaps enrolled for diversity statistics.

I withheld my opinion and suggested to my roommate that he consider his own hygiene before criticizing me, but he didn’t understand my implication as relevant or ignored it. I swallowed my pride because telling him to fuck himself and get back to binge-watching dramas would have lead to trouble, and I didn’t want to take any risks. I wanted that dirt cheap rent and stability. Dirt cheap and dirty is what I got.

His room! The room in which a human being spent two thirds of his life smelled inhumanely of sweaty asshole, of week old sweaty running shorts, of the underside of a fat guy’s bitch tits. He kept the heat cranked, never opened his window, and let a wave of stench gush into the kitchen every time he opened his door. This fucker couldn’t tell fresh air from a fart if his prophet himself blew one in his face.

That said, I might have tolerated breathing the same air as such an invalid. However, the black flag for this person was that he had no comprehension, not an inkling of awareness, that his conduct as an individual might or ought to weigh upon his interactions with others. Even though he wasn’t German, he had already assumed the juvenile entitlement characteristic of his host: “Everyone should treat each other with respect.” Fuck you! I’m not your mom, quit digging for belly button lint, take the earbuds out, and go live. Such unconditional back-patting results in a city full of limp-dicked, mouth-breathing faggots instead of men. This guy was also supposedly religious, praying throughout the day, but he might as well have been crouched in the corner wetting himself for all that it reflected in the rest of his life.

Of course that’s mean! Fuck you! Life is for living, the body is a fantastic machine and the mind a marvelous computer, and you never know when it all might end. We’ve got things to do, places to go, people to meet, and shuffling about like a hunch-backed knuckle dragger is a slap in the face to all who have built us up. If some cross-dressing weirdo could pull a month of marathons out of his ass, then surely everyone should at least stand up straight or shut up and live alone in his shithole.

This roommate was just one of many useless males in my environment. The other roommate was even worse, but he’ll get his own story. Former roommates, classmates, strangers at the park, they all had empty hearts. They only wanted money or fun, they had no transcendent inclinations. Dresden was desolate, I was the only living man.

Alas, my top priority was paying off my student loan debt, a priority that I inadvertently placed above maintaining an appropriate status among others. I would stew on this anger for months, more angry at myself for acquiescing than at any particular person.

“Dear God, how have you been then?
I’m not fine, fuck pretending
All of this death you’re sending
Best throw some free heart mending
Invite you in my heart, then
When done, my sins forgiven?
This God of mine relaxes
World dies, I still pay taxes”

My father had, time and again, reminded me that most people are idiots, even the smart ones. He chastised my perfectionism and high expectations for others His favorite remark on society was, is, and will likely remain the following: “It’s okay to be fat and stupid, everyone’s a winner. Here, have a trophy.”

In my adolescence, I thought my father simply meant that I was smart, an assessment I knew well. But in recent years I found more meaning to that proclamation. My father and I both knew idiots who were tolerable. What I came to see was that most people had no intent, no drive, no will to live. They wished not to know themselves, to become more, or to wrestle with their gods. People are zombies, my father pointed out, they want nothing of meaning, the bread and circus suffice, intelligent or not.

My father could do without idiots telling him how to live, and I realized the same

Around the time of the big week of running, I had begun reading literature on libertarianism and was mulling over all of the ideas. In a nutshell, libertarianism describes a societal structure based on personal freedom and responsibility. Starting then, and over the next months, I would realize that German culture was quite un-libertarian (to put it mildly), and found that this fact explained many of my qualms with the culture, writ small and large. Viewing the society around me with this new lens, I saw only inadequacy and absolution of meaning. If I stewed on this while on the run, I became an overtly irritable presence.

At the beginning of the afternoon run on the third day, the sun shone on me and I ran with a shadow. Ahead on the sidewalk, a young man, perhaps a teenager, was walking in my direction in line with me. He was walking on his left side of the path, so I rolled the dice and settled to not alter my stride, continuing with a closed-mouth expression of aggression, ready to collide. Just before we would have collided, he stepped onto the grass (more to the left). Shortly afterwards, I heard an inarticulate yell behind me, but didn’t look back.

I heard everything in that yell. That yell was the young man’s frustration at ceding his path to another man, which he had not done as common decency, but instead because he had lost the brief, minute struggle for dominance.

Both Americans and Germans might be puzzled with this occurrence. The German would wonder why I read so much into the encounter and the American would wonder why the other guy picked such a skirmish. This particular occasion stood out to me because it was the first time someone else seemed to understand this type of interaction.

Germans don’t have a right of way for pedestrians. If you ask them, some would say they do, others not. They walk anywhere on a path, left, right, middle, or meander from side to side. Consequently, any time two are on intersecting courses, they play a silent game of chicken to determine who moves. This behavior baffled me for a long time, seeming uncharacteristic (un-stereotypical) for a German to not walk on the right side of the path and thus maintain order and predictability.

Diese kulturelle Eigenschaft ließ meinen wachsenden Verdacht kristallisieren, dass ein Deutscher nicht zivilisiert war, sondern domestiziert. Ich hatte bemerkt, dass ein Deutscher seine Haustiere behandelte wie die Regierung ihr Volk behandelte: als Spielzeuge. Einem Deutscher fehlte auch die Kenntnis zur eigenen Plastizität seines Sinnes und Körpers, man ist dann ein beständiges Wesen. Da seine Regierung und Medien die Hälfte seiner Tätigkeiten verschrieben, vorschrieben, verordneten, verpflichteten, und regulierten, begegnete ein Deutscher nur selten einer Situation, in der jemand anders ihm noch kein Verfahren zur Behandlung versehen hatte. Ohne eine von einer verantwortlichen Behörde erteilte schriftliche Genehmigung, Bescheinigung, Erlaubnis, Bestätigung, Zulassung, einen Nachweis und vielleicht auch einen Hinweis konnte sich kaum ein Deutscher vertrauen, links von rechts zu unterscheiden, und noch weniger richtig davon auszuwählen. Im seltsam unbeschränkten Bereich öffentlicher Bewegung benahm sich ein Deutscher wie eine von der Leine entfernte Katze.

In English: This cultural habit crystallized my growing suspicion that a German was not civilized, but domesticated. I had noticed that Germans handled their pets as the government handled its citizens, not as autonomous beings, but as toys. A German also lacked awareness of the innate plasticity of its mind and body, therefore considering itself stuck in its habits. With its government and media prescribing, mandating, regulating, dictating, and obliging much of its life activities, a German rarely encountered a scenario in which someone else hadn’t already provided it a set of instructions to follow. Without first receiving, from the responsible agency, in writing, a certificate, authorization, allowance, and confirmation, a German couldn’t trust itself to tell left from right, much less choose the correct one. In the elusive, unrestricted domain of pedestrian locomotion, a German behaved as a cat let off a leash.

A German might have suggested that it was allowed walk where it wanted to. Of course, and a German was also allowed to wander about blindfolded a thumb up its ass, but legality didn’t make an act cooperative or civilized.

This habit in itself was mere incompetence. What boiled my blood was the ignorance. Stranger after stranger walked in my way yet refused eye contact. No eye contact, just a stupid game of chicken. No eye contact, no acknowledgment of humanity, only the expectation to get out of the way.

I was starving for connection, and the creatures around me were either so rich in companionship that they could ignore everyone outside their circle or were too autistic to look up from their phones and attend to the world.

Many foreigners in Germany – my former classmates, for example – preferred to avoid confrontation with the culture, terrified of the invisible hand of bureaucracy rescinding their visas. Personally, I thought for a while that this meekness was appropriate as a certain measure of gratitude and respect as a visiting guest. However, such compliance was fruitless. No one cared. Politeness was of little consequence.

During the big week of running I started to shed this meekness (bitchness). One morning, as a jogger rounded a corner on the wrong side, I snarled (in German) “out of the way, princess.” Another morning, I called a woman an idiot for being in my way. One afternoon, I elbowed a guy in the upper arm. Get fuck out of my way, you fat fucking faggot!

“One day my plane leaves
Some way my head creeps
Some day my way leads
Some way my head creeps

Creeps

No more time
Just one more time

So crazy feel the hate
Yeah, I’ve got years to wait
I know it’s not too late
Lending clean hands of fate
Rise from the dirt I’m in
Hide in another’s skin
Stick black dress doll with pin
Your mouth takes on my grin”

My mother would have simply admonished my rants and my behavior. They’re just people! Be nice! When did you become so mean? Are you like that around your girlfriend?

Ah shit! They’re just people! It’s just a run! They got up early to run, I got up early to run, the air is cold and humid, the winter is deep and dark.

When Eddie Izzard ran his marathons, he was jovial with those he encountered. Fresh as a spring daisy or drenched in sweat and exhausted, the executive transvestite greeted the countrymen of the one he admired with joy and humble respect.

When I was on the run, I called strangers idiots and pulled passive aggressive bullshit. Even on Christmas, this is who I am! I see now. Four people in the park, and that’s too many for me!

The gods of the run then decided that, if I wasn’t going to use the run properly, I would gain no further insight. Thus, I had no insights after the first run of the week.

My father, when talking about idiots, also predicted that I would lead a rather solitary life. Many times this prediction came true when I moved far away or adopted strange habits, and also when I was simply an asshole.

The only remedy I knew for this mindless hate was an interaction. I would be at the store sometimes, stewing in a cloud of vile spite when an employee would show me a trace – a trace was all it took – and suddenly the cloud would lift and my mood would lighten. I was always amazed. Even with my useless roommate, just talking to him – even though I didn’t want to – resulted in less disdain. He was, of course, no less pathetic, but I was in a better mood for a while.

Unfortunately, Germans interacted with strangers as willingly as cats approached dogs, so such bubble pops, such lifting of the Käseglocke, were few and far between.

Fortunately, I had managed to get with a German woman, who at times only provided more negativity, and who could also free me from the black cloud.

“And you must change patterns all we trained
Or never regain peace you seek
Now you hear me, for the things I see
Yeah, I believe in inner peace, yeah”

On Christmas, I maintained my routine – the run came first.

After the second run, I went to my girlfriend’s place, where she had prepared a traditional (albeit vegetarian) German meal of red cabbage and potato balls with gravy, complemented (at my request) with guacamole, using my mother’s recipe. The meal was great. I could have, of course, learned to prepare traditional German dishes “on my own” with the internet, but one can do that anywhere in the world. Staying in the real world provided impetus to get to know people.

Not one to forget the way of my father, I scooped the guacamole with a chip down to my first knuckle. Worth considering is the paradox of chip and dip: if the chip doesn’t break, it doesn’t have enough dip, but if you break your chip while dipping, you’re a barbarian. One had best be careful around my extended family, if someone might (accidentally, mistakenly) only scoop a meager portion, they might end up with their whole hand shoved into the dip. Or, actually, for no reason at all, get their hand shoved in the dip. Suffice to say, double dipping and other such nonsense germaphobia was of no concern.

Our little Christmas date was ordinary, but better than my previous two Christmases, which I had spent nearly entirely alone. That meal with my girlfriend was my first Christmas dinner with another in Germany, a milestone. At least I was making some progress integrating.

You have to be careful with Alice in Chains. Their sound isn’t just distorted guitars, it holds up acoustic and live. Heard without caution, they’ll sneak up and break your heart with one of their softer songs. Scattered within all the yelling and angry riffs is simply a man confused and in pain. Staley, hooked on heroin, struggled and failed to harness his body and ultimately died from overdose.

“So there’s problems in your life
That’s fucked up, and I’m not blind
I’m just see-through, faded
Super jaded, and out of my mind

Do what you wanna do
Go out and seek your truth
When I’m down and blue
Rather be me than you”

At that point, I hadn’t seen anyone from my old life in over two years, not even my family, and was losing touch with goodness.

I made the separation brutal in its primacy. I made neither telephone nor video calls with my family. My primary means of communicating was by letters in the post. I was a quarter turn of the earth from my home, and that was where I lived. I am a living being, and I shall not reduce my voice to a machine recording.

