Falling in love with falling in love.

From bad scheduling to a four day flu, I had little opportunity to run, and I’m happy for it. I wanted to think about the past week’s events, because they appear to me tied to variables much greater than me, which is kind of cool to see.

The energy-eroding nature of wildland firefighting

My job is lightly entitled to one hour of physical training each day. Wildland firefighting is a physically demanding job, whether on a hand crew or an engine. Co-workers with little physical training have fallen out of drills where we carry a dozen packs of hose to the fire, dig fireline, and remove chainsaw-cut brush to prevent fire spread. While each crew is different, PT is usually in the form of running, hiking, and weight training. My crew is pretty laissez-faire about it, so I spend almost every day using the hour to run.

The prime season for wildfires in Northern California lies between July and September. A lot of anxiousness and preparation resides within crew members during this period of time. Keeping physically, mentally, and organizationally prepared, many conflicts between crew members during this period occur due to personal and professional mismanagement, which may or may not ever affect others, but just seeing it on a day to day basis can drive one crazy. Then the fires happen, and some of the bottled up anger crews might have might reveal itself in the least opportune moments.

All these words are to say that whether waiting for a fire or being on a fire, the mind’s fortitude is eroded during the peak months of fire season, and even during a slow season like this, where we have dealt with only a dozen or so small fires in total, people tend to slow down by September. Their PT is half-assed, their daily checks are hurried. It’s not that people don’t want to do anything, but their energy levels are perceived as such.

The past month, I’ve noticed that my crew has tended to use PT to play Foursquare, a game well-liked by forestry technicians around the west. Like a mix of foot-based tennis involving four players in their own squares, the player is to keep passing the ball to others until it falls out, and then someone loses a point. This game is one of the primary ways I’ve seen distant, unfamiliar crews connect with one another; whether in Arizona or Montana or California, crews know how this game works, and they can play competently in their work boots, and it is easy to disengage if a fire does occur.

The increasing popularity of Foursquare for my crew appears directly correlated with the decreasing energy levels for productive PT or the job in general, which in itself is related to a rather demoralizing season of fire where the crew has lost out on off-forest opportunities with the larger fires in the nation. So they turn to Foursquare, and I must skip a run to be done either in the evening or during the night.

The body reacts to weeks of semi-intensive running.

For the past six or more weeks, I’ve tried to run at least 10 kilometers each day, typically in that given hour of PT for my job. While I never felt that this was too much to ask of my body, I didn’t proactively work to recover from these runs. I never stretched afterwards, and at times would be fighting fires—an activity that takes up even more energy than my body would have even had without running. My body was fitter and healthier than ever, but it was also exhausted from a lack of self-care.

I believe that illnesses and some minor injuries induced by running are a symptom of this lack of self-care. After two weeks of pushing faster paces and longer distances at the Lassen National Park, my toenails were showing bruising due to my not-too-comfortable running shoes. My hip was expressing a pain that would make it even painful to go upstairs. My neck has had a crick in it for the past week. And finally, I got a flu that, while not as bad as I’ve ever had, could have been mitigated by real self-care and recovery. Even a few days after the worst of the sickness, I am exhausted and only want to sit and sleep.

The body’s symptoms are a print out of what I might have ignored over days or weeks. While there are of course some external factors involved, I always consider at least 80% of my illness to be self-caused. With this belief system in mind, I must consider what I should do for myself in the future to help prevent or mitigate these symptoms, because I have that much control of it.

I don’t feel too bad about it either.

I am one to work tirelessly at something until an arbitrary trigger point ends it for a period of time. Last year I had a strong and horrible flu in late-September, which ended my period of hard running. Now, I am experiencing a similar situation and must test whether or not my trigger point has truly presented itself, and I should move on to other aspects of my life—for a while. I don’t feel bad about it, because without thoughts and aspirations about running, I can focus more on catching up with other activities such as garden planning, writing, and considering the world.

This is the exciting dynamic of over-extending on one activity: Its demise brings upon the opportunity to channel that same energy onto something else. I know many people who put half-energies into many activities, and are provided half-results for long periods of time. But to put all-energies into one activity, one at a time, the loss and gain of each new activity brings a momentum that could never be provided by self-moderation. I will never be a 3-a-week type of runner: I run for 5-7 times a week or none at all. And this will never help me become a marathoner or a racer, but it will help be all-enveloped in something I can love for a short time before I can fall in love with something else for another short time.

In a sense, I might be in love with falling in love, which can only work for some and ruin others. I have never been good at moderation, so I take advantage of falling head first into my loves and recovering from there.

So is it the end of running or no? It typically takes 85+ degree, sunny days for me to fall back in love with running. If that weather is gone, it might surely be the end of a season for me and the beginning of another.