Shooting Stars and Running Shoes

Two things really excite me: An exquisite cup of coffee and a new pair of running shoes. 

One celebrates the fruition of so many processes where known and unknown, controlled and uncontrollable variables all fell into a staggered line and somehow, against all odds, something beautiful emerged. The running shoes represent miles and adventures yet to come. That spirit of an active future evokes memories made on the run which shape the idea that these new shoes will bring me happiness. Unlacing a new pair of running shoes is sort of like opening a can of whoop-ass.

But it hasn't always been like that for me. Sure, I've spent the last 30 years of my life on the hop. I've run through places you can only dream of. Through places I dream of. I’ve run day and night. Night and day. I don’t run frequently, but when I do, I make it count.

Last night I went outside in my bare feet, without a shirt, and I walked in the street with my eyes to the heavens. Yes, I was praying that I could have a 6-pack, all the while resisting the almighty's urging to eat healthier and drink less beer; but I was also searching the sky, half-heartedly, for shooting stars. It's the Perseid meteor shower. Light pollution from the city of Tulsa makes it highly unlikely I'll see anything unless I go far, far away from town. And get lucky. (I saw no meteors, but while I was strolling around the streets in our neighborhood uniform, I noticed the bright red and blue scrolling lights from police cruisers, so I walked down to ask them what was up. They don't like that. I don't care what they like.)

Years ago, when I was first learning about coffee and myself, I spent a lot of time backpacking and rock climbing with my friend Brad. We made a lot of memories in the woods, some miserable and some funny. He taught me how to backpack and then I began to learn about ultra-light speed packing, and eventually began racing in 36-hour adventure races. Brad and I also learned to rock climb together with the help of a godly man named John. I had a desire at the time (and still today) to be fit and active and experienced enough that I could do anything at any time. That's a big component of freedom for me. Brad and I packed up our gear one weekend and drove to a place called Sam's Throne in Arkansas. It's a place people go to climb rocks. After pitching our camp, overcoming some hesitation and exhilaration on an overhung rappel, and almost killing ourselves because of our lack of experience, we sat on that overhung cliff in the darkness to talk and enjoy the night sky. A shooting star appeared. And another. And a million shooting stars. Everywhere we looked were streaks of light across the sky. We were in awe. And I went away thinking that's just how it is when you get away from the lights of the city and see what's really going on up there in the heavens. It was a marvelous night. I wish I would've known how rare it was and how lucky we were. (We also carried a badly injured freeclimber out of the woods that weekend, to be emergency air-lifted in a helicopter. And I think it was on the truck ride with a local good-old-boy back to our camp that Brad made the decision to dedicate the rest of his life to emergency medicine. Perhaps he wished upon some stars.)

Today my watch buzzed and I looked down and it said, "MILE 1" and I thought, "99 to go." And that was the first time in a couple years I've let the idea of another 100 mile race enter my head.

I "hated" "running" when I was young. I put those words in quotes because I don't know how a person could ACTUALLY hate running. Running is like life on steroids. Practically everything fun involves running. I love running. And people say it comes naturally to me. I'm "lucky" because I'm in decent condition and can run far.

When I was in junior high school, I joined the track team because I knew I wanted to play football in high school and I wanted to get in shape. All the kids laughed at me and said I run funny. They imitated me. They said I was fat and slow. (When I was in my early 20s I returned to my hometown and won my age group in a half marathon. Where you at now?)

I played high school football. I wanted to be on the swim team, but one of the football coaches was the swim coach and he made fun of me for being chubby and slow and having tan lines. (He was also the manager of the pool at a country club in town and I was a lifeguard at the OTHER country club across town. One day I got a few of the local kids and we spent the day fishing, working on our farmers’ tans, and putting all our crappie, bluegill, and carp in 5-gallon buckets. That night, all of my co-workers met me and we drove across town, jumped the fence, and freed our catch into the swimming pool. My friend Thad had to net them all out the next morning, and I read about it in the newspaper a couple days later. This is my first official confession that I had any involvement in that event.) (That has nothing to do with running, but I thought it was funny.) Make fun of my coffee and see what happens, Mr. Willy!

I played college football at a small NCAA school. One day I realized that the men who got in trouble for one thing or another were punished by running sprints after practice. I decided that there was some danger they would get in better shape than me, so I started staying after practice to run sprints with everyone who got in trouble. I think they thought it was a show of solidarity, but I simply refused to be out-trained. 

I relished the days that were so brutal outside that no one would be training. Or holidays when I knew people would take the day off. Every opportunity to get one more day in than my competitors was a day that made it more likely I would succeed on limited talent and small stature. One night I woke up at 1 o'clock in the morning and decided that no one else would be training in the middle of the night. So I went to the high school track. And I ran sprints. I pushed myself hard into the wee hours of the morning. And then something remarkable occurred. I saw a flaming ball of fire streak across the sky. It was huge. I didn't know if it was an airplane on fire or a meteorite or what it was. But I promptly jumped into my car and drove toward where I thought the impact site would be, sure I would find a rural inferno. But I found nothing. And the next day there was nothing in the newspaper. 

Meteors are interesting because they are particles from outer space that enter the earth's atmosphere. We don't know when or where they will appear, and it is just dumb luck when you see one. Ptolemy surmised that the gods would part the heavens to peer down at the earth, and occasionally a star would slip through. Thus, making a wish while the gods were paying attention was a practice that should ensure a greater likelihood your wish will come true. (I've wished many things, but haven't found this to be a recipe for success. As I used to tell my dad, “Wish in one hand and sh** in the other and see which one fills up first.”) (Try hard work.)

Running, like most things, is something you get better at because you work hard at it. I've been running as fast and as far as I can for almost my entire life. Does that make me lucky? Sure. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity, right? Am I a great runner? No, I’m a mediocre runner with a lot of determination.

So what's behind success? Truly successful people make it look easy. People say they are gifted or lucky or cheating. (Lance Armstrong was all three.) But it's most likely that they just work hard and you never see that part, only the performance. But what about the shooting star? You can't work hard to see a shooting star. You can wait a long time at an opportune moment in a place without much light pollution. But generally it's luck. A meteor we see streaking across the sky in a fantastic light show can be as small as a grain of sand. And that makes me think about the life of the meteor. That little speck hurtling through space. It becomes a metaphor for our lives. For the life of a coffee. For the life of the DoubleShot. We may be as small as a grain of sand. But we streak across the sky in a marvelous display that lets everyone know the gods are looking upon us.

Luck or hard work? Shooting stars or running shoes?

Great coffee can’t happen without a lot of hard work on every level from the farm all the way through to the barista. But it also can’t happen unless the gods part the heavens and let an exquisite cup slip through to grace the earth.


(When you find a cup of coffee you really love, enjoy the hell out of it before it's gone. Coffees are temporary and fleeting. Drink and savor and enjoy before it fizzles out. Thank the Fates and all who strapped on their proverbial “running shoes” to make it happen. And then look for another.)


Go for a run