scorpions to desire

Yesterday, in a pocket-hour of warm air, I was reminded of my spring running lament: is one really a vegan when one inhales gnat sandwiches? The absurdity of that thought of a bug diet was not unlike a sign for a neighbour I read on my return to my building: "Crazy woman! Stop throwing cacti about the building! Clean up that mess." (Indeed, we all heard a moment of anger and something being jettisoned in the early hours...but, a cactus?!) It's the element of the unexpected that's the theme of this running post.
Last time I wrote, I was sure sick days off were going to ruin my running gains. As it is, for over a week now, several minutes have been shaved off my time per mile, without my trying since I try to execute "easy days easy". It's unexpected. I also noted that even though I thought that I'd finished getting all the new fancy muscle through just running, I keep visibly gaining muscle. I keep planning to add in strength work, but up to now, I think that would be overkill for me because I can see (and feel, through sustainable exhaustion) that my body is responding to running. This is another reason why I felt so vindicated reading Murakami's book on running: he also considers running the activity he responds best to on a physical level. Before taking up running again in this latest phase of my life, I'd been doing multiple two-hour exercise sessions of squats, etc., none of which built the muscle I now have. The take away here being: we really are an experiment of one. As support, I'll cite Jack Daniels, who is adamant about this.
The race I am training for suddenly lost its accreditation (unpaid bills) and I'll need to take another (unexpected) break from training. But I have yet to develop the race mindset where the race prevails over training in importance. My goal is to increase speed to increase daily quality of life (seeing more sights on daily runs; saving a little time for other things). Then again, last year, I didn't care about speed at all, so things change.

I was contemplating Jamil's journey to Barkley this year, documented for all of us to watch (Gary has done the same). I guess I should say firstly that I don't think there are many parallels to be drawn between runners like them and me, but what I do get out of watching such videos is a chance to see different people's running form and think about my own, just like back in the day when I was an aspiring capoerista, we would watch film of other capoeristas to inspire our own moves.
There are worlds that divide elites from amateurs. Still, the imagination wishes to reach those distant shores, and it was while thinking of Jamil's narrative that I was reminded of Rumi's lines: "Dear soul, if you were not friends with the vast nothing inside, why would you always be casting your net into it, patiently? ... God has allowed a magical reversal to occur, so that you see the scorpion pit as an object of desire." Is not fortitude and endurance the training to have a realistic chance at something that without that training (either intense or over years - the latter being the more Taoist approach) would be impossible, unexpected?
It is so easy to live a life without doing the training. But it is so possible to do the training and gain the peace that comes with knowing, through practice, what is and isn't within one's reach (the wild card of the unexpected victories or failures notwithstanding: I am generalising here). What I mean is something like what Seneca writes about how philosophy "is not a random assignment but a regular appointment", for it is the activity that frees one from sickness, and when we are sick, we do all we can to get well. You can find that passage, with a great complementary passage by Epictetus that mentions exercise, here. The effort towards mastery can change our perspective on scorpions, though (as Epictetus warns) this does not mean we are invincible - in fact, that latter mind set he calls sickness.
Once upon a time when I was small, some family friends were what I guess we today call "adventurers". They knew how to collect emergency potable water from a bit of plastic and trash, what to do when bitten by snakes, where to look for water in deserts, etc. The things that scare most people were to them problems that have solutions. Here's to those trails that lead to "there"...

