At 32, writer/musician Mishka Shubaly could have stepped out of a Bukowski novel. Then, after nearly twenty years of hard drinking, he quit cold turkey. A few months after getting sober, he ran five miles: “My life seemed to shift a few degrees. New possibilities had only been negative for a long time – it was possible that I would wind up in rehab; it was possible that I would wind up in jail. Suddenly some invisible divider had cracked and then shattered. It was now possible that I could do good things, too.”
Within a year he ran his first ultra marathon. His bestseller, The Long Run, is a raw, yet often humorous, chronicle of his substance abuse and becoming a runner.
Mishka no longer has “one foot in the gutter and the other in the grave.” On this week’s episode, he shares his thoughts on religion, education, getting older, and of course, running.
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“I made it as as honest and ugly as my experience had been, and when I when I turned it in, I was like, this is going to f***ing destroy any writing career that I have because I copped to so much. Because there’s just so much filth and weakness, and then the response that I got was wild.”
When his editor suggested that he write about becoming a runner, Mishka was less than enthusiastic. “I didn’t want to write about my transformation,” he says, “because in 2011 that was an old story and I was like, “no it’s b**s***. I’m not gonna write another one of those Lifetime made-for-TV movies. You know, the guy learns to run and then figures out all these relationships and it ends with this sort of rosy hued sunset and the family reunites, because it’s b***s***, you know? And that’s not what it’s like.”
That wasn’t what his editor had in mind. He wanted him to write about finding himself trapped in the inspirational narrative against his will. So that’s what Mishka gave him, and the response was overwhelming.
“We root for the underdog, and in people’s mistakes and weakness and vulnerability, we see our own.”
Mishka’s brutal honesty about his life empowers readers and audience members to share their own stories with him. “Men will come up to me after shows and just reveal stuff to me where I’m like, “keep your voice down; this is a secret,” you know? And it’s an honor to be entrusted with those secrets. And also it’s a f***ing drag because they’re like “oh, thank God, I got that off my chest.” And I’m like, “yeah, you got it on to mine.”
“I realized that I had felt so alone and so isolated and that was my own invention in my head.”
People didn’t necessarily relate to his circumstances, but his struggles spoke to them. It came as a surprise: “I had no idea that there were so many other people like me out there and now whenever I go to a race – not necessarily a 5K or something, but whenever you go to an ultra – and looking at the starting line, it’s like, “what’s up, you f***ing degenerates? You know everybody here has some awesome, horrible secret and that’s what’s driving you to run 100 miles, 50 miles, 50K, whatever it is, that, ‘we’re here because we’re not all there.’”
“Running is limitless, it’s boundless, and that is the hippiest thing that I will say on this podcast.”
Mishka describes his relationship with running in the same way that others describe their relationship with God: “I know that running is always there, it exists constantly whether I’m there participating or not … it will always be there for me, it will always be available to me … it’s sort of like air, it’s just everywhere, it’s all around us, and we don’t see it because it’s all around us, not because it’s not there.”
“I will fight to my dying breath to say that people who take on the burden of educating themselves through any means, it doesn’t need to be university, but it needs to be something where you interrogate your own beliefs, that that’s an honorable pursuit and that it does make you a better human being.”
Running isn’t the only thing in the air. So is anti-intellectualism, at least in the United States, and it’s an attitude that he despises. “It’s hard to go to school. It’s hard to get an education. It’s hard to take on that challenge of learning, to say, ‘here’s a thing that I don’t know, that I don’t understand.’”
“We can’t go back and bring back the wisdom that we’ve acquired, we can’t go back and leave the wisdom that we’ve acquired. “
Knowledge, of course, comes not only from education but also from experience. Despite the pitfalls of getting older – as Mishka says, “if you live long enough, you’ll turn into the creepy old dude at the rock concert” – he wouldn’t go back in time to be his younger self.
Experience has taught him the value of doing things that don’t garner accolades, like making sure that his cat and dog are happy and know that he loves them, even though, as he says, “I can’t brag to anybody, ‘I ranked second in my age division, competitive cat petting. I’m an ultra petter.’”
“I’m trying to just do little things where there’s no finish line, there’s no cheering spectators, there’s no award, literally the only reward is in doing it.”
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“Thank you” to Mishka. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.