running, Thoughts, Uncategorized

running as a form of art

Tell me, if you can- who defines art?

Who are the ones who say that art is x, y, z; who educate youth of a certain disposition to critique and analyze art in a certain way?

I’ve been in museums all over the world, and seen people place the label of “art” above all sorts of things. A room filled with electric blue glow-in-the-dark waterfalls on black backgrounds with no other light source; drawings of ghastly creatures with demon tails looking for all the world like what they needed was only a hug. Careful renditions of the bodies of lovers, sculptures with no distinct shape or form, heaps of marble figures on a wooden table in Rome. Black and white photographs depicting the life of a famous political rebel. Drawings that looked as if they belonged to a 6 year old boy, but were framed and on display because they were the born from the thought process of someone whose later work became famous. A toilet in the middle of the Seattle Art Museum with what was a pile of hopefully artificial shit.

Who says there is one way to define art?

I want to discuss the artistry in sport.

Obvious forms of sport as art: gymnastics, figure skating, ballet. Clearly there’s an art to these, something that comes from having complete mastery and control over one’s body. There’s a beauty, an elegance in the motions of these sports that, although coming from years of practice, dedication, hard work and exertion, draws our labeling selves to call it an art form- over something like, say, a fistfight or the act of walking down the street.

Running doesn’t look like ballet. Running is ugly and grotesque at times. The pain face of a runner digging to the finish at the limits of their potential is not as pleasing to the eye as the carefully arranged maquillage of a ballerina.

But when you as an athlete- ballerina, runner, or student of some other sport- do all the little things every day that make you stronger, when you do the things that shift you from a casual runner into a form-focused athlete, something changes. I don’t mean that only elite runners are practicing art when they run, but they are the best at combining the