huff on high

He can never set foot in the bronze heavens; but whatever splendor we mortals can attain, he reaches the limit of that voyage. Neither by ship nor on foot could you find the marvellous road to the meeting-place of the Hyperboreans   (Pindar Pythian 10)
The Hyperboreans lived beyond the north wind. Pindar's lines seem to take us to that mythical place: the "limit of the voyage" that can be reached "neither by ship nor foot" is the road that reaches the meeting place of the Hyperboreans - a road through words that follows the wind.
I felt like I was on one such road on yesterday's run. It is really quite something to have a meaningful interaction with something for two hours that is invisible! It was so exhausting, I could not run all the way home, which is a foreign experience. So I read up about that wind that exerted my breath, aided by the Beaufort Scale that describes winds in words of their effects - and realised I had been out in gale force gusts (>80km/hr - actually, a belated forecast told me so).
The poetic moment was watching a kiteboarder reel in those forces into dance, just like what Plato wrote in Laws about ideal physical activity "useful both in peace and war alike": agility and beauty ... securing for the various parts and members of the body the proper degree of flexibility and extension and bestowing also the rhythmical motion. 
Of course, I was not poetic and am still not rhythmical, and after contending with that wind began to trundle more than glide. [I have temporarily given up on landing on my forefoot because of Pain, and am focusing on arm swing because Google says footstrike should follow with good arm swing (e.g. here).] In other words, I still don't know what I am doing and am sure glad Plato can't see me!
Sometimes it is Pindar more than Plato who soothes me.
But the winds are changeable that blow on high. The prosperity of men does not stay secure for long, when it follows weighing upon them in abundance. I will be small when my fortunes are small, great when they are great. I will honor in my mind the fortune that attends me from day to day, tending it to the best of my ability. (Pindar Pythian 3)
The wind is compared to prosperity[1]: prosperity is like a wind, and when it comes, the wise man knows how to make use of it (rather like the kiteboarder!) Also in those lines, though, is space for a small person with small [running - and misc.!] fortunes like me.
I am also comforted by Pindar in another sense: he uses words to make up for what natural law makes impossible[1] (just as we travel to meet the Hyperboreans in Pythian 10). That is what he has in his ability. I do not know if running is within my ability. Or writing, for that matter! But I am consoled with the knowledge that I do tend to fortune "to the best of my ability".
In case anyone is interested in the progress of my self-knowledge as runner, a friend filmed me on Sunday, and I saw my right arm flapping out a little with every stride, a little like I was putting on a dainty coat. Yes, because of course when I go running, I am aiming to fly to meet the Hyperboreans, to find their always-present Muses. (You can find those Muses here.)
[1] Reading of Pindar informed by the late David C. Young's Three Odes of Pindar.

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running biography

This post is a continuation of yesterday's pity party. So, here's what gets to go into the biography of my life based on today's experience, still with calves that don't know me and running like an experimental dancer who does not understand what it means to go "straight forward", possibly for abstruse reasons. But as I got around twenty minutes into the run I took, I suddenly found my very own body vying to run with a forefoot strike, despite all the pain, less while in motion. The coach was right, and also right that the pain doesn't seem like it will be hanging around. Which is not to say that I am walking normally now the muscles have cooled down, just that it seems like that kind of pain of adaptation.
In addition to making these experiments on today's run, I also added in a metronome, which I set to 173BPM to start with - as suggested by a Sage Canaday and Sandi Nypaver video. I was actually looking to avenge myself knowing that I have read that not all coaches insist on the forefoot strike - Sage and Sandi recommend that more important than footstrike is cadence.
It can feel so ridiculous to keep adjusting arm swing (by which I mean, stop 'chicken wing positioning' my arms) and also to have a Metronome Beat playing as one runs in public places, but as of today, I am determined to try to improve and will be using all my running time to this end - even when I am in the city center. Although it truly seems to me that the Low-Fi Rhythm from no boom box but cell phone was a small price to pay for better running: it occurred to me that previously I might have been running to a more Mediterranean rhtythm (note, which also defies the straight line).
 