Because fuck you, that’s why! Fuck all those spineless dorks who never went a day without calling mom, without wishing for a second childhood, with trying to climb back into the womb. Millions of men before me had left home and traveled far, wide, and for long before returning home, so I could too, such is the human way. I am a man, I shall find my way, even when those around me are cross-eyed, soy-eating gamers too busy shoving their keyboards up their asses to get the crayons out of their noses.

I must run far, breathe deeply, and become more than I was. I shall go into the world, meet people, and hear their stories.

For the past year, my girlfriend had provided me with the native perspective on German culture, and another angle from which to despise it. I listened to her stories about her childhood and adolescence, and she seemed to have never known anyone with a spine: negligent father worked long to avoid home, caustic mother divorced him, godless grandparents watched them ruin a family; boys abused her, girls abandoned her, no one cared. This was German culture, a culture of recalcitrant children, of individualists with no self-ownership, of crabs in a bucket.

I hadn’t witnessed love in two years, and was dying inside.

“You’re right as rain, but you’re wrong to blame
Agreed my crime’s the same
My sins I’ll claim, give you back shed pain
Go find a place for own shame
So you can deal with this thing unreal
No one made you feel any hurt, yeah”

On the last run, I let loose. My girlfriend accompanied me on bike. The Germans wore winter gear for the arctic, I wore a t-shirt and shorts, I was no Warmduscher. I flew through the park, breathing deep and strong and racing cyclists. I yelled out once for Benny as I blazed through the final kilometer. I knew I had raced, but was surprised to note that my pace was even faster than my usual tempo pace.

As usual, the completion of the challenge was anticlimactic. I did pull ups, my girlfriend went home, then I showered, stretched, and ate. I wasn’t tired.

After the big week, I continued to run, but lighter. I dropped down to ten kilometers per day. I also found relief in running elsewhere than the park, but not in continuing to run early. The whole week was cloudy, and I was back to running entirely in the dark. I resumed calisthenics in the afternoon. My appetite changed and my hormones recalibrated. I did not feel good.

Contrary to intuition, despite the double dose of mean Mr. T coursing through my body during the big week, I was not once horny. I had planned for a demanding endeavor, so I bargained with my unconscious before beginning. When the time was right, and this week was a right time, I could reach in and request that all of my sexual energy go into the run. My girlfriend was away four days of the week and, to my knowledge, barely noticed.

On the following weekend, my left Achilles tendon succumbed to overuse, growing stiff and inflamed. On the first day after the holidays, I did not run.

I rejected the prospect of not training legs, ignoring the possibility of total rest. I could have no peace of mind or body without training legs first thing in the morning, so I did lunges with a backpack, up and down a hill, which was arguably the next dumbest thing to do besides continuing to run at all. For most of January I did not run and was miserable, always bunged up. I hated not doing cardio. I would later attribute this feeling to a vegetarian diet, but that’s another story.

I mulled over the causes of injury, considering various orders of meaning. I overestimated my capacity for stress, and had a rigid fixation on training. I had to run every single day. The strain on my body created stress in my mind, and I became (more of) an asshole. The gods of the run, always watching, smote me for my anger, arrogance, and insolence. In the depth of winter, they took away my daily sliver of sunshine, and let my body wear down.

In February my Achilles tendon would finish healing, and I would immediately commence training for my next hungry marathon.


“Guess it’s over now
I seem alive somehow
When it’s out of sight
Just wait and do your time You know it’s been on my mind, could I stand right up
Look myself in the eye and say that it’s over now?

We pay our debt sometime
Yeah, we pay our debt sometime
We pay our debt sometime
Yeah, we pay our debt sometime”

One wonders why I stayed where I was, in Dresden, in Germany, away from home.

First of all, I came to learn. I came to learn about a place and its people far from my home and to become a man. At the outset, I thought Germany was a suitable place, because I thought I would get along with the culture. I was entirely wrong, I didn’t get along at all, but that, of course, made the task more challenging and appealing. Any thumb-sucker could sit and enjoy a good time with a good crowd, only a man with a purpose would opt to withstand hell.

I remained through the difficult times because I had not yet proven that I had learned a place and its people and that I had become a man. My tasks were to become fluent in a second language, to get a master’s degree, and to pay off my student loans, the last of which I had not yet even started tackling.

In February my Achilles tendon would finish healing, and I would immediately commence training for my next hungry marathon.

Cultural integration would proceed slowly. In the spring, I would meet a man and we would train together. In the summer, I would move out of the city and into the hills south of Dresden. In the fall, I would begin a PhD program (in Dresden) and have coworkers for the first time in three years. And in the next winter, I would befriend the local butcher and get to know his expansive circle of tradesmen. All in due time.

I would also eventually pay off my loans. With disposable funds at hand, I could go out and meeting many people. With these occasions and my friend the butcher, I would leave the state of social starvation and my attitude towards strangers would improve. Worth considering, however, is the great degree to which the completion of my three goals influences how others relate to me and respect me. I am careful when judging the extreme nature with which I engage in tasks, because, while the process may be grim, it gets me to where I want to be.

Clear to me now is how much of a victim, a drag, and a burden my ex was and how much her story skewed my view of German culture, when I knew few people. As my parents have reminded me (via letter) the people of my homeland also were, are, and will likely remain ignorant retards, but in different ways than the Germans. Blue-collar Germans, at least, have a better idea of a right way to conduct oneself.

“To give any less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” – Steve Prefontaine, one of the cockiest fuckers to step on a track

(These days, the contents of this blog lag behind my current life, my family has long been aware of my undertakings and relationships).

Relevant:
Izzard’s 2016 marathons
Help with vocabulary
Alice In Chains Unplugged
Marathon one, marathon two

Hungry Marathon II (40 Hours)


I ran a marathon after water fasting for forty hours. Such a run was yet another example of my tendency to perform difficult tasks during difficult times and yet another manifestation of my desire to know what my mind and body can endure.

After six weeks of stressful, miserable living with my girlfriend, I moved out of her single room apartment. She and a few buddies helped me carry my belongings a half kilometer to a different apartment I would share with two men I barely knew.

Naturally, in my extreme haste to move out, I ignored red flags for the two new chumps I would then live with. The apartment was a bigger dump than my girlfriend’s place. No one had ever, as far as I could tell, cleaned the kitchen. The bedroom I would take reeked of curry and was also coated in oil and grime. I would ignore the greater implications of these issues for the time being. Nonetheless, I started to realize the sort of antisocial losers I had before me.

When I moved in to this new place, I did not connect to the internet. I would live without internet in my residence, at least for a few months. My new roommates would prove to be addicts, but that didn’t deter me. To use internet, I would use the university. Fortunately, this apartment was a five minute walk away from one of the institutes. I could slip into an empty lecture hall with my laptop to check emails and read internet articles.

Unplugging from the internet has been the most profound lifestyle change I have yet made. The devastation of tee-totaling and veganism on my social life, the opening and growth fostered by LSD trips, the trauma and upheaval of moving to a new country, these all pale in comparison to the impact of the obliteration of lies and delusions as I left the virtual world and began to truly think for myself. At the beginning, however, I had no idea of the extent to which this shift would affect me.

The first consequence of unplugging was one of logistical concerns. To work on my Master’s thesis, I had to communicate with my advisor, who mostly worked from home at the time. I primarily worked alone in my room and visited the nearby institute for internet. Although a little annoying, I quickly came to prefer keeping the outside world outside my residence and having peace there instead.

Think again, bookworm! While running simulation after simulation, each of which took at least five minutes, I read. At this time, I read Die Dunkle Seite des Mondes (The Dark Side of the Moon), a novel by Martin Suter. This novel tells the fictional story of Urs Blank (great name), in which the lawyer has a bad trip with psychedelic mushrooms and becomes a psychopath living in the woods trying to cure himself. Die Dunkle Seite des Mondes is the greatest German language work I’ve ever read, and it thrilled me beyond to no end. The experience captivated me and I became Urs Blank, on the run from police and on the search for the redeeming mushroom. But I didn’t need this stress. After some mystery and thriller novels, I would notice how they distorted my mood and outlook and decide to not read such books any more. This insight came later, and for the first week in a new apartment, I lived two lives.

Suddenly, I saw I was away from my girlfriend, I finished reading Die Dunkle Seite des Mondes, I finished my thesis after seven months and submitted it. Such immense change was overwhelming.

Time for a marathon! Time to starve! Because fuck you, that’s why! I had trained enough for fasted long runs, I was ready for a fasted marathon.

On Monday, November twenty third, 2020, I had submitted my thesis. Two days later, I asked my girlfriend to accompany me on the following Saturday as I ran a marathon after fasting for a day. She obliged despite my warnings that the experience would be quite uncomfortable for her, dark and miserable. I withheld my plans from all others. My (casual) buddies would not have understood, they would not have believed in me. They would have said some weak, inane drivel like “you’re going to hurt yourself” or “why do you torture yourself?” Shut up, bed-wetter! Have you no fire in your heart? At least my girlfriend knew I would not change my mind.

On Thursday, I ate normally, finishing my last meal in the early afternoon.

On Friday, I ate nothing. I ran first thing in the morning (no exceptions), a very easy ten kilometers. I relaxed most of the day, either programming or reading studies. My only nourishment was electrolyte solution or plain water. Throughout the day, I felt lonely. I hated fasting, it always amplified negativity in me. In the evening, my girlfriend and I went for a walk, then chatted at my place. She had brought tea, and shared some with me. I usually didn’t care for tea, but the fast had made the spare calorie or two in hot leaf water appealing. We discussed my plan for the next day.

I had trained for nine weeks. I ran every day early in the morning, before breakfast, and was accustomed to the growing cold and darkness of autumn. I averaged almost one hundred kilometers per week and included several tempos and long runs. Four of the long runs took place after forty hour water fasts. I spaced fasts two weeks apart to preclude any and all physical and mental damage. Two of the fasted long runs were difficult, and two were easy, in an effort to normalize the fasted run to my unconscious.

WeekDistance (km)Long run (km)Fasted
09.2895.622.0Yes
10.05106.425.0No
10.1281.716.0Yes
10.19102.622.0No
10.26120.230.0Yes
11.0283.616.0No
11.0990.716.0Yes
11.1685.1NoneNo
11.23101.242.8Yes
Training summary

On Saturday, November twenty-eighth, after my alarm woke me at a quarter to five, I did my warm up and walked fifteen minutes to the tram station. The tram connection was poor, otherwise I would have taken trams the entire way to the river. I arrived at the Elbe by Albert Bridge. On the far side of the bridge was the spot where my girlfriend had fallen from her bike during my first marathon, half a year before. The route would be twice my girlfriend’s half-marathon route from the summer.

I waited at the intersection near the bridge. Only a few cars and cyclists disturbed the early morning quiet. The air was humid and just above freezing. I grew nervous because my girlfriend did not arrive at our planned time. I considered the logistics of carrying all my gear with me – canceling the run was not an option – until she arrived by bike shortly before six.

I took off my pants and sweatshirt, under which I was already wearing my lucky blue running shorts and two layers on top, a black t-shirt under an old cross-country team shirt, and old tube socks as extra sleeves. I put on my reflective sash and was ready to run. My girlfriend took a couple photos. I had not eaten in forty hours.

At six, I ran. I yelled for Benny as I started. My girlfriend rode just behind me. My hands were cold. I settled into a comfortable pace. Once away from the inner city, my eyes adjusted to the minimal light shining from streetlights a few hundred meters away and from buildings on the far side of the river. Occasionally a smooth-brained cyclist passed by with a floodlight pointed straight forward. My mind wandered through older, hard times.

