by Dante Zappala
I just celebrated my birthday. In this small period of reflection, I can appreciate that I’ve learned a lot in my 39 years. But it’s a wonder that I’m a distance runner because one thing I still haven’t mastered is patience. Despite many episodes of getting ahead of myself only be to thoroughly embarrassed, humiliated or otherwise crushed by reality, I fall into the same traps.
I recently ran a marathon with a pretty straightforward race strategy. I hadn’t done full-on marathon training so the plan was to go out conservatively, hold back as long as I could and if I felt good around mile 16, pick it up a little.
I wanted to secure a reasonable time and yet be able to continue training without too much interruption. Yet at mile 16, I was already a little ahead of the prescribed pace. The course was pretty desolate but my buddy was there, catching me in spots with his bike. “I feel fantastic,” I told him (actually, I said this with an expletive before fantastic to further make my point). I started doing some math in my head. Wow, I thought, if I pick up the pace here about 20 seconds per mile, I could mint my entry into Boston by beating my qualifying time by 20 minutes.
Mind you, this was never the goal. Had I actually wanted to run that kind of time, I would have needed about 2 more months of preparation and a more aggressive race plan. Nonetheless, despite everything I know about myself as a human being and a runner, I dropped the hammer and went for it.
Miles 16 to 22 were truly glorious. I was at that pace that I can best describe as the hunt. I imagine it’s the tempo our ancestors traveled at as they chased down prey for hours on end. It’s liquid and energizing. It’s also seductive. You start to feed off of it and a feeling of invincibility flows through your veins.
Unfortunately for us, we are not invincible. We are, by anatomical definition, human. As I approached mile 23, I felt screws being driven into my hamstrings. Even before I got to mile 24, they were fully countersunk. My buddy was nearby on the bike. “Let me suffer alone,” I told him.
The last two miles are what I hope to remember, for this might actually help me learn. There were some short inclines that I considered crawling up. I talked to myself aloud quite a bit. Adrenaline took over and provided a brief respite from the pain with one kilometer to go. But that expired quickly and the spasms came back with a vengeance 200 meters later. The race results page has a short video clip of me finishing. I want to put it on a loop and watch it until I finally understand.
The overall time was still great for me, but I knew I could have achieved the same result without so much agony if I had just shown a little bit of patience. I want to run that magic pace for an entire marathon, but there is still plenty of work to be done before that is possible.
I get baited in many other ways. I recently posted a story on Facebook that recounted an incident in Los Angeles. An African-American woman claimed that she was accused by the police of being a prostitute because she kissed her white boyfriend. In this climate of scrutiny regarding the role of race in encounters with the police, it seemed to fit the narrative perfectly. But just as I sent this out into the ether with claims of racism and profiling, the truth came out. The woman had most likely been having sex in her car, which prompted calls to the police. The officers handled the situation appropriately.
Once again, I paid for my lack of patience. With these vehicles of instant communication so readily available to us, it’s no surprise that we rush to publish and consume information that appeals to our indignations. We think this might help solve the problem at hand; that it might actually lead to change. Rarely do we take the time to evaluate or judge what we are reading and reposting through an alternate lens. A whole industry is committed to ensuring that we don’t.
The end result is a social climate that expects swift action, particularly when the topic is fueled by righteous anger. The NFL’s recent problem with domestic violence isn’t really recent nor is it a unique problem. The arrest rates for NFL players are actually lower than the general population. The problem is the criminal justice system and the lack of punishment it doles out to abusers.
But our demand for action exposes the fact that the institutions we support and therefore expect to solve these problems for us cannot. We’re left trying to pin “agent of change” labels on Roger Goodell and Anheuser-Busch. All I can say is good luck with that.
Meanwhile, we are headed into another war with no clear strategy and flimsy evidence to support the claims that this new enemy actually poses a threat to us. All we can do is chide the President for not acting quickly enough to do something. Whatever that something is doesn’t really matter. We’re mad and we want action. We don’t want higher taxes and a draft, but we want bombs and blood nonetheless.
Getting angry is not change. Posting videos is not change. Without the patience and resolve to analyze and ultimately act in ways that will affect outcomes, we’re left suffering miles short of the finish. This might be fine if we actually endured the anguish and completed the race. We might choose a different course of action the next time around. Instead, it feels like we’re dropping out.