The Pursuit of Happiness

“The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.”       – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Most Monday mornings when I’m attempting to drag my ass out of bed at five to go to work, it’s quotes like the one above that seem to be playing on a loop inside my skull (interspersed with the obligatory Monday morning suicide plotting). I can’t help but wonder what I am doing.

It’s my life. I only get to live it once. So why do I spend so much time doing things that I hate? Is the allure of security really that strong? Do I really need to fit into this perfect little cardboard box of societal norms?

Last week I was at a bar when someone asked me what I “did”. As in, what was my job, how did I make the money I just used to pay for the IPA I was drinking. Always an irksome question, it has been extremely difficult for me to answer lately. Not because I’m ashamed of what I do– but because there are other things I do (without collecting a paycheck) that are far more representative of who I am.

More than anything, I wanted to be able to say something like, “Oh, I’m a dirt-bag trail runner. I work on odd job here and there so I can pay the camping fees at trailheads and purchase an occasional pair of running shoes.” Alas, I don’t have the balls to spend the majority of my time doing what it is I actually love to do… So I just mumbled something into my beer about my day job and tried to change the subject as fast I could.

But the encounter got me thinking… Never before in my life have I been so close to a state of financial security (whatever the hell that means), and never before have I been so unhappy with my professional life.  So what am I doing? It’s my life. I only get one. Why have I resigned to spend it being a total bitch? Living a lie, biding my time until I die, trading excitement and passion for security and longevity?

All of us, in one way or another, are on our own pursuits of happiness. We’re trying to get it. We think we can get it. Yet we slave away, spending the majority of our time miserable, waiting for something to happen, complaining about our situation but never doing anything to change it.  It could be worse, right?  But that type of logic seems to be the root of the problem to begin with.  It’s all so convoluted. Complication after complication to consider.  All I want to do is run.

I want to run all the time.  Running is the simplest, most primal activity that I can possible think of. When I get out on the trail and start charging up the side of a mountain, sweat dripping into the dirt around me, everything else seems to melt away.  Running as hard as I can, blurring the line between control and abandon– this is where I feel alive.  This is my way of revolting against a society that refuses to let me be happy.  To let me be who I am.

Human beings, like all other creatures on this planet, evolved to procreate. To spread our genes. We didn’t evolve to be happy.  Truth be told, happiness is probably a detriment to our general ability to pass our genes to the next generation. We’re probably not going to find this elusive state of happiness we’re all so feverishly pursing. Especially not with our head buried in a screen or our ass stuck in a chair.

I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but it seems to me that, as we were becoming the species we are now– the dominant species on earth, we spent most of our time running.  Running to eat and running to avoid being eaten. In either of these scenarios, success had to be a pretty joyful occasion– possibly the most joyful occasion of our ancestor’s lives– and it was always inexorably linked with running.

I run to be happy.  My ancestors were happy because they ran. Is there a difference?  Isn’t it all the same thing?  Is the bliss they felt after running down an antelope the same thing I experience after finishing a 50 mile race? There’s no way to know for sure.  What I do know is that when I toe the starting line at the Bandit 50k this Saturday, I’ll be on a good, old-fashioned pursuit of happiness, just like my ancestors used to do.IMG_0249

Advertisements

Running – The Cure for Everything

Yesterday I was having a shitty day.  I woke up with all the makings of a head cold—feeling stuffed up, congested and extra drowsy.  My eyes were refusing to open.  Then I went running.  I got up in the mountains, sucked my lungs full of that clean mountain air, blew a couple hundred snot-rockets into the dirt and watched the first few rays of sunlight trickle down onto the Pacific Ocean.  Head cold averted.  Things were looking up. 

Then I got to work and my boss started bitching.  Why was I thirty minutes late?  Did I have a chance to do all that work that he asked me to do even though it was way outside the scope of my job description and he wasn’t paying me for it?  When was I going to cut my hair?  Any chance I could stay late today?  Was I really wearing sweat shorts at work?  I started getting a headache.  My stress levels were rising.  Cortisol began coursing through my veins.  I could literally feel the muscle fibers on the right side of my neck binding themselves together into a gnarly cramp. 

