Awkward Embrace

If where I am is only significant when compared to where I was, then I’m not where I want to be…

It’s seems both like just yesterday and a hundred years ago that I was on that back half or Rock n Roll New Orleans 2014, struggling. I’ll never for get the feeling in mile 17 when I had to walk for the first time, and how bummed I was that a 9:30 pace had proven too much for this newbie runner. That taste of the tears on my face from wresting with whether I should quit or not is still fresh in my brain, but somehow it all seems like such a distant memory as well. On that day my best was a four hour, forty-four minute effort. I’ll never forget the confusing feeling I experienced as my wife, who I hadn’t seen since mile 8 or so, caught then passed me in mile 22. I mean, I was happy that she was doing so well, but damn. I cramped, I cried, I limped, I moaned, and I was coached up and encouraged by more experienced runners as they passed me in droves in those late miles…
“pick your head up”
“shoulders back!”
“Keep moving! Two miles to go!”
“It hurts don’t it? It’s ok, we’re almost there!”
Both only yesterday and a lifetime ago I ran my first marathon. But this weekend I ran my fifth. And what a difference two years and a few thousand miles makes!

Let’s back it up here just a second. Last year at Rock n Roll (RnR) 2015 I ran a great race, and achieved a new PR. That new PR was gained on the heels of a 2014 full of miles aimed at feeling stronger in the marathon. I wanted to be a marathoner! As you know, if you’re one of the few folks who’ve kept up with this blog, I followed up my inaugural marathon effort at the RnR ’14 with my first poster at the Crescent City Classic 10k, my first Hotter Than Hell event, and wrapped up ’14 with a soul-wringing run through the five boroughs of NYC. By the time I had gotten into training for RnR ’15, I had signed up for my first ultra marathon, a 50k, in Destin, FL. Little did I realize at the time that a.) I’d fall in love with running distances that make 26.2 seem like a nice warm-up, or b.) that becoming an ultra-phile would make me a better marathoner.

Immediately after my first ultra, I jumped into 10k training for my 3rd Crescent City Classic. I had already gotten a poster (top 500 finish) in ’14, but I wanted to see if this formerly 400lbs body could somehow run a sub-40 minute 10k, so that’s where my focus went. However, I ultimately failed in that effort, for I ran 41:05. My failures are just as important to me as my achievements. They’re not nearly as sexy, but they are arguably even more valuable. But I digress. Anyway, not long after that 50k on the beach, I signed up for a 100k! I figured that I’d spend the summer logging big mileage weeks and getting familiar with 30+ mile running efforts as a new normal. The hot miles of that summer were brutal at times, but in a rewarding “hey, it was hard but you did it” kind of way. With each emptying of my vessel, and distance/heat-induced failure, I grew back stronger. I could feel it, not just physically, but mentally. I would need it in that 100K! That wound up being the absolute hardest thing I’d ever done.

Not long after that 100k, my buddy Jean ran his first 100 mile race. My friend Wally and I were to be his pacers, splitting the duty almost 50/50 for his last 60 miles. (Jean, Wally, and myself were all first-time ultra runners at the Destin 50k, btw—their peer pressure is what prompted me to sign up) Around this time, Jean had brought up the idea of signing up for the Bear Bait 50 miler this January. I was kicking the idea around because I knew I wanted to give RnR ’16 a PR effort, and with a 50 mile race the month before, I was afraid it may hinder my training for that. But after watching Jean run through the mountains all night in his 100 mile race, that really wound up being 101 miles due to some weather-induced course adjustments (I had to let em know, Jean), I decided that I was running Bear Bait. I guess you could say I was inspired as hell.

Once I signed up and began training for it, I always had the RnR ’16 in the back of my mind. So, in addition to wanting really race my first ultra at Bear Bait, marathon pacing for RnR was always in the back of my mind. Even though I was running back-to-back 25-mile days, and multiple 40+ mile weekends, I always tried to finish with a goal marathon pace burst. That wasn’t always achievable, but it was always the aspiration, and, again, the times I failed at this were, to me, more valuable than the times I succeeded. Failure is a quite a shaper.

After Bear Bait was in the books, I finally turned my sights to RnR ’16. My partner in crime from way back, J.Tizzle, had already found and downloaded a marathon training plan. All I had to do was DO; he’d send me a text with the workout, and I’d show up at 4:30am and get it done, with him by my side. The shift from ultra training speed to marathon training speed was actually kinda nice. In a weird way I almost felt as if I’d been somehow holding Speed at bay in lieu of Distance, so to let Speed out to play was quite a nice change-up. This was made evident in my next pacing assignment as I paced my buddy Wally for 20 miles of his first 100-miler.

