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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

Heroic running advice, without questions

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about heroes, and heroics lately. The running gets tough, and workaday burdens get heavy. I can’t be the only one who looks for a hero at times like these? Attempting to define qualities and behaviors to inspire and emulate?

All that mind spinning, while out on the trail and in restful recovery, was recently crystalized for me by a simple Tweet.

The quote begs so many questions, doesn’t it? For starters, what is “proper stature” and what is heroic? Followed quickly by: is there really anything wrong with defeat, failure or frustration?

My own thinking (if head spinning questions can be called that) started by considering my own list of heroes. 

Who was I looking up to? What was I trying to emulate? Of course, many are just fantasy. You probably share some of them, one way or another, and they likely need little introduction. Others, from real life, are probably unique to me. Finally, there’s the anonymous ones - yet, seem the most powerful of all to me.

Take just a few for example.

  • Indiana Jones - researcher and rescuer of humanity’s treasures from antiquity; prolific traveler; handler of mysteries and menaces, including in a good scrap; university teacher and museum acquirer. (What? Don’t you know movies? Well, here’s an intro.)

  • Obi-wan Kenobi - epic space wizard or monk, including research and preservation of cultural treasures, most especially fighting styles and techniques; prolific traveler; handler of mysteries and menaces, calmly handling even the worst scap ups; teacher and protector of his order. (In case you’ve been living under a rock for a few decades: an intro.)

  • Ford Prefect - researcher and publicizer of the galaxies treasures; prolific traveler; handler of mysteries and menaces, mostly with cocktails afterwards; calmly handles even the end of the world, and the Greatest Question of All Time, as a stalwart friend; writer. (Don’t tell me you don’t know! OK, an intro.)

  • Jet Black - former police officer; prolific traveler; handler of mysteries and menaces; the “black dog” - once he bites, he doesn’t let go; reliable and capable in a scrap; provider and protector of his team; epic bounty hunter. (For those uninitiated few: an intro.)

Fantasy heros of mine:

Still, fantasy is limited. Real life, much more powerful. Consider these.

Giovannit Belzoni
  • Giovanni Belzoni - self inventing strong man; researcher and rescuer of humanity’s treasures; prolific traveler; handler of mysteries and menaces, setting his own terms in a confrontation; museum acquirer.

Lam, Sai Wing

  • Lam, Sai Wing (林世榮) - warrior, policeman and teacher; researcher and rescuer of cultural treasures, most especially fighting styles and techniques; calmly handling duels and brawls; teacher and protector of his order and city.

Hedy Lamar

Xiang Yu (from Han dynasty wall fresco)

  • Xiang Yu (項羽) - ambitious, intelligent, capable and conflicted general and ruler (when seeing the great First Emperor of China said “I can replace him”); famously defeated 100s in combat; at once claiming Heaven itself declared his defeats, but ultimately sacrificed himself, offering up his head (and the bounty on it) to his friend simply “on accounts” of that brotherly love. As Li, Qingzhao (李清照) wrote, “An exemplar in life, a hero of ghosts after death. Even now, we still remember Xiang Yu, who refused to return to Jiangdong.” ( 生當作人傑,死亦為鬼雄,至今思項羽,不肯過江東)


And the most powerful? The nameless masses. The ones who...

You know: the ones that we readily rely on, yet conveniently forget in a comfortable quest of “a” hero.

With these most powerful examples, it’s no wonder how and why I wind up with my running target favorites. Rail trails? You bet! Indeed, anything within military and industrial archeology becomes a constant reminder of the everyday benefit resulting from humanity’s most powerful heroes.

Heroics, without questions

So, if these are the models, the examples for proper stature - surely there is defeat, failure and frustration along the way?  Indeed, the very root of the word “hero” is the tragic tale of doomed love. So, when we say things like “proper stature is…to be a hero” and then reject defeat and failure, we in fact deny heroics at all. 

Defeat is inevitable. Frustration is a natural result of failure. It’s the start of reexamining one's self, one’s capabilities and circumstances. A defeat is the spark. It cannot and must not be avoided. Nor can it be confused for the eventual flame of ambition and activity. Therefore, the only way to be non-heroic is to wallow in a defeat, to be overwhelmed with a frustration. 

Surely the themes of my heroes listed above are clear. There are two things left out, though. Hope. Imagination. Each and every of my heroes contributes to endeavors in the hopes that many will benefit. They also open new vistas of imagination, fertile ground for creative fantasy whether for entertainment or real-world inspiration. They work for their own livelihood, certainly. Yet, each distasteful workaday defeat is tempered with the sweetness of hope. Every effort couched in innovative play.

Ultimately, there is my own heroic principle. Hope, for All of Us. We The People. Fueled by expanding our imaginative possibilities. So, when I find myself wallowing in frustration, exhaustedly sometimes, I look to the bigger picture. The greater good. The aspiration of these heroes. Hope is the hands that carry the spark of defeat to the fuel of ambition. Imagination and fantasy provide the energy. Together they, and we, ultimately lead to achievement through activity. 

What about exhaustion? Can't we ever be just plain worn out? Of course. That's also a natural result of effort. I'm simply saying, don't wallow. Defeat, failure and exhaustion are not "end states." Heroes see them as beginnings.

I remind myself that my occupational efforts, at a minimum, sustain my family. In the best case, my fantasy video game work delivers fun and delight to millions. Even my hobbies of history, martial arts and running lean on hope in the face of defeat. And not the DNFs of a race, either. Each mile can be seen as a defeat, sometimes. Too slow. Not far enough. Still, I keep in mind that each mile of difficult running is not only exploration for myself, but can be shared. Hopefully building inspiration and courage. Isn’t this focus on the wider participation and contribution the invitation to be heroically noble?

We’ll see you out there, #BreakingImpossible.

Some favorite "military and industrial archelogy" sites:

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