Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Distance Invites Demons

Distance running is a journey that invites, if not demands, considerable self-reflection. I suspect it is why many of us gratefully push past hour two of a run on a regular basis - as the miles pile on, you soon exhaust the relentless hamster wheel of work/kid/life self-smalltalk that consumes our brains day-to-day, freeing your mind to pursue more meaningful questions unshackled. The longer the run, and the farther into nature you explore, the deeper you permit yourself to dig into the soul and find what awaits. If the journey is long enough, even the most dormant of demons will pop up and join you for a few miles. Distance will always invite demons with arms wide open.

Distance can wear many faces too, I have recently learned. A few months ago, I was given a career opportunity one sees rarely in a lifetime – come join a growing company of amazing mobile rock stars that find themselves in the eye of the greatest technology shift the world has ever seen. Just one catch, the commute is a tad long…about 2,245 miles to be exact. To do the job right, while keeping the family as happy as possible, meant working in Pittsburgh, PA, and living in Woodside, CA. Christi, my wife and career consigliore of 20+ years, sized it up similarly, and with the GAME ON nod of her head, distance invited itself into our lives in a whole new dimension.

In retrospect, it was a bit foolish of me to think that long runs might somehow prepare me for the solitude that creeps up when you work away from home. When you run, you invite solitude into your life, and in that sense control it. When you spend 4-5 nights a week in a hotel room away from your family, your bed, and the home trails that keep you grounded, solitude soon controls you.

Not at first, of course. In the first few nights, you secretly revel in your newfound freedom. No snoring pugs hogging the covers, no screaming kids needing baths mid-meltdown, not having to ask permission for a quick run….heck, you don’t even have to pick up the towels. For the first week or two, you feel like pinching yourself every morning. And THEN you order room service! Word.

But by week three, you begin to miss those familiar burdens. The snoring dog who warms your legs, assuring you with the harmonious purr of a dozen face folds that you are at home with your pack. The kids that always need you do actually need you, and their absence forces the realization of how fulfilling that truly is. The hotel room that snaps back to its sterile and apathetic state of cleanliness every day at 10am begins to feel like a bad looping video or a glitch in the Matrix, adding a touch of anxiety to the quiet. With all the time on your hands, the solitude consumes you.

The trails, however, are always good for reprieve and it didn’t take long for me to find the gold and orange hills of Schenley Park, Frick Park, and the river trails just outside of my regular hotel. The autumn colors of Pittsburgh are breathtaking, and I soon found a morning ritual of getting lost in the hallows as the morning sun chased away the frost and filled the campuses with young and vibrant smiles. For a few hours a day, it was a much-needed sanctuary.

(Frick Park, Pittsburgh, PA)
But after a month away from home, separateness settled in like some new form of gravity. Phone calls from the family came less often, their lives naturally adapting without my presence. FaceTime video calls lost their novelty, and contact with my family became little more than Instagram photos and one sentence updates at a regularity I share with Facebook friends I’ve never met. I even felt lonely at home, out of touch with their day-to-day lives, little more than a ghost in their busy weekend rituals. FUCK. NOT HOW I SAW THIS PLAYING OUT.

Then in a single moment of clarity, all that anxiety disappeared. After a Saturday morning 10-miler in the hills of Woodside, I returned home to see Christi and the girls through the front window laughing, having breakfast, and playing with the dogs. They were happy. Like, crazy happy. In fact, I was the only one choosing to be anything less than gleeful. ME. BY CHOICE.

A beat, a pause, a breath…aahhh. A “long run revelation” for sure. I am out of The Pit.

(My girls)
Then Quinn, our almost-3-year-old caught sight of me, and pressed her face to the glass with a smile full of drool, bouncing enough to attract 7-year-old Sophie and the dogs who soon steamed the windows with their anticipation. I pressed my face right back, humbled by every precious second I have to share with them. I am happy too.

Pittsburgh greets me with a smile now too these days. My coworkers have become friends, a little retail therapy got me a fresh and Pittsburgh-ready wardrobe (wakka-ow!) to explore the neighborhoods, and I no longer need a map to find my favorite trails even in the dark. Family vacations are revered with renewed anticipation, and I find myself delighted with the warmth of California winter weather that weeks ago felt like it chilled to the bone. My runs have again become a place to explore, not escape. Life, once more, seems full of potential and poetry as far as I can dream.

(New city duds - it's all about layers!)
I may have run with my demons for a stretch, but I’ve found a new gear now and dropped those bastards. They never could pace the long runs anyway. ;-)

Kiss your lovies, everyone. See you on the home trails, East or West.

 - SD


  1. I was wondering about all those PA and MD runs you were logging on Strava. Hopefully you are surviving the cold! Best of luck juggling your three time zones - East, Pacific, and Mountain!
    - Bruce

  2. This is a good, timely article for me. My wife and I are moving to a new city, and have been living apart for the last 6 weeks, other than on weekends. I went through pretty much exactly what you describe. At first their was that freedom to do whatever, whenever I wanted, but now I just really miss the comfortable familiarity of having my wife and dog around.

    See you in Boston,

    1. Hang in there, brother! Be there for them when you can, cherish the time together. And find some new trails!

  3. Fantastic writing, Scott. Long-distance marriages pose a new set of challenges, obviously, but if you continue to be as honest and clear-eyed about those challenges as you are in this post, you'll be better able to meet them head on and thrive in this phase of your career and marriage. Isn't running an amazing tool and friend for these life transitions? Best of luck to you.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. I hope you are holding up with your injury!

  4. A heart-felt writing triggers a comment, even if I can't say it any better than you did. Thanks for this post. I don't know how y'all do it, and hope it's over soon before it becomes normal, even if happy. But for now, this was so well said...

  5. Welcome to Pittsburgh! Moved back in mid 2011 and great pic of Frick Park. Nice little retreat within the city.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Scott, and god luck for juggling with your amazing opportunities, dreams and realities. I'm just back from 4 weeks in Africa and it surely feels good to be home. Surely a must different feeling not knowing how long the situation will be for your family. Like you say, yet another once in a lifetime opportunity you have, so certainly worth the stretch for all, of a world which may me flatter, yet not that small when travel distance takes its toll. Keep enjoying running to maintain your inspirational balance!

  7. Great post! Running has helped me work throughout so many things over the last few years. I hope it keeps getting even better for you.



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