Brush: from the much-missed pugly pixel.
Some trails are hemmed in by boats.

masters in training

There is an old story from the monasteries in the Eastern church that tells of an abbot who had lived a chaste life but who, on his death bed, was visited by the devil who complimented him on his achievements, to which the abbot, instead of saying, thanks be to God's great mercy, took the compliment for himself, and so, the story goes, lost his soul in the final moment after an entire life of spiritual exploits and accomplishments. The story has been on my mind because I was reminded again this week that the battle is daily, and it is never like one will wake up on this earth and get to say, good on me for that final victory, now, let me rest on my laurels!
After a surprise day of full-on sun shininess, today the rain came bringing with it that special silence that is so nice to run in, conducive, too, to the philosophical mantle I have put on (in case you didn't notice from the previous paragraph) since last week when I sequested myself in my version of sick bay for a few days (stomach virus). Training screeched to a halt again, this time involuntarily, and at first, I felt jolted by the stopped momentum and mourned the empty days gathering in my training log. Will I be marathon ready, was the question of the day, along with that other question that has to do with speed, since I was just beginning to get faster thanks to the training plan. So I sat down with myself and had a good talk (this was before I remembered that old story mentioned above).

Me: blank stare of disappointment.
Me: There there. It will all turn out all right, you'll see. It's time to fill out those adult-sized shoes you wear and pull your socks up. While youth can afford to huff and puff over foiled plans, you are "masters" age now, and ought to have learned to take things in stride, roll with the punches.
Me: cow-eyed stare.
Me: [Invoking, *cough*, ripping off sentences from Seneca:] Carry on, ... and hurry up, so you don't ... wind up learning as an old woman. Actually, hurry all the more since you've already started in on a topic which you could scarcely master as an old woman. 'How much progress will I achieve?' Only as much as you attempt. What are you waiting for? Wisdom doesn't come to anyone by chance ... virtue will not drop into  your lap. Nor is it learned by just a bit of work or by a small effort ...
Me: You mean, despite my disappointment, I now also have to make an additional effort?!

I read somewhere that many runners are a tad obsessive, and while this happens to be true of me, it is never fun having to deal with it when the obsessiveness gets crossed by obstacles. It is weird having to admit here that even slow-pokes can be obsessive about their running, despite no laurels to obsess about, but there you are.
Since obsessiveness is an obstacle to wisdom, which is a fancy word for "living the good life", once I donned the above-mentioned philosophical mantle, I decided to try to teach my obsessiveness the LSD, after first teaching it the ABC's (cue laugh track).
Every time I feel that impulse to get sad over unplanned skipped training days, or fears over lost speed, I tell myself I am meant to act like a "master" now, and when that doesn't work (talk about anti-motivation: "act like an adult because you're suppose to be one!"), I have been following the "red thread" of passion, and playing running. There is no room for obsessiveness in play.
Let me tell you about some games! Though I'd stopped listening to music on runs, I've recently started to listen to Monstercat podcasts on some, which brings me to the playground not just because of the chiptunes on various tracks, but also because of the segments where the "Monstercat family" "says hello". The elan with which some of those youngsters take to the mic inspireds me with what I'll call a fearlessness of engaging with process.

Rather than get all philosophical (ahahaa), I'll just speak in pictures about what I mean. A form of that kind of play is parkour: which is the art of learning to move past obstacles graciously, through one's own effort. I love watching parkour videos, particularly from Slavic-speaking countries, and recommend Cherepko, "Stranik", and Polych. But to illustrate what I mean about a fearlessness of engaging with process, I'll direct anyone interested to two videos.
The first, Stranik's "dance on iron", is a beautiful meditation and filmed labour of love for the process that is training, about someone who loves training. I mention it here because as training exists as a way to move towards a goal, it could potentially spark fear when one feels that one has invested so much and it might not pay off. By contrast, this video shows an alternative path to the goal: namely, dogged, humourous love. (Speaking of humour and also of creativity, although the video moves very slowly, this other one is such a fun and Drunken Masterish and beautiful little story - but all of his videos are great.)
Sticking with Stranik, "flight memory" continues the theme of earnestness from "dance on iron" but is a more poetically unified video: portraying the reigns of training as a smiling passion. (I think in part when I write that of the Charioteer of Delphi.) This is a message for masters in training.

Brush: Misprinted Type.

trudge, trudge, streaka!

