by Dante Zappala

On Tuesday, I was sure I had pulled my hamstring. On Wednesday, I thought I had broken my kneecap. All the training I’d done for the marathon, a thousand miles of running since the first of December, appeared to have been washed away.

These were my recent fears. On Tuesday, I started in on some intervals at threshold pace. These are meant to train the body to operate efficiently just beyond the limit of aerobic capacity. They’re not killer but not easy. It was one of two final workouts I wanted to do before I began tapering for Boston.

The plan was to do 5 x 1 mile with 1 minute rest. Halfway through the second interval, I felt a pinch in my hamstring. Then, another three strides later, I shut it down right there and jogged back to work.

Fearing that I pulled something, I took off on Wednesday. Still, I was up at the SCH track to coach and, as I normally do when leaving that track, I hopped over the rail on the outside. Except this time, I miscalculated the hop and crashed my knee right into the rail. I limped to my car and pretended I didn’t want to cry.

As training concludes, I’ve become increasingly nervous about getting hurt. And, as one might expect, the more I try not to, the more it happens. I’m considering trying not to make money to see if this concept works in other parts of life.

Fortunately, my hamstring didn’t pop. My knee didn’t break. Everything was fine by Thursday. But it showed me just how paranoid I’ve become.

It’s understandable. Fear is all around us. A friend of mine posted an impassioned statement on Facebook arguing against the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber. I was raised to be against the death penalty but I’ve struggled with the issue here. There are people who have done things where the idea of putting them to death has a strong appeal.

But with a reasoned mind, there is no way for me to support it. I was reading comments around the murder of James Stuhlman in Overbrook a few weeks ago. People are advocating for the death penalty for the 15 year old who gunned him down. At first I was outraged, but now it’s apparent to me that these people are afraid.

We want control in situations where we feel we’ve lost it. The more severe that loss feels, the harder we act to reinstate it. Acts of terrorism get our attention above all else because they undermine everything we take for granted. While they are, statistically speaking, less of a threat than driving an automobile, they are extremely unsettling in nature and our reaction is, therefore, equally unnerving.

But what if we are at least honest that it’s fear which motivates our reasoning? Would we be more willing to drop the arguments of deterrent, vengeance or justice as the reason we support the death penalty?

Once we make that realization, tremendous possibility awaits on the other side. A scenario whereby I break my kneecap getting off a track I didn’t even run on would be ironic, certainly. Recognizing that it could happen is useful information. Being afraid of it happening is ridiculous.

Should it have happened, I’d have to reckon with the concept of fairness. I’ve got those thousand miles logged in this training cycle, all for this one race. On the surface, that would seem like a huge waste.

But while running all those miles has supported my present goal, they have also become something else. The fitness I’ve gained from them may eventually fade, but the miles themselves are indelible.

I won’t pretend that I’ve actually read “War and Peace” front to back, but there’s a passage from it that I’ve come to know.

“Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I’m alive, I must live and be happy.”

False fears are a luxury. Stripping them away through experience, exploration and empathy allows us to capitalize on our most credible assets.

Our ability to love is powerful, never more so when the object of it seems so undeserving. But the point of love is not the granting of it. It’s the acting of it. And acting it is truly what makes us brave.