January 28, 2023

Chasing a State of Mind

Neighborhood runner carries the MIA-POW flag for another ten miler, as he has done for years

Ultra marathoner Scott Jurek writes in his bestseller Eat & Run that continuing on can be the most meaningful thing in the world and “you can hurt more than ever thought possible and realize that hurting isn’t that big a deal.” Jurek knows of pain. He set an American record of running 165.7 miles in one day, along with wins in the 153 mile Spartathlon and 135 mile Badwater.

A familiar sight was on the street as the radio guy warned of high temps for all those training for the ten mile Crim in August. He lost his balance a little bit as the heat took out his legs. He steadied and finished his ten mile run, carrying the MIA-POW flag as he has done for years. Scott Jurek tells of one Badwater race when his buddy collapsed only 300 yards from the finish line. One hundred and thirty-five miles and with the end in sight, his mind went bonk. The mind-body connection is the most fascinating aspect of Jurek’s story. His buddy could have obviously finished the Badwater. His mind was programmed for a set finish and when it didn’t arrive on time, down he went in a heap.

Jurek’s book is really about living a conscious life. He wasn’t always a great athlete. At the age of 12, he was prescribed medicine for hypertension. His mother’s struggles and eventual death from MS had a profound impact on him. He discovered the road to wellness and true health came from the rugged trail, embracing the pain and struggle of “exploring the side trails”, and doing so with great purpose. When he collapsed in exhaustion during an ultra marathon, his buddy got in his face, shouting that he must get up if he really wants to be somebody.

He learns from pain of following the rugged trail that “rational assessment leads to rational surrender.”  The pain of surrender is much worse than the pain of going on, fighting through it.

But first, the mind must approve of this irrational persistence.

Is running ten miles a day with a MIA-POW flag more or less irrational than doing the Badwater? I see him running in the dark and cold winter nights, humid summers, rain and shine. When he’s done, the flag goes up the pole, flying alongside the American flag.

The more that I see him out there struggling through the pain of carrying that flag, the more I think of the prisoners of war and missing in action here, and he’s really running for everyone.

That includes New Yorkers, in my humble opinion, who have been humiliated by the mayor’s soda ban. If people are incapable of making their own decision about a 16 oz Coke, they’re incapable of going into the Twin Towers to save their fellow citizens from a terrorist attack, or serve in the military, or even vote. They’ve gone from the image of firemen going into the Twin Towers on 9/11 to sipping Diet Liberty from a straw on mayor’s orders. While Jurek uses his powerfully trained consciousness to shatter running records, a record number of people subsist on food stamps, New York and elsewhere, MIAs from the conscious life.

Forty are shot in Chicago on Memorial Weekend and Detroit says, oh yeah, we’ll shoot 41. A 14 year old kid was found dead in the park along the route of the famous Crim race. The kid was shot in the head, executed. There’s a problem with the CIA on the home front, as in Children In Action. His body reportedly lay in the park for hours, surrounded by a crowd increasingly angry at the tardy coroner. The 14 year old’s body was sent to the morgue in time for the park to clean up for a garage sale the next morning. In many neighborhoods, it’s life on the clearance rack. Fifty years ago, the clearance rate for closing murder cases was over 90 percent.Today, the national clearance rate is less than fifty percent.

Richard Ford’s new novel Canada deals in its own way with weakness of consciousness. A struggling ex Air Force pilot and his wife rob a bank. She dreamed of becoming a poet and marrying a college professor and drives the getaway car, instead. In prison, she puts her literary talents to use in an essay about the Weak Man who was her husband and bumbling bank robber. Her getaway car didn’t get her and the family far enough away from the local authorities. The son, and narrator of Canada, sees in his father the truth after all. His father shed the layers of falsehoods that society covers us and revealed himself for “what he was and was always meant to be”- his futility coming at the end of his race, his character and destiny collapsing the three hundred yards from the finish, as it was always meant to be.

Destiny is a state of mind, a race without a finish line on the horizon.


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