The last two posts left draft to Publish kind of like how on sinister mornings, it feels great to start a long run a little fast, until it is no longer the beginning, and we poor sloggers reenact a solo version of the Muppets', "Trudge trudge, streaka streaka". Things happen, we move on, and edit, if we can.
I'd love to be able to edit my running - or even understand it. There can be streaks of days where I slow down: today's run was meant to be a mere 20 miles with over half at marathon pace: it was all I could do to just finish it, though, *clears throat: today began as "a sinister morn'".
These have been strange days: in this little city, things have been exploded underground; the pollution count has been "very dangerous"; many mornings begin with a thick fog that brings icicles to the trees which during a long run melt into hail while eyelashes freeze then shed water like tears.
It has been hard to keep up with the training plan, and for the first time ever (minus days lost to my knee contusion when I was tripped in that incident), I skipped a day - and in spare minutes, like during showers, I've wondered to myself why I am so insistent on running longer distances, made more complicated by the fact that I am just so slow. I am writing this post in a bid to come to terms with this stubborn part of my personality.
The answers I came up with were: having an emancipating activity, where my achievements are mine alone and not contaminated by the emperor of work's new toxic clothes, and the myriad associated endeavours that make absolutely no sense (in noble terms - I am guessing there is money at the end of those means: strange "economy", for lives are being spent).
Second, like Murakami wrote it better: for some of us, running is the only sport that gets our bodies into shape, for whatever reason that is. I mean that less for aesthetic reasons than as a sign of generally "feeling better".

This week, it was really hard to get going, thence the skipped a day (which became two rest days in a row, since I rearranged the schedule), but I am not sorry for the feeling of accomplishment I gained by sticking to the plan as far as possible.
Also, and answer number three, there was a day I was joined by a little dog that ran about a kilometer with me. Later, I met it again and it seemed to be the ringleader of a trio of far larger dogs. It was so happy to see me, it jumped all over, leaving muddy paw marks on my tights and vest - and bringing me so much joy through that encounter.
In certain lines of work where one is almost always engaged, it can be hard to justify time away since time is so hard to come by (this month, in addition to lectures and related miscellany, I have to edit my translation of an academic work, read two books, compose an abstract, heigh ho). But what's that picture worth, devoid of streaka and sundry street dogs? Hardy har, I would have nothing to talk about!

Brush: Misprinted Type.
Observant readers will notice new running shoes: my old Perseus Zoom 33s lasted around 1,200 miles,
breathing the last of their last cushioning effect last week.

ice and freedom

Last night, I looked at the google stats for this blog before writing (so low, it can't be limboed!) and decided to persist in writing, as one persists in running - towards finish lines of achievement currently out of sight, hopefully.
Since the ice began to thaw, there have been many sights to marvel at. I've included a few below. First, the ice that had kept me off my regular route for over a month was real, as you might imagine from this image:

Swans had been relegated to tiny pools of melted water, and boats were stuck in ice. I had left the treadmill as soon as it was possible to reach these views.

The wind has been pre-gale force: warranting the one red pennant that would warn small vessels from setting out, as if they could. I learned something from those birds that somehow remained in flight during these blustery days: they also struggle, but convey something of the normalcy of the intense effort required at challenging times. The activity of birds can reaffirm the importance of conviction. 

And there was a certain silence afforded by the fact that over half of the water mass was ice-bound. The birds seemed to rejoice in new air routes. It was interesting to think of what happens when just one part of the picture becomes stationary. But, in human terms, many objects (including little cafes) had become ensconced by the ice, and damaged.

A few days later, a project began to free the few remaining floating vessels from the ice. Gymnastic feats were required.

It was at this time that it became clearer than ever that I, through inner weakness or a cartoonish need for allegory, "have to" go through the motions of endurance to understand what is basic to the birds, and to so many people.

In fact, many closest to me in my life, who I am so thankful for, stoically reveal their powers of endurance every day, without having to run twenty plus miles. But I need to go through those motions: to see the birds doing it, see the people freeing other people's boats doing it.

