Hubris Can Hurt

Mrs. Curtis, an English teacher at Marietta High School, taught a Greek mythology class.  I took the class my senior year, and one thing I never forgot was a sentence she wrote on the blackboard and never erased the entire semester: Beware excessive pride.  (She was a bit of a grammar Nazi–I’ve been called that as well–so I suspect that was why she never wrote the rest of the sentence, for it is a failing we are all open to.  There were certain things up with which Mrs. Curtis did not put!)

“Beware excessive pride” is a maxim that lay deeply buried in my subconscious until this week.  As I’m sitting here in my study typing this entry, Susie is downstairs watching a video, I have Jethro Tull comfortably blaring from my speakers, and I am in pain.
The pain is an aftereffect of my own hubris (“excessive pride, presumption, or arrogance (originally toward the gods)”, per  A co-worker of mine has been ribbing me for weeks about my avoidance, if not complete aversion, to joining the gym at work.  He has even offered to pay for my first month’s membership.
He and I trade barbs about my lack of physical fitness and I come back with remarks about his age.  (He is several years older than I am, and played football and baseball in high school, and coached track when he was in the Army.  He spends every lunch hour on the treadmill or working out with weights.)
Last week, he challenged me to walk with him from our floor in the William Green Building (the 10th), all the way to the topmost floor.  He knows that I enjoy walking long distances and for hours at a time, so I guess he wanted to see just how fit I truly was.  (According to body mass index charts, I’m constantly straddling the dividing line between overweight and obese.)  I shrugged this off, thinking, “Piece of cake.”  Walking was walking, wasn’t it?  After all, I reasoned, I did plenty of walking during the six years I lived in Cincinnati, and no two neighborhoods are on the same level there.

Chuck, my co-worker, said, “Tuesday morning, 10 o’clock.  Meet you at the door to the stairs.”

I told him I’d be there.  When I got back to my desk, I logged into GroupWise (our combined email and scheduling software platform) and under October 25, 10 a.m., I logged, “Walk to the top of the building with Methuselah,” making sure he would get a copy.

So Tuesday at 10, I met him at the door to the stairwell.  Usually, I spend my 10 a.m. breaks in the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation library, reading The Columbus Dispatch or The Wall Street Journal, but I decided that I would forego this until lunchtime.  So there I was at 10, and Chuck was at the door.  We exchanged the banter about whether we had the paramedics on standby, should we have a defibrillator waiting, etc.

The William Green Building, my workplace since 2004.

And then he and I began trudging.  I knew he would be faster, since he habitually uses the Stairmaster in the gym.  I sailed up the first two or three flights, and then I took 10- or 15-second breaks after I had gone up four or five floors.

The William Green Building is 530 feet tall, and it has 33 floors altogether.  I did not realize, until this trudge was in progress, there were three additional floors.  The Industrial Commission’s executives’ offices are on the 30th floor, known either as “Thirty” or “the Vatican.”  I had assumed that was the topmost floor.  But, as we kept going upward, Chuck informed me that there were 33 floors altogether.  Floors 31-33 contain the air conditioning equipment, the elevator mechanism, and generators.

The walk up to 33 was not fun.  I have occasionally walked from the lobby to the 10th floor, and came through the door at the conclusion of the walk thinking someone would have to jump-start my heart.  My legs were aching, but I felt okay as far as my breathing was concerned.  Chuck told me later he worried a little when I stopped to take the mini-breaks.  My legs were hurting a bit by the time I triumphantly placed my hand on the door to the 33rd floor, like a mountain climber planting a flag.

Then came the trip back down.  When I’ve started the day (or returned from lunch) by going up to the 10th floor by stair instead of elevator, at least I could be sure that I’d be sitting for awhile thereafter.  According to my stopwatch, Chuck and I took 8½ minutes to go 23 floors.  I shut the stopwatch off once I touched the door with “33” painted on it, so I didn’t time the trip back downstairs.

We hadn’t descended very far before I felt like my legs were going to buckle.  I’ve heard expressions such as “It’s all downhill from here” all my life, and that would lead me to believe that downhill would be easier.  Wouldn’t gravity be doing most of my job for me?

Yes, it would, and if I wasn’t careful, gravity would be doing the job too well.  I had to make sure my shoes were firmly planted on each step, and I held onto the handrail until my knuckles were bloodless.  This was one of those situations where you just had to ignore the pain.  I had taken Monday off from work, so the untyped ex parte orders and doctors’ reports were piling up on my desk.  I couldn’t just stay in the stairwell indefinitely.  So I paced myself, gritted my teeth, and made it back to the 10th floor.  “I’m proud of you, man!” Chuck said.  He had been worried when I wanted to take a break on the way up, but I did it.

Once I got back to my desk, that was when I began to sweat, and that was when the pain in my gastrocnemius muscles really began to hurt, and the pain hasn’t let up yet.  Since Tuesday morning, I have dreaded stairs, especially when I have to go down them.  When it’s necessary, I hold my legs rigidly, like a wishbone, and you can tell from my expression that it’s an ordeal I want to finish as soon as I can.

Compare this to when I was at Ohio University, in the fall of 1986 through the spring of 1987, when I steadfastly refused to use elevators, in an effort to lose weight.  (During high school, I resembled Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! cartoons, more so when I grow the scraggly goatees that preceded my first real beards.)  I drove my friends crazy by insisting on using stairs, thinking I would burn off any excess weight.  Never mind that I was going to bars almost nightly and drinking beer by the gallon.)

So where do I stand right now?  The pain is still there, and it’s not limited to when I’m climbing stairs.  I usually carry a bottle of Aleve in my knapsack, since I’m so prone to shin splints, and I’ve been using it pretty heavily these past few days.  Tonight, I walked the 1.2 miles from Giant Eagle to my house.  (I had gone to the Whetstone library to pick up reserves, and, as I left, Susie asked me to pick up some bread.  I took the bus from home to Whetstone, and from Whetstone to Giant Eagle, but decided to walk back home.)  I’m not sorry I did it, but I was hoping I could walk out whatever cramp or knot I gave myself during my marathon stair climb on Tuesday.

Pride goeth before leg cramps.