What is this shit!? Cold! Wet! Dark! This is nothing! Do you think I fucking forgot? Do you think I forgot the first winter? You get nothing, fuck you! No, look, I found a friend to come with me! Fuck you! I could do anything when I was alone, and I can do more with a friend at my side. Do you think I fucking forgot? Do you think I forgot about all the cowards that she knew before! Fuck you! I shall show her patience and persistence.

I ran without a sound. I did not waste breath during a marathon.

An hour into the run, a bit past the quarter mark (first turnaround), dawn began to break. I stopped for thirty seconds (kept my watch running) to pee at the side of path. My girlfriend said she was cold and hungry. I told her to stop at the bakery along river that we had already passed to warm up and get something to eat. I would be fine on my own for a bit, I knew that biking as slowly as I was running was grossly insufficient to keep warm.

I ran a few kilometers alone. Shortly before the halfway mark (second turnaround), an oncoming female runner greeted me as we passed one another. That brief encounter was the first time in two years that a German woman ever greeted me while running. I ascribed the occurrence to marathon vibes. At the turnaround, I checked my time, ninety-nine minutes. I felt alright. I felt good. I knew I could hold this pace, that with daylight I would be stronger. I bellowed to the river “it’s alright!”

A kilometer into the second half, my girlfriend rejoined me and said she felt better. I passed off my reflective sash to her and asked for water. I had not yet drunk anything on this run. She passed me a bottle with electrolytes and I took three massive slurps. That drink was the nectar of life, it lifted me and I flew. I ran smoothly for another hour. Joggers began to appear on the path. I passed all and none passed me. I am the empty man, nothing weighs me down!

During the second half, my girlfriend periodically stopped to take videos of me. As I ran by her, I said, each time, “yeah buddy, light weight.” If you have ever wondered what runners think about while in a marathon, then here’s the answer: motivational quips or V O I D, and nothing else.

At eight kilometers go, I grew tired. I grew self-conscious. A part of me did not care that I was running a marathon on empty, that part derided me anyway for running slowly. At full power I could (should) be running a minute faster per kilometer, and yet, here I was, hiding behind my invented hurdles like a coward. For the first time in the entire run, my hands finally got warm. I was warmed by shame. I ran in silence.

At four kilometers to go, I grew weaker. For each stride, I lifted my knee, extended the foot, and contracted my thigh to absorb the impulse. I’m no bitch! In reviewing the videos, one can see that my form had become bouncier, just as in my first marathon.

At one kilometer to go, I picked up my pace, and for the last few hundred meters, I revved up to a tempo.

I strode through the arch of the bridge, stopped my watch, and stopped running. The first few walking steps I took were wobbly. Light weight. I meandered over to a leafless tree and peed, then back near my girlfriend, who stood by observing and presumably frowning to herself about my choice of urinal. I laid down on the ground and asked her to fix me another electrolyte drink, which I then drank all at once. Life in a bottle.

Scantily clad tree in the background

Known:
First half: 21.4 km, 99.0 min = mean pace 4:38/km
Second half: 21.4 km
Total run: 42.8 km, 196.0 min = mean pace 4:35/km

Calculated:
Total run – first half = second half
196.0 min – 99.0 min = 97.0 min
Mean pace 4:32/km
Marathon distance – first half = second half to marathon
42.2 km – 21.4 km = 20.8 km

Marathon estimate based on scaling total mean pace
(Total time)/(total distance)*(marathon distance) = scaled marathon time
(196.0 min/42.8 km)*(42.2 km) = 193.3 min = 3 hours, 13 minutes, 15 seconds

Marathon estimate based on first half and scaling second half mean pace
First half time + (second half time)/(second half distance)*(second half to marathon) = scaled marathon time
99.0 min + (97.0 min)/(21.4 km)*(20.8 km) = 193.3 min = 3 hours, 13 minutes, 17 seconds

I did not feel the cold immediately, but I knew it would set in soon. In a daze, I sat up, stood, and put my street clothes back on over my running clothes. I wasn’t hungry. I was empty, of empty body, empty mind, empty heart. My girlfriend accompanied me back to the tram stop. Referring to my face, she said I looked like a corpse. Maybe so. I took out the protein shake I had packed, and drank it at once. My girlfriend pulled out a little bag of candy, Marzipankartoffeln (marzipan potatoes), or lumps of marzipan. She offered me one, and I took it. I ate the candy, my first solid food in almost two days, my first candy in over a year. That concentrated shot of sugar was the single greatest thing I had ever eaten in my entire life. Every nerve in my mouth rejoiced at the return of pure F U E L into my body. I asked for another, and she gave me her last piece.

The energy of the shake and candy were no match for the immense cold that soon washed over me. My whole body grew cold as we waited for the tram. A child greeted us with a phrase I hadn’t heard before: Grüß Gott (greet God), which stood out to me. On the tram, time slowed as I grew colder and colder. My girlfriend split off for her place, and I focused on holding myself upright as I walked to my place, upstairs to the fifth floor, and right to the bathroom, where I dumped my gear, stripped, and stood in the shower until I was warm again. Then I dressed and made oatmeal.

Recovery was simple. I ran short for the following week and resumed easy calisthenics as a second workout. I noticed no ill effects of the fast and run. I began working as a part-time research assistant at the institute where I did my thesis and where I would eventually begin my doctoral degree. I worked from my laptop, periodically visiting the institute, and had entirely flexible hours, which would give me lots of time to run. I established a new routine.

I immediately formulated my next endurance challenges. I would run a two hundred kilometer week and then train for the next iteration of the hungry marathon. I still think about the last half hour of that run, how my unconscious crept up to tell me that I should really be running fast instead of miserable. I would ignore it for the time being.

Master’s Apprentices


I hated living in the student dorms, such conditions were beneath me. My roommate was an inert, wide-eyed loser, whose cave smelled of microwaved hot dogs and who went home every weekend. The neighbors either were antisocial Germans who spent their evenings watching television or were misbehaved children, running about drunk and screaming above their inane, thumping music. But the dorms were cheap and I was tight on funds. When my rental contract expired, I would find an apartment, which would coincide with the completion of my Master’s degree.

Think again, desk pilot! While apartment hunting for my first time, I had neither a clue how to proceed nor friends for reference. I squandered my time perusing offers rather than securing viewings. My trial-and-error floundering only slowly produced insights. I didn’t know that no landlord cared that I was a Master’s student, that I had savings but no job. I should have known that students commanded no respect in society, since any slack-jawed retard could get into a German university, but I seem to have been no different in my naivete. I had no apartment secured when my dorm contract expired, and could not suddenly request an extension.

On September thirtieth, 2020, I moved in with my then-girlfriend, who lived down the hall in the dorms in a single room. I didn’t want to, because I didn’t want to live with any woman until my (future) wife. We didn’t know it then, but she was a staunch feminist. In the short term, she seemed helpful, seeing nothing problematic with seeking aid from a significant other. Naturally, it was entirely emasculating for me to ask such a pathetic favor from anyone, let alone my girlfriend. She didn’t see any issue with my ineptitude with independence, but she was unable to see anything more than a few days away.

Blind in desperation, I ignored warning signs and red flags for this relationship and living together indefinitely. We had no peer friends in decent relationships to look towards as reference. We hardly had friends at all. We arranged to sleep separately, since we fidgeted too much for one another, she in her queen size bed and me on my mattress on the floor. Then again, we didn’t agree on a set bed time or waking time, which looked like an easy way to lose sleep anyway. My girlfriend had one house key, so we would always have to coordinate our time outside her room. Most devastatingly, we had little privacy. The university was on lockdown (or scam mode, take your pick), so my girlfriend watched lecture recordings on her laptop, and I would save commuting time to my institute by also staying home to work on my thesis.

My study plans had drifted away from my schedule; I would not complete this degree in a tight two years (and few in my program would). I got a later start on my thesis than anticipated, and the work time would spill into a fifth semester. September was a constant tug of war between apartment hunting and working on my thesis. On the thesis itself, I had charged forward into it with little regard for focusing on essential tasks and results, and sank time into tangential topics. My advisor, while helpful with small-scale problems, did not magically maintain my schedule for my own goal. So I would not meet it.

I felt myself coming apart, and decided to commence with my next training sequence: running when fasted. No, not just intermittent fasting, I’m no bitch, full-day fasting! I’m still an athlete. Fuck you! I will train as no one else does, to become the toughest, meanest fucker around. Hunger is a primal sensation, and I will conquer it! Then I will run a marathon fasted. When life brings me down, I go lower, just to be in control.

On Friday, October second, 2020, the second day of living with my girlfriend, I ate nothing. I conducted my day as normal. I awoke, did my daily run, (no breakfast, just shower), worked on my thesis, (no lunch, just light mobility training), worked distracted on my thesis, journaled, and spent the evening being irritated with my girlfriend. Hunger was uncomfortable.

Opeth is a Swedish progressive metal band (and a half-dozen other genres, shut up fanboys). I don’t particularly care for growled vocals, but Opeth’s singer Mikael Akerfeldt is interesting because he sings both with deep, husky growls and with a beautiful, clean croon. The man clearly makes a choice, which fascinates me, especially on Master’s Apprentices. You don’t have to like the song, I didn’t at first, but that doesn’t matter because the song is me.

“There is a voice calling for me
There is a light coming down on me
There is a doubt that is clearing
There is a day that is dawning

There is a wound that is healing
There is a season waiting for me
There is a road that is turning
There is a fire still burning”

On Saturday morning, I went on my first fasted run – twenty-two kilometers, a little longer than a half-marathon. I’m not easing into it, I’m no bitch! At six o’clock, as my girlfriend snoozed away, I was out the door, fuming in an inarticulate fury. My body felt strange for the first few kilometers: my pace was slow, my core temperature seemed to fluctuate, and I stopped to take a bad shit in a park. When I reached the Elbe River at the quarter mark, I was miserable. Along the river, the first morning light revealed an overcast sky and the wind pushed against me.

“A sickness in me
Constant pace towards the end
The need is stronger
This time the need is deeper”

I became overwhelmed. I yelled at the wind, outraged at yet another injustice done unto me. I yelled because I could; I knew this stretch of the Elbe to be empty at this early hour. I screamed and cursed as I had during my first winter in Dresden.

“There is a peace I am searching
There is a freedom I’m depending on
There is a pain that’s never ending
There is a rain falling only on me

There is a dream I am living
There is a life I’m dreaming of
There is a death I’m awaiting
There is a home I am deserting”

What a fool! Starving, yet running away from food! Running into the wind, just go the other way. You limp-dicked fucking faggot! What kind of man depends on his girlfriend? Idiot foreigner! Two years still isn’t enough to navigate a new society? A pencil-necked poindexter, can’t even get a few simulations to work right. Fuck this!

“I hold my breath in wait
Only moments remain
Movement for departed hope
Effect for absent friends

Sever the faith from my body
Leave me begging for more
Take what I have and deliver me
Into everlasting sleep”

Fuck you! The run is the way! The run fosters the deep breath to cleanse my mind; the run anchors my soul to my body; the run fosters the humility to see myself clearly. I set out to run a fasted half marathon on this morning, and that’s what I’ll do. Fuck you! I don’t need anything to run, I have fire in my heart, I have the spirit and the feeling of the run, I remember the face of my father. One day, people will call me Iron Will, and this run is but one on the way.

“Soothing trance
Colors fade
And disappear
Ethereal light
Showing me what I can do without”

I reached the half-way point of the route (a ferry station) and turned around. Suddenly, everything changed. My temperature had stabilized and I was hot enough to take off my reflective sash and my shirt. I was running with the wind, returning to the dorms to food. Dawn was over, the day had arrived, and the gods of the run, smiling upon me for my fortitude on this morning, brushed aside the clouds to let the sunshine grace my back as I soared down the Elbe.

