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