“Nothing’s impossible, it just takes a little longer,” was my first thought as I woke to the alarm reminding me of an impulsive decision to run the Provo marathon. Of course just like in addiction impulse decisions lead to some fairly drastic consequences. There was no turning back as I pulled the new AIIA running jersey over my head. I would be made into a human billboard for 26.2 miles in hopes of other runners taking notice and asking questions. My brother in law and AIIA’s muggle ultramarathoner Jarom Thurston was also running as the pace runner for the four-hour finishers.
“Nothing’s impossible, it just takes a little longer,” crossed my mind when I reminisced one year ago on this very date and this particular race was the catalyst of the AIIA movement. One year ago today five athletes whom I chose were asked to run the Chase the Mayor 5K.
These individuals trusted me enough to propose a new method of recovery and now, one year later, I am here sitting on a bus headed towards Provo Canyon attempting to repay the favor to the 150 athletes we have increased to. Fortunately our bus driver was not familiar with the area and took us for a tour of Provo, at one point even headed toward the Utah State mental hospital which really was where we should have gotten off. Nonetheless we arrived at the start and had an hour to wait before the race would begin. As I attempted to weasel my way toward the fire I overheard many conversations about past races and events that seem to mimic those of war stories told during breaks following process groups. Some stories focusing on pain and anguish others on humor but even more on the passion these mixed breed of humans connected on. They were veteran runners talking about losing toenails and having some surgically removed to become a better long-distance runner as others reviewing the finer details of bodily
functions. Much like when talking about parties, drug deals and sketchy dealers, this crowd was spewing the same content with different names. I thought to myself, “These two groups are not that different after all.” The pursuit of the drug or the pursuits of
experience have the same players yet very diverse consequences.
A deep breath and a wispier, “Nothing is impossible, it just takes a little longer,” escaped my lips as the rising sun began to produce more light on the runners. We were called to the road to begin our 26.2 mile journey. Do to the urgency of time as final notes were being sung of our national anthem, I began to manically fidget with my iPhone to ensure the right play lists and GPS mileage tracker were set. Being so distracted by this technology I was thrust forward when the gunshot made it clear that the race had begun. I quickly found my stride that seemed a bit fast and the first 2 miles were all downhill. Knowing that I had a long journey ahead I thought I should really tone back, not rush through but to me I figured if it was going to be this easy I should take advantage of it. Thoughts entered my mind of clients walking into their first day of treatment and literally beginning to run through therapy. At almost breakneck speed they process the reasons they believe they are there and try to distract from the core issue that got them there in the first place. They typically candy coat the legal issues and all but leave out the trauma and pain that the addiction was born from because they are going to sprint through treatment as fast as possible. And that is exactly what I found myself doing as I descended the 2 1/2 miles in under 14 minutes. Knowing that I had started too fast and this pace would not hold but, of course, I decided to see how long I could push it. Running down the Provo River Trail I knew every corner, every landmark and every advantage that would allow me to maintain an 8 minute 10 second average. As it is in treatment, when clients have been to previous programs they use all the language, have the ability to say what the therapist would want them to say in hopes that it will be just enough to stay at processing pace through the duration of counseling. The first 6 miles of the run was amazing. I felt good, strong and focused. I did not doubt myself nor did I humble myself to the great distance that was still to come. I was content.
With two ear buds jammed into my head, I had already forgotten the reason I was there in the first place. A few runners would pass giving me the “corner of the eye” look but being so involved in my marathon playlist I would assume they had enough information on AIIA, and heck they could just Google it. Thinking about that now I see how it relates to complacency in group therapy. Thinking that the other members haven’t got a clue about who you are and besides, “I’m different.” Leaving the other group members to guess who you are and what you’re about. Chances are they will also guess wrong. Thus after a tap on my shoulder a woman about 30 years old asked me what the AIIA logo meant, thinking it was a sweet running club I belonged to. I gave her the lowdown thinking that would be it. She then began to tell me about a brother of hers who was in prison due to a very aggressive addiction. I could tell she was feeling emotional and as she pulled ahead she stated that she was impressed with the message. Investing in another person, even when you may not feel like doing so, reaps the sweetest rewards. That seemed to be the pattern for the next several miles as one runner after another would instinctively get my attention and process for even a moment the significance of what AIIA creates.
