Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Poetry, running, and animal passion

Last night, I attended Green Line Cafe's May poetry reading, because the featured poet, Leonard Gontarek has been my poetry workshop instructor through the past couple of years, and so I wanted to support this event. Normally, I'd be at the Bryn Mawr Running Club track workouts, but I hadn't been able to get to the workshop lately, and this was a good chance to reconnect with Leonard--and to reawaken the poetry in me, which is as integral to my being as running--and, in fact, the two are intertwined. Indeed, after the reading, there were beers--not at the running store, true, but on the second floor bar of an Ethiopian restaurant. Since a Facebook friend recommended that I go to Ethiopia to train at altitude, this gathering was at least a step in the direction of Ethiopia and altitude (albeit only one floor up).

What sometimes people forget is the immense power in poetry. Too often, people dismiss it, sweep it aside as "escapism," not concerned with the "real world," by which often they mean money, politics, work (as long as it's work and not something as presumably frivolous as teaching literature or keeping libraries open or writing that isn't "practical," such as annual reports. But what do people remember from Shakespeare's time? Who made what amount of money? Or King Lear? Poetry and fiction grow from people's reflections on both the practical details of life--and its pain and wonder. And the most powerful poetry takes in both. Leonard can mention Obama and diners and birds in the body of his poems--they all come from our experience, our politics, our lives.

When people assume that the arts are a luxury, that they have no connection to real life, are they simply afraid of what poets will say about their lives? I don't think of poetry as exclusively words on a page. For some it's that; for others, it's the creation of paintings, music, even businesses that grow not just from wanting to make money but from a passion, from an idea that lights up the mind, creates sparks that ignite passions in others. 

Yet some focus so exclusively on what's practical that they shut down not only the poetry in others but in themselves. We need play to be fully human, and it's interesting that obesity is on the rise, while more schools are being consolidated and closed, and arts, phys ed and other opportunities for play get cut. Silence the have-nots and provide no food or activities that have substance, and thus keep the power out of their hands.

Which isn't to say some degree of the practical isn't necessary, but it can't exclude listening to the power and the joy and the pain of the voices around one.

And if we bulldoze city parks, neglect the trees, so they fall and so people are afraid of them, we bulldoze our souls.


This morning's workout was the one my club did last night--and while I missed them, I am grateful for Bob emailing me the workout. Bob is someone who took a risk, followed a passion, left a lucrative, but unsatisfying job to create something special: his store and the club. He has his hand on the practical details of running his business, but he followed something deeper--and so, he and Leonard, although they don't know each other, both helped foster not only my running fitness but also the poetry that grew from that grass on the Polo Fields and on the track and elsewhere.

This is the workout: 5 x {2x400, 1x200}, 5k pace, 30 seconds between repeats, 2 mins. between sets.

This is my result:

The numbers:
1.       2:18, 2:12, 62
2.       2:09, 2:09, 62
3.       2:10, 2:08, 62
4.       2:12, 2:09, 62
5.       2:11, 2:11, 58

The experience

A soupy-warm day, but out early enough not to be overheated; park alive with greenery, birds. A male cardinal flashed across my vision as I headed up the road toward the dirt trail. Bird song surround-sound, all through the park, and on the track, robins, mockingbirds, sparrows, and (soon after I started the fourth set 200) a groundhog skittered across the track, so close I thought I'd trip over it, but I should have known it was fast enough to dodge me.

Returning home through the park, bird wingbeats whispered so close to me, they blended with my heartbeat

I run for the times—and for the time
chasing the animal presence around and in me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New extreme in minimal running shoes--you know it had to happen!

Well, running fans, your quest for more and more minimal running shoes--inspired by Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, describing the huarache sandals of the Tarahumara Indians and advocating running barefoot or nearly so--is about to reach new heights, not just proverbially speaking. Not to be outdone by the Vibram Five-Fingers, the Nike Free, the Merrill Pace Glove or other such pretenders, a new player has entered the arena, "Hermes Sports," and its CEO known in his glory days for flying past competitors as if on winged feet, now retired from competition and also from his messenger business, wants to help runners get that special edge. 

His new model, the Hermes Wingfoot, rolled out today, is set to revolutionize the sport. For one, Hermes has already secured sponsorship deals with Olympians, although he did observe privately that none of them could break his records. Still, the athletes have jumped on board with lucrative offers, and have ditched rivals such as Scechers, Nike, and Adidas.

"This won't be your father's Olympics," said Craig Masback, former CEO of USATF. We're looking for the most exciting Olympic Games ever."

Runners aren't the only ones anticipating the new shoe. Pole vaulters and high jumpers are excited about the prospect of exceeding personal bests. Rumors that Sergey Bubka would soon be coming out of retirement to defend his pole vault record have circulated wildly--with whispers that he plans to attempt 22 feet without his pole.

While other models boast of lightness, the Wingfoot takes the concept a step further--sandals lighter than the ones used by the Tarahumara tribe, and coming with wings attached, as this link shows.

But these are no ordinary wings. Carefully crafted by aeronautical engineers in the Hermes Sports labs, these wings lift the wearer from the ground for minutes at a time--and models are being developed with a longer battery life that could easily bring the marathon world record under two hours, if not more.

Still, some critics object that the shoes will go the way of tech swimsuits. After an explosion of world records in super-light suits, FINA banned such suits from competition. An IAAF spokesman declined to comment, pending further investigation--but stock in Hermes has skyrocketed, giving rise to speculation that IAAF will allow the shoes.

"It brings a breath of fresh air to our sport," said the Hermes CEO. "Everyone wants to fly, and our technology makes it possible. Besides those 'five-finger' numbers look just plain dorky. Come on! You can set speed records and still be cool--and there's no impact, so goodbye plantar fasciitis!"


You heard it here first--I didn't say it was true or would happen. But you did hear it here first.