After finishing my first 5k race and the most delicious pulled pork poutine that I have ever had. Photo by @erasingscott (at Slainte Irish Pub)
I run my first race tomorrow — a 5k. I am excited to find out my race pace — I have been running alone so much that it will be good to get a feel for how I place amongst others. I know it’s not about the numbers, but the numbers are the best way to show progress — and with several weeks of running behind me, some empirical proof of how far I’ve come will be nice.
But doing new things stresses me out, and the best method I have for dealing with that is learning as much as possible about what I’m getting into. I know the race course well, which helps immensely; I read about someone’s experiences running earlier races in the series and looked up the finish times for those earlier races; emailed the organizer to double-check something that wasn’t clear but pretty obvious; I got two coworkers to come and race with me so I could double-check all my uncertainties with them. So I’m ready to face it (I’m hardly even nervous now which is unusual), and more than ready to run the distance.
I ran 10k last Saturday. Every run is always hard — even the slow, easy ones, especially on the treadmill — but it’s the kind of hard where the pleasure of overcoming it far outweighs the discomfort. There are always flashes of ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’ but then I realize that I’ve been running for ten minutes and I’m not even out of breath and I’m finally getting warm and my legs are stronger than they have ever been in my life. The mental work is as hard as the physical work. As I get into longer distances (I’m hoping to get to 20k by the end of the year), I expect my brain to undergo the most changes. I think I’m prepared for the rest of it — I have read up so much on long-distance running now that it feels inevitable to aim for a half marathon next year and for a marathon the year after. If you can run for an hour it seems only a matter of equipment and safe training to go longer, but it’s the patience and strength to withstand the constant inner voice of doubt and fear that I most look forward to learning.
It’s been more than a week since I Became A Runner which I’m going to take as license to write about it. Co-workers peer-pressured me into signing up to run 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) in a three-person relay race next March. I went for a jog once about nine years ago and have otherwise never gotten close to Being A Runner, so this is a big deal for me. Saturday before last I started what might, with a giggle-snort, pass for training.
Running — and in general physical activity other than playing ultimate — has been on my mind for a while now, so although I refused the race several times before I finally accepted, when I did I threw myself into it. Downloaded RunKeeper, researched training plans, thought out my routes, considered my shoe & clothing & gear needs. Did my first run the next day, which involved more walking than I was prepared to accept, but I planned to keep it easy to start anyway and after more research decided that I was allowed to walk. With ultimate frisbee I’m used to many short bursts of sprinting with minimal sustained running during the games with lots of breaks between points and for subs, so it will take me a while to build the endurance for longer runs.
I am surprised at the side of myself that suddenly emerged once I committed to the race. As usual as soon as something gets my interest I become obsessed with it — so let’s hope I don’t lose interest before March — but I wasn’t expecting to be looking forward to running, to actually wanting to get out of bed early on the weekends to go for a run. Predictably, I have an intense interest in tracking my numbers and working to make them look good. I was planning to run four times a week at first but right now the so-called rest days are making me impatient for improvement so I’m thinking five or six days now. I haven’t pushed myself to the same level of sore as after the first ultimate game back in the spring after doing nothing all fall and winter, but I don’t want any injuries and I have lots of time before the race so I need to be kind to myself.
This interest in taking fitness more seriously has come and gone over the last several years. The idea isn’t necessarily to lose weight or feel better about my body — the usual reasons people start exercising — but to push myself beyond the limits I’ve been happy staying within for so long. I joined an ultimate tournament team earlier this year for the same reason — this was my 13th summer playing ultimate, but I’ve been more or less the same kind of player for the majority of those years. I’ve become a smarter and better player in some ways, but essentially I’ve been playing the same game. Then I was invited to play tournaments with a new team and now I’m learning to apply concepts I know in theory and have seen in practice but never took seriously in my own game. I’m learning to be a handler! And a short cutter! That’s a big change for me because I was so comfortable playing the mid-deep and deep cut that I lost all confidence in doing anything else, especially handling the disc. But now I’m figuring out new things and learning to be a better, more flexible, more responsive player. Seeing my own progess in ultimate over this summer also encouraged me to have faith that I could progress in other ways too. I signed up for the race before even going on my first run, which sounds like the last thing in the world I would do, but it felt like exactly the commitment I needed to make to get serious about it.
