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Guilt Trips
Traveling while training is exhausting work

Guilt Trips

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By Chris Russell
Posted Friday, 24 June, 2005

It’s completely dark. Someone is talking in a boisterous Southern twang about some baseball team with clock radio fidelity. Painfully loud and static filled. He rolls over and swats mindlessly at the source of the noise.

Futilely smacking a channel changer and box of Kleenex to the floor, he finally pries open one eye, seeking the digital glow of the early morning daemon. Although he’s raining blows on it indiscriminately, now the radio won’t stop and actually gets louder and more static. Finally he gropes for the cord and pulls it from the wall, silencing the hell-spawn at its source.

“Oh, God. Where am I?” he thinks. “What time is it? What day is it?” The pieces fall into place one by one, coalescing from the fog of a latent headache. “It’s Tuesday, I’m in a hotel in Atlanta, it’s 4:30 AM, and I have to get up and get a work out.” he repeats to himself as if programmed. “I have to. Really. I have to. Oh God.”

His eyes are burning. He got 4 hours of sleep. His tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth and it tastes like he spent the night eating dryer lint. He feels like someone beat him with a stick all night. And even though he has maintained his sobriety, his current state closely mimics a five martini hangover.

It all comes back. There were rain delays coming in. They lost his reservations. He had to wait for a room. A 2 hour flight turned into an 8 hour travel nightmare. Just another day at the office for a traveling man.

He has to get up and go work out. He has to. If he doesn’t the day is a loss. As much as he wants to believe that there is some kinder part of the day available, he knows how these management meeting go. They will have an agenda that starts at 8:30 and goes to 6:00 with dinner at 7:00. The whole thing will be out the window and off the rails by 9:00 AM and he won’t be back in this dysfunctional bed until midnight. If he doesn’t work out now, he won’t work out today. If he doesn’t work out today he’ll hate himself all day.

He swings the dead legs and feet out onto the floor with Tin Man rusty creaks. He sits there for what seems like an eternity trying to will himself to the bathroom. Dozing, head in hands, palms rubbing sore eyes, his day hangs in the balance. It’s 50-50; he could fall sideways back into a jet lagged slumber or lurch forward into his shoes and an ugly, painful, jet lagged run. “Oh God.” Either way he’s going to feel like crap all day.

His hands fall to his sides and he inhales deeply, looking up at the walls around him and says; “All right. You can do this. Up and at ‘em.” He leans forward and shifts the weight onto old, stiff legs, straightening up and stumbling forward. A quick brush of the teeth and then the hunt begins.

He locates the travel bag in the corner of the room. In a side pocket he finds where he has crammed all his running gear. He has a pair of shorts, a shirt and a hat. Digging deep into the main pocket of the bag he extracts a pair of shoes sheathed in a plastic bag to keep them from infecting his crisply starched shirts with their malodorous demeanor.

“Socks…Crap! No socks” he says to the bag like an incantation as a second deeper search reveals no running socks have been packed. Or maybe they were lost in security? At this he smiles, the absurd image of one of those goofy TSA renta-cops fondling his socks brightens his mood. “OK, bare-back or dress socks?” He opts for a nice pair of blue and red faux argyles, even though his 7th grade gym teacher assured him that colored socks would lead to blood poisoning. It seems preferable to the blisters.

He unbolts the double latch and trots out into the early morning dimness to fight the maniacal traffic and endless cement of Atlanta. The air is cool and relatively clean. Later the smog will set in and running will become like swimming in sooty slime. Chalk one up for the morning. There is an elderly woman in a nightdress sitting outside the neighboring room smoking a cigarette. “Morning…” he says tipping his running hat.

“Good Mahnin” she returns in a southern way. “Nice Socks…” One of them is surely a hallucination.

He smiles and limps down the stairs to the road. Nothing special today. Just try to put one foot in front of the other. Anything is a win.

He knows that when you travel on business you have to get up early and work out. If you don’t you’re screwed and then you have to live with it. It ruins your whole day, sometimes your whole week. Even if you stay in a single time zone you can expect jet lag. You can plan on your performance and energy level being 60% of normal. Any significant time on a plane will tie your muscles up in tense knots and they don’t shake out easily.

Being a frequent traveler he has to expect bad nutrition, lack of sleep, dehydration and too much time sitting in uncomfortable chairs. There’s really no good way around it. As the psychologists tell us, acceptance is the beginning of healing. He doesn’t try to get track workouts in or long runs. He knows that the main focus of working out on the road is doing something; anything. You have to check the box. You have to get out the door. Like running the marathon, you have to focus on that next telephone pole and forget about the rest of them.

He crests a hill at the one mile mark and feels his legs starting to shake out a little. Each step still feels wooden and constructed from will power. There is no flow. Fuzzy looking people look up laconically from the bus stop as he trundles by. He smiles. How different is his world? “The only difference is that my bus has wings,” he muses. With any luck he’ll start to feel ‘normal’ at the end of the run and stretch it out a little.

His biggest fear is that skipping this one day will lead to skipping another and another and another. He is not going to let the bastards stop him from working out. He could try to run at lunch or maybe in the evening before dinner. He knows that this would be frowned upon and subtle disapproving glances would happen. Like some sort of nasty habit that they don’t’ really want to know about and surely don’t want to be involved in.

He supposes that he could run after dinner, late into the night. His body would be more relaxed, but the lack of sleep would be catching up by then and he would be unmotivated and exhausted. A harder thing is pushing away the food at dinner after starving through an all day meeting. You can be guaranteed that lunch will be late and will be pizza. Chances are he’ll not have the willpower to avoid the rich, company-paid fare at dinner. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d spent a late night on the treadmill with a gut full of filet mignon. No, the best thing is to get it out of the way early.

He knows that when he gets back he’ll feel refreshed and awake, ready to go. More importantly he will feel that he has triumphed over the evil inertia. No matter what villainous and foul plans the business world has for him he’ll have gotten his work out in He’ll have that going for him. He also knows that by 10:00 he’ll start to feel fatigued and funky as the good running chemicals bleed off and are replaced by cheap coffee and inactivity.

Frantic cars and SUV’s zoom by alongside, rushing to get to work, or day care, or somewhere. He jogs on into the rosy glow of a rising sun. He breathes deeps and feels the wash of wellness begin to replace the funk.

There’s a last little down hill into the hotel parking lot and he stretches it out a little to look good for the cameras. Panting and wet he pushes through the doors into the lobby. A cup of coffee and the ubiquitous USAToday await. “Let’s see if I can drag my ass out of bed tomorrow” he says as he heads for a quick stretch and the shower.



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