Sunday, January 30, 2011

Changes: A Rebirth

The January mini-term just ended what had become a four-week intense training that seemed inspired by the notion of Renaissance: not only was I in pursuit of academic greatness (reading, writing, responding verbally to texts in class) but I also found myself fitting in my 85 weekly miles into the spaces not occupied by studying. I have also begun to sketch again. A strange time to do so, I know, but I was once-upon-a-time an Art Major in college (though I switched to English after my first semester) but something about winter's quality of light has got me hooked on doing simple sketches around campus and the town where I live. And so by Renaissance, to be more precise, I'm reminded of 16th Century French author, Rabelais, who conceived of a new kind of education-- one that involved both body and mind-- in a schedule that looks, well, curiously like what I've been up to as of late.

It's a peculiar work of literature: the protagonist-- if such a word can be used-- is a giant and therefore, needs a special sort of education. Many "tutors" are applied, but the ones who try the older methods of erudition (study and memorization for long hours with neglect to the physical body) do not work and Gargantua (what a great name for a Giant!) It's not until a tutor is found who balances reverence and care for the physical body (which is extended into curiosity about the physical world) and the mind that Gargantua begins to learn and flourish. He runs-- but not only for the sake of exercise, but to learn body mechanics. Card games are a vocation of pleasure, but also a method to teach concepts such as probability, for instance. An so, when I say I have passed four weeks à la Renaissance, this is what I mean: each moment fed into another, to create a life that isn't body or mind, or even body and mind, but mind-body/body-mind.

I have always been amazed at these short periods of great output: I've read over ten books, produced countless pages and two drawings in the space of four weeks. I have also run a total of 340 miles-- a good many (or three sessions each week) which were either on the track (interval/tempo work) or of a distance over 15 miles. And yet, I'm the stronger for it. I am ready for a solid spring season, in both body and mind.

Funny, today I just received an email notice that this day two years ago was the day I went to my first yoga practice. I remember that day well: I hadn't been able to run for weeks on my stress-fractured legs. My academics no longer interested me in quite the same way: I cried myself to sleep the night before and wanted my life to change and so I went to yoga. The space of two years is not much, I suppose, but I feel as though I've traversed some huge mountain pass and I'm looking back on my former self from this side where I am training consistently, strongly and healthfully. Even last year, at this moment, I was just coming back, running fifty weekly miles on a treadmill. The race I'll go to in a week was my first race in over a year: a 10k. At the time, I had seemed impossibly slow and a 40:20 an incredible feat, considering. This year, I think, my impressions will be vastly changed; and I'm hoping for a PR that's minutes faster.

But if this Renaissance month has taught me anything at all, it's that regeneration and rebirth come from some initial self which works and remolds and never accepts with resignation that life is an ever-changing thing. This week I will do what I can. And so I will in the weeks that follow. Life is a constant rebirth and I suppose as its shapers, we must recognize our power and its necessary humility. For me, this means to run, to write, to read, to draw. The good life is out there, just a handful of mountain passes away. I just have to keep on going strong.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And 2011 begins

I just signed up for the first race of 2011: a 10k race in Davis, California.

There's always this little surge of excitement when I register for a race. I felt it this morning as I sipped my tea, watching as the screen announced my presence on the race roster.

I'm feeling a particular excitement, however, because I know I am going to run this 10k faster than 40 minutes. I know because it's about time I did. I broke 40 minutes for the 10k mark in a half marathon AND in a marathon in the races I ran this past year; it's time I did it on its own as a way to begin the 2011 "season."

I'd like to place in the top 5 women as well; but you never know who's going to show up. That's the beauty of the sport. I'm just so thrilled that I will be there, on the starting line again of this running life.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A New Year, A New Me (already)

I feel hardcore sooner than I thought I would. I ran 82 miles last week and felt, surprisingly, healthy. My  next race on the horizon is a 10k in Davis, which is to say it's as flat as a pancake so I'm hoping to finally beat my three-year old PR of 40 minutes there.

My new coach has me running more miles, and running twice each day. I'm also back in school (for a mini-semester called Janterm) and I'm enrolled in a course that examines (and it seems, produces) short story collections. Think: Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles which is on our syllabus. 

But you know, I haven't taken a 9 o'clock class since I was an undergraduate, which is to say prior to 2004. So my routine has changed dramatically. What's funny is how my body has accepted these changes-- so far-- and my immediate goal of running a fast 10k do not seem like pie-in-the-sky-impossibilities. 

I wake each day in darkness-- around 6:00-6:30 or so-- in order to brew a cup of joe before I depart for my first run of the day. On days I have classes (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) these morning runs are short-- 6 miles at the most. Then I come home; I eat, shower and print out my homework for class. Class lasts until 11:45. I eat a bite and study for the window of time that remains between that and my afternoon training block. Mondays and Thursdays are when I am required to drive to Berkeley (it's not far distance-wise, but sometimes traffic can be a real pain in the ass) for a 5:30 pm speed session on the track. The other days I can run alone, or with the Saint Mary's College team if I need a more aggressive pace. 

Then it's home to clean up where I do more reading and writing I didn't get done in the afternoon, dinner to prepare and consume and bed before it gets too late. 

And than it begins all over again, the following day. My schedule will remain this way for four weeks. 

You know, it sounds a bit crazy but I actually like it. I have to focus on the little things, each and every day. My hydration, for instance, and my diet. I have to make sure I get enough sleep, I don't get too stressed out, and that in between study sessions, I allow myself some form of meditation (I love to take a short walk across campus to see the cute feral cats. One in particular with long black and white hair is my favorite. He reminds me of a character from a Victorian novel I read once, a kind uncle who always wore an impeccable suit, though it had become frayed with years of wear.) There will be sacrifices, I know. The other night it was my birthday, and it was the same routine for me: run twice. Read, study, write. Go to bed. (Which is fine because who would want to hang out with me on my birthday anyway? I should admit, though, that my lovely professor-- she's this adorable and extremely intelligent emeritus who lives in Berkeley-- invited me to go to dinner with her. I couldn't though-- I'm much too strange. But what a nice offer!)

One of my favorite thoughts comes from French actress Isabelle Huppert who said that there are tides in life, just as there are in the ocean. Sometimes life offers you everything, and you just have to take it all in, and do as much as you can. You must do this because there will be other times--your low tides--when there is not so much to do or to produce and it's easy to get depressed. I think I'm on a low tide right now-- low, in the sense that I am relatively far from any races and my social life has all but disappeared. Low, too, because the words aren't coming very easily right now; it's a struggle to write. But it will all come round again, like the cadence of the tide. And so, it's another 80-something mile week with a track session tonight. What a life I lead! I feel so incredibly lucky, despite the lows or perhaps because of them.