“In a motionless scene
There is only me
I take what I can
Controlling you to get ahead

Fading away
And leaving
Long for sleep
Closer now
Lead the way into death”

I finished the run exhausted and satisfied. I had run negative splits (50:20/47:20). Because fuck you, that’s how! I broke my fast with honey and then oatmeal and suffered no ill effects. Ordinarily, I ate a big lunch and skipped dinner to achieve intermittent fasting, but not this time. I got a whiff of my girlfriend’s rice and changed my mind for once. That evening was one of the last nice evenings we would have for the next weeks.

“Every wretched dream
I’ve left behind
Every waking hour
I lie in wait

Sucked inside by will
Gone into the flood
All my questions unfurled
As I was put to the test

Once I’m below there’s no turning back
Back
Back

Every wretched dream
I’ve left behind
Every waking hour
I lie in wait”

I lived with my girlfriend for several weeks. It was hell. I was an anal-retentive neat freak and she was a self-pitying lazy slob. I hated more than anything else how she wore headphones around me, as if my presence, my silent working were so unbearable. Isn’t that the ultimate insult, that a person would rather listen to recordings than the human being before them? She hated more than anything the pressure I put on her to grow up, to take care of her living space and herself. Isn’t that the ultimate insult, that one’s supposed partner not accept them where they were? We refused to accommodate one another.

I continued to run daily, first thing in the morning. This phase of training was great. Every two weeks I fasted for a day then ran long on the next. In October, the summer heat was gone and the cool autumn air provided ideal running conditions. In the last week of October, I ran an excellent one hundred twenty kilometers. I skipped all calisthenics (but maintained mobility exercises), did two double runs, and withstood a thirty kilometer fasted long run (the third fasted run). That run was an especially long effort, since it lasted over two hours and excluded water, as usual. I knew then that I would be capable of running a marathon fasted.

I ground away on my thesis and searched for an apartment. For the thesis, I requested and received an extension. I used some (technically true) bogus bullshit (university lockdown) to argue for more time, when really I couldn’t make the deadline without grinding harder. I sought an apartment until I realized I wouldn’t get one, at which pointed I switched to seeking a shared living arrangement, or rather, sifting through navel-gazing nimrods.

I recently reread my journal from this time, which was quite unpleasant. I maintained rigid habits and hurried through hobbies, trying to fulfill some quota of self-expression to counter the damage from doing computer work all day. The poor handwriting of my older journals reminds me of how hastily I lived. The absence of friends let my instincts and skills in relationships atrophy, because of which I turned to self-discipline to maintain structure and meaning. My girlfriend sat by, overwhelmed by my urgent presence and so afraid of disappointing me that she didn’t do anything that didn’t disappoint. The absence of men in my life let gave me an ever-present background anger, which I used as an impetus to prove myself with physical toughness. I hated living in the dorms, such conditions brought out the worst in me.

“Plunging into the deepest void
Departed shell left drained behind

Pacing roads unknown
Searching for a new home
Desert in my eye
Barren lands inside”

Route from my first fasted run, 5k to the Elbe, 6k along, then return

1000 Pull Ups


On September nineteenth, 2020, I did one thousand pull ups, all in a continuous sequence of two hundred fifty sets of four. I completed each set on a one hundred second cycle, for a total duration of seven hours. I’m a lean fellow, so I opt more for patience than power.

I did not train with this task as a goal, but rather I thought one day I might try the task, trained lighter for a few days, then performed the pull ups on the weekend. My upper body regimen at the time consisted of a lot push ups, pull ups, dips, and rows, usually as ten or twenty sets of a fixed, small number of repetitions. Also, I had spent spring and summer climbing a tree and swinging from its branches. First and foremost, swinging from tree branches is fun. Second, climbing and one-armed hanging are great for shoulder strength and stability, and served as complements to hundred of identical repetitions of bar pull ups.

I did the one thousand pull ups at the local calisthenics park where I usually trained. My girlfriend accompanied me in the beginning at mid-morning, visited around midday, and watched me in late afternoon finish the last few sets. Otherwise, my only company was various hobbyists, none of whom I spoke with nor who paid any mind to me. When my girlfriend came by, I cracked jokes the entire time, distracting her when she did a workout of her own. Otherwise, I was silent. I ate little, only two protein shakes and an apple with some bread.

I spent the day watching others come and go, some proficient fellows doing muscle ups, but mostly beginners with their silly internet workouts and sloppy form. Typically, these dorks wore headphones, and some even brought speakers to blast amelodic recorded garbage. If you think you need music or any external stimulus to train, go back to therapy until you can handle and channel your thoughts like a big boy. Why rich German college boys feel that everyone should listen to American ghetto rap is a mystery for the sages. Why don’t any of these guys just sing instead? If you’re going to make noise in public, at least make it yourself.

Listen to the park, there is much to hear. I spent the day I pacing back and forth, waiting for the next set and attending to my environment. The wind rustles the trees and bushes. The birds tweet and squabble with each other. The aluminum facade of the nearby recreation building creaks in contraction and expansion as the clouds cover and reveal the sunshine. Cars, buses, and cyclists whiz by on the road. Quiet your own breath, and you may hear others breath and their hands slip along the bars. Calm your mind and execute your task with full focus.

Seven hours was the longest time I had ever devoted to one challenge, and I thought about my hobby of endurance athleticism. With these pull ups, I was in rest most of the time, which was rather boring. I considered running another marathon, and the possibility of finally getting into ultramarathons.

That evening, I watched a short documentary about the Barkley Marathons, supposedly one of the toughest ultramarathons. The participants, and the men who have won, spoke about running in a way I felt in my bones. I looked my girlfriend in the eyes, who was watching with me, and told her that one day I would run in this race. I enjoyed a bit of strength-like endeavors, such as pull ups and lunges, but nothing more than the run. The run remained the right form of misery for me.

But I was several years too young for the Barkley! First I needed other training, to train in ways that no others did, ways that distinguish men from boys, ways that would make me tougher than an old leather boot. On the day of one thousand pull ups, I decided that I would begin by running another marathon, this time after not eating for forty hours.

To Live Is To Die


After work on Friday, I met up with a colleague at his place. We sat around and talked for a bit. Then my colleague offered for me to try his headphones, since I had mentioned before that I didn’t use headphones any more, and experience music at a higher quality. Sure, why not. I listened to Metallica’s To Live is to Die, a song that I had had on repeat in my mind recently. I looked out the window towards the Dresden main station and listened, enjoying the clarity and force of the music in my ears.

My colleague had seemed surprised that one would forego headphones for two years, so I doubled down and replied that they were for autists. I am a social being, and headphones are anti-social, a tool for users to isolate themselves from their surroundings. I don’t need any extra signals to ward people away from me and I want to know everything going on around me at all times, so I don’t use headphones.

But I’m not tone deaf, listening to a song with good quality – compared to the low bar of my laptop speakers – was excellent. However, a recording is not the real thing, is not being in the presence of musicians and being part of a group, and sticking to my tinny laptop speakers serves as a reminder to keep my eye out for live music.

My colleague, having not (yet) written me off as an anachronistic curmudgeon, and I went to visit some other buddies of mine, who live at the student housing where I used to also live. We all spent the evening sitting around, talking, and debating. My ex-girlfriend also came over, since she lived in the building as well.

The evening was not fun. Attending to the words of my ex more than any other in the room, I noticed that she remained an antagonistic wretch towards me, periodically trying to twist the conversation to insult me. With my buddies, I confirmed my growing suspicion that most of my acquaintances view me as entertainment. Look, I know I’m the conspiracy theory guy, I find great fun in arguing for the opposite perspective than what’s popular, but it would be nice for other people to think for themselves as well. One topic of the evening was the notion that a person doesn’t need to consume rock salt, that it’s merely a preservative. I like my arguments to be grounded in reality, so I opened with the experience that I hadn’t consumed salt in two weeks (with one minor exception), and maintained my running and calisthenics training. Eventually I realized that they would not attempt to adapt their models to contain my observation, or accept the possibility that (good) meat has everything, and instead made fun of me. One other discussion proceeded similarly.

As the night grew late, I grew increasingly irritated. I should have left when my ex arrived. I had reckoned that I would have been better off that evening being with some people rather than none at all. Alas, I was wrong. I was nothing but entertainment to these people, a living television show, telling strange stories and proposing heterodox opinions, only to be mocked myself.

I left eventually and marched home, fuming for a while. Although I had my bike with me, I walked, pushing it at my side, an hour uphill. Just a few months before, my ex and I would walk up to my place together on Friday evenings to spend the night and next day together.

I replayed To Live is To Die in my head as I walked. Metallica composed the song using riffs of their late bassist, Cliff Burton, who had died in a bus accident during the band’s previous tour. It is the penultimate track on …And Justice for All, commencing after fifty minutes of James Hetfield’s angry yelling. The song is mostly instrumental, and has the thrash metal character of the preceding tracks. Without Hetfield singing (“singing”), the instrumentation becomes central. After a while, you can realize that Metallica isn’t just four angry men in a band, but four musicians missing their lost friend.

I missed when my ex was nice, when I had acquaintances who saw me as a human, when I had a place among others. Sometimes that’s how it goes. Although walking home from the city took longer than biking, I enjoy it from time to time. Spending an hour in the cold helps cool my temper so I can more easily sleep. I knew well not to dwell too much and that my thoughts would be clear again in the morning.

At a fast-food parking lot near my apartment, a young woman I didn’t know approached me as I walked by, jarring me out of my already nearly extinguished angry stupor. She looked young, wore an orange high-visibility vest over her thick coat, and seemed to have just finished crying. She asked for help in English with navigating back to the highway so that she could get to a neighboring city. I noticed that her phone, on which she showed me a map of her route, used the Cyrillic alphabet. I described how to get to the highway, calibrating my vocabulary to her minimal comprehension. When she seemed confident again, I wished her lucked, she thanked me, and we parted ways.

The stars shining above me seemed to have aligned well on that night. Instead of retreading the route my ex and I would take, a nice path under the highway and through farmlands, I opted for the shorter, paved route that ultimately lead me past the parking lot when the young woman sought aid. For another person on the road past midnight, I was an ordinary inhabitant. I knew not the distress she fled, but I, a stranger in a strange land, did know the unknown into which she drove. Ah yes, the stars shine on all, I am no exception.

Walking Through That Door


After a week of nervous deliberation, Marie committed to running a half-marathon in the beginning of July, in six weeks. She was new to running, so I would train her. Marie was quite an anxious person at this time, prone to letting doubts and fears paralyze her. But she also had fire in her heart, so I knew I could whittle away at her neurotic bullshit and enable her to proceed towards her goal.

An axiom of endurance running is that most running should be easy. In general, this allows one to advance to high-volume periods of training, also known as running as much as possible. For beginners, this is especially important because they usually need to learn how to run so that it isn’t miserable. People who don’t run regularly like to tell me about the times they ran and didn’t like it, as if to justify to me why they don’t run more often. Of course, if you judge an activity based on your first time doing it, you won’t like it, and almost everyone tries to run too far and too fast their first time, which is a recipe for stress, embarrassment, and misery.

I figured that a beginner had to run at least three times a week, four being better, to get in physical and mental shape for a half-marathon. Two or three of these runs would be ordinary and easy, with the last being a tempo or interval workout or a long run.

Marie was often afraid to run because she was afraid to fail – to her expectations. Of course, her expectations were nonsense founded on ignorance; she didn’t know anything about running. As a nicer way to convey this, I explained each type of run to have a singular purpose that she could fulfill mostly through concentration and effort, rather than some expectation of ability or progress. The easy run was of set, relatively short duration at a consistent, relaxed pace, the workout was about spending time at (goal) race pace, and the long run was about running for a long time.

I slipped under each of Marie’s doubts and concerns because I knew them all well. Marie would never accept that I understood her anxiety, but I could handle that, since I saw her endurance and confidence grow – I clearly understood something about how to train her.

