I admit that watching Zach, it occurred to me that this was not an example of sprezzatura, which I guess I am aware of because that is something I am always wishing for (and also as a former asthmatic, kind of aware of my own heavy breathing which especially seems to last well into the first 10k of my runs). I wonder if I am fascinated by the breathing because I realise that even at the elite level, there are runners whose expressiveness betrays the earnestness of their endeavours. I learned from a Ginger Runner interview with Zach that he is a heavy breather - and find that I am rethinking my understanding of running style, even style in life: the art that is a life can be more or less expressive of the effort being made.
I've admired Zach as a running artist also for bringing in local culture to his descriptions of running. In that blog post, he acknowledges the theme of effort: "putting up a fight".
What colour would our competitor in this fight be? Grey: the colour of a shadow's dream, our life's travel towards death, with the fight for expression of existence along the way. The fight of work, the fight of accepting both success and failure in stride, the fight of accepting our lot and perservering.
Another Delaware Valley soul (like I was once, to make three - including Zach) once wrote about this effort that is a life, and how difficulties are necessary to offset the beauty:
Our efforts must gain us only bitter fruit, at first. How else can we know of that which is sweeter? The world is an aggregation of comparative excellence. (Conrad Aiken, The Ramblers of an Idler)And thus the meaning of this grey. Once it's clear that the grey is there, we can frame it with colour: whatever attempts or effort we can contribute, like the colours that frame expressionist Diebenkorn put around his famous "Ocean City".
In a blog post that reminisces about Diebenkorn, it was suggested that what kept him going was his work ethic and also refusal to rest on laurels or be defined by failures:
he’d talk about painting as a discipline, about having a work ethic, and about not being complacent with either success or failure and how they were both valuable lessons if you paid attention.
But my favourite part of that article, and which I think also relates to running, is where Diebenkorn is cited as having commented on the difficulties of making a composition in grey:
Diebenkorn spoke about the difficulty of making a gray painting—how hard it is to make something meaningful and able to connect when one of the fundamental elements of painting—color—is not present or is reduced.Sometimes in running, there are those moments when I'm far from home and suddenly feeling really tired ... and grey. Since the majority of my runs are technically long runs, this can happen a lot. But it is only running that long that I get relief. So, at some point I'm bound to feel that there is no colour! There are times when it seems hard to enjoy the view out of exhaustion. How to connect the dots to get home? It is at such times that technicolor vision seems to turn on inside me: I start playing games like thinking the cold wind, like a dog tearing around me, is keeping me company, or that it's icy slaps are giving ice baths to my legs, cancelling out any pain.
The pain - or effort, fight, seems necessary not just integral to the human experience. Not allowing for it seems senseless. Plutarch, for example, advises we make peace with the fact that sometimes "human life in its genuine colours" is "but a shadow's dream" (as Pindar describes it). Acceptance is a way to move past it. My mind can accept that grey, which is real, and my will can then power through to reach colour.
As we are learning per aspera ad astra - how to reach our stars, we may be breathless in the attempt. What I got from watching the video of Zach was the idea that this is okay; that, and the sensation I was watching someone bringing colours to our shadows as we breathe our way out.
Brush: Ewansim via DeviantArt.