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.

Hong Kong runs

As the most popular post on this blog was about my return to Hong Kong, here are two Hong Kong-related links. The first is the Hong Kong running show produced by RTHK:
Running Hong Kong
And the second, a link to electronic music for those who run to EDM. It's sung by Hong Kong's Miss Yellow, and features scenes of local nightlife, replete with neon signs:
Fai dee lah!

Screenshot: RTHK documentary about this generation's views on HK history; 
brush: misprinted type

ice and freedom

Last night, I accidentally published what was meant to be a draft of this post: it has now been updated (ahem, proof read!)
I looked at the google stats for this blog before writing (so low, it can't be limboed) and wondered whether it makes sense to keep on, especially since I am short on time these days. But one persists, as one persists in running - towards finish lines of achievement beyond imagination or 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

One of the unexpected results of running during this phase of my life is how it has released me from the straight-A complex of my nature. In four quick words, what cured me was: "run your own race". A's are awarded by others, my own race is doing my best.
And in some ways, this little lesson corresponds to another one, a little deeper and harder to grasp: when Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (in "The Old Fisherman") addresses the hopes of enhancing one's merit and fame. The illustration given 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.
Just as running in the illustration above is used metaphorically, I find the running I do to be a metaphor for life. I seem to need to pursue an active metaphor, to be reminded almost daily that I am striving for larger goals: goals that are not encompassed in a single day, but that are cumulative, that require a special portioning out of energy and reserves, that will bring me to horizons that I cannot even see from the starting point wherever it is that I begin.
I feel such affinity for those competitive runners who say that the training miles are what are important and that the race is a celebration of that training: the time to enjoy its fruits, whatever they may be. That's the illustration of that hackneyed phrase (this is going to be a terrible pun) that the journey is more important than the destination.

But I also feel affinity for those intense race efforts that are emotionally genuine. I am in awe of Puzey's Arizona recap (posted at Swiftwick) where he describes the thought process of overcoming potential physical walls. That is life, too, where what can be described as miracles occur through a force of will. How is this will built, that can break through walls?
If I can stay with Puzey's post a little longer: he writes of another wall he faces, of academic institutions filled with petty intrigues and power struggles: "Academic politics is the most vicious kind because the stakes are so small." I would never imagine that an elite runner would also be working within my own professional minefield - it was precisely because of the frustration of those battles that I took to running again. So, to answer my question from the last paragraph, don't we build our will, in part, through our extracurricular exploits?
On the surface, many aspects of this world are one-tracked: like the man running just to escape his shadow. But it is the "diversions", "hobby horses", that bring other notes to one-track thinking.
Or just a reprieve from thinking - like the end miles of a long run, when it is better to turn the mind off to get it done. I secretly wonder if that is the real reason I run: it's the only activity that forces me to stop thinking. And in the Zhuangzi story, part of the problem is thought that entangles.
The goal is to reach thought that frees. Of course, this will require work. Running reminds runners of every speed, providing they are running their own race, of the need for this.

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.

wounds, talent

When it was 10F last week, I was really careful to avoid the ice. My hair froze. I could not feel my face. But just as I was almost home, I fell, and not because I wasn't looking but because I was tripped. At first, it seemed too bizarre to be true, but what can I say. Moving on.
Though my knees are still oozing, one still swelling up at will; though there's nothing like being seen by colleagues limping down a set of stairs, or managing the scab-related litany (it's no longer Halloween to parade it!), it seems like I am beginning to get something out of this experience. Like, use out of my Mueller jumper's knee strap as of my return to running yesterday. But, seriously: I gained some time.
And now I sit at this computer and write, as fireworks are already going off - and will do so through the second new year in January. I am rarely a fan, but with my newly found time as I read a poem by Pindar, I found the fireworks perfect accompaniment to his paeans of physical glory.
In an ode to Epharmostus, Pindar includes a passage in the middle about the victor's earlier triumphs (a "now and then"!), showing how our hero, though young, was not allowed to compete with youths, so was faced with elder rivals - who one imagines to be more experienced, and manages to endure and prevail - and the drama of this suspense cedes to cheers reverberating in the arena, which you can practically feel as you read:
in Marathon, torn from beardless antagonists,  he stood the onset of older men for the silver vessels.  He threw these in his speed and craft  with no fall scored against him  and walked through the ring to loud acclamation  in the pride of his youth

Sometimes when I read Pindar, I stop reading his message and dwell instead on the characters or themes he brings up in a single poem, and forge my own associations, imagine my own poem.
This poem (Olympian 9) mentions a character called Telephus. He is mentioned in the poem as a stand-in for the concept of foe - a counter to a faithful character (Patroclus) born of the land that produced our athlete victor.
Pindar does not mention here that Telephus was wounded by Achilles, nor how the wound would not heal so Telephus consulted the oracle at Delphi and learned that what had wounded him would heal him. To skip to the end of this story: scraps of the weapon that had injured him were rubbed on the wound, which then healed. Frazer cites this as an example of "sympathetic magic" in his Golden Bough.
It is interesting to consider the relationship between what ails and cures. This is almost a holiday message.
But that is not all that I want to share in this holiday post, because there's a depth to ailments when other bonds with nature are strained.
In my case: trying to accept who I am without that urgent flailing towards "better", whether this means the so-far unsuccessful attempt to run faster, or the attempt to develop always further academically out of a pressing sense of responsibility ("must have it in case I need to give it!) To all this, Pindar says: natural talent is far better than learned abilities, especially where the latter lacks the divine component. In his words:
That which is inborn is always the best; but many men strive to win glory with excellence that comes from training. Anything in which a god has no part is none the worse for being quelled in silence. For some roads lead farther than others ... The paths to skill are steep things to win
So as the fireworks continue to rumble in this little city that produces so much light, I leave you with the idea of catharsis: for wounds, but also for a recognition of the talents "inborn" - what is sought is found. Here's to the endeavour!

Brush: Misprinted Type.
(Combined translations of Pindar's Olympian 9 by Svarlian and Lattimore)
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