Brush in images: misprinted type.

running philosophically

Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (in "The Old Fisherman") addresses the hopes of enhancing one's merit and fame. What runner doesn't relate to that first part? (Some say the second, too?!) The illustration he gives of the vices that can ensue from the incorrect way of pursuing these goals is of a man so afraid of his own shadow that he runs to escape it: of course, to no avail (4). The lesson is that any man who neglects to improve himself will be bound to expend energy in such a doomed, needless way.
But what is this elusive "right way", I wonder, if improvement functions on several levels (physical, mental, dispositional, etc). I think sometimes I live my life in such a way that I do everything wrong the first time round, throwing myself into something, learning along the way. I am not like Murakami, who, before taking up running, read about it. To my mind, my "right way" was more complex: I was first running to keep running, because I was going through a tough time and I needed the daily long journeys to distant landscapes. I really related to Puzey's Arizona recap (posted at Swiftwick), where he writes about not only getting through the physical wall in running, but those of petty intrigue and power struggles in academia. To my mind, running right for me as an undisciplined beginner was to first help me through that second, not first, wall.

Puzey writes: "Academic politics is the most vicious kind because the stakes are so small." On the surface, many aspects of this world are narrow-minded and one-tracked: like the man running just to escape his shadow.
Through consistency and sincere application, though, I think we get beyond that surface perspective. In my case, while I have passed through some of the workplace walls, I now see the physical one as a wall that is still requiring me to engage with it. It's not enough to plod out the door at the same pace, despite the longer distances, one year in. The "right way" of the physical, as opposed to mental, part of running continues to haunt me like the man in the illustration is haunted. 
In the Zhuangzi story, part of the problem is thought that entangles. The goal is to reach thought that frees. But the only way I can see to make one's way through this is patience and perseverence, to expose oneself to the principles until they make sense (I have now read a book on running like Murakami, but I can't say I understood it, and understand less how it translates to the physical execution of the principles in terms of feel and experience). To me, the right way is to know that I am running my own race, that includes parts of an equation that might not always be visible to others; to not worry about the "fame" - which I translate to mean, not worry about how silly I look running in a city of few runners especially when I am not talented, and to keep on keeping on, doing the best I can by trying to focus on new aspects of running, thinking along the way.

Brush: Misprinted Type.
View: the freedom I reach through my own effort.

in praise of the pegasus zoom 33

The running corner of the internet that I frequent seems to be getting more expensive. I decided, in response, to write a paean to Nike's budget-friendly running shoe, the Pegasus Zoom 33.
It almost functions as a trail shoe, too - which is to say: I fell in them once, when the traction just wasn't there over a big rock. But for merely root-knotted trail, they are fine. They are great on non-technical trail. They are great on cement, which is largely what I run on, to get to trail.
I have run months of weeks over 60 miles in them, and am now doing marathon training in the same pair. And I am amazed that the soles still look almost brand new.
Perhaps best of all is that they can handle some ice. I tried to find other reviews on the internet that would tell me how they would perform on ice, but to limited avail: I only learned that they can handle ice where there is some traction from some snow. My winter here has been snow that turns to ice. So, when the sun was powerful enough the other day to melt some stretches of ice, before heading out, I went online to Nike's customer service to ask about how the Pegs would perform, and was connected to an "expert" which I thought was kind of nifty, I have to say, which is why I mention it. The resulting chat led me to lace up my Pegs and take a cautious run. While the Pegs do not inspire confidence on ice, meaning: it's necessary to change up stride and pace where sheets of ice were several meters long, they do get the job done.
Considering all of the above, I think they are a super great budget shoe. But as the budget savvy know, sometimes there are trade-offs to saving. In this case: the toe box seems a little cramped, even though I go up a full shoe size in Nike running shoes. This is in part because I have a Morton's toe. The restriction has not caused discomfort or change to my stride, but is affecting the aesthetics of my toenails, ahem - one clears one's throat by way of verbal nail polish. Just kidding, I don't polish my runner's toenails. Also, I have periodically felt a little discomfort in the middle of my foot since wearing these shoes, but nothing that a ridged dog-toy ball hasn't been able to fix.
All of this to say that while I sing the praise of the Peg here, this is no naive love song, nor is it an ideal one: it's inspired by a pragmatic and economically respectful love. 

