Old Shoes, Old Body
I am throwing away my running shoes today. I told myself that I could toss them after I had logged forty-mile weeks two times in a row, and I did it today. It is certainly time. I am easy on shoes, but they are old and battered. As a typical runner, I have a spreadsheet in which I record all my runs and important other tidbits, such as shoe purchases. I checked it to be sure: I bought these shoes on July 24, 2014. Asics Gel Nimbus, my go-to training shoes. I ran over 800 miles in the three months following their purchase, and then basically quit after two failed races. I have run very little in the interim. Even though they are coming up to three years old, my shoes have less than 1400 miles on them. This is a case where it is not the mileage, it is the years. It’s time to move on. Good riddance.
these shoes have served me well
My shoes are old, and my body is, too. And that is part of what has gotten me into my current predicament. On the inside I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in my 30s. Sometimes long distance runners can feel like they are invincible. Toughness is a virtue. Push on through the pain, we say. Relentless Forward Progress. Running is a wondrous sport in that a person can compete (and I mean compete) when one is way past prime. But an older body has limits, and in retrospect, I realize that I hit them hard in 2013. I had planned a big racing year. I had just turned 50, and in USA Track and Field this represents a whole new category for competition: Veteran. Also, I had learned about a 4 race 100-mile trail series called the Midwest Grand Slam that was right in my backyard, and I thought I might be able to win it. Earlier in the spring I had run the 50 mile trail national championships and the 100k road national championships. What’s an extra 4 100-mile trail races over the summer? More than I should have taken on, as it turns out.
The hardest physical thing I have ever done in my life was the first two races of the Midwest Grand Slam. The Kettle Moraine 100 and the Mohican 100 were two Saturday races in June with only one weekend in between. Less than two weeks to recover from one 100-mile trail race to the next. In addition, the Kettle Moraine was the first 100-mile race that I did without a crew. Beautiful course, but it was brutal on me, as was the drive back home alone to Ohio from Wisconsin the same day I finished the race. I had not run particularly well, and there were lots of people ahead of me on the leaderboard.
But the second race was in home territory. I had run the Mohican 100 in 2010 as my first 100-mile race, and I had run the 50-mile version as my first real ultra in 2009. I was familiar with almost every part of the 4-loop course. This is what made the difference. Out-of-staters expect Ohio to be flat cornfields. Maybe that is what all of the faster runners ahead of me were thinking. But Mohican State Park, and my part of Northeastern Ohio, is a beautiful up-and-down. We have no mountains, but the landscape is continuously rolling. It is more beautiful than non-Ohioans can imagine. To be honest, this is how I won the 2013 Midwest Grand Slam: most of the faster runners dropped out at Mohican because they had not expected the terrain.
I am the short guy in the far right
My wife and I are transplants to Ohio who have fallen in love with the landscape. I train in an idyllic countryside dotted with small farms (and wealthy enclaves), rolling hills, and forests. It is pretty no matter what the season. And we have four distinct seasons here, sometimes all in one day. Even though it is about Japan, reading Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty made me think about northeastern Ohio. I had first heard of Endo’s novel Silence through reading a review of Fujimura’s book, and it made sense to read both of them before seeing the Scorcese film. As a Christian, an artist, and a Japanese-American, it is no surprise that Silence has been so meaningful for him. Fujimura of course recognizes the importance of aesthetics in Japanese culture, and especially the importance of landscape. But he makes an important claim beyond this: in Japanese culture beauty is silence, and silence is beauty. In part this is because silence embraces ambiguity and mystery.
I was pleased to see that Fujimura included a discussion of my favorite Japanese painting, Shorin-zu byobu (Pine Trees) by Hasegawa Tohaku (d.1610). It is silence (and beauty) manifest in ink. Ambiguity and mystery, and yet fullness and presence. It was so much like my Saturday morning run. After a spring-like February, March has been winter again here. Several inches of snow fell last week, but by Saturday the temperatures had begun to climb a little. In Ohio this produces the most magical snow-fog. There was little traffic on the roads throughout my ten mile run, and the fog muffled what sound there was. I couldn’t see far into the forest alongside the road. Everything was shrouded in ambiguity and mystery. Just a lone runner, pushing through the mist. It was like I was inside Pine Trees.
Shorin-zu byobu (Pine Trees)
It seems to me that silence is more than the absence of sound. In some way silence is not like evil (the absence of good), or cold (the absence of heat) or darkness (the absence of light). Silence is more than a negation. Somehow silence is pregnant, or at least can be. Like the expectant pause before a note, it is a genuine part of the music. Perhaps this is because the very first thing in the cosmos was sound, when God spoke the worlds into existence. Maybe the universe still carries some imprint of that first silence which opened up into everything. There is mystery and ambiguity here which I can only reach toward but can’t grasp fully. But I would agree with Fujimura: silence is beauty, and full of the presence of God.
Ohio late spring fog
Perhaps it would be good to incorporate more ambiguity into my runs. Perhaps I should silence all my plans and spreadsheets and listen more to my body. Perhaps that would have stopped me from grinding to a halt in my running, like I did after all that racing in 2013. I can imagine something beautiful about just taking off for the day in running gear, across some beautiful landscape with no plans for where I would go or for how long. It sounds wonderful… but then my long-distance runner superego kicks in.
Next week I am going to run 50 miles. At least 50 miles. Don’t be a wimp. Lots of people with bodies a lot older than yours do this. How else are you going to get into shape?
Ok. Ambiguity later, precision discipline now. At least I still will have the silence of the run and the beauty of the Ohio landscape as companions. And the fullness of the presence of God in both. Soli deo gloria.
Third Sunday of Lent 8