Near the back half of my marathon training plan, on the dark trail, running with Wally, who already had 60 miles on his legs, we were not running at goal marathon pace by any means. lol! And, as counterintuitive as it sounds, slowing down like that drained me. I tried not to let Wally see it, as he was the one with a reason to be hurting, but I was tapped out by the end of my twenty. But, I looked at it as a good thing; “I think I’m in marathon shape.”

Look y’all, I never really talk about what I do for a living. It’s not that I’m being secretive or anything, it’s just not a very one-word-explained thing, like “accountant”; I’m a landlord for a mobile home park, I am a wastewater utility operator/owner, and it’s my role to bathe and feed my grandfather. So, from day to day, my day may be extremely boring or it may extremely stressful, or even worse, when it’s a mixture of the two. And honestly, the internal dissonance of that life can either fuel being very unhealthy and feeling justified in doing so because of the stress, or it can fuel a very healthy lifestyle using the internal confusion, and impending decision-angst as a reason to physically exhaust yourself as to achieve a certain internal quiet. And without getting into much detail, this past few weeks have been, let’s just say, angst-rich. But that is where my brother comes in. He always has my back, and, as partners, we help each other up when the other is getting towed under by the minutia. It is a great thing, and I am grateful for all he does that allows me to do these things I do. And, in no small way all those who sacrifice and help out the Josh LaJaunie Project are on my mind in the late miles when my body’s telling me “it’s ok to let up, look how far you’ve come…”

After a short tussle with a head cold—even after committing to a 100% raw existence for about three weeks prior to the marathon, and a few emergencies on the professional front the week before the race—that were devoured by my brother and myself, I found myself standing in a start corral again. I felt fresh. I had plenty decision-angst to fuel me. I had in-person inspiration planned for mile 16 because my rock, my wife, would be waiting for me with a filled water bottle and a “don’t stop, baby! you’re kicking ass! don’t stop!” Dammit, I was fuckin’ ready to run, YA HEARD?!?

BOOM! We were off!

JT and I started behind the 3:30 pace group. It was a large group! I had originally planned to sorta use that group as a pace gauge, and hopefully just keep them close so I could come in under 3:34, but hopefully under 3:30. However, the group’s size made it imagerather cumbersome to run in that pack, so by mile two me n JT were in front of that group. This made me ever so nervous. For the rest of the day I kept thinking, “don’t let that group catch you!” After putting a gap between us and the 3:30 group, JT and I settled into a groove that we figured we could hold for 20 or so.

I was so excited to still be seeing 7:30s, 7:20s on my watch all the way up to mile 13 and 14. We ran through the first half around 1:38. Hell, that’s 3 minutes off of my Half Marathon PR! I figured we’d be involuntarily slowing down shortly, given we were caring this kind of pace. After an out-n-back section in mile 14, I noticed JT was no longer near me; I could not hear his very distinct, to me, footfalls anymore. I was hoping he was cool, but I knew he wouldn’t want me coming back to check on him, this isn’t some middle-of-nowhere ultra trail, it’s a road race; there’s plenty of help on the course. But I had a hunch that he had just decided to slow down a tad; although we had trained together for this marathon, he hadn’t quite logged the tons of miles I had in the previous several months. And, although he’d never admit it, I think he wittingly ran too fast early just to help me stay on task. Again, he’ll never admit it, but I’m calling him out right now, saying he sacrificed his PR for mine. (my keyboard is suddenly blurry…)

Alone now, with no JT, I started thinking ahead to where my best friend/wife/girlfriend/strength coach would be waiting for me, 434538_222447086_Mediumabout mile 16.5. I could see her from way off…my baby. I ran hard as I approached her, and our friend who accompanied her. I wanted to show off for my girl and her friend. I wanted them to both be proud of me, and how strong I was looking with less than 10 miles to go! B.J. swapped handhelds with me and ran along side me for minute to tell me not to stop. She instructed me to keep going hard, and she’d see me at the finish.

As I ran off from my favorite rendezvous, I remembered that I’d been holding in a piss for about ten miles. It was almost unbearable, especially now that I had a new slug of hydration in my belly. I was cursing the big bottle of water I drank before I left for the start line that morning. Dammit! Should I just piss myself? I tried. I was running too fast to relax enough to let it go. I wasn’t running in a residential area, as we were on the back side of City Park, near a lake with plenty vegetation growing on the shore. I spotted a bush, and peeled off the route. I ran through the grass to the bush I’d found. Stopping felt so wrong, but peeing felt so right. When I got back to the road I ran hard for about 400 meters in an attempt to make up for the time I had lost. I felt so much better now!

It started to become a bit of struggle to hold pace around mile 21 or so. But I got a jolt when, along the long out-n-back section along lakeshore drive, I hear, “Josh! you are looking strong buddy! looking great, man!” It was Jason Cheek. I met “Cheeky” at the 100k I ran in October, Children of the Cane. He’d run the 100 miler, finishing second overall. Dude is a straight beast! Jason had already made it to the turnaround at mile 22 and was heading back toward the finish. He was just out for a leisurely long run because he’d already BQ’d last month at the Louisiana Marathon. Hearing and seeing him pumped me up! I could tell he was kinda chilling, so I was like, “what if we could catch up to Cheeky and slap his ass before the finish…” Not that I could speed up at all, I was just daydreaming, keeping my mind off the pain.

As I made the mile 22 turnaround I immediately started looking for JT. When I saw that the 3:30 group was a head of him, I knew he’d be pissed about his time. But when I saw him all that was evident was how proud he was of me. He screamed as loud as he could, “It’s your fucking day, boy! Go finish this fucking thing!!”

By the time I’d reached mile 23, I had slowed down considerably. I was passing people, but not running as fast as my heart really wanted to. One person I passed saw my No Meat Athlete singlet, and decided to catch back up to me and share the fact that we were both vegan runners. His name was Tim. As I conversed with him through my grunts and moans, he figured out that I was the guy he’d heard on the Rich Roll Podcast. His face lit up, “dude?!?! Rich Roll Podcast?” I said, “yep.” And he gave me a fist bump. He was very nice, and very interested and engaging. I couldn’t figure out if he was really that interested in me or if he was just trying to keep my mind off the pain. Either way, I really appreciated his company and willingness to hang with me as a de facto pacer. He pushed me, and encouraged me. He was telegraphing the route to me so I knew exactly what to expect next. (he was unaware that I’ve run this route, and all the parts of it about a zillion times. lol. but I still appreciated it)

Approaching mile 26, I could hear the finish. Tim said, “not even a full lap around the track, bro!” We took off! When we rounded the corner not only did I see two of my favorite people in the crowd cheering me on, Wally and his wife Nikki, but I saw the clock had just turned to 3:24:00! We ran our asses off to beat 3:25:00. We got to the finish in 3:24:45. 434538_222383043_MediumI grabbed Tim’s slight frame and pulled him in close for a lingering, slightly awkward, “thank you” hug. As tired as I was, and as much as I just wanted a bottle of water and a chocolate milk (SIKE. HA!😂), it was important for me to let Tim know what that two miles meant to me. Thanks, bro.

As I walked away from Tim and toward the bucket of bottled waters, I heard Cheeky, “damn bro, what you doing here? You beat me?! what was your time?” I told him, and he said, “you beat me!” Even though, he wasn’t running hard, and, I found out later, he was helping a young lady across the finish, who had fallen from fatigue in the last 800 meters or so (he is more than a beast at running apparently; he’s a beast at being a compassionate human as well), I was still sad I didn’t get the chance to smack his ass and call him a slacker!

I laboriously brought you through all those steps, and all that information, not as a braggart, but as a human who has, for the first time ever in his life, decided not to limit himself; a human who has decided that whatever he sets his eye on, and is willing to work for, to cry for, to bleed for, to be made fun of for, is completely probable to achieve. I truly believe that weight loss, eating plants, and running are just the tip of the ice burg for me. I use you guys as guinea pigs as I practice writing, and I bounce ideas off of you guys in real time via social media, and I truly think I have a calling. That I am creeping ever so closer to what that is exactly is filling me with passion, a passion that seems as profound and psyche-altering as my very first Crescent City Classic.

What’s next? Well, in the micro, CCC 2016 is right around the corner; In the macro, I’m looking at my first 100 mile race. I’m also find myself being asked to speak at bigger and bigger events. So, as I train for the CCC, I’ll be preparing for a chance to be a speaker at Healthfest in Marshall, Texas. And the city of Shreveport has asked me back for a second trip to north Louisiana to speak at a health expo they are hosting in April on the 16th, just a couple weeks later. Then, I’ll be at the NOLA Veggie Fest on Mother’s Day weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. I’ll probably start my hundred mile training around then because I’m thinking about my first hundo being in September. But the thing that really has me vibrating with excitement is a chance to speak at the Engine 2/Forks Over Knives immersion event in Dallas Texas in October! To be asked to speak on the same stage as Rip and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn kinda blows my mind!

Anyway guys and gals, I say get on fire for what you love. Even if it’s a square peg in a round hole, beat it, whittle it down to fit, widen the hole, something! Make it fit, force it. For once it fits, the hardest part is over, the customization is done. Now you can set your sights on sustained happiness. But, what do I know? I’m not joking. I’m just a coonass with a laptop. Peace.

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Wally telling me to hurry the fuck up!

 

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Me n Cheeky Ham’n it up.

 

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Keep ya Chocolate Milk. Let the baby cows have mine.
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4 thoughts on “Awkward Embrace

    1. Nice!!! You’re just getting started. Look for more change to embrace. Make it a habit. It gets uncomfortable, but that’s the point: getting used to discomfort, both physical and mental, makes us stronger/better/happier/healthier/faster/leaner/more able…
      Proud of you. 👊🏻

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