Instead of listening to music on my runs, I’ve been listening to audiobooks. My first choice is a pretty simple novel (The Cocktail Waitress by James Cain) which means parts of the narrative can disappear beneath RunKeeper’s audio cues without leaving me in the dark story-wise. I’m halfway through and have a Parker novel lined up once I’m finished, but after that I’m not sure. A lot of books won’t work because being detail-oriented I’ll miss too many undoubtedly crucial details while listening breathlessly for my latest average pace and negotiating with myself when to take my next walk break. I’m taking recommendations.
Work, paradoxically enough, is a comfort. One wakes up wanting to cut one’s throat; one goes to work, & in 15 minutes one wants to cut someone else’s — complete cure!
Philip Larkin in a letter to Winifred Arnott, 16 November 1976
Encountered on our morning hike today. I have no idea.
Earlier this evening on Lake Devine while drinking champagne and pretending to read.
Accomplishments of Aunts
"Nothing could blacken my name in Maiden Eggsford. I’m much too much the popular pet ever since I sang ‘Every Nice Girl Loves a Sailor’ at the village concert last year. I had them rolling in the aisles. Three encores, and so many bows that I got a crick in the back."
"Spare me the tale of your excesses," I said distantly.
"I wore a sailor suit."
"Please," I said, revolted.
From P. G. Wodehouse’s Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen
She sits with her back to the door and lately when someone knocks she turns around with a look of annoyance, of aggrievedness, of righteous anger, of cowering fear, of weary surrender. Her brow may be thunderous or pitiful but never smooth. In the act of turning she realizes what her face must look like and she does not care, but then she sees the faces of her visitors. Their reactions vary but regardless they induce guilt for the unattractive emotions she allowed herself to show, and as soon as she can but always too late she relaxes her expression. There is no reason to broadcast her unhealthy state of mind to the friendly people she works with and induce them to display concern, regret, fear, or defensiveness. She didn’t mean to cause them to have as little control over their own faces as she has, these days, over hers.
One day a visitor tells her that the very act of smiling, even without emotion — but with the appearance of sincerity, without that glint of desperation in her eye — will be enough to make herself think that she is happier than she really is. She thinks that this is ridiculous and that it is probably true. So she practices smiling alone at her computer monitor and, when she hears footsteps coming down the hallway or hears the dreaded knock on the door, she relaxes her face and brightens her eyes and draws her lips up at the corners, but she can’t tell what she feels.
When we visited with the family at my parents’ house today, I didn’t take a photo of my mom because I was too busy playing with the children. There are so many of them, and they are so adorable! So loveable! Their mothers, these women who gave birth (or not) and have devoted so much of their lives to their children, they are amazing. Having even one child must be as challenging as having six, like my mom did.
My mom is always the one to take photos at family gatherings and add them to her innumerable scrapbooks, and I am one of few she relies on to prove her own existence at these events, because I have the camera out almost as often as she does. Today I failed her. But I did bring her flowers — tulips that had not yet fully opened — although I’m not sure how that’s supposed to make up for it. Next time, Mom, next time. And thanks for making sure I turned into a decent human being.