But most important of all, I think today I got over myself - and that shroud of shame I felt when someone commented on my signature running style (RIP soon?!) That became less important because nothing overcomes feelings of inadequacy better than crawling to improve. I do not fear being ridiculed if I am at least making the attempt.
And yesterday I was thinking of that Hahn quote about disabilities being opportunities. Today, one such opportunity was the moment I got over my bruised ego. So what if I looked stupid? I was having fun in that special way only diversions that absorb the mind as well can bring, outside in the fresh air, etc. Also, as pointed out in a super nifty Classical Wisdom Weekly post, "ego is our enemy". Sometimes it is nice to have a little skirmish with the ego, and defeat it.
And speaking of character (developing innate strength to overcome innate weakness) and biographies and reading, this post was inspired by a passage from one of my favourite (pet favourite) Victorian novels, The Caxtons. In this passage, reading biographies is prescribed for sadness, and as I reread it I was thinking how trying to write a better biography of one's own life can also have a similar effect. As Hahn also said, grow to be what you are. This is done, in part, by resolving to tackle weakness.
...when some one sorrow, that  is yet reparable, gets hold of your mind like a monomania — when  you think, because heaven has denied you this or that, on which  you had set your heart, that all your life must be a blank — oh ! then  diet yourself well on biography — the biography of good and great  men. See how little a space one sorrow really makes in life. See  scarce a page, perhaps, given to some grief similar to your own ;  and how triumphantly the life sails on beyond it ! You thought the wing was broken ! — Tut — tut — it was but a bruised feather ! See what life leaves behind it when all is done ! — a summary of positive  facts far out of the region of sorrow and suffering, linking themselves with the being of the world. Yes, biography is the medicine here.
 
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writing running wrongs

If I had been running like a gazelle, I would not have been told to run on my toes (forefoot strike). With a blow to the ego, I found out that I run like a marionette. Actually, the coach lacked the poetic turn of phrase, I offer it now. As I ran off after seeing his expression - the brave man having volunteered to watch me run a portion of the track - the words that came to me were actually less forgiving: "runs like a handicapped chicken" would perhaps be the most apt description. He trains national teams, and then there are runners like me.
My quads hurt so much now that I cannot walk down stairs without hanging on the banister. This evening  a friend recommended not turmeric but Mg tablets - and I am now singing the praises of minerals.
This is the first time in 15 months of running that I question what on earth I am doing. The pain I felt at the beginning was very real, there were actually weeks I could not squat, but I was on a quest at that time to overcome circumstantial defeat by setting my own further goals. And the mission remains, but it is kind of defeating to know now that when I venture out I am taking my inconsistently cartoonish movements on public display. Ignorance is bliss!
It is defeating to know that on top of the sacrifice, sacrifice is added. But I should have seen it coming: I was once called "marionette" when I began training capoeira by a Russian neurologist. My unique moves did not stop him and our most promising capoerista from becoming my friends, though. I will be thinking of them as my shields as I return to running through the city center.
"Your disability is your opportunity" - Kurt Hahn (Victorian educator, father of Outward Bound survival camps).
Through the body, to the soul. The soul: that invisible category that some might say does not exist, but that comes out precisely through the effort of overcoming disability. It becomes apparent against the backdrop of the threat of quitting. Some people seem lucky and are never exposed in this way: protected by natural talent or not moving at all. I feel like I have never been protected by that luck, always exposed as the ugly duckling, but all I have to give back to life is not the perfect performance but one hell of an effort. I ran a marathon like a duck! Maybe there's a story there. (Cont'd...)

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the difficult starts

There is an old Latin proverb (omne initium est difficile) that means beginnings are difficult. I've just reached the proverbial hill but I still feel like I am a beginner in most everything, because for most of my life, I've been thrown in the middle of things: growing up as an expat (not where I live now), being put in different schools every few years across continents, changing careers three times, and as a transplant (as opposed to a scion, or cutting - which is removed with a plan, which is given space and nourishment in the new roots) have often felt the lack of mentorship - which means figuring things out as best I can on my own. That's why I think beginnings are difficult: if we aren't shown the steps, we waste a lot of energy and time along the way. I try to be mindful of this when I teach but I think that the system itself is far from ideal because it doesn't cater to individual attention: we're all beginning from different places, with different tool sets or lack thereof.
Maybe part of why I began to run again was to experience this "beginning" in a controlled way: I am choosing this beginning, as opposed to those dictated by circumstance or choices from when I was younger and did not embody the Delphic charioteer (he has emotions, but he is reigning them in). By retracing the steps that constitute beginning by running, I feel like I am able to experience self-control.
It is said that we should embrace change, which is another way of saying "a beginning". But I think that does not account for the realities of staying the courses that we choose. Just because life can seem chaotic does not mean to me that I will become like a jellyfish and go with the tide. To the contrary, it takes courage to surface from that tide and attempt to take a stand, whether for a dream job, a wish, a love, or even those old-fashioned things called ideals. 
One such ideal is: it is not true that every man has his price. It is possible to value oneself more than selling one's words to sell things one wouldn't agree to be paid to have (junk). It is hard to stay the course if it is a long term course. This is why I dream of distance running: could it be true that we can go through those paces all within a day or two? That is amazing! 
The long term course - so now I can't speak of running, my longest runs (besides my one marathon) are 22.36 miles, means unforeseeable circumstances down the road, cumulative exhaustion - which is a real thing in the daily grind, the need to dig deep and find motivation when even the noblest jobs seem pointless, whether because of low pay, toxic workplaces, apathetic milieus. But the beginning to that long term course is no easier. At this time in my running, after only 15 months, I still don't know if it is "OK" to half mileage for a week when work gets too much. I tried it once and went back to regular mileage with no problem - but the mental anguish of feeling like a failure is terrible. It'd be great to have an experienced mentor to help guide that.
Beginnings without guidance are trial and error, and to go through those paces takes time. I think for this reason, some of us beginner runners hold on to our mileage logs so dearly, and possibly too obsessively, because it's the only way to get from beginner to somewhere else. And why any unplanned off days feel like the end of the world.