I remembered when I sucked at running. At the onset of my junior year of undergraduate college, I started running again, after not running for a few years. On the open-to-all division three cross-country team, I started as the slowest man. About a month in, I was humiliated when I discovered during a tempo that three of the women on the team were faster than me as well. “But Will, there’s no shame in not being as fit as a woman.” Shut up, feminist! I was a head taller and twice as lean as them, I had no excuse to suck. Naturally, after another month of mean Mr. T back flowing through my body, I dropped minutes off of my eight kilometer time, then continued to improve for the next year. If I could transform from useless, skinny dork to six-minute-mile half-marathoner in eight months (still being skinny dork though), then surely Marie could go from nervous wreck to completing a half-marathon in a month and a half. So said my relentless optimism and confidence that bordered on delusion.

Future Islands’ album In Evening Air is a magical concoction of love and loss. The opening track, Walking Through That Door sets the mood on the ‘love’ side of the album. Lyricist and singer Sam Herring wrote the poem about a friend who was nervous about moving to his homeland, North Carolina. The song is about jumping into a risk to get somewhere better, and Herring knew such risks and wouldn’t want a friend to have to go through one alone. Herring also shows his heart full of fire and romance through his ebullient, vivacious stage presence, year after year.

“As processions fade
New hearts doubt
But you are Golden and no one questions it
But who you fake and how you sound
Asks the best of men
To share your sentiment

I want to be the one to help you find those years
That you’ve been talking about
Dreaming of the South
And all those lost goodbyes
And all those lonely tears
You never got to cry”

“It never works out right
Unless you’re one to follow
Where the silence takes too long
When the night falls, when the night falls oh so slow
And caution isn’t ours
When the night falls, when the night falls oh so low
We may lose control”

On the weekend following my first marathon (previous post), as Marie commenced her training, I continued my series of endurance challenges. On May twenty-third, 2020, I revisited the one thousand push up challenge. I was dissatisfied with my first performance, regarding it as too easy. This time, I did ten push ups every sixty (instead of ninety) seconds. This was harder, but I did it without missing a beat. It wasn’t particularly boring or entertaining. The rest time was sufficient, but too short for my thoughts to wander far.

On May thirtieth, I did lunges for the entire length of the Großer Garten, the “central park” of Dresden, about 1.9 kilometers. Unlike with running and upper body calisthenics, I hadn’t done any training at all for lunges, they were merely part of my warm up routine.

Der Große Garten, via OpenStreetMap

On the same day, Marie had her first long run, twelve kilometers. She was nervous about exhaustion. Based on her pace on her easy runs, I estimated that she could run twelve kilometers in around seventy five minutes, a suitable duration for a long run, but I didn’t hold her to hit that time. I suggested my twelve kilometer figure eight route through the Großer Garten (including running to and from the park), with lots of softer ground and shade. To ease her anxiety, I reinforced her fears, agreeing that the run would likely be difficult, then noted that it was supposed to be difficult, that’s where the satisfaction will come from.

I had a normal Saturday morning, in which I ran, ate, and bought groceries. I went to the park a bit after mid-morning. I carried my backpack with water, a towel, and ingredients for a protein shake. The sky was clear and the sun high, so I would get roasted. My only rule was that all forward progress had to come from lunges, no walking.

As I got ready to lunge, Marie ran by on the first part of her run. I yelled out “lightweight” to her. You might have thought that skinny distance runners don’t know about Ronnie Coleman, the many time bodybuilding champion, and you would be wrong. It’s a certified, evolution-driven, empirically derived, peer-reviewed, internationally recognized scientific F A C T that saying Ronnie Coleman quips makes people stronger, of course we (cultured, competent) runners know about him.

I stood in the middle of the main alley of the park, and started lunging. I had a sense for neither ability nor for pace. I was relying solely on having run a lot to see me through this feat. You know, like how I thought running a lot might have anything to do with how well one swims. Idiot.

At first, I lunged without thought. When my legs got tired, I stood and rested. I kept no time nor counted steps. After a while, I switched to lunging between manholes, standing on the covers for rest. This was getting tiring.

Marie ran by on the second part of her run, four and a half kilometers further. I yelled “lightweight” to her. She would soon finish her workout. I would not. At some point I started counting my steps. I shortened the intervals to twenty lunges followed with a rest of indeterminate time.

Other people were in the park, of course, but nearly everyone ignored me; such is Germany. One man gave me a thumbs up and one old man with a camera asked me to get out of the way. The only friendly person was a boy on roller blades with a grandfather-like companion. The boy asked if I was training, and I said yes. The grandfather then engaged as well. As per the rule, I stood in one place the entire time we chatted. Otherwise, I was alone in the park.

After forty-five minutes of lunges, I reached the halfway point, the palace at the center of the park. I drank some water and noted that my legs were trashed, that to stop then would still be a solid workout. But I’m no bitch! I’ll do the entire length! I did not sit down, however, because I didn’t know if I would be able to stand back up again, or if that effort would be worth the rest.

The second half was a timeless hell. The ever-rising sun radiated its punishment onto me. What little shade the trees along the main alley provided was diminishing quickly. I crossed paths once more with the boy on roller blades; he was going in the opposite direction and didn’t stop to chat. I did sets of ten lunges, and eventually moved back up to twelve. I rested longer and longer. My legs were like jelly, my quadriceps and all glutei quivered with the slightest contraction. Periodically taking in carbohydrates probably would have helped, but I hadn’t thought anything through. My advancement on empty legs was a matter of brute force. The second half took eighty minutes.

When I reached the vehicle barriers at the far end of the park, I yelled out in triumph and pain. I was done! And I could barely move. I turned around to take my first non-lunge step in two hours. My legs were weak. I made my way to the nearby monument. I lacked the strength to ease myself down and instead fell onto my butt. I laid there for a bit, then sat up to drink. I had only taken two water breaks. I sat for a little while with my water bottle in hand. I was lost. What did I do now? I had gotten more immersed in this challenge than I had anticipated. I had had only two modes of being: lunge and stand. Now sit? What was sit? What does one do in the state of sit? I fixed myself a shake: water, a fat scoop of protein powder and a fatter scoop of honey. Excellent.

I still had to get home, and then move on with my life. I packed everything except for the jar of honey and spoon. I walked to the nearest bus stop while getting every single last speck of honey from the jar. I’ll eat honey if I want, I did two kilometers of lunges! I got to the bus stop and sat in the shaded grass to wait. When the bus came, I used the handle on the door to help me get in, and then again to get out. I didn’t sit, I wanted to avoid bending my legs in any way. I got home, showered (undressing and dressing took place on the floor), and ate lunch.

I went to Marie’s and inquired about her run. She had run exactly as long as expected, and it wasn’t as hard as she had anticipated.

My legs took two weeks to fully recover. For the first three days I couldn’t walk right, and for the first week I couldn’t run normally. I noticed in the mirror that my butt was a little bigger than usual, but then it shrank back to normal. I still ran every day, but short and slowly. Two kilometers of lunges, without preparation, proved much harder than running a marathon hungry. I stopped doing lunges as part of my running warm up, and only added them back into a mobility routine months later.

On the next weekend, since l declared myself still recovering (whatever excuse you want, you big bitch), I didn’t do a challenge. Instead, Marie and I went hiking all day. On the next two weekends, I did two last challenges.

Die Elbsandsteingebirge – The Elbe Sandstone Mountains

I did four hundred pull ups again, this time on the bar, back at the park. Bar pull ups were harder than tree pull ups because of the different muscle groups engaged with the different position. I did the four hundred pull ups, but ripped up my hands on the tiny edges of the peeling paint on the bar. I lost a callus for the first time, which was no fun. When in doubt, just rip the skin off and apply a bandage and tape, don’t mess around with a skin flap.

Lastly, on June twentieth, I did an hour of planks. I had occasionally done some planks for an abdominal workout, but never trained the posture with any rigor. At the beginning of the challenge, I fiddled about with the rhythm before settling on thirty seconds on and thirty seconds off. After the first thirty minutes of planks (an hour of time passed), I switched to twenty five seconds on and thirty five seconds off, which I did for the next seventy two minutes. This was difficult and boring, and I didn’t like it because the action (if you could even call it that) consisted of looking at the ground. I was a bit sore the next day but nothing extraordinary. Planks were my last idea for a challenge, and thus ended my series of endurance challenges.

Throughout this time, Marie ran. My training plan worked well for her, that is, she gained noticeable strength without burning out. She always trained alone; I gave her workouts but did not accompany her. This enabled her to pay attention to herself (her stride and breath) and to know at the bottom of her mind that her ability was in no way contingent on the presence of another.

Two weeks after my last challenge, on July fourth, Marie ran her half-marathon, after six weeks of consistent preparation, and I accompanied her on bike. The course was a simple out-and-back route along the Elbe River, flat and open. Marie was nervous that she “wouldn’t finish.” Ha! She had trained well, and had developed intuition for proper pace and form. Further, she and would now have the additional aid of me providing water and periodically calling out for Benny as well as bellowing Ronnie Coleman quips for her to hear directly and echoing from the hilly north side of the river.

Marie ran a half marathon in nearly exactly two hours, and that full experience is her story to tell, not mine. It was a grand performance of focus, patience, and grit. Naive as she was in the way of the run, Marie would not immediately see the boost in her confidence, but she would soon enough.

“I want to be the one to help you find those years
That you’ve been talking about
Dreaming of the South
And all those lonely nights
And all those lost goodbyes
You never got to sigh”

“I want to be the one to help you find those dreams
Because you’ve been hanging around
Talking about the South
And all those balmy nights
And all those lonely songs
You never got to write”

Not one to be outdone in running, a week later, I began my first hundred mile week, that is, I ran one hundred miles (one hundred sixty-one kilometers) over a continuous week. I had wanted to do this for years, since cross-country as an undergrad, but injury and time constraints had made my opportunities scarce. But no more! To preclude obstacles and injury, I ran exclusively in the (flat) Großer Garten. Each morning beginning at six, I ran thirteen kilometers, and each afternoon, beginning at twelve-thirty, I ran another ten kilometers. I had one morning route and one afternoon route. Each day I ran about one hour forty minutes, for a total of eleven hours forty minutes in the week (see log below). I enjoyed running a lot and spending time in the sunshine. This achievement whet my appetite for further extensive running, and in the following winter I would do a two hundred twenty kilometer week.

During all this time – for the past four months – Marie had also been working through some of her adolescent trauma, writing about it and attempting to resolve residual effects. That, combined with the confidence derived from working towards a goal and achieving it, inspired and invigorated Marie to, at long last, go on a solo bike trip. In early September, 2020, she biked along the Elbe River from Dresden to Hamburg, several hundred kilometers, but again, that is her story to tell.

This recollection here is only a brief excerpt from her growth. If only Marie would present her perspective on her healing! She and I had few other local acquaintances at the time, so I was her only witness for several months. Most of the story of her amazing growth is missing! Eventually, Marie would visit her relatives and they would note her calmer demeanor, she would engage in her life and sort out a plan for her future, she would start to set down the burdens of her past. I am glad to have helped her and to have spent time with someone who found me inspiring.


“And I’ll hold your hand as I walk you through the door
And I’ll hold your hand as I walk you through that door
And I’ll hold your hand as I walk you through that door
And I’ll hold your hand as you held my hand as I walk you through that door
And I’ll hold your hand as you held my hand as I walk you through that door
And I’ll hold your hand as you held my hand as I walk you through that door”

Hungry Marathon I (16 Hours)


My girlfriend Marie was going through her past, recalling her childhood neglect, revisiting her adolescent abuse, and examining her sexual mishaps. I was putting immense pressure on her to work on her mind. To show a kind of solidarity, to remind her that we can do difficult things, I performed a series of endurance challenges.

The first two challenges were one thousand push ups and four hundred pull ups. I did these alone in a field near the dorms where Marie and I lived at the time. I was cautious with my approach, doing small sets at a fixed rhythm, such that I could be confident that I would be successful. During the push up challenge, rain and hail came and went, but my progress was smooth, more of an exercise in patience than physical endurance.

