Monday, July 2, 2012

Running Alone

I expected to be beaten by a 16-year-old at this year's EYS 5k. My prediction was not technically accurate: as I was beaten by two 16-year-olds. No respect.

Still, I went in confident I had a shot at personal best, never mind that the temperature was 88F. We lined up, I took a deep one, and we were off. As expected, about 25 people jumped in front of me at "Go." I waded through the mass of runners (1), and within 3 minutes, I was by myself. And that's how I remained: alone.

We were an earnest bunch, if nothing else.
It was my slowest time this Spring, and a lesson in running alone, which, in racing, is the kiss of death. You want to be in a pack, taking turns pushing the pace, sharing the pain. If you get lost in no man's land (what runners call "getting gapped"), you're more or less outta luck.

Jeff Edmonds contrasts track and road racing:
In track, you don't get to do what you want to do. You have to race the pace that is set. More than that: you have to make yourself a part of this barely formed organism that is tightly hurtling itself around this little track...
In a road race, you make adjustments off the pace, especially in a podunk road race where there is no such thing as a pack, just a few scattered skinny guys you know and train with all the time...You aren't a part of a loosely-bound organism skittering tightly around a 280 meter oval. You are a normal human being, and you think like one (2)
The Christian Church has emphasized the unity of the organism, the Body since her beginning (4). Kallistos Ware states, "The Church is not an organization, company or corporation, but rather an organism, a body, a divine-human...body.”
Hard as it is for me, if I want to live within this organism, the Body, to share fully in its life, I don't always "get to do what I want to do." Edmonds continues:
Thinking, in the middle of a track race, is a HUGE mistake. It only separates you from the organism. [Side note, don't be confused: Thinking is awesome at the end of the race, if you can still muster it, because that's when the organism must be separated--and better that you do the separating.].
So, there is that tension, between thinking and non-thinking, between individualism and herdism. Too much of one, and you separate yourself and are lost, too much of the other and you're fused, swallowed, and you disappear. And so, Oliver Clement, notes:

Christian of its very nature something that ‘we’ share, our self-awareness being awakened by our sense of being in communion with others. Never forget that this ‘we’ is not an undifferentiated mass, that it has nothing to do with collective hysteria. It exists always by personal encounter; it is my neighbour’s face, innumerable certainly, but every time a face. The Christian ‘we’ reflects the Trinity...the Eastern liturgies...remind us that the Christian ‘we’, like the Trinity, is not a fusion, but a unity of unique persons (6).
This might also be the long answer to the kid who asks a reasonable question: "Do I have to go to church?" Man, you don't have to do anything (7). But when you get together with like-minded people, it makes a difference in a way that's hard to articulate. Life is best lived, it seems, in community, with family, among like-hearted sisters and brothers. Troubles are best faced with a little help from our friends.

But, so are the good times, you know? Not surprisingly, my best and most enjoyable races have been those I spent in the thick of the pack, a paradoxical herd of wild, yet focused stallions, simultaneously exuberant children and grown-ups taking ourselves way too seriously.

The pros know it well. When Dathan Ritzenhein crossed the finish line last week, earning a spot on the US Olympic team, he crossed himself, as well, perhaps thanking God, for Galen Rupp, who pushed and pulled him along.

Ritz, an Olympian, with a little help from his friend.
Of course, sometimes it's better to run alone. Mike Girouard's Cape Ann 25k race report describes it well:
Everything was going fine and I was okay with the low 6:30's pace...when around mile 5 or so a guy...caught up to us and broke up the party. He was working awfully hard for 5 miles into a 25k and between his feet slapping the ground and his breathing like a freight train I just for some reason decided I needed to leave. And so I did--out the front door. I dropped a 6:26, then a 6:18 and a 6:17 and suddenly I was all alone...
It's true. We're better off alone than with downers, heart breakers and the like (8).

Not to over parse, but notice there was a process of thinking. He considered the options and decided that it was better to wade into that human-less asphalt void, The Gap, which reveals no pace and has no heart.

So it is at our schools and jobs and in our spirituals lives. We have to make that studied decision sometimes. It seems to me that this is one of life's big tasks: knowing when to be part of the organism and when to pull away, when to roll along with a little un-thinking, and when to stand apart, when you just "need to leave."

Mike had many years of experience on the road and on the track, and so his decision was probably almost instantaneous. Developing that instinct in spiritual life is very hard. It takes time, experience, mistakes, and reflection. In other words, lots of living. But it's important to at least know that the issue is there. It seems to me that we each need someone to whom we're answerable, a spouse, a coach, a spiritual guide, someone from whom we permit ourselves to hide nothing.

Clubber Lang: Alone to the bitter end.
(1) many of whom, I am confident, set 400 meter personal bests. Congrats!
(2) Race Recap: My first college track meet in 13 years
(3) "in real life," for the not-so-savvy; lessons for all!
(4) Acts 2:40-46
(5) divine-human
(6) On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology
(7) Unless you're my daughter, in which case, yes, you have to. You'll either thank me or, perhaps, write a wildly popular rock song about me. Either way, a great outcome is nearly assured! 
(8) cf. 1 Cor 15:33


Terzah said...

Beautifully written as always! I've really liked Ritzenhein since watching come in 4th in the Trials Marathon last January. I'm so glad he had a very different day at the Track Trials.

And my kids have to go to church. They may leave for a while, someday, as I did, but if we do things right, they'll crave that community again and come back someday, too.

NaderAlfie said...

Terzah, thanks so much. Yeah, I am really excited for Ritz, as well. In his post-race interview at the 10,000m Trials, he mentioned his "heart-breaking" 4th place finish in Houston.

ace said...

just wanted to say that i appreciate the time you take crafting your posts. you build some nice analogies and pull together sturdy points which demonstrate your having carefully thought them through.

NaderAlfie said...

Very encouraging to get this from a thoughtful person and top-notch blogger. Thank you.

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