Once upon a time, when Barnes and Noble was everywhere, I picked up Sports Training Principles by Frank Dick because it was written so simply and I have always wondered about body mechanics, and as I was skimming through it the other day looking for insight, any insight to help, I came across this: 
It makes sense for the athlete to attribute failure to an unstable cause, such as luck or lane draw, as this implies that the result may not be repeated. If, on the other hand, the athlete attributes the failure to a stable cause, such as lack of necessary skill, then this is in part predicting future failure. The coach can encourage the athlete to attribute failure to causes such as lack of commitment, using unstable causes which the athlete can change next time.
Lack of commitment as motivation. Amen. Sometimes, when I want to be a pain in the neck to myself, I analyse my day and think of all the places where I could have been more efficient with my time - even where I could have been "thinking better", e.g. more positively and creatively in problem solving - or at least funnier while struggling. Lack of commitment has many guises.
And it reminds us that we are not on the easy road. There are no external excuses on this road. This is what I love about beginning phases and also find so excrutiating: there is greater temptation for outer excuses in beginnings. There is temptation for them later, too, but not to the same degree because by then, some things have been mastered. I often think of differentitating masters from novices in this respect: only the latter has greater need of external excuses.

I make them especially when I am tired - and it is funny that so many runners not only get tired from running but are often overachievers in whichever respects in other fields of life. There are many excuse pitfalls: the stakes are raised with the increased challenge.

Who's got it easy. Everyone is taking up whatever they can in the way they know how. In this difficulty, though, in the beginning it is hard to know what we can take up realistically, over time. 
I remember a few years back, looking back on where my life choices had led me and feeling like I had led myself to a precipice. I wasn't sure how I was going to get over that feeling. It was just too much: to live abroad for so long, in an ever-dwindling professional field, one lacks contacts to switch jobs and also, one's diverse professional knowledge from before has become outdated. I realised the best I could do was to keep pursuing the path I was already on, in good faith. 
And now I feel the same way about running: I am half terrified at how far I've pushed myself, but I feel so much better about myself and even my humble lifestyle now that to stop, or even cut back, would literally mean removing the views that have renewed me (you cannot be frustrated at life when you are looking at a swan) and also the distance I feel like I have put between myself and my problems. Whenever I feel I am entering a toxic situation at work, I remember those miles and that space I feel in my mind - what is it? maybe feeling stronger, knowing I can reach the "away-from-here" - and I don't fall into as many traps. They can say what they like about what they like! It looks like it involves me, but it is their story, their movie they are projecting. Projections are attempts to draw us in, but if we don't engage, we are just watching a super bad film. Even if they are calling our name. (Sometimes, some colleagues are particularly unhappy - but our role in life extends beyond their testimony.)
So, I feel overwhelmed about running at this time, but ironically have cut my mileage in half this week and I don't know why and feel terrible about it - but a lot is going on, too. Preparing for a new semester, so drawing up those outlines, still finishing translating a work on the history of a discipline, the external excuses go on. But it is also this week that I decided to ask my trainer friend for help - so, as all of us say who are still in the middle of beginnings: to be continued...