For the third challenge, on the third consecutive Saturday, I decided to run a marathon. Enough of this silly up down up down up down calisthenics bullshit, it was time for an interesting task. I had never run a marathon before. But this would be no ordinary marathon; any skinny fucker can run a marathon. I’m no bitch! No, I would run this marathon without eating and on an empty stomach. Because fuck you, that’s why! No one else cared to show Marie that we are capable of immense feats of discipline and patience, none of the limp-dicked, slack-jawed knuckle draggers that she had known before had given a fuck, but I would! And I would run the marathon in under three hours! Fuck you! You don’t know me! I have run in the cold, and now everything else is easy.

I asked Marie to accompany me on bike, and she obliged. I would run on an empty stomach, but not without water, not for three hours, that would be too much to ask of my body. I knew I could handle two hours of running without water, but three would be too far into uncharted territory. Although together for several months at this point, Marie still had not yet seen me run, had only heard me blather on like a fanatic about “the run”.

My previous training for this task consisted mostly of running a lot, around a hundred kilometers per week. Additionally, I did my daily morning runs on an empty stomach, even long runs, tempos, and interval workouts. “But Will, don’t you know it’s better to train with full glycogen reserves so you can access full power?” Shut up, poindexter! Of course I knew that, and I didn’t care, and I still don’t. When I want to run fast, I run fast. Running on empty strengthens the mind, weaning the domesticated city person from their neurotic eating habits. Lastly, I had done a couple of thirty kilometer runs in the previous summer, which took just over two hours, fasted, and even without water. Of course I could do a three hour marathon on empty.

The day before the big run went normally. In the morning, I ran a relaxed ten kilometers, ate, then worked on my Master’s thesis. In the afternoon, I did a quick half-workout of calisthenics (ten instead of twenty sets of four pull ups and ten push ups at ninety second intervals), ate lunch, and worked more on my thesis. For the past year and a half, I had been eating a big lunch and no dinner, since I was under the impression that intermittent fasting was better for me than unstructured eating. In the evening, Marie and I went for a walk together then reviewed the race route again. In order to use landmarks as turnaround points, I extended the distance by nearly a kilometer, more willing to run a kilometer too many than ten meters too few. I stretched, read, and slept.

I usually ate enough for lunch to keep me filled through to the morning. However, sometimes I get it wrong, and did on that day. As I lay in bed, my stomach grumbled. As anyone who has fasted knows, falling asleep when hungry is no simple task, and I probably lost a sleep cycle due to hunger. Idiot. At least I knew for sure that I would be empty from the beginning of the run.

Route through Dresden along the Elbe
Before the run

On Saturday, May sixteenth, 2020, I awoke as usual at five-thirty and spent an extra half hour going easy and warming up. I drank around a liter of water. At six-thirty, Marie and I set out from the dorms. She carried my backpack with water and other running paraphernalia. The pace would be four minutes ten seconds per kilometer, a pace for which I had a good feeling. Most of the course was along the Elbe River. The sky was clear and the air cool. I started with two shirts (the lucky Stop Pre t-shirt underneath), and had them both off by fifteen kilometers, once the day and I had warmed up.

In stark contrast to how I write and talk about running, my mood was usually calm and relaxed when I ran. I didn’t speak at all, except to thank Marie for taking my shirts and passing me water.

I ran the first half-marathon without drinking, a result of two years of solo running and not bringing water. That might bite me in the ass later. Whoops. But the time was spot on, ninety minutes thirty seconds. I then first asked Marie for water, and she handed me my bottle. Since I didn’t ordinarily drink while running, I had forgotten to consider that sipping from a full, open-mouthed bottle would be a little tricky. I spilled on myself and choked and belched a bit. Idiot. From then on, Marie handed me her smaller, closed-mouth bottle.

The run went smoothly for a while, I had a good rhythm. A stranger greeted me, which was unusual, so maybe I had marathon vibes, a term I coined on the spot. Part of the route was downstream of the Dresden city center, new land for me, since I typically avoided running through the area. I realized I had been missing out, since I enjoyed the view of the river plain.

After two hours, around thirty kilometers, I started to get tired of running. Not tired in my body, but mentally tired. The bodily exhaustion would come, but not quite yet. I held my pace. Marie took a couple videos, which showed my stride becoming bouncier as the run progressed.

Suddenly, I heard a crash behind me. I looked back and saw Marie on the ground; she had fallen. I turned back and went to her. She was dazed and had scrapes on her wrists and forehead. I rummaged through my backpack, still on her back, for a bandage. A stranger came and inquired about the crash. Marie whispered at me to keep running. She looked mostly fine, so I kept running. (I didn’t stop my watch).

With seven kilometers to go and the sun now high, I longed for water. But Marie hadn’t caught back up. Hm. I crossed my bridge (damn right my bridge), yelling at the wind, and Marie wasn’t there. My legs grew leaden, my pace slowed, and, for the first time, my upper back felt drained. That was all okay, because I knew that gods of the run were smiling upon me, bending all traffic between the river and my dorm so that I could run continuously.

At one and a half kilometers to go, I had the desire, for the first time ever, to stop running, to quit. Whoa, what? What the fuck kind of bitch-ass bullshit is this? What good would stopping do? Then it would take longer to get home. Get your ass going!

I trudged up the hill towards the dorms, squeezed out a little kick, and reached the dorms. I found that the only thing holding me upright was the stride. After finishing, that was no more. I moseyed on queasy legs over to a tree and leaned on it. What a bitch! Stand upright! I stood upright. The time on my watch was two minutes twelve seconds, corresponding to three hours, two minutes, twelve seconds. Hm. I would have to bust out the calculator to determine if I had done the marathon distance in under three hours.

I stood up and collected and disposed of a few pieces of garbage from around the front of the dorm – no exceptions to this rule – and went to the door. Where was Marie? She had my backpack. But not my house key! Ha! That was in my pocket. I always, always, always, kept my house key on my person. I went to my room and pounded a glass of water, holding it with both hands. I laid on the floor outstretched. Excellent. My legs hurt.

I got up and made a protein shake, the first fuel of the day. Then I turned on my computer and checked my email for something from Marie. Since Marie and I were neighbors, and I didn’t like phones, we had never exchanged phone numbers. I had no way to contact her from afar, other than by maybe yelling really loud or guessing her email address. Did she go to the hospital? If so, which one? I wondered, but did nothing.

I recalled that I had just done a big run, and punched out the calculation for an effective marathon.

Known:
First half: 21.1 km, 90.5 min = mean pace 4:17/km
Total run: 43.1 km, 182.2 min = mean pace 4:14/km

Calculated:
Total run – First half = Second half
43.1 km – 21.1 km = 22.0 km
182.2 min – 90.5 min = 91.7 min
Mean pace 4:10/km

Estimate based on scaling total mean pace:
(Total time)/(total distance)*(marathon distance) = scaled marathon time
(182.2 min/43.1 km)*(42.2 km) = 178.4 min = 2 hours, 58 minutes, 24 seconds
Estimate based on first half and scaling second half pace:
First half time + (second half time)/(second half distance)*(half-marathon distance) = scaled marathon time
0.5 min + (91.7 min)/(22.0 km)*(21.1 km) = 178.4 min = 2 hours, 58 minutes, 24 seconds
What actual run distance would put the marathon at over three hours?
(Total time)/(actual distance)*(marathon distance) = 3 hours
182.2 min)/x*(42.2 km) = 180.0 min
x = 42.7 km, margin of error for using online mapping service is most likely less than 500 meters.

Under three hours! Fuck yeah! Negative splits! Damn right!

I showered long and hot, after which I felt relaxed and more energetic. I fried up and ate a few eggs. Nothing from Marie. I did my weekly grocery shopping and brought home more food than usual – I was expecting a mighty H U N G E R later on. Marie was not back nor had sent an email. I didn’t know what to do. Should I wait, or should I start calling hospitals to figure out where she was? Should I have stopped running when she fell? I didn’t like sitting around with my thumb up my ass, so I did the only thing I could think of to calm my nerves.

I did another workout. I went outside and churned out a hundred pull ups and two hundred fifty push ups as sets of six and fifteen. Whatever exhaustion I had felt at the end of the run was gone, this low intensity workout wasn’t particularly taxing, and there’s nothing one can’t do when bunged up and nervous.

Finally, in the early afternoon, Marie came back and recounted her story. The stranger had walked with her to a nearby clinic, where a doctor checked her for a concussion. She had not rattled her skull, but did have a sprained wrist and some scrapes. I asked how she crashed, and she reluctantly revealed that she was reaching for her phone. Also, she hadn’t been wearing a helmet. Since Marie was okay, I immediately started making fun of her, not so much for the lack of a helmet, but that she got tripped up by her phone and managed to crash going fifteen kilometers per hour on a flat surface. Her bike was fine. However, months later she would learn that both wheels were a bit out of balance. I recounted my side, how I had finished the run and achieved my sub three hour marathon.

In the evening, Marie and I went for a walk and discussed, among other things, why I wasn’t exhausted. I remarked that this run hadn’t been at maximum effort, that my breathing remained smooth for the entire duration. Also, being mildly dehydrated for the last half hour further precluded maximal exertion.

The next day, I went for an easy run, slow and under ten kilometers. I wasn’t sore anywhere, but I had no gas, I was drained after all. It was the creeper exhaustion – when you don’t sense any depletion, but the pace turns out slower than you thought.

I was pleased with my accomplishment, but I wouldn’t be able to shake the thought that I should have done a fully fed, full powered marathon. Of course, doing so outside of an organized race requires finding a long, continuous route that hopefully isn’t repetitive. However, Germans at this time were afraid of communal sports and would not host any public races for many months. Was running on empty like this even that difficult, only sixteen hours without eating?

Since Marie sprained her wrist when she crashed, she couldn’t do any weightlifting, biking, or calisthenics without stressing the injury. So she took up running. Excellent! The world needs more people running. I recommended she pick a goal to direct her training, and she chose a half-marathon. I coached Marie in distance running, a total beginner. Seven weeks from then, she would run her first half-marathon.

Metaphors: The Splinter


In life, as we live and play and work in the forest, we can get splinters. We get them from handling rough objects without care, or from handling fine objects too forcefully. Splinters are often small, we remove them easily, and the afflicted site heals quickly and without scarring.

Some people only know splinters, but not Marie. She had sticks rammed in her legs. When she was younger, she had fallen many times in the forest and some people had even pushed her down. The sticks had been in her legs for years, but the wounds were still oozing. Her legs always hurt, so she was afraid of all splinters, no matter how small. Instead of removing the sticks, she, or someone else, had wrapped bandages around them, likely intending to help, but nonetheless holding the sticks in place. Many people saw Marie with sticks in her legs, but never said anything. They did not care about her. The people who would approach Marie always had a stick or two of their own in their legs, and they also shied away from helping her.

Marie had had the sticks for a long time, and limped around with them protruding from her legs, thinking that they were simply part of her; some people walked with a smooth gait, but she was not like them, and limped. Nonsense! Marie had sticks in her legs, and she had to remove them, which would be difficult and very painful. First, she had to understand that the sticks were not actually parts of her legs. Next, she had to unwrap the bandages, which she might mistake for peeling her own skin, although she might actually have to do so as well. Then, she would start pulling the sticks out. The wounds would bleed again and make a mess. That would be okay. Pulling would take a while and hurt a lot. Pulling could hurt so much that she might forget why she was pulling and want to stop. To resist stopping, she had to remember before the intervention, to when she last had a clear mind, and recall that the process had a proper purpose. Once she got the sticks out, Marie could finally begin healing. Although she would likely have many scars, she would slowly relearn to walk properly, and then to run for the first time. Afterwards, she would be tough enough to enter the forest again and risk getting splinters.

World Coming Down


In December 2019, when a muscle in my calf grew so stiff that all running hurt to the extent that injury seemed imminent, I decided to stop running and to switch to swimming. There was a lull of a week before I started swimming, in which I did no cardiovascular training and instead only stretching and calisthenics. My mood deteriorated, which I attributed to the absence of deep breathing.