I’ve been looking through some of the copious amounts of writing I did in the early 2000s and found the following in a pseudo-hidden diary entry from August 2001:
So, I’ve been thinking about writing a novel. It would be about a cup, a blue plastic cup who only ever sat on the computer desk beside the monitor because no one would put it away. The blue (please keep in mind that this is a light, slightly-darker-than-baby-blue kind of blue) plastic cup, however, managed to make a friend: the short pretty glass! The short pretty glass had also been left on the computer desk for an upsettingly long amount of time—the liquid in her bottom had already begun to harden!—and when they began to converse (silently, so the big scary curvy creature sitting at the computer desk [i.e., me] wouldn’t hear), they found that they had much more in common than just the dust they had collected during their really long stay on the desk. They did, eventually, fall in love. I would end the story by having them brought downstairs (not by me, however, no!) and being washed and then separated in their separate cupboards, separately. Or perhaps the short pretty glass will break somehow in the dishwater, while the blue plastic cup looks on in horror and despair, not being able to do anything to help her. The last paragraph could contain: the short pretty and broken glass, covered in suds and slippery water, is carried off and dumped unceremoniously into a garbage bag. The blue plastic cup contemplates suicide, but is horrified beyond all horror he has ever horrifyingly experienced at the realization that it’s not possible to kill himself.
I’m not sure whether, as a writer, I’ve changed much since then.
My little sister had her first baby last week. This is the sister I shared a room with for most of my childhood, the one I played Barbies with when I was too old, the one who didn’t kill me when I gave her dolls what I thought were very cool haircuts, the one I am still sometimes surprised to remember is no longer a fun, energetic teenager but is instead a fun, responsible adult with a partner, two step-kids, a gigantic dog, and a house. (Often when I think of my siblings — particularly younger siblings — I default to the time when I knew them best, before I moved out of my parents’ home, which is getting close to ten years ago now. Surely this must improve with age, not worsen.)
The baby is Callie, four weeks early, not even four pounds. People keep referring to her as a peanut, which is actually apt, so that I have come to think of her as a peanut too. One of her middle names is after our grandmother, Carol. Callie’s arrival was announced on Facebook, but I didn’t see the update until after my oldest sister called to share the news. There are new pictures of the peanut every day, and I am probably imagining that she is already getting bigger. All of my sisters have babies now. Everyone is so happy.
In the last week’s mornings at the bus stop I’ve noticed a woman who reads a book while walking down the street. I’m too far away to guess what it might be, but it’s a large book, hardcover. Not a textbook, I think — maybe a novel. At the corner she looks up to wait for the light to change, and she closes the book before she crosses the street, while she passes someone coming in the opposite direction. She wears shoes suited for spring, with skirts and bright colours, and her bag is yellow like mine. Something makes me think that she is calm and content and warm, and that something about the book makes her so.
I still wear a winter coat, scarf, and boots, because I wait for the bus in the shade and the spring wind is cold. There are others with bare legs and arms. I don’t read on the way to the bus stop — the sun is too bright when walking east, and I prefer to keep my hands in my pockets where I can hold my ticket and tighten my fists. But in the evening when it’s not too cold for bare hands, I can manage a few pages, slowly, a finger holding down each line. One moment, forgetting that I am still moving; another, looking ahead for obstacles.
I was ready not to understand any of this and to be bored but feel obliged to finish it, but no! It was fun actually. The tone was well balanced, managing the paradoxes that W. and Lars puzzle over — simultaneously hopeless and hopeful, feeling that your life is the worst but knowing that yours is so much better than others, being happy and miserable at the same time. The damp apartment was one of my favourite parts (in spite of being super gross), and it was better executed than I was expecting. I was relieved when Lars started including his own speech about halfway through the book, because I had started to wonder whether the narrator actually existed and if it was just W. writing about himself as someone else. (Still not entirely outside the realm of possibility.) I will definitely be moving on to Iyer’s follow-ups.
I read this book when I was ‘writing’ (i.e. not writing and instead thinking too much about) a piece that shared some traits with this book, and instead of feeling like throwing in the towel, I was actually educated and inspired, and — GUESS WHAT — I actually started writing almost as soon as I finished reading this. Amazing, right?
I totally concur with those who liken this to Withnail and I and Samuel Beckett, but it’s not as depressing at this makes it sound.
(My Goodreads review of Spurious by Lars Iyer)