Earlier this year I participated in my fourth Texas Independence Relay (or TIR for short). The race is a 200+ mile run from Gonzales, to Houston, TX where teams of 12 rotate so that there is always a runner on the road with each leg ranging between 3-7 miles. I have learned by now that when you say that you have done something like that, you get many types of reactions but they all usually fall into either the “Wow, that is awesome,” or “Wow, that sounds terrible/stupid,” camp and both are equally accurate in their own way.
I fell into these types of relays through a friend in 2012 and definitely enjoy the hell out of them. They remind me of previous endurance rides and runs that I have taken part in over the years, and I like the opportunity to get to feel nostalgic for those experiences for an entire weekend. I have done some thinking about it recently over the past month or so and I think that on some level my enjoyment from doing these multi-day endurance events might have started to do with trying to prove my worth to myself…but that is a whole other bag of cats. I feel like they are a good way to motivate myself to exercise regularly and a good way to make and spend time with friends. I also really do love seeing a group of people coalesce around a singular cause and work together to overcome hardships to achieve that purpose together. It is always a humbling experience to witness and be apart of whether it is a 200 mile run or a 4000 mile bike ride in my opinion.
These days I am running with the Front Runners - a gay running club that I am a member of here in Austin. I’ve ran on one of the the club’s two teams the past two years and decided to join the third team that the club was forming due to increasing membership and interest in the relay. I would be lying if I said that running on an all gay team didn’t enhance the overall experience. It’s amazing how something as simple as being around a group of people like you doing a thing you love to do together can have such a profound impact on a human.
It’s not something that I think about regularly but as a gay person, I have been one of the minorities in the room for much of my life. Even after coming out and making gay friends, I still regularly feel like the odd person out in many situations in this heteronormative world that we live in. That’s why I think participating in TIR with an all gay team is so cool.
We really pull out all the stops for TIR - or at least all the stops that 5 Below (amazing store, if you haven’t been - GO! Literally everything is $5 or less - never pay more than $5 for sunscreen again, ladies!) can provide. Our team name was Glitter Done and we were gay cowboys, but instead of horses, we road unicorns! Here are some pics of us slaying the house down boots (that actually means something to gay people):
We did our best to give JVN and the Queer Eye boys a run for their money, girl! Honestly - it was extremely fun to get to be our best selves and function without the weight of shame that society can sometimes try to place on queer folks. We basically turned it into pride when you think about it. These are small Texan towns - very similar to the one that I grew up in and we bring a pride parade right through town. That feels so good - to unapologetically get to be yourself and create space for who you are with a group of your friends. It’s really powerful.
My favorite leg of this race is number 20, and I was lucky enough to get to run it again this year! It is about 7 miles and you get the baton anytime from 9pm-12:30am making it a perfect midnight run. It is rated as “Very Hard” by the relay but mainly due to about 5 of those miles being on a dirt road. Running on dirt roads can be extremely risky if you aren’t intentional with your steps. The rocks and uneven ground create small intricate obstacles that increase the chance of a misstep that could lead to an injury, and the sand (and sometimes mud) can work against momentum that a normal running stride benefits from. I feel a little more comfortable with dirt roads due to my family living on one and that being my first surface for endurance running to become familiar with. I’ve learned over time that a shorter stride can be helpful to conserve energy in sand and that keeping a closer eye on the road is the best way for success.
I also really like these midnight runs because they are so quiet. You’re basically all by yourself in the dark of night on a dirt road just begging for a dude with a chainsaw to jump out at you, but if you don’t think about all of that….it really is peaceful. The spiritual hippie in me likes to think that the moonlight purifies anything negative I have going on inside me and that the time in nature grounds me back to who I want to be. I definitely use it as a time to pray and self reflect on where I am at and what I have going on in my life at that moment, and it does a great job of bringing me back to reality.
I had somewhat of an epiphany for myself that really helped me with where I was at in that moment. To set the scene a bit, I had been having a tough couple of weeks at the time and felt like silent but strong invisible forces were testing my limits on a variety of issues to see where I would crack. I felt (and do still feel) pretty confident and grounded in my day to day life. I love massage school, teaching ESL classes, and things with my boyfriend are going amazing. That all said, I still couldn’t shake a feeling of being mentally suffocated by a slow build of factors outside of my control that are happening at a national level and that was getting to me pretty acutely around the time of the run.