Then I swam again for the first time in several months. The swim was only forty five minutes, but that I was out of swimming shape made the time challenging. I returned from the water that day feeling so pleasant and light that my girlfriend, Marie, thought I was a bit high.

I swam daily for a few weeks. During the week, I arrived at the pool just before six, and on the weekends at nine or eleven. Swimming was hard and the community was nonexistent, but the benefit of deep, structured breathing was worthwhile.

At the turn of the new year, the pool management put up a poster for a ten kilometer swim event in early February. Such a swim (in a pool) looked awful, so I decided to do it, since it would only require another month of training.

My training was simple: swim as much as possible. I was unwilling to spend money to hire a trainer and had no connections to proficient swimmers, so volume was my only focus. I occasionally did some sprints, and only in the last three weeks before the big swim did I learn and train the flip turn.

On the day of the big swim, I arrived at the pool an hour early. This was unnecessary, but an old habit. I sat alone and read “Around the World in Eighty Days” in German. The benches were hard and I was too nervous to focus. I was full of hope that I would meet the mystical “real swimmers” and uncomfortable in solitude in a crowd. This was the first time in nearly a year that I was doing a competition, that I was testing myself against others.

Eventually, the start time approached and I changed, did a dry warm up, and sat next to the pool to wait and observe. A large portion of the people were in small groups. How? How was it possible to know another swimmer? I was baffled. How had people made swimming a social activity? There were many younger people. Where did they train? As far as I was aware, only bony old Germans swam.

I got into the water, into my assigned lane with a dozen or so others. The host sounded an air horn, since, I guess, Germans are even afraid of fake guns, and we all started swimming, one after the other. After the first lap, the swimmers ahead of me stopped. What? Also, my pace was way too fast, nerves had gotten the best of me. The lap time was supposed to be two minutes fifteen seconds, and mine was one minute forty seconds. Fuck! Then at time two minutes fifteen seconds, the first swimmer took off again.

Over the next few laps, I realized that this event was not a simple ten kilometer swim, but rather an interval workout. The event name, 100 x 100 meters (Are you tough enough?), was not just a cute way to express a distance, but indeed a description of the task. We were to swim one hundred discrete laps with rests, and not just one continuous swim (punctuated with three breaks). Oh no. Oh no! This was not at all what I was expecting, not what I was prepared to endure. I was ready to zone out for a few hours, not to start and stop and start and stop. Fuck! This would be harder than I thought. I grew anxious as I reassessed my plan.

In the beginning, we were all swimming finger to toe, and some bitch tried to pass me. What, should I just stop and let her in? At the end of the lap she complained to me that one is supposed to let another in. We were all together, swimming at the same speed, passing would provide no advantage. I didn’t say anything to her. After flapping her yap, the bitch moved ahead of me. Fine. I wasn’t there to race during the first half hour. Typical German princess. Not only was this swimmer rude, but fat. I became infuriated. This fat fucking whale thinks she’s here to swim for four hours? What the fuck! Stay in the back!

Whoa! That’s not nice. Something else must have been on my mind.

Of course, my irritation originated not with the other swimmer but that I had noticed my strength waning. I was unintentionally giving race effort, but was not performing competitively. Over the next few laps, gaps emerged between me and the swimmer ahead of me, and the swimmer behind me would gesture or ask to pass. I would nod and let them, of course – I had a grasp of sportsmanship. The passing occurred in spite of my desperate efforts to keep up, which exhausted me faster. I had raced (running) many times and knew the perils of going out too fast, and had done so again here anyway. Idiot!

I became frantic and anxious. Based on my deceleration, I thought I would surely founder and flounder in the next few laps, that I would lag and get lapped, that the managers would ask that I forfeit. This swim was out of my league. But until that happened, I would swim. Because fuck you! I’m no bitch! I might fail, but it will be the best failure I can produce. I struggled and dragged myself through the water with my amateurish, asynchronous stroke and kick.

Nonetheless, swimmers eventually ceased to pass me and I was near the back. I was embarrassed to move as I did and ashamed to have so gratuitously overexerted myself this early in the swim, ashamed to be slow. And yet, I survived the first hour.

The swim was divided into four blocks of roughly an hour each with five minute breaks in between. During these breaks, I chugged water and consumed the carbohydrate-electrolyte goo I had brought, went to the bathroom, then stood by the pool to await the next block.

I didn’t know anybody, and the crowd around me moved about as if I weren’t there. Suddenly, a woman with a clipboard approached me and asked who I was. I told her that I was a runner. She specified that she wanted my name. Ah. I told her my name, she marked her clipboard, and said that I hadn’t checked in at my lane. I said whoops, I thought the lobby check-in was it. She turned and went elsewhere.

A runner? The fuck kind of answer is that? I thought she might have been starting a conversation with me. Idiot! Germans don’t do that! She only wanted to settle her paperwork.

It dawned on me that I had no sense of how things worked, swimming, this event, the German way.

The break did little to alleviate my exhaustion. When we started swimming again, I selected a modest position near the back of the pack. Over the first few laps, the trailing swimmers moved ahead of me and I was soon in dead last position.

Last!? Slow!? Fuck you! This is bullshit! Why won’t my arms go? Why can’t I find the rhythm in my stroke? Where’s that fat fucking whale? How the fuck is she still here? Fuck her! Fuck you!

This would be my swim. Alone in a crowd, the worst swimmer. This was like a bad trip, and I was just starting. I had three more hours of leaden arms and isolation ahead of me. Everything was wrong, I was wrong. I had come here to suffer under a physiological task, and gotten psychological stress as well.

Anger and shame consumed me. I yelled under the water between breaths. I had to swim faster. I called on Benny, I swore, I screamed. I hated every single other person in the lane, at this event, in this city, in this country. Over and over in my mind I railed against that fat fucking whale, fat fucking whale, fat fucking whale. I remembered my first winter in Dresden and the old mantras returned, which I yelled as well.

“You get nothing, fuck you!”
“I came here to suffer!”
“You were already alone!”

How had I gotten here? Why was I at this event, why was I swimming, why was I in Germany at all? Who am I? Lyrics from a song I had recently heard (by Type O Negative) joined the cacophony of vitriol and rage in my thoughts, having sprung up from my unconscious, as music tends to do:

“Well I know
That my world is coming down
Now I know, I know
I’m the one who brought it down, brought it down
Bring it on down!”

I didn’t like training at the pool. The fluorescent-lit building stank of way too much chlorine, or rather whatever microbial remnants with which it was bonded. My skin, hair, and nasal cavity dried out. Bony old people occupied each lane and puttered along with the slowest, widest breast stroke they could manage. They spread across all lanes, making sure to disregard the sign designating a fast lane.

Most days, I was the fastest swimmer in the pool. This was not because I swam with any grace or fluidity; my ability arose solely from my existing aerobic fitness rather than any proficiency in technique. I grew frustrated that no good swimmers were around whom I could observe and imitate.

The pool was a horrible social environment. One spent an hour or two next to someone without even acknowledging them. Communicating while swimming was not an option, and time spent idle was money wasted; using the pool cost money.

The pool management offered no subscriptions, only tickets with a set number of swims of set duration. When the pool opened, customers hurried to get changed and into the water. Likewise, afterwards, we showered quickly, dressed, and scrambled to beat the clock on the way out. In exceeding the purchased time, the management would require payment for another entire hour.

I recognized that the deleterious atmosphere heavily compromised the fulfillment of the exercise, yet continued. The ten kilometer swim would be my goal, my justification for swimming, my final outlet for all of the time spent with these unconscientious, crusty, old German curmudgeons.

One Sunday morning, I was swimming. The pool opened much later on Sundays, so more people were there, particularly casual people. I hated Sundays, since that meant constantly swimming around people or slowing down to pass at the turnaround. Every now and then one’s hand or foot would brush another’s.

On this particular Sunday, I punched an old lady in the face. At first, I didn’t register the collision as unusual. I was trying to pass a different old fart, and seemingly brushed someone else. But another noise caught my attention, and I stopped for a moment.

An older woman – identified by wrinkly skin and one-piece bathing suit – was getting out of the pool and crying. Not merely crying, but sobbing and bawling. Ah fuck. I got out of the pool as well, as an employee came over to ask what was happening. The woman rushed to the locker room. I told the employee that I had hit the woman accidentally.

The employee knew that I was a regular, and smote me for trying to train on a Sunday. I argued a little at first, then conceded. He was right, of course, my intense, wake up at five, GotTA bE ThE FaSTesT, train-every-day attitude was not compatible with the attitude of the Sunday sheep.

Before long, the woman returned from the locker room saying that she was fine but surprised by the force with which I had struck, while believing it was unintentional. Then again, I had hit her right in the eye, and she wasn’t wearing goggles. She turned to continue swimming. The employee said that I could keep swimming, but had to go slower and not pass anyone. No, getting back in the water was impossible. First, that wouldn’t even be a worthwhile workout. Second, my nerves were on edge and I would not have relaxed at all. Also, this exchange took place at poolside, serving as a little spectacle for the couple dozen or so other people. The vibes were bad, so I left.

Shame or no shame, half an hour of swimming was not enough movement, so instead of going directly home, I went to the park and pumped out a short calisthenics workout. Later that day, I told Marie about the incident, and she burst out laughing. Apparently, such an occurrence – although highly irregular – was not out of line for me.

The next morning, I went to the pool again for the usual early swim. These were my people, I told myself. No one accidentally came to the pool at six, no, now was the time for the people who gave a shit.

Near the end of my swim, another swimmer stopped me and excoriated me for having hit her while trying to pass someone else. What were the odds? In this circumstance – early morning and during a workout, I wasn’t at all ready to talk with a person, let alone in German, so I asked her to repeat herself more slowly. I asked a person to please chew me out in a more comprehensible manner, please dumb down your words for this idiot foreigner. She said that I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer to effectively pass – my relative speed was insufficient. She told me to go swim at the other (more expensive) pool.

During this exchange, the same pool employee from the day before was present, sitting at poolside, although a bit far away. I stole glances at him while the swimmer complained and as I left the water, expecting some reaction, but he seemed to have not observed anything.

No way could I go to the pool again the next day. Instead, I forced myself to run. During the previous weeks, I had tried periodically to run again, testing my calf. When I dedicated my time to training for the big swim, I stopped trying to run. Now I needed to get out again. The run was slow and awkward, but that didn’t matter, I was running again, and my calf was alright.

Swimming again the next day was no easy task. I was paranoid about someone yelling at me or an employee kicking me out, even though they had made no threat to do so. I swam slower and passed others at the ends of the lane or in the middle, but only when we were two in the lane. I hated swimming. But I continued for the next week and a half until the big swim.

I swam the 100 x 100 in hopes of finding people like me, where someone might regard my passion (aggression) as virtuous and my clumsiness as an indicator of ruthless determination.

“How quickly pass the days
Long is the night
Lying in bed awake
Bathed in starlight
Better to live
As king of beasts
Than as a lamb
Scared and weak”

We completed the second block. My arms were heavy. I peed again then stood by the pool to await the second half of the swim. Nobody spoke to me, and I spoke to no one. I couldn’t look at another swimmer out of fear that they would perceive the venom coursing through my being, that they would see only arrogance in my face.

I swam.

Bring it on down!

Shortly after my calf began its dysfunction, I visited a local sports doctor. He told me that my calves were tight and my feet were flat then wrote a prescription for custom orthotics. I was in and out of his office in under fifteen minutes. I went and got a pair of custom orthotics. They were expensive and took weeks to arrive.