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arcane trails

Another of the reasons I wanted to start this blog is to document the variety of disappointments running brings. That probably sounds bleak, but disappointment is a fact of life, and I think part of living well means learning to cope with disappointment.
Learning is a word I try not to use lightly. In my mind it is related to philosophy, which gave rise to the sciences and had valuable words for the arts. Classical philosophy had for its aim the good life and contains plenty of values we equate today with character building. (The things that character builds on a run - "call for comments"! - I quote irunfar, which ends posts that way, love that.)
That philosophy, and approach to life, was still very much practiced by Victorian educators and thinkers. One of my favourites, who founded what is today the outdoor survival camp Outward Bound, Kurt Hahn, wrote: "Education must enable young people to effect what they have recognized to be right, despite hardships, despite dangers, despite inner skepticism, despite boredom, and despite mockery from the world..."
I like to think that running is my training camp in miniature for all of that: training me to tolerate hardship, inner skepticism (and mockery from the world for us beginner runners whose form might still not be all that!)
But the kinds of hardships encountered in running - even in my 15-month return to it this time - includes such a variety of sources for something that is so curiously still rewarding. Without stating the obvious ones, I'll just go straight to my recent disappointment.
I discovered a sky running club where I live and called up, explaining my (non) experience and the gear I don't have, and was invited to sign up for a mountain race, which is what I had been so hoping my summer training might lead me to. But it turns out that the trails are technical and inclement weather looms, and I have now been advised against going for lack of gear and experience. I am disappointed - though that disappointment is actually the unfounded fear that I won't be able to keep up the same volume of training at a later period in life. I had wanted to at least try real mountain trails now. I don't know how else to work my way into that kind of running except by jumping straight in. So much of it seems arcane, looking in from the outside.
Recent ultra posts also confirmed to me that there is a culture, and I wonder at it. For example, much is said against bragging, but what of the baby-steps pride we beginners feel when we consistently hit 60-mile weeks? With two taxing jobs, that can seem like a feat.
Also, how can a person be initiated into that culture - but in a smart way, how does one even meet trail runners if one lives an hour from the mountains? Especially as I am an expat where I live, I would not feel very safe running around unknown forest paths on my own.
But I long to be on the trails because of missing nature: what just a few views can do to refresh the mind - how thinking back to being a pygmy among trees brings feelings of safety, awe, and hope in growth - inspiring otherwise darker moments. I also long to start to try for longer distances, because I feel that I have the stamina for that kind of thing, but I also know sometimes I am wrong about myself, and I would like to know. Gnothi seauton, know thyself - was the message outside the temple at Delphi.
"Grow to be what you are" is another one of Kurt Hahn's maxims. I really hope that I will get to grow over unpaved distance, but at the moment, I am still looking for my inroad to that out.

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two-cent running tips

After I started running, a few of my friends started running, too, but went about it totally differently. Soon, I was being told, suggestively, how great learning to land on the forefoot was, or such things. All that, however, by runners going far shorter distances, and with even less time spent running than me. I felt so glad to have read in Runner's World or Running Competitor - both great regular reads in early months of running - that it is possible for different people to have different running styles and respond differently to given techniques. (Those magazines do not always spread that message; sometimes, they rather obviously promote one style over another.) Anyway, my mentality was that I was going quite far quite fast injury free, so since nothing was broke, I wouldn't fix it. While I definitely need to improve my form, I still maintain my overall approach that we must all listen to our own bodies and try to figure out what works for us. My friend, for example, is a natural sprinter. I hate sprinting and love running as far as I can - what brings me joy, and so what seems to also give me physical strength, is to go "to those lengths".
So, obviously, these running "tips" are subjective.
These warm-ups saved me in winter (by that I mean, I had developed a slight pain in my hip flexors that went away almost immediately after beginning my runs with these warm-ups, which I do regularly now):
15-Minutes a Day to Stop Getting Injured at Marathon Nation.
I personally found that stretching after running often irritated my joints, so I stopped doing them, and now my body recovers on its own (by that I mean: flexibility returns shortly). By contrast, Haruki Murakami writes in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running that he does not warm-up but must do stretches after runs.
I didn't eat after runs (I almost always ran 11 miles a few times weekly, now 15) but did not notice much muscle growth. At some point, I intuited I needed the fueling afterward (I think I began to feel weak), and discovered hemp seed powder and super green mix - those powdered algae, seeds, etc. to be added to juice which, while certainly not as good as fresh green leaves and protein, is the only thing I can stomach and is easy enough for consistent recovery fueling. I eat a proper meal about two hours later. I also find I do not get hungry on runs, but I know some people need to eat.
When it was really hot, I tried an electrolyte powder, but found it made me queasy, so in summer I add a little lemon and Himalayan salt and honey to my water, and that is fine.
Because I live in a "transitional" country, I do not have a large selection to choose from; the ubiquitous brand here is Nike, but there are nearby countries with the French chain Decathlon, which is like the IKEA for sports. Some of their apparel has proved superior to the Nike apparel - though I need to explain that I have become quite the Nike fan, especially of the LunarGlide shoes, which I think are great beginner's trainers, because they are like having plush wall-to-wall carpet on your feet, and are probably forgiving of poor form (I ran a slow, first marathon after seven month's running, with no injuries in them).
I now wear Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33 - and was really afraid I'd committed to the wrong pair, but so far so good.
Summer socks I got from H&M, but winter ones are Nike, and they compress on the soles. The Kalenji (Decathlon's running line) socks were terrible.
Buffs: great for summer and months surrounding it because when it is really hot, it is great to get a Buff wet and wear it for cooling; in cooler months, it is great to wear in the mornings as a turtle neck, and use as a wrist/sweat band when it gets hot. It is not great in winter, when it can freeze like cardboard!
In summer, I wear Nike shorts and a thin Nike tee or vest. When it gets a bit colder, the shorts with a super thin Nike tank.
In autumn/fall: possibly the shorts with a long-sleeved Nike tee (that seems to block out wind) with thumbholes and a buff - but mostly, tights, one or two long-sleeved Nike tees with thumbholes, and maybe a buff or hat.
In winter: tights with brushed whatever on the inside (is that called the fleece effect, not sure) or Nike elements tights that are slightly water and windproof (here is where Kalenji is better - the fleecy tights were so much cheaper and as warm and dry as the Nike ones). The super thin Nike tank, the two Nike autumn technical tees and the Nike Aeroloft vest. Hat, gloves, neck baraclava if needed. I did not get winter trainers, I remember being so afraid that I would slip or that cold wind would blow in the summer LunarGlides (there are winter ones), but they were fantastic for city running, even in snow and a bit of ice.
I have a great Kalenji rain jacket (I don't know when I'd ever be able to afford a Nike one) that is good for cold, winter rain when needed.
My only problem is not having a lighter rain jacket for fall rain: I would recommend one. What I wear is the Nike Elements Hoodie, which is water resistant, but of course gets soaked in downpours.
Finally, I do have one item I qualify as gear: an OrangeMud handheld, which I think is the greatest. Since I live in said transitional country, there is no such running gear here, or if so, rarely and at prohibitively high prices, so I had to order one - and thus did hours of research to make sure the choice would be right. The OrangeMud one did not disappoint and why I've linked to it in the sidebar. It is super easy to fill and the thick band allows it to be 'worn' in more than one way - also, grooves on the bottle make it super comfortable even to carry by its top. I write this as a person who seriously doubted they could ever carry a handheld without their arms dropping off (before I knew what ultras were, which are now my goal - and which require such gear far more than 20 mile runs or marathons!) I hope this section is a to be continued...



