Tuesday, January 22

Identity, Whitman and the Weather Mark

An interesting thought came in the comments to the last post:

If you include “runner” when defining yourself, then skipping runs is a personal failure that adds to your depression.
Accepting as a moot point that being "burnt out" and being depressed may not be precisely the same thing (one can definitely be a symptom of the the other), I'm curious about the question of self-identification.

I usually think of myself as a runner, but my other physical activities also define me. In fact, sailing and yoga have much stronger impacts on my mood. At least part of that is simply that being in and on the water calms me in a way that has very little to do with what I've actually been doing. It's easier to think of myself as a runner than as a sailor or a a devotee of yoga, perhaps because I've run, off and on, for years longer than I've sailed or done yoga, but also because I tend to think of running as less skill-based--I can be a slow runner and yet be a runner.

My coworkers seem to identify me as a runner. When I see them after an extended absence, they ask if I'm still running. This is a reflection not of my conversation, which is far more likely to include stories of my latest exploits on the high seas (or Newport Harbor) than tales of my latest runs, but rather an indication that people remember my fund-raising efforts more than all other conversations put together. (Several years in a row, I ran in the Revlon Run-Walk for Women, raising money to help fight breast and ovarian cancer.) I do identify myself as someone working to end cancer.

Which is all to say that I don't necessarily feel that it's a failure to miss a run. Often my mileage is less than I would like at the end of a week, but to have run more would have meant lifting fewer weights, doing fewer yoga sessions, or spending less time on the water. I only feel like I've failed if I've skipped my running for a bad reason, or no reason at all.

I feel a little bit bad that I didn't run this holiday weekend, for instance. I went on a short, two-mile run once I got to Las Vegas on Thursday evening, instead of doing a long run here Thursday morning. That particular decision was inspired by the realization that a long run would have me finishing my roadtrip well after dark, and the road from L.A. to Vegas is not known for its sensible drivers--I'd rather drive in the day with fewer drivers, with a lower proportion of drunk and crazy drivers. (It was a wise decision--Today, I left along with the rest of the three-day weekend partiers, and had a few white-knuckle moments.) Still, missing a long run because of bad planning isn't very satisfactory.

But I don't know. Missing runs, lately, has made me actually MISS them--I look at my log book and want to write in more miles. I look at my new, mud-bespattered and blood-stained shoes and wonder what disaster could have befallen them if I'd taken them out today. I do miss it when I don't get out there.

It's a little like when I graduated from college and decided to take some time off before grad school--many people warned me that I would never get back to it. It's always possible that if I stop running this week, I won't run again for weeks and weeks. I did go to grad school. I've always returned to running. Maybe it is a personal failure to be an inconsistent runner... it certainly doesn't do much for PRs. It is, however, the kind of runner I have been since the age of ten.

To bring in a sailing metaphor, sometimes sticking to the training plan you've laid out for yourself is like trying to sail directly into the wind: it's just not working for whatever reasons, whether they're scheduling conflicts or inspiration. Once you've pointed your bow directly into the wind for too long, if that wind is too strong, not only will you not be moving forward, but you'll start drifting backwards. To keep control and to make progress toward your upwind goal, you have to fall off a little--point the boat 45 degrees off the wind and pull in the sails. And then, after some amount of time or distance, you tack the boat 90 degrees, to 45 degrees off the wind in the other direction.

Zig-zagging along might look like a waste of time and energy. Sometimes, though, it's the only way to make any progress: to aim away from the goal for a little while. There are also times when you find that, in order to keep your momentum (and thus maximum control over the boat), you have to actually steer directly at the obstacle that you very much hope not to hit, until you can safely tack away from it.

I am a runner. I am not always a runner.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself.
I am not the first:

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft;
The carpenter dresses his plank—the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp;
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner;
The pilot seizes the king-pin—he heaves down with a strong arm;
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat—lance and harpoon are ready;
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches;
The deacons are ordain’d with cross’d hands at the altar;
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel;
The farmer stops by the bars, as he walks on a First-day loafe, and looks at the oats and rye;
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum, a confirm’d case,
(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother’s bed-room;)
The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case,
He turns his quid of tobacco, while his eyes blurr with the manuscript;
The malform’d limbs are tied to the surgeon's table,
What is removed drops horribly in a pail;
The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand—the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove;
The machinist rolls up his sleeves—the policeman travels his beat—the gate-keeper marks who pass;
The young fellow drives the express-wagon—(I love him, though I do not know him;)
The half-breed straps on his light boots to complete in the race;
The western turkey-shooting draws old and young—some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs,
Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece;
The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee;
As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle;
The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the dancers bow to each other;
The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof’d garret, and harks to the musical rain;
The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron;
The squaw, wrapt in her yellow-hemm’d cloth, is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale;
The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways;
As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat, the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers;
The young sister holds out the skein, while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots;
The one-year wife is recovering and happy, having a week ago borne her first child;
The clean-hair’d Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine, or in the factory or mill;
The nine months’ gone is in the parturition chamber, her faintness and pains are advancing;
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer—the reporter’s lead flies swiftly over the note-book—the sign-painter is lettering with red and gold;
The canal boy trots on the tow-path—the book-keeper counts at his desk—the shoemaker waxes his thread;
The conductor beats time for the band, and all the performers follow him;
The child is baptized—the convert is making his first professions;
The regatta is spread on the bay—the race is begun--how the white sails sparkle!
The drover, watching his drove, sings out to them that would stray;
The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent;)
The camera and plate are prepared, the lady must sit for her daguerreotype;
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly;
The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open’d lips;
The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck;
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other;
(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths, nor jeer you;)
The President, holding a cabinet council, is surrounded by the Great Secretaries;
On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms;
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold;
The Missourian crosses the plains, toting his wares and his cattle;
As the fare-collector goes through the train, he gives notice by the jingling of loose change;
The floor-men are laying the floor—the tinners are tinning the roof—the masons are calling for mortar;
In single file, each shouldering his hod, pass onward the laborers;
Seasons pursuing each other, the indescribable crowd is gather’d—it is the Fourth of
Seventh month
—(What salutes of cannon and small arms!)
Seasons pursuing each other, the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground;
Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface;
The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe;
Flatboatmen make fast, towards dusk, near the cottonwood or pekan-trees;
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river, or through those drain’d by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansaw;
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahoochee or Altamahaw;
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grandsons around them;
In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day’s sport;
The city sleeps, and the country sleeps;
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time;
The old husband sleeps by his wife, and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them;
And such as it is to be of these, more or less, I am.

--from Leaves of Grass


Blogger bl said...

I think you can only miss a run if you've scheduled a run. Otherwise, you just don't go running.

And right now, I don't have a schedule. But I'm OK with that.

When the weather gets nicer and I've washed some clothes, I'll work up a training plan for a race I want to do well in.

And I'll do things that I think are fun. Maybe I'll run and maybe I won't.

I really want to go to Busiek or Sac River trails. Busiek though is much more extreme. Next Tuesday morning is open now if anyone wants to join me.

January 22, 2008 8:56 AM  

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