The doctor had spoken with such confidence and I was so familiar with this routine that it took me until weeks later to recognize that the doctor had completely duped and scammed me. This bloke didn’t tell me a damn thing about how legs and feet work in general, how mine in particular were doing something wrong, or about any long-term treatment path. A real doctor would have described the role of calves in the running stride, why some people have flat feet, how my flat feet were straining my calves, and how I could strengthen my feet to foster proper posture. Instead, he told me shove some inserts in my shoes and let that hold my feet up instead of my own musculature. He told me to buy rubber for the rest of my life and nothing in the slightest about how to heal myself.

Of course, if I had used the right mindset at the appointment, I would have asked all of these questions myself, and for that failure, I disappointed myself. If I had used the right mindset at this point in my life, I would have been investigating all of these questions on my own, and for that failure, I disappointed myself further. I didn’t want to be pathetic and useless, and yet I acted that way.

You might say that my doctor visit and how I acted were completely normal, and I agree. However, the normality of the visit, the fact that it resembled most doctor visits, does not make my visit any less of a failure to take my health in my own hands.

I swam because it was easier to train another sport, apparently, than for me dig in to my own body and learn its anatomy and physiology, to actually try – and maybe fail – to understand myself.

The third block ended. I hoisted myself out of the pool and repeated the procedure from the previous breaks. The next to last swimmer approached me and asked if I was okay. Okay? No, I was not okay. He had no idea of the turmoil I was in. I told him that I was new to swimming and had been doing it for six weeks. He looked at me as if I were bonkers, wished me luck, and went away. Only one more hour. Bring it on down!

I had asked my Marie to watch me during the last block. The whole swim, from a spectator’s perspective, must have been extremely boring, and from the organizers’ as well, since they blasted mainstream popular music the entire time. Throughout the last block, I checked the bleachers during breaths for Marie, but never spotted her. But she was there, I learned later. She had even come down to poolside to take a quick video of me swimming. Alas, the one characteristic of swimming technique that I applied properly was never looking forward, so I never spied my only fan. I was saddened, since I wanted her to see me in action, and relieved, since I was embarrassed to be in last position.

“She thinks I’m Iron Man
That I don’t feel pain
I don’t understand why joy
Must be feigned
I’m so fortunate yet
Filled with self-hate
That the mirror shows
Me an ingrate”

I was frustrated with my fixation on the fat woman. I had thought that I had learned that looks can deceive and can cloak physical ability. During my last triathlon, I had remarked that the rules of physique that governed swimming differed vastly from those that governed running.

To witness a fat person demonstrate greater competence than I did once again showed my little ego that my training approach of only swimming a lot had been grossly insufficient. To assume that a lean body and history of distance running implied competence in this neighboring sport was naive, and to do so twice was foolish.

To accumulate fat, to live in gluttony and excess, was the antithesis of how I strove to conduct myself. I was also afraid to lose control – to lose understanding – of my body. One might think the opposite when considering my lifestyle, but the motivations for how I lived came from both pursuing goals and fleeing failure.

I remembered when my body had been weak and my mind anxious, and strove to never, ever, let my body and mind atrophy again. Close attention to diet, sleep, and exercise is necessary to optimize performance in life and to more quickly identify problems and their causes.

I had come (back) to Germany to prove myself as a man. I left behind my family and friends and all stability to test every part of my being. I had survived for over a year and thought that such an accomplishment indicated some competence. It did, of course, in terms of survival, but not in terms of assimilating.

My approach to making acquaintances and perhaps even friends was to have strong habits and diverse, well-developed hobbies, which would let me showcase my best attributes, my discipline and intellect. After a year and a half in Dresden, I thought I was disciplined and smart, that finally Germans would take interest in me.

And yet, I knew my attitude was wrong. I still mentioned that someone was German when thinking about people. I had been in Dresden for almost a year and a half, shouldn’t I have adjusted and switched to referring to ‘German people’ as ‘people’? For how many occurrences was culture a deciding influence on the behavior of the people around me? When would I regard my trouble connecting with Germans as merely trouble connecting with people?

I was not who I thought I was. My calf stiffened and I didn’t resolve it, I swam in a public pool and didn’t get along with anyone, I swam with real swimmers and understood that I was terrible, I saw someone whom I regarded as incapable outperform me dramatically.

I saw that I was actually incompetent, which meant that I had incorrectly asserted myself as worthy of attention. I saw again the fear of losing control of my life, that my current strategy was insufficient, that the people I excoriated in my mind had no reason to take interest in me.

I had come to test myself, and failed in many ways all at once. Bring it all down!

“I will deny my role
As a human
Holding myself hostage
With no demands
It’s better to burn
Quickly and bright
Than slowly and dull
Without a fight”

At the conclusion of the last lap, the organizers asked my lane to stay in the water for a little longer, and wait for swimmers at the other side of the pool to finish. It turned out that, although I was the slowest in my lane, I didn’t lag so far as to get overtaken, whereas some participants in other lanes did. Maybe I wasn’t in as deep over my head as I had thought, or at least not as deep as some others here.

I didn’t care, I wanted to get out of this shit water, out of this shit pool, away from this shit building, away from this shit environment. I didn’t want to swim in a pool again, ever. No way would I pay again to surround myself with strangers.

One organizer took a photo of all the finishers in the water, then asked us to file out one at a time to receive our medals. I was still so fixated on my shame for being slow and clumsy and arrogant that I grew nervous as I approached the ladder, expecting the volunteer to refuse to give me a medal and tell me to go fuck myself. Of course, that didn’t happen. I got a medal like everyone else (who finished; some swimmers didn’t finish). I scrambled out of the water as fast I could, then realized that I was too exhausted to both navigate the crowd and hurry. So I moseyed to my belongings, then to the locker room and showered and dressed.

I wore a blue cap, photo from the event website linked at the beginning

The swim was over. I finished it, the whole thing. I didn’t need to think anymore. The grueling bad trip was over. It was just a swim.

In the main lobby, I found Marie and learned that she had attended the last block. I reported to her that the swim was horrible and that I was a terrible swimmer. She said she could imagine so, having watched me flop my arms about for the past hour. She would later show me the videos she took, in which I made larger splashes than the others. I insisted that I wasn’t crazy for having done the swim, that to try something once was daring and worthwhile. If I did such a swim again, then I would be crazy. I didn’t mention the ego-crushing experience I had endured. I was in a better mood now, goofy from the exhaustion and giddy from seeing a friend again. I wasn’t interested in the shit food that the event provided; I had brought my own, the good stuff. We went over to the benches where, long ago, I had sat and read, and I ate.

We left and went back to my place. I put away all my stuff then stretched. While stretching, we listened to a few choice songs from Type O Negative’s album World Coming Down (including the title track). Then Marie went home and I slept.

Bread with hummus, and apple with peanut butter

The next day, I ran. My pace was slow and I blew out bloody snot the entire time. Swimming! Fuck swimming! I’d rather freeze my hands, face the wind, shuffle slowly, than ever again swim in a pool or be next to a stranger.

The next day, I ran again. I ran every day all week.

Maybe I beat myself up a little bit (just a little) too much; one might assume that the other swimmers had already practiced for many months or years. To swim ten kilometers was no small feat for a beginner. One might regard my feat as more difficult: with terrible grace, I used brute force to propel myself. Nonetheless, my aggression and ambition to pursue such a task were polluted with ego. When I next got injured, I stopped running and attended to mobility and flexibility instead of switching sports. A year would pass before I would tell Marie in any detail about how the swim went.

The most lasting development after this swim was that I discarded the notion of belonging with a group of people. I had found no company while running, an activity that permits communication, swimming was worthless, and the calisthenics park was full of beginners and dorks. I saw no more reason to participate in crowd events. Anything I wanted to do, in sport or in life, I would (learn to) do on my own.

Starting a few months later, in May, I would set my own challenges, among which were one thousand push ups, running a marathon, and doing two kilometers of lunges, which I did either entirely alone or with Marie’s support.

It was just a swim! Didn’t Bill Hicks close one of his shows with that line? No, but basically:

‘The world is like a swim in a pool, and when you choose to jump into it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The swim goes back and forth, over and over, go fast or get passed, and it’s very isolating, and it’s very demanding, and it’s torture for a while. Many people have been swimming for a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a swim?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a swim.” And we… ignore those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this swim, shut him up! Look at my dusty skin, look at my fancy goggles, and my wide lats. This has to be real.” It’s just a swim.’

Benny


One day in September, a quote emerged from the vague depths of my memory: “Benny… come up!” I recognized that this was something I had heard my father say once. I don’t know why this popped up, since I hadn’t seen my him in nearly a year. Although I couldn’t recall the context, the pronunciation was quite clear. You have to bellow the line, projecting the voice far. It has to sound like you are on a stage, calling on your friend to receive an honorable award.

I added this line to the slew of miscellaneous quotes, quips, and exclamations I would say when working out, most often before an interval in a running workout or during a tough calisthenics circuit. I used this line to summon more strength via my father, “it’s time to go!”, or as an expression of excitement and anticipation, “watch this, fuckers!” On select few occasions, I even started to hear traces of his voice in mine. Or maybe that was only wishful thinking.

After some months, I mentioned this line to my father in a letter the next April. He replied that it came from the film The Outlaw Josey Wales. I tried to search the internet for the scene, but didn’t find anything. I would have to watch the entire film. I didn’t watch films very often anymore, so this would be a special case.

A few weeks later, in May, I set the challenge for myself to do one thousand push ups. I had never done so many push ups all at once before.

As I began the challenge, and per unwritten rule, I bellowed out to no one in particular for Benny. The push ups took me two and a half hours, since rest constituted the majority of the time. I hadn’t brought any distractions, so I paced back and forth for the minute that my attention wasn’t on the preceding and succeeding sets. It was just me next to the tree where I did most of my calisthenics training at the time. My thoughts wandered, and the distinction between the words I thought and those I spoke blurred.

One decision I made for the challenge was that, since two and a half hours of push ups would be long, difficult, and boring, I would say or shout whatever, whenever, and however I wanted. In exchange for physical discipline I granted myself expressive freedom. Not that anyone else would notice, no one else was in the field where I was.

The task was difficult, but my progress was smooth. I acquired the elusive mood of aggressive happiness (see figure). I mumbled, spoke, and yelled the usual lines, including, of course, the Benny line. I also let an infinitude of conversations play out.

“Why would you even want to do a thousand push ups?”
“Because fuck you, that’s why!”
“So you’re basically spending most of the time here walking back and forth?”
“Sure, but that’s still more than you’ve done today. Bitch!”
“Sets of ten, what, are you a bitch?”
“Fuck you! I do push ups with perfect form!”

It was immense fun.

Figure 1) Aggressive happiness (source)

At one point, my girlfriend came out to observe. As I saw her approach, I greeted her with the Benny line. At the time, my girlfriend had only a vague understanding of the nature of such challenges. That was alright, I was in my place. She asked which set I was on, pumped out a few push ups herself, and left.

I completed the challenge as planned. My arms were tired, but not destroyed.

The effort allowed me to relax in the afternoon and I finally viewed The Outlaw Josey Wales. I paid close attention, ready note the Benny scene.

The Benny scene was completely insignificant to the course of the film. It was only a minor adversary’s accomplice who said “Benny, come up!” to summon his horse. His horse! A minute later, that character was dead and the titular protagonist had moved onward.

I was baffled, bamboozled, blindsided, betrayed, befuddled. That was it! That’s the quote that my father found worthy of bellowing out during a friendly gathering? That’s the quote I had shouted a hundred times over the past months?

This insight was especially confusing because the film was filled with top-notch quotable gold. Setting aside my own consternation, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

But it was too late, the quote was in my repertoire of workout quips. I would continue to use it, shouting it before and during hard efforts. I shouted it along the Elbe during my marathons, from hilltops early in the morning, and at the end of my two hundred kilometer (running) week. I continued to bellow it to my girlfriend as a greeting if we encountered one another by chance outside, and many times during her first half-marathon run.

I don’t mind that the origin of this quote is rather trite, now it’s one way of many to call upon the memory of my father within me. I will refer to this many times in future posts.

What about stains?