Since the 2016 election, I have done my best to uphold a commitment I had made to myself to share my truth, my light, with the world. I didn’t really have the words to express it at the time, but I basically felt like if more people like me who were different or a minority would share their stories people would want to make space for everybody. This later evolved into an additional commitment to try to only focus on positive policies or candidates that I was excited about and not focus on negatives of those I don’t agree with.
I was doing a good job upholding these commitments in my day to day and on the murky depths that we call social media for the most part, but I did finally realize that I could uphold those commitments and still point out falsehoods and inaccurate reporting here and there. That definitely opened the door for that suffocating feeling I mentioned earlier. While I did my best to stay away from personal insults, I did receive a good deal of fun “constructive” criticism from some Facebook folks. Most of my stuff is either from a comment that I have left on Senator Cornyn’s posts which tend to misrepresent truth, or from a friend who shares something so far out of left field that I feel like I gotta say something. We all know when these things come up for all of us. I just say something more times than I don’t these days. It is something usually along the lines of “hey did you think about how that would impact x type of person?” Or “that doesn’t work for me and my rights as gay person.” Etc etc.
Not surprisingly, things have gotten a little ugly on social media over the past couple of years and I have tried to keep my promise to speak up for myself and others who are marginalized like me. The ugliness definitely did not come as a surprise and for the most part was pretty manageable, but it seems to have been kicked up to high gear in the last couple weeks/months. I have been taken aback by how quickly things get to folks telling me that I need to leave Texas or otherwise be concerned for my safety if a civil war was to break out just because I have a perspective that they don’t agree with. I can state from personal experience that it is very tough to stay polite and respectful while holding ground on your worldview with folks who are getting extremely personal and degrading. I found myself wanting to get aggressive and throw personal insults back at these folks, but that would go against my value that honest authentic conversations can lead to better understanding and finding common ground between uncommon people.
One obvious solution to my perceived increase of hostility would be to just go back to disengaging. The problem with that is that I’m not sure what civil liberties I’ll still have if things go the way they are headed right now. It is still completely legal to fire folks in Texas just for being gay. The Texas Senate just passed a bill in early April that would allow state licensed professionals (doctors, accountants, attorneys, counselors etc) to discriminate against folks they perceive to be gay if they act on their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” and the Texas House reviewed similar bills that would go a step further and allow any business in the state to discriminate as long as they cite their sincerely held religious beliefs. This might have also lead to that suffocating feeling I was mentioning earlier…
So with all that swirling in my head after a long week, I started my TIR midnight run. It was cold and raining this year which isn’t normal weather for the race by any means. I couldn’t stop shivering while waiting for my handoff and did my best to block the wind by hiding behind a bathroom at the exchange until the very last minute. After starting the leg, I was feeling good with a decent stride and had warmed up a good bit. We aren’t able to listen to headphones for safety reasons, but I always just play music from my phone speaker. We are virtually alone on this leg with the only human interaction being the few moments when runners pass one another.
I’ve never actually heard God “speak,” but I don’t think it really works that way either. A lot of our communication comes through song and in the rare moments that I have allowed myself some quiet/reflective time, I am lucky enough to hear it.
About 2 miles into the run a song called “Into the Wind” by LP began to play on shuffle. I first heard this song about 6 years ago when a Texas 4000 team introduced me to it is so it has a special place in my heart. The dark quiet run was a perfect backdrop for me to do something crazy: actually listen to the lyrics:
“Are we on the lonely side
Say oh now the past long away
Are we so lost in the dark of our hearts
That there is no light of day”
These first few lines really pierced me and I couldn’t help but think of how we as humans tend to gravitate towards what makes us feel safe and what is known. This can lead to the dreaded "us vs them” scenario that we almost always find ourselves in - no matter what your political beliefs or worldview interestingly enough. This tendency our brain has to try and keep us safe is a very important survival tool, but the problem comes when it gets out of control and prevents us from being able to attempt to see something from a “them” point of view.
We effectively shut the doors of our heart and mind in order to stay safe. We choose not to let the light in. Now, I’m not saying that “them” is always right - far from it, we know them amiright?! ‘Them’ is not the light here, but our attempts to shut ‘them’ out definitely does’t let the light in. We get lost in the dark of our hearts.
