Thus far in this series on 50 Years of Running, I invited readers on a journey through my competitive career beginning with high school cross country and going through college and beyond. Then I went back and covered the formative years, those early experiences that added up to the drive––and sometimes anger––fueling that competitive career.
Thus we pick up this story in my late 20s, right after quitting (or being chased out…) of the Boy Scouts of America job that I endured for two years through corrupt leadership and lying volunteers. In late 1985 I made an attempt at running the Twin Cities Marathon, but the weather turned cold in early October and I pulled out after sixteen miles at 5:20 mile pace in the company of Runner’s World author Don Kardong and a phalanx of other sub-elites running together.
Essentially, that was my last serious race as a truly competitive runner. I’d still race now and then going forward, but never with the investment in miles or dedication of those years as a free-wheeling athlete. My son was born in October 1986. I took a look at myself and decided that it was time to take real life a bit more seriously.
Pounding the pavement
At the age of 27, I took a job as an ad salesperson with Chronicle Newspapers, a family-owned group of publications known for local news focus. From that point on, my running turned from a competitive focus to a tool for managing my brain for other purposes. I was pounding the pavement for new reasons now.
Once I stopped competing, it was like something cut loose inside me. I woke up one night pounding the pillows with my fist. Some kind of deep anger still resided in my soul. Then an incident from my childhood popped into my head. I lay there on the mattress next to my wife making a deep groan. I was recalling the day that my father lit into my brothers in front of me. That was a deep childhood emotional scar. Once I realized its impact on me, I started to work on what it all meant. How could I process why that moment affected me so much? Was it even wise to do so?
I knew that I had anger issues of some kind. They ran in direct proportion to my native anxiety. No one had ever described to me what anxiety was all about, or that it could be characterized as a condition people deal with all of their lives? Certainly, I’d been a nail-biter since birth. Often I was moody and even depressed. Through it all I’d found ways to survive, mostly through sports and by running. But I’d come to realize that for me, anxiety was one of the key tarsnakes of life.
Now that I was taking a more pragmatic approach to life, I decided to seek counseling. That wasn’t much help at first. “Your wife just wants you to be stronger,” a psychologist advised me. Looking back, I’m convinced she was projecting some of her own problems onto me. I came home even more frustrated.
The new job in ad sales didn’t help my anxiety. Having daily and weekly sales deadlines put perpetual pressure on my psyche. I was learning on the job and also from my mistakes. But I was getting better at it, and my training as a runner taught me persistence. The guy that preceded me in the position was a natural charmer with good looks and high confidence. He went on to sell spirits in the liquor industry.
I called on small businesses, banks, car dealers, furniture stores, hair salons and other clients in the towns of Batavia and Aurora. Finally, I built my book of business to a steady commission stream. Then the sales manager handed the real estate and car business over to a specific sales team, and I was left with 3/4 of my weekly billing. As a young husband and father, that was tough to take. “You’ll have time to find more business now,” the sales manager told me.
That’s the typical pitch so many sales managers rely upon to put pressure on their team. I’d sell most of the day, place the ads back at the paper and do it all over again the next. I was living the Jackson Browne Song titled The Pretender.
I’m going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
Gonna pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I’ll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and do it again, Amen
Say it again, Amen
But we’d purchased a house with help from my wife’s parents. We lived in a nice neighborhood in Geneva, Illinois and I was finally making a living at a job that seemed like it had a future for me.
And that alone helped with the anxiety. A little. The anger was still an issue I needed to confront. Those opportunities would come along. I was stumbling into real life.