Beauty & Pain

Since every pleasure’s got an edge of pain, pay for your ticket and don’t complain.
– Bob Dylan

     Long time ago, when I was a student at Reed College, we used to ride our 10-speeds 60 miles out to Mount Hood. When a log truck passed, we’d sprint up behind and draft it. You had to get really close. If you could get into the truck’s air pocket, it would suck you along for miles.
     It was dangerous, I guess, but we were young and stupid and could do anything. I still remember the look on a trucker’s face when we pulled up alongside him at one of the two or three stoplights between Gresham and Mt. Hood. He’d thought we were long gone.
     That was nearly 40 years ago.
     On a windy day this week I took out my 27-speed bike for a 26-mile ride. The wind was in my face no matter which way I went, and there were a lot of hills.
     It took me 2 hours and 5 minutes – the same time it took Robert Cheruyiot to run 26 miles and win the Boston Marathon that day.
     That works out to 4:48.2 per mile – 26 times in a row.
     If you’ve ever run track, or marathons, that sounds impossible. I’ve done both, and I coached high school track for years, and I know it’s impossible. But he did it.
     Distance running is the most beautiful sport.
     The way you win a distance race is by inflicting so much pain on yourself that no one else can stand it, and they give up.
     No wonder Americans don’t like to watch it.
      That’s not what we’re good at.
     We’re more into inflicting pain on others, until we give up.
It’s no wonder that America gets so many of our great distance runners the same way we get out engineers – through immigration.
     Oh, some of our distance runners are home-grown, but tell the truth, do you follow Dathan Ritzenhein or Jason Lehmkuhle like you follow the Red Sox or the Lakers? I didn’t think so.
     Track fans have it rough in the United States. Television coverage is nonexistent until the Olympics rolls around. Then the TV coverage is execrable. CBS or whoever gets it will show the first lap of the 10,000 meters, then cut to commercials and come back for the last lap. That’s ridiculous. It’s like covering a heavyweight fight by showing the fighters coming out for the first round, then showing one guy lying face-down on the mat.
     I suppose it’s understandable, since most Americans don’t know how to watch a distance race. Here’s how: look at the runners above the waist. The guy who will win looks like he’s doing – nothing.
     Lots of people can run 4:48 miles. But not many people can run 4:48 miles and be absolutely relaxed while doing it. That’s the beauty of watching a guy like Robert Cheruyiot or Meb Keflezighi: the absolute economy of their stride, the grace and ease with which they do for a long time something most of us could never do at all.
     I realize that extolling the beauty of pain brings us pretty close to the border of weirdness. But it’s not the pain that’s beautiful: it’s that they don’t show it; they accept it.
     Everyone suffers pain. Most of us, though, do not look graceful or relaxed when we’re suffering.
     We are living through a painful time in our country’s history. Lots of people are suffering. Most Americans, however, are not suffering as much as most of the world’s people do. And we are not suffering at all compared to the way most people lived throughout the world’s history, and will continue to live.
     Many of the Americans who are making the most annoying noises today, and taking the ugliest postures, are not suffering at all.
     These people have the right to believe they are suffering, and to complain about it. But surely it would reduce the world’s suffering if they could do so just a bit more gracefully.

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