As fifteen-year-old kid during the summer of 1972, I was frustrated by the fact that I’d sustained a chipped bone in my elbow that erased the summer baseball season. Neither could I go out and run with the cast on. So my exercise was limited to some weekly tennis sessions with my mother.
Many an afternoon was spent lying on the dull red carpet in our Elburn living room, head between two speakers listening to music and almost dozing off. It wasn’t the best prescription for good mental health perhaps, but it’s what kids in the 70s did when there was little else to do.
My favorite album that summer was George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” It has recently been re-issued in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, and it is tempting to buy it because I still have the original three-record vinyl. There are serious philosophical and spiritual insights on that album that still ring true to this day…
Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night
Beware of sadness
Lord knows the world recognizes the morose nature of some teenagers. Some kids go through entire phases of their life in Goth mode or hide themselves under their hair, their clothes or whatever method it takes to hold the world at bay. There are so many things that seem to poke at you through those teen years. The incessant prodding of parents. The teasing rivalry of siblings. The battle for control and approval within friendships. The desire for attention from whatever gender you desire. My brothers once accurately called it the “social maelstrom” and they were absolutely right.
On August 2 of that summer, I received a letter from Coach Born with an encouraging note on the bottom. He wrote, “Chris–I hope that you have been recovering from your elbow injury in baseball. Good luck on your x-rays on the 6th. Was glad to hear from you. Have an enjoyable August. R Born.”
His note was written on the summer cross country letter to “Prospective Cross Country Member.” That little note meant the world to me at the time.
The x-rays turned out clear. The cast came off on the 6th of August and I was free to start getting back in shape. Not that I was fat or anything. Quite the opposite. As a rail-thin kid without an ounce of fat on my body, I suffered far too many comments and criticism about being skinny. I was sensitive as hell about it. By the end of August, the day that cross country was to begin, my frustrations had come to a boil. I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and scrawled my anger out in pictures and words.
“I feel pretty goddamn bitter. Every fucker this side of Peoria is calling me skinny. Any fucker who wants to fight me can fuck off. I’m gonna whomp the hell off Creamean, Kresse, Sanders, Norris, Dates, Fay and Myself. Zap first time out I run a suckin 4:21 Perimeter. I’ll break goddamn 4:00s aint nobody gonna lick me.”
Tomorrow night is August 28th it fuckin rained tonight. (Elburn Days) Parade called off. Maybe I’ll act like Mr. Stud for the hell. Tomorrow night I’s a gonna hustle all hell. Heh heh ha ha ah.”
Reading those words, the lyrics from Beware of Darkness cry out to me again:
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for
The teenage years are always a period of coming to grips with emotions and moods. It’s quite likely that by missing out on baseball and much that I loved about summer as a whole, I was depressed during the summer of 1972. Later in life I learned to recognize the signs of depression and symptoms of anxiety that contribute to it. The most important thing that I learned along the way is that running helps me with both those conditions. Having a physical and mental release for depression and anxiety is an acknowledged form of mental health management. It’s not a cure-all, but it helps. The release of endorphins helps rebuild a constructive attitude and a dose of competitive dopamine ironically helps with anxiety. Add in exercise as a constructive way to manage ADHD as well. Basically, the more exercise I tend to get, the better I can concentrate.
And most of all, running helps with anger management. It is far better to go out and run your brains out than focus all that negative energy in ruminative thoughts of revenge. The ironic part is that an angry runner may be an effective competitor as long as they understand how to channel those feelings and that energy in constructive fashion. It’s not always an easy balance. Down the line in this series, I’ll address that relationship in a deeper way.
Yet looking back, I recognize that running helps with all these psychologies. It’s still how I roll. Rather than dealing with it all in silence, I try to help others with their psycho-social challenges as well. It’s not trite to recognize that hearing the problems others face is a great way to put your own issues in perspective.
Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
As for my being “too skinny” as a fifteen-year-old kid, that was part of my native physiology in much the same way that a propensity for moodiness is part of my mental soul. Combined with artistic sensibilities, this is who I am. That is why, fifty years after taking up running seriously at age fourteen, I’m still out there running on the roads and trails, reconciling the thoughts and dreams that still run through my head. I get all my best ideas out there. I wick off anger at what the world dishes out. I connect with nature and see how many people abuse and are separated from it. And I sing to myself, Beware of Darkness…
Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)