why my running spills onto the page: about this blog

I have only been running for a year, fifteen months to be exact. Ten months into it, I ran a marathon, because I hate sprinting and love running far. Before that, I ran during three separate phases of life: as a journalist in Asia; when I worked my way through college; during high school to escape from campus. Back then, I tried to play soccer, and the coach would point to me and say to my team mates: Look at her, she is a terrible player, but tries harder than all of you. I am pretty sure I run as terribly.
Sometimes I feel shy when I run through the part of the city that needs crossing to get to a beautiful, very long stretch of park. There were days this summer when I felt like - probably due to overtraining - I was flapping my arms a little, or doing the Snoopy happy dance. But something draws me to those longer distances: sometimes, so much frustration with life that it takes that long to unwind those inarticulate scribbles behind me; sometimes, a wish to see certain of those views which only exist that far away; sometimes (when I am especially tired) because I tell myself that by training long, I will be in enough shape to be able to take a scenic mountain run, should my wish be answered and I suddenly find the company.
And the money to buy trail shoes. If only running were free. I have had a really hard time figuring that out of late: how to survive on minimal apparel in winter, for example. Since I like apparel that works, I do invest to some degree but that means - and I wonder how many people will stop reading after I write this - handwashing the clothes after each run, so they are fresh and dry the next day. Am I the only one? I decided to start this blog in part in a quest to find out, and also to write down what I have learned.
There's a famous platitude by Seneca, docendo discimus - by teaching, we learn. I hope I will also learn through this blog.
But on a final note, speaking of Seneca - so also stoicism, a few years back, I picked up Epictetus' Enchiridion and was amazed at the relevance of the very practical advice, such as, do not be upset over eating your lettuce for supper as others feast if you were not willing to pay the price of obsequiousness to be part of that company (I paraphrase). I wondered to myself many times, returning to that work ever since, how to get the strength to put those lessons into practice, long term. I feel like running is giving me that endurance: by running distance, not only do I put distance between myself and my problems, but I find that by removing myself in that way, I am less emotionally "tied" to challenging aspects of the workplace.
It has been pointed out before that there must have been a philosophical reason why Chrysippus, the father of stoicism, was a runner. How's that for food for thought, to add to that lettuce!


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