Saturday, April 30, 2005

The middle path

Decisions are not really my forte. Somehow the gene that enables you to weigh up your options, clearly see the best course and then act on it, has passed me by. I usually find the good and the bad in everything and end up doing something in the middle. This is not ideal, as you do neither one thing nor the other and the end result is a place in purgatory as described by Dante:

Who are these that seem so crushed beneath their plight?
And he to me: These miserable ways
The forlorn spirits endure of those who spent
Life without infamy and without praise.
They are mingled with that caitiff regiment
Of the angels, who rebelled not, yet avowed
to God no Loyalty, on themselves intent.
Heaven chased them forth, lest their allegiance cloud
Its beauty, and the deep Hell refused them,
For, beside such, the sinner would be proud.

Now this is might be a bit of a dramatic response to something as trivial as not tying your shoelaces properly, but such small things are indicators of your level of care and attention.

I have two pairs of trainers: Asics DS trainers and Mizuno Wave Rider and have been running in them for ages being fairly happy but feeling that the fit was not quite right. I tied the laces of both to my standard level of tightness and never thought much about it. However after some experimentation I now find that both shoes are really good and the Asics in particular are fantastic. All that was needed was to loosen the laces of the Asics and really tighten the laces of the Mizuno’s around the forefoot. Magic and stupid at the same time.

The moral is clear – the middle way is not the right way.

More importantly, this applies to my training as well, where I tend to do my long slow runs too fast and my faster runs too slow (I think this might be a common error). It means you end up doing miles that have no clear benefit. I think eventually it grinds you down a bit and you lack snap in the legs.

I am now trying really hard to be disciplined and today felt comfortable running at a nice easy pace. The result is I feel relaxed and refreshed and ready to take on other forms of purgatory.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The mystery of running

In a previous post referred to a Scott Rosenberg blog about the craft of writing and linked it to running. In another blog he highlights a review by Cynthia Ozic about writing conveying a sense of mystery.

...There is no all-pervading Proustian madeleine in Lelyveld's workaday prose. Yet salted through this short work is the smarting of an unpretentious lamentation: ''If this were a novel,'' ''If I were using these events in a novel,'' and so on. Flickeringly, the writer appears to see what is missing; and what is missing is the intuitive, the metaphoric, the uncertain, the introspective with its untethered vagaries: in brief, the not-nailed-down. Consequently Lelyveld's memory loop becomes a memory hole, through which everything that is not factually retrievable escapes.

It must be true that the best writing conveys a sense of the mystery of its subject. The question is: is there anybody writing about running who is able to convey its mystery - why it is so compulsive? why it gives you a sense of being? why it has a structure and a sense of purpose? Most of what I read is very functional - very nailed-down. This is fine because we need to know the science of what we should be doing, what has the best effect and how we should organise ourselves. However it gives no sense of why you should be running and the way it can make you feel connected. I need that as well.

There are some examples: Long distance information by Julie Welch is wonderful book. It intertwines a memoir with running. It is both about taking up exercise late in life and the way it enabled her to come to terms with the ghosts of her childhood and her career. It does not directly address running but running is the catalyst and by showing this she says more than any number of how-to guides.

The other writer I come back to is George Sheehan. On why he runs he says:.

Through running I have learned what I can be and do. My body is now sensitive to the slightest change. It is particularly aware of any decline or decay. I can feel this lessening of the "me" that I have come to think of myself,,,Running has made this new me. Taken the raw material and honed it and delivered it back ready to do the work of a human being. I run so I do not lose the me I was yesterday and the me I might become tomorrow.

In this essay he recounts an encounter with a shingler. One of them is doing useful work, making something, the other is running but they are both 'doing good'. I love this because it leaves hanging in the air the idea that although your running does nothing to make the world a better place, it is still doing good.

Friday, April 22, 2005

My favourite run

This is where the running blog turns into a travelogue as I illustrate my favourite run

I had just joined the canal and taken out my camera when a lone runner appeared. I like the idea that the day started on theme.

Canals have their own atmosphere that is different to the places they pass through. The mixture of ramshackle buildings, trees and boats softens the view of the Kodak Building - an undistinguished (ie ugly) office block - that dominates the entrance to Hemel.

Of course there has to be a view from a lock. This is taken from a canal bridge, all of which are rather steep. I always walk down them to save my knees; I have no idea how the horses managed.

I always like the way that the willows reflect in the water - it reminds me of an imprssionist painting.

This piece of gentrification is on the site of the John Dickinson paper mill. In 1809 he invented a method of continuous paper manufacturer (as opposed to handmade sheets) and started production in what had previously been a flour mill here at Apsley. As the firm grew so did site and he also brought mills at nash Mills and Croxley. This site was closed down in 1999.

Canals are places of contemplation, whether it is fishing or just staring. In the background is the chimney of Nash Mills where paper is still produced - so not all links with the past are broken.

On the theme of significant industries that have moved away - this is the Ovaltine factory being demolished to make way for more houses. The first factory on this site opened in 1913, however it was replaced by this Art Deco building in 1929.

I always thought that Ovaltine was an English product (perhaps because I associate it with my childhood and milky drinks before bedtime). I only found out that it was Swiss when the factory closed and production moved back to Switzerland.

Ovaltine was originally developed as an energy drink and some of its advertising made outrageous claims. It was also the official energy drink of the 1948 Olympics. Hmmmm SIS or Ovaltine what will I choose for my long run?

Another link with the past is the great institution of allotments. All those years of people growing some of their own food.

In the lee of the M25 spur road there is a pond off the canal where there are coots, swans and bulrushes.

I will finish with this picture of a bridge for no other reason than I like the play of light reflected from the water. On bright, peaceful days I might just forget I am meant to be as serious runner and stop to stare at the gentle movement.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Back Again

Back again. It is amazing how easy it is to drift away from posting. Part of the reason is that I have not been running and not running makes me feel low.

The shin splints I had turned out to be a stress fracture - so it is just a matter of waiting until everything is 100% normal. But am getting a little paranoid, always testing how the leg feels - comparing it with the good leg and it is very difficult to be positive when you have lost confidence in the bodies ability to heal itself.

Nevertheless, slowly, slowly things have improved and I have a certain amount of faith that I will come back stronger. One of the reasons is that this break has forced me to look at my whole body and realise that running is not enough. There have to be other exercises to keep the body in balance.

I have been working on not only on strengthening all the muscle groups in the legs but also trying to increase flexibility (my hamstrings are pathetically short and tight). Core strength is not too bad but can always be improved, but shoulders are terribly tight - too much time in front of a computer.

I thus have a cunning plan to gradually introduce running into a more balanced exercise regime. I refuse to call it cross training it is far more sanguine than that.