Brush: Misprinted Type.
Magazine in background: marathon enrollment magazine-swag.
Featured: Nikes that have run around 1,000 miles.

play at running

"Man shares a great deal with the other animals, whose enjoyment of play can astonish us - so much so that anyone who observes and studies animal behaviour ... is overcome by a feeling of delight coupled by horror. ... So overwhelming was the impact of Descartes' central insight ... animals [then mankind] were simply considered to be automata ... enthusiasm [of free will] has utterly disappeared." - Hans Georg Gadamer, "The Play of Art"
I think that runners can feel the delight and horror of free will: the delight at the breeze and the views, the horror at the pain on a return from a long out and back. To be a runner is also to play at something, to take Gadamer's definition where the freedom of play is most visible in art: in art and running, humans try things out, reject things, create - and what is made through this effort is hardly determined by ultility.
When was the last time you spent three hours on a treadmill since the roads were iced over and said: this was determined by ultility! (Even the 'run to get fit' answer is inapposite here: a better body could be sculpted in an hour on weights.) To run is to try: we don't really know where the mile after mile of training will lead us, hopefully not the sports clinic.
I wouldn't have thought to compare running to play were it not for an article called "How to Dress for the Game"  by Pamela Hobart, which I thought was pertinent to runners - the obvious "costume" implications aside (most have their gear, and few and far between are runners like Jamil who can manage marathons in boardshorts).
The article is about how basic normcore tenets can be adopted by people to at once be themselves and be members of a community. Hobart uses the metaphor of role playing to explain this vision, which combats the "free-for-all" of "failed reactions to rapid change" with "world building". As I read the article, I wondered whether, to some extent, running has become so popular because it is being used to build worlds, to combat dissolving into apathy or the flow of the automatic. That very automatic that I began this post with - that stifles freeplay, which running is a form of.

I will adapt the points Hobart made about the problems we face in society that can be overcome by "games" to demonstrate some links between her article to running (I'll retain her headers, though I admit I did not relate to them):
Among runners, a quirk running style will not go unnoticed: whether it is a heel-strike, or a clenched fist, or T-Rex arms, or the anomaly of perfect grace, no one is a clone.
Problem 2: ISOLATION.
No runner can be so special that nobody knows what you’re talking about. New runners quickly learn the lingo of fartleks, DNFs, and "the mental game" - which spills over into life: once everyone has sweat together, given it their all, people can just be people, personality specialness and all.
Problem 3: MAXING OUT.
It may be impossible to keep up with the running news and latest studies (if one doesn't follow Ultrarunner Podcast's daily or Mountain Outhouse's weekly updates), but there is always room for yet another running blog to translate these experiences into the personal and local: because places and people are different (e.g. the logistics of running without cars, or how some run better hard three times a week, while others have to run every day), there can never be an end to particular takes on running in general.
There are so many other points in the article I'd like to respond to on many levels, but this is a running blog, so I'll leave the reference to that article with questions about how much running is play and whether running communities are "world building", creative outlets.
For example, if you, like me, are forced onto treadmills (because of the dearth of uniced pavement or trails, and lack of special running shoes), maybe you can draw inspiration from Gadamer's description of "what if". ...At least I find it refreshing to remind myself as I stare at myself in the gym mirror for hours that my mind needs to remember the experience of pushing through that boredom, "as if" I were running the last miles of a marathon. Gadamer's "as if" appears in his description of art that shows what play looks like:
"[Art] has something of the 'as if' character that we recognize as an essential feature of the nature of play. It is a 'work' because it resembles something played." ...Running really does feel like work! And play!

No new photos because I am chained to the dreadmill for now.
Brush: Ewansim via deviantArt.
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