Toward the halfway point or 13.1 miles I was on track to beat my old time by 9 minutes. As we approached the middle of downtown Provo I was running with a group of runners that I had conversed with over the past several miles. We were joking, chatting and in a very temporary sense bonding as we were all beginning to hurt a bit. As mile 13.1 came into view, identified by a massive amount of people cheering runners on and the obvious Run 13 finishers arch marking the path, I noticed the pace increase and all the runners I was with slowly peeled off and made their way to the left side of the road. I quickly realized that my new friends would not be making the entire journey, they were all half-marathon runners. I soon found myself absolutely alone and even the spectators were watching the finish line leaving the more intense, crazy marathon runners to simply get a glimpse of the finish line, as we had to run passed it proscribed to another 13.1 miles. Watching these runners finish, I got to thinking about outpatient clients who are typically in treatment for six months to a year and how it must be difficult when you see some members getting out before you and in some cases you working harder than they. Realizing that your journey’s going to take longer to complete yet you are pressed to keep a positive attitude. I crossed the halfway point to very little applause and the reality of 13.1 more miles to go. Understanding that my pace would be drastically reduced on this more flat, windy and visually stagnant section was the first real sign of doubt in my thinking and uncertainty of completing this excursion crossed my mind. I turned my head to see how much distance I had between me and the runner quickly catching up, only to discover it was the four hour pacer Jarom. I was happy to see him and I ran with him for what seemed seconds before he began to pull away yet again I was alone.
“Nothing is impossible, it just takes a little longer,” I articulated once again and again, I was doing this as a tribute to one year of an amazing program that has literally changed hundreds of lives. I was debating in my mind if this were possible or what would a poor finishing time do for my character. Instinctively my thoughts crossed over to active addiction and the same thought process that goes into debating whether or not sobriety and healing is possible or even worth it. Even more so in recovery trying to identify the purpose or reason behind sobriety in the great battle that must ensue in order to come to a final decision.
“Nothing is impossible, it just takes a little longer,” I thought as I saw the aid station in the distance the long-awaited water and Gatorade, the lifeblood that would hopefully sustain me until the next aid station. My legs became tight and stiff muscles began to tighten, the precursor to pain I knew too well. Muscle cramps have the power to literally stop an athlete in his tracks and drop them like a stone. Having experienced leg cramps so severe I have wrecked my bike just to avoid the excruciating agony of flexing a locked tight muscle in the chance that doing so could prolong the agony. The slight twinges, the electrical impulses and the anticipation of muscle locked down immediately got my attention as I began to strategize how to avoid them. “More salt pills? I must really need to be drinking more Gatorade. I could really go for a massage right now. I really could just give up.” Yet here I was at mile 16 and “heck, I’ve made it this far…” before my mind to track any further a white car pulled up alongside me out jumped my long awaited running companion Josh, having been chauffeured to my location by another athlete Brandon. It was enough to boost my spirit. Not only to be joined by a fellow athlete but when I saw Brandon I had to reevaluate what pain really was.
My pain was insignificant and minuscule compared to what Brandon had been experiencing, I am not a special case. Here is a man who was not only disabling his addiction, he was also in the final stages of a very intense chemotherapy regime to obliterate any remaining cancer cells that seemed to kick him in a very inopportune segment of his life. Simultaneously healing from addiction and cancer, the pain he must have experienced gave me absolutely nothing to complain about. It’s a lot like recovery when you’re being asked questions about the pain that created the addiction in the first place. Trying to cover and shield the cause from discovery awakens the dormant wounds. Just the effort in smothering the pain to avoid reliving it can be enough to thwart healing and put the individual in a downward spiral to relapse. We humans try avoiding pain at all costs; we want it gone now by any means necessary. The problem behind thinking like that is without knowing the pain we will never truly experience the pleasure. Unbeknownst to the addict, pain is crucial as it signals warning and stimulates learning. Through painful experiences come spectacular growth, insight and wisdom. When the correct principles are applied pain subsides and only the scars remain painless to the touch yet still visible. Seeing him gave me the push I needed to carry on.
“Nothing’s impossible, it just takes a little longer,” my mantra repeated in my mind as I knew mile 18 was approaching, my self proclaimed wall. As I pondered the wall and felt it’s powerful stopping force I received a phone call. Kind of funny to be in the middle of the race and get a phone call from someone cares. Much like a pat on the back or a compassionate complement to someone you care about while in treatment. This call came at the exact time my mind would have been focused on hitting the wall. Like a gift from above my wife, obviously inspired, called at that very time, distracting me long enough to realize when the conversation was over I was at mile 19. Soon I approached the corner that led to the Provo trail, which signified I was no longer running away from the finish line. Just as I rounded the corner there in the distance I heard the familiar cheers of little voices screaming encouragement for their Dad. Just when you think you can’t give anymore loved ones are there to express their love. Hugs and high fives, running and walking and a bunch of praying delivered me to the last one half mile of the run where I was joined by more Athletes and family, crossing the finish line 4 hours and 30 minutes after the starting gun fired saying aloud, “Nothing is impossible!”
Thank you Athletes for an amazing year and all the hard work you’ve put in to make this program what it is.