“Oh please believe me I’m more scared than not
That oh no this isn’t the way
And please be there I can barely hang on
But oh I wait til I break”
Seriously though, was this written in 2019?! I probably think something along the lines of these lyrics regularly each week, if not daily sometimes. I am also begrudgingly aware that folks are are taking in different types and volumes of information about what is going on in the world. I have to remind my inner child on a regular basis that not everyone is listening to multiple podcasts, reading a few news articles a day, and setting calendar reminders for congressional testimonies to keep up with our nation’s direction and that it is their right to make that choice and no we can’t make them pay more attention. My inner child can be real self-centered sometimes, y’all!
Even with all that said, I do think a lot of folks can sympathize with these lyrics these days no matter how “woke” they are. I think no matter how hard we try to shut ourselves off to keep ‘them’ out, we realize at some point that we can’t live lonely in darkness - or we just go out to buy groceries or something when we run out of food. No matter how you want to describe it - we end up opening back up and reaching out at some point…
“Somebody left the gate open
You now we got lost on the way
Come save us a runaway train gone insane
How do we not fade away?”
I’m going to tread lightly here because runaway train metaphors have bitten me in the butt in the past, but I don’t think it is too far a cry to feel like we’re all on one every now and again. This had been weighing on me a lot at the time of the run, and I have chatted with friends about it since as well.
One symptom of the runaway train effect seems to be a heightened sense of everyone “having it up to here,” pretty much 24/7 these days. It’s like the little emotions in all of our brains have been quicker to hit the panic button, or maybe they just collapsed on it from sheer exhaustion. I’ve seen it in online discussions, but also in person in well. We seem to go from “Hi, I’d like a coffee with room. Thanks,” to “YOU FILLED THIS CUP TOO MUCH! DEATH UPON YOUR HOUSE,” before realizing that we picked up the wrong coffee order.
This happens when we get tired of being lonely in the darkness of our hearts after shutting ‘them’ out for as long as we can handle it. The issue is that we haven’t been practicing openness all along. We have been choosing darkness inside ourselves so we go dark when we are interacting with others in the light of day.
Pretty ominous, huh? How exactly are we not going to fade away if this is the continual pattern we keep getting trapped in?
It seemed pretty simple on that dark run under the Texas moon that night - choose the light. Better yet - run toward it!
We start by actively trying to acknowledge situations in our lives where we are creating an “us vs them” situation - no matter whether that be about politics or what is for dinner. Then when we feel the panic in the moment when interacting with a ‘them’ we try to look at it from their perspective before we give away our humanity and choose darkness by losing our cool, road raging, or pulling out the personal insults.
All fine and good, but how do we get started on this now? If you feel that pressure to go dark and interested in trying something new, I’ve got a choose the light challenge:
Carve out some quiet time for yourself to think through when you go dark - either by shutting off the world, or giving your humanity away in the moment. Write these scenarios down in order to be more mindful of them.
Spend a week or so taking note of any instances where you go dark. It also helps to write down examples of when others have gone dark so that we can have a larger bank of experiences. I’ve also found that the act of analyzing a tense situation that we are not involved in can lead up to be more self-aware during our own situations.
After you have a firm grasp on what triggers you to go dark, try to be mindful during those situations. In the moment, try to ask yourself one or more of the following questions a) why might the ‘them’ person (if another is involved) feel this way/be so aggressive. b) What feelings am I experiencing? c) Why am I experiencing those feelings d) Is it possible that the ‘them’ has any of these feelings as well?
PRO TIP: The biggest thing to remember is that this will be a work in progress and it won’t always come out just right so be extremely forgiving of yourself first. Once you get good at that - you might be able to forgive the ‘them’ in the future as well, but that is the advanced challenge! If you continually find that a specific type of situation/interaction triggers you to go dark repeatedly, it might be best to draw a boundary to minimize that type of interaction from your life at this time. Just don’t go overboard and shut out so much that the light no longer shines in.
I have been practicing this since the relay, and while there have been ups and downs I can confidently say that things are looking brighter now than they did on that run.
Oh and Happy, Happy Pride!