Everybody has their Achilles heel, that thing in their life that they dislike, dread, or fear. Some people fear the towering podium of public speaking and for others it is the terror of tall buildings. We all have them, those real or imagined bumps that show up on the road that is life. Even the man of steel fears Kryptonite and for me, that thing has been running.
I have never really been a good runner. As a youngster I was not particularly athletic, and my exposure to running long distances, clapping my hands, and counting to four as a Marine recruit was positively terrifying. I dreaded falling into formations for physical training because I knew that I just wasn’t good at it. I would be huffing and puffing, my burning lungs gasping for air as the spectre of falling out and incurring the wrath of the Drill Instructors loomed large over me. It was even worse when I went to Officer Candidate School because physical fitness was next to (and seemingly slightly more important than) Godliness in the grand scheme of things. It was particularly petrifying because I was a bit older than the rest of my class due to my time as an enlisted Marine, and it showed. Where some of my classmates pushed the sound barrier, including one collegiate runner who routinely ran three miles in about fourteen minutes, I was usually threatening the terminal velocity of flowing molasses as I crossed the line almost ten minutes behind him. My instructors somberly informed me that I was too slow to lead Marines, and unless I get better I would be kicked out of OCS. I strained and trained and strained some more, and on the big day of our final physical fitness test fate smiled upon me and I made it- but literally by the skin of my teeth. Every candidate who was followed me across the finish line was dropped from the program and didn’t graduate. I was the anchor on the chain, but I made it.
My fear and dread of running followed me throughout my career. I chose to meet my nemesis head on and ran at every chance I could find. Over years of being running, jogging, and walking long distances I fell into a routine and found myself actually beginning to enjoy it. With running comes fitness, and with fitness comes the ability to fit in a well fitting uniform while still eating pizza and drinking beer. Not a bad tradeoff, really.
I also found that running was my personal escape from all the petty and little annoyances in life. Nobody could call me because I don’t carry my cellphone, and unless they had on their running shoes it was unlikely that they could catch me and bring me down. I did, and still do, my best thinking as I pound the pavement and trails on my morning run. In running I have found a balance in life, even though I continue to not be particularly good at it.
I think about life, family, transition, the universe, stock prices, Christmas shopping, you name it. When I return home I have solved many of the world’s problems, well, at least some of my own. I am in a good mood, and it starts the day off right. Over a couple of decades I have mastered my nemesis and embraced it. That said, I am still pretty slow, but I get out there almost every day to keep from solidifying into a couch potato.
So running has become my road to maintaining my sanity. I ran whenever I could in combat zones and whenever I could when I was home. It has become a consistent part of my life, and continues to be so even though I am leaving the Marine Corps and its requirement for top levels of physical fitness. Retirement is indeed a stark transition from one life to another, and running has provided me with a serene path over the bridge that takes me into what’s next.
So if you are transitioning, make sure to embrace something that will provide consistency through the process. I have found that running is that thing for me; you needn’t necessarily take up skydiving if you are afraid of heights, but do something. Read War and Peace. Write the Great American Novel. Lift weights. Tie flies and go fishing. Do something! Change is overwhelming at times, and you can be crushed by the forces of uncertainty or carve a piece of yourself out of the rat race and use it to maintain your balance. It will keep you sane when it seems that everything has gone completely and utterly crazy.
I have learned to enjoy running to the point that have run in several marathons and even more half-marathons. Despite the pain associated with a career that has been hard on my feet, knees, and back, I find it cathartic to get out and run with thousands of people like me. To that end, I have decided to couple my running with raising money for charity.
Here is the worthy cause bit; feel free to stop reading if you would like – I promise not to hold it against you! I have volunteered to raise money for a very good cause: the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society. I have joined their Team In Training, which essentially is a bunch of runners/joggers/walkers like myself who pledge to raise money and awareness for the society and the impact of those devastating diseases. I have kids, and am grateful beyond measure because they are healthy. Not all families are so fortunate, and Leukemia and Lymphoma are devastating diseases that are truly heartwrending in their effects on kids and adults alike. I am doing my own little part to help them out as I go out and do something that I enjoy- running. Anyhow, I will be running the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January, and if you would like to support the Lymphoma and Leukemia society with a donation, please follow this link to my donation site: http://sdhi.lls.llsevent.org/gricemcarlsbadhalf. The Team in Training and I would be very appreciative!!!