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Hitting the Wall
By: Doug Bittinger - June 11, 2008

When I was in Junior High and High School one of the sports I excelled in was long distance running: both cross country and the longer track & field events.  One of the things I learned while training to run is that all distance runners reach a point where every fiber of their bodies is screaming at them to stop, to quit running, to rest.  This message is delivered via considerable amounts of abdominal pain, noodle-like legs and feet of lead.  We called this “hitting the wall”.

By ignoring my body’s command to cease punishing it and pressing onward, time seemed to slow down; I felt as though I was just plodding along in slow motion, running through Jell-O.  But the pain would ease up (because I’d go numb), I could no longer feel my feet (only hear them thumping into the dirt).  In reality I was still sprinting along, but I was totally unaware of that.  And I found that not only could I continue to run after 'hitting the wall', but I actually had untapped reserves to call upon if needed.

I’ll spare you the “Glory Days” tale of my exploits and the state records I set.  I dredge up this dusty old memory only to use it as an illustration for a current situation; for I have Hit The Wall.

For the past three weeks I’ve been working overtime to get a trio of our English Garden Benches completed and shipped to Vermont in time for a wedding.  How I got myself into this pickle isn’t important, but here I am.  I’ve been coming into the workshop as early as 3:30 AM and working as late as 10:30 PM 6 days a week.  Sundays I do no woodworking, but I do use time after church to do yard work, and catch up on chores around the house as well as the things I’ve volunteered to do for our church like maintain the web site (http://www.newportpresbyterianchurch.org/) and burn the Sunday Sermons to CDs that can be shared with our shut-ins or used as a resource in the community, and produce a weekly radio show that airs on WGSN 90.7 FM.

By last Friday night I was all tuckered out, and was reminded of my early days as a runner.  This work is not normally as strenuous as a cross country run, but when you do it 6 days a week for 17 hours or more a day, for three straight weeks… then add to the long hours the fact that this is not your normal piece of furniture, the parts for this bench are made from massive chunks of timber and are much heavier than comparable parts for a regular chair or bench so juggling these pieces all day long takes a toll on the neck, shoulders and back.  Then add to that the fact that for the past two weeks we have been experiencing unusually high temperatures for June.  Actually these temperatures are unusually high for any time of the year for this region.  Just a few years ago if it ever got over 85° even in August it was considered to be extremely hot.  But here we are with day time temperatures running 93° to 97° every day for two weeks.  We’re setting new records! Add to all of this the fact that I passed the half-century mark a few years ago and I’m not exactly as fit as I ought to be -- too much time spent making sawdust and not enough time spent hiking in the woods.  Roll all that up into one big ball of wax and mash it into the mould of my life and you have a casting of why I am about spent.

Friday night I “hit the wall” so to speak.  When I got home I showered, fell into bed and went comatose for the entire night.  Didn’t wake up once, which is odd for me.  I also missed my morning wake-up call.  Normally I wake up at 4:30 all by myself, Saturday I didn’t flutter an eyelid until 6:00!

I spent Saturday in the shop, but Tim and Marie came to help so we got a lot done and it wasn’t as hard on me as it could have been.  Another deep sleep Saturday night.  Sunday morning I almost played hooky from Church, but decided that I really didn’t want to do that, I get a lot of benefit from attending, and I’m an Elder and should be leading by example.

Sunday afternoon I needed to get the lawn mowed.  We have company coming to stay at Mom’s house and it’s expected to rain all week long, so this is my last chance to get the place looking less like a hay field.  Yeah, I know, mowing a lawn is not a big deal to most.  You haven’t seen my “lawn”.  The photo is just a piece of it.  We live on the side of a mountain and there is about a acre of cleared land that serves as a lawn, the rest is forest.  There are three flat spots, carved into the slopes around the edges for our house, Mom’s house and our workshop and lumber shed, everything else is a slope, some are steep slopes.  I’ve rolled our lawn tractor twice trying to mow some of those slopes… I use a weed whacker for those now.  And… the tractor died on me a couple of weeks back, so I’ve been using a push mower that we normally reserve for trim work.  UGH! But, I figured that this would help correct that ‘not quite as fit as I ought to be’ problem.  Most of the time it’s just a good (3 hour long) work out.  But this week I’m exhausted before getting started.  This is where that ‘reaching down inside and finding the reserve’ bit comes into play.  I reached, I found, I mowed.  Then I collapsed on the sofa and took a nap.

But, I am SO close to the finish line.  Just a couple more days and the benches will be on their way to Vermont.  I just need to dig down for that last little bit of strength, take another dose of Ibuprophen, grab another bottle of cold water and continue to throw those leaden feet out in front of me...  for just a few more steps.

Once the benches are enroute, I have promised to give myself an entire day off.  I have it all planned out.  I’ll sleep in late then get up and fix a hearty breakfast of eggs, low fat sausage and toast, then I’m going to stretch out on the sofa and re-watch the entire series of "Firefly".  Maybe take a nap in the afternoon.  Then when Marie gets home from doing her stuff in Newport we’ll go out to Elkmont and watch the synchronized fire flies.  It’s a fascinating thing to see and no one knows just how they accomplish it.  Or why.  And this just happens to be the one week a year that they do it.  It’ll be a micro vacation – just one night.

I’ll be back in the shop on Friday to prepare for the next order on the production schedule, but from that day on it’s back to my usual 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM days, 5 days a week.  Making a long, hard run like this occasionally is interesting in that it proves that I can still do it, but it’s definitely not something I want to do again any time soon.

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