So I went running.  I ran away from everything and everybody.  I charged up the trail listening to the pace of my stride increase with every step.  My heart began pumping, sending large quantities of blood surging into my muscles.  They loosened.  My cramp was gone.   As a topped out on the summit, thoroughly exhausted from the effort, I glanced back down at the city street I had left far behind.  It seemed my problems had stayed down there too.  They couldn’t chase me up the mountain.  Unnecessary stress averted.   Things were looking up again.   

I won’t bore you with all the mundane details of the rest of my day, but by about five o’clock I had accumulated a little IT band tightness, some dry skin, an allergy-induced sniffle and what seemed to be a mild case of constipation.  I needed to go running. 

When I did, it fixed everything (especially the constipation, that was fixed with a vengeance).  And it came with the added bonus of allowing me to witness the sunset from about 2,000 feet higher than anyone else around.  Running had singlehandedly turned my no-good, very bad day into a pretty damn good one. 

Ok, so running may not be the cure for everything.  It’s probably not going to fix a broken toe or help much with a rattlesnake bite, but roughly 99.6% of the time, I choose to prescribe myself a good long run for whatever seems to ail me.  And I’m rarely disappointed. 

Rolled my ankle playing hoops?  If I go running for an hour after the game, the next day I won’t even be able to tell it happened. 

Fighting with my significant other?  After a run I’m ready to admit I was wrong, even if I wasn’t (but let’s face it, I probably was). 

Hung-over?  Just gotta get on the trail and sweat it out.   

The Lakers lost again?  Hill repeats. 

Feeling fat?  Time for a long one. 

Tired?  The mountains have an energizing effect. 

Depressed? Anxious? Broke?  Horny?  You get the picture.  Running; it’s good for… well, everything. 

Chasing Flow

Dr. Angela Garcia, a Cultural Anthropologist at Stanford University, has coined the term “moment of incomprehensibility”.  In my rudimentary understanding of the subject, this is basically a moment where what is in front of you becomes utterly incomprehensible.  You can’t explain it.  You can’t find words to describe it.  All you can do is just be there.  Absorb it.  Try to take it all in. 

These moments don’t come around very often.  For most people, they don’t come around at all.  Most of the time, you have to be pretty far outside of your comfort zone to stumble across a true moment of incomprehensibility.  I’m not talking about being unable to fathom why the dude in front of you is going 15 mph under the speed limit or being baffled by the garbage spewing from the mouths of the Kardashians.  The moments that Dr. Garcia and I are talking about are beyond written description.  These are the moments I am chasing.  These are the moments that allow me to experience flow at it’s fullest. 

Standing atop Mt. Whitney, my first 14er, and experiencing the sheer, undeniable magnitude of it’s vast beauty.  Running through the early morning mist in the Santa Monica Mountains, climbing above the marine layer just in time to glimpse the first rays of the sunrise.  Scrambling between the switchbacks through the talus on the way up Mt. Timpanogos, stopping to suck wind, entirely exhausted, and glancing up at the seemingly unconquerable, gorgeous mass still waiting for me above.  Bombing down an underused single track, racing the setting sun, watching it slowly descend into the Pacific Ocean, increasing my pace as it disappears beneath the shimmering, purple water in a subtle, yet perfect flash. 

All of these experiences included a moment of incomprehensibility for me.  I have not described these moments here; to do so would be impossible. I have simply set the stage in which these moments took place.  My sense of awe was unmatched.  I was exactly where I was supposed to be in that moment.  The stars were aligned and I was absorbed by an overwhelming sense of rightness.  I melted into the landscape.  I became one with the mountain.  My soul was nourished.  Flow was realized. 

For me, Bobby Geronimo, this is what flow is all about.  Every time my foot falls on the trail, I’m chasing these elusive moments.  These moments don’t happen running through the city streets or staring at the screen of your iPhone.  These moments have to be earned.  These moments take blood and sweat, experience and knowledge, miles and miles, sacrifice.  These moments take an understanding of your own insignificance.  An understanding of your true place in the world.  These moments make me who I am. 

I want flow.  And I want it to be utterly incomprehensible. 

Be Evolutionarily Relevant

As I’ve been tacking more and more miles onto my personal odometer, it’s become harder to keep my running obsession under the radar.  It’s not that I’m trying to keep it hidden; I’m incredibly proud of the running I’ve done and what running has done for me.  It’s just that I skew introverted to begin with and as soon as people start to realize what I’m doing, it inevitably leads to questions.  Questions that I generally have no interest in answering.

Every ultrarunner understands exactly what I’m saying because every ultrarunner has been asked, at some point, ‘Why?!?’, when something like the distance of your next race happens to be disclosed through casual conversation with a non-runner.  And we all know that someone who would ask that type of question has no idea how to fully understand the answer.  At least not in a real, practical sense.  So we utter clichés and talk vaguely about the intrinsic value of running.  

More often that not, when I arrive back at work after a long run in the middle of the day, I’m forced into some variation of a conversation that goes something like this:

“Bro! You were running this whole time?!?” You’ve been gone for like three hours!”

“Actually that was about four and a half… bro.”

“That’s nuts man!  I can’t do anything for four and half hours besides sleep. Why would you do that?”

“Oh, you know, I really enjoy getting away from everything—getting out in the mountains—and just running around.  It calms me down.”

  “You’re insane!! Why would anyone do that?! What do you think about while you’re out there?  Does your ipod last that—Bro! Where you going? Why you walking away?”

When looking at the human body from an evolutionary perspective, it seems odd that nobody ever has conversations like this:

“So, how was your day today?”

“Eh—it was pretty rough.  I sat at my desk at work for eight hours and then I sat in my car for an hour on my commute home before sitting for another five hours in front of the TV.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting for 14 hours today!?! That’s crazy!! How could you have possible done that?!? Isn’t your back killing you?  I’ve never heard of anyone sitting for so long!!”

“Well, I did get up a few times… I had to go to the bathroom and get something to eat… walk to my car.”

“Still, I don’t how you anyone could sit for so long!!  I would have lost my freaking mind! You’re a way stronger person than me.”

What happened to our evolutionary relevance?  As Harvard Evolutionary Biologist Daniel Lieberman points out in his book, The Story of the Human Body, humans are incredibly slow in comparison with the majority of quadrupeds.  The fastest humans top out around 23 miles an hour for—at the most—20 seconds.  Your average lion is running around 45 miles an hour for over four minutes.  

Tools like the bow and arrow weren’t invented until about 100,000 years ago and even the most basic stone spear points only appeared 500,000 years ago.  Yet there is archeological evidence that early humans have been hunting quadrupeds like kudu, zebra and wildebeest for almost 2 million years.  These animals were faster, stronger and much more agile than the humans hunting them.  But as mostly hairless bipeds, our ancestors could do a couple of things better than the rest of the animals on the planet: sweat and run long distances. 

So, according to Lieberman, we waited until the day was hot and we ran our prey down until it collapsed from heat stroke.  We evolved to be endurance runners. Now, we sit in chairs and type on computers.  We’ve lost touch with our evolutionary history.  Most of us have completely stopped using our bodies in the way they were designed.  And for some asinine reason, we expect no consequences for these actions. 

The next time someone comes up to me and asks me why I run such long distances with an incredulous look plastered across their face, I’m going to simply reply that I’m “attempting to stay evolutionarily relevant”.  I think that sums it all up nicely.  What more should I really have to say?

Now, if you’d excuse me, I’m going to run outside under the hot sun and sweat my ass off.