With the Wild Rogue Relay just around the corner, we asked Common Blocker Nick Blakeslee to write a little something about the race and about running. Take it away, Nick!
People do silly things. Certainly looking at politics or my dating history, one can see that to be self-evident. I’ve done a lot of silly things in my life, and one of them is picking up running. I picked it up because of the Wild Rogue Relay, a 212-mile relay event that goes from the Applegate, Oregon to Brookings, Oregon. All on foot, those miles are shared between twelve teammates over the course of 36-ish hours. That was my first ever running event; the equivalent of entering your child in the Tour de France moments after removing their training-wheels.
Me, pictured lower right. Friends, pictured everywhere else, enjoying post-race relaxation. Yes, that’s a mimosa in front of me. Yes, my coffee has Baileys in it. Yes, that’s pain behind my smile.
Let me be honest with you all for a moment: I really like relaxing. Like, really like it. If I were to make a list of the top 10 things I enjoy in life, nine of those things would be centered around relaxing. Like eating, or sleeping, or eating then sleeping, or reading a book, or watching a good movie, or sitting by the river drinking my favorite trashy—err, economic beer. Relaxation is the ultimate first world pastime, and if half the world can’t enjoy it, I mean to enjoy it for them, dangit. I live in a day in age when I can spend more than half of my week not hording food for winter, or dying of dysentery, or stockpiling guns to deal with bandits. If there ever was a time to be alive, and live in America, it would be now. I just ordered 20 pounds of cat litter, from the comfort of my home, and it arrived two days later. I didn’t even have to get up. If that’s not the future, I don’t know what is.
So picking up something like long distance running has perplexed some people. Certainly myself. It’s one thing to pick up a sport, or a workout paired with fun. It’s a whole different story running forward at an even pace for 45 minutes. I’ve always said I detested things like long distance running and working out – if I get in shape, I have to be tricking myself. I have to be chasing a Frisbee or racing a friend or leaping for some flags in football.
Let me be clear: I’m not a true distance runner. I’m a fake, in that I don’t really work hard. In a way, I won the genetic lottery when it comes to long distance running and it allows me to get away with a lot. I don’t know of many people who can train for a 21-mile event only four weeks prior.
I’ve alienated a few of you with that last comment. I understand. I hate those types of people, too. The kind that can just pick something up and fly with little or no repercussions. I have a friend who does that with anything art-related, and a little piece of me hates him for it. He’s the guy that sees you trying to learn something and says, “Let me try” and proceeds to demonstrate your inadequacy without the need for words.
Running long distances, in my mind, is the ultimate display of masochism. It’s quintessential flagellation, self-abuse, or self-hate. Only humans existing in a first world, modern society would long distance run during their free time. Only someone like us would deal with boredom by putting on a pair of shoes and running for 35 miles, just because. I smile at a thought; wondering what our ancestors would think if we told them that we spent our weekends, our early pre-sunrise mornings, our post-work evenings, and overall free-time, running. Choosing running. Actively chasing it, spending hundreds of dollars on expensive shoes and sportswear. Worst of all, we pay money to enter races. No one owns the globe, or even the property on which we run a lot of times, and yet we give them cold hard cash to be able to sweat and hurt and run. We give them money to run on the same streets we walk to work on everyday.
You can tell this is a candid photo because no one looks like they know what they’re doing.
And yet it’s the perfect representation of humanity’s desire to move. It demonstrates that we weren’t meant to sit in cubicles or melt into couches five hours a day or commute to work for twenty years. It’s a part of me I’ve actively tried to smother, to say, “Listen here, pre-industrial-revolution-evolutionary-biology, you don’t need to move. You don’t have to get up. Just sit down and let Netflix take dictate the next three hours. Also, pass the popcorn.”
But even I, a man who carefully partitions out his schedule with items titled “Relax,” was coaxed into exercising. A few years back, there was an opening on a team for the Wild Rogue Relay. I felt reluctantly obligated because everyone kept telling me how good I was going to be at it. And being a true, selfish millennial I thought, “Well, gee, I wouldn’t mind spending a weekend receiving compliments on my natural athleticism.”
So I opened my closet, quite literally dusted off my $20 New Balance tennis shoes I bought on sale at Costco three years prior, and went on a run. We ran three miles that first time. And I did pretty good. I rewarded myself with a Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger with a side of fries and three fingers of Whiskey. I know, I’m channeling that insufferable friend of mine. There’s a special place in hell for people like me.
This is the part of running stories where it usually diverges. In one camp, there are those who instantly fall in love with it. They love the pain, they love the suffering, they love pushing themselves and seeing how far they can go. And they don’t stop. They keep going and going, increasing their mileage and their speed until they’ve gone too far. We call them Ultra runners, but really they should be named Stop-you’re-making-me-look-bad runners. They enter into crazy things, like 50 milers and 100 milers – spans of distance most people wouldn’t want to hop in a car and drive, because it takes too long. This is where my theory of masochism enters.
We’re smiling because this is after we’ve had (several) beers.
And then there are those who never really fall in love with it. These are my people. We look at running like the DMV or foot-corn pumice stones: disgusting, but a necessity in modern day society.
I’ve never felt what’s called the “Runner’s High.” I don’t know if my tolerance is too high, or if it’s things like joint pain, exhaustion, and side aches getting in the way. People like me can’t enjoy the run because according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we’re stuck at the bottom of the pyramid: we’re in pain.
So it’s weird that I’d not only run in something like the Wild Rogue Relay, but I’d do it without a threat to my being or a family member held hostage. Even more odd, The Wild Rogue Relay is something I look forward to every year.
Don’t tell my friends, and certainly don’t tell my teammates (I have a reputation to uphold), but there’s something to be said about willing yourself to do something difficult. Running 21 miles over the course of a weekend is no easy feat, especially when one only spends four weeks preparing for that run. At some point during my legs, usually between the first and last mile, I hate everything. I hate the music I’m listening to. I hate the heat. I hate my life and I hate my legs. I hate running. And I hate myself for signing off a weekend away—one that could be spent drinking beer and relaxing—so I could run 21 miles.
But when I see the finish line, a part of me stirs to life. It’s that piece of my humanity that knows I have to stop being sedentary. It’s that portion that hates cubicles, that despises commuting every day, detests the social media lifestyle our world has become. I come to life, a smile on my face, in part because I’m almost done, but also because it feels good to accomplish something.
Best of all it’s the faces that greet me that fill me with joy. My friends and teammates cheer me in; they lie to me and say, “You look great” and “Wow, a 12 minute mile? That was quick,” and “You look so relaxed.” They hand me my things: my coconut water, my banana, and my chocolate bar. Small bits of pleasure that keep me running.
I sit in the back of the truck or van with the window down, usually my legs are shaking and I’m still out of breath. But I feel good, certainly not high, but good. Even if only for that moment—that infinitesimal amount of time where I rehydrate and catch my breath—I feel more alive, and I don’t really mind that my weekend isn’t filled with relaxation practices and the whole thing doesn’t seem as silly to me anymore.
And, really, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about saying, “No thank you” to the smothering language of our society that says, “Sit down. Stop moving. Relax. You’ve earned it.”
Because moving is in our biology. It’s in our DNA. Moving is what makes us what we are, and if deny it, we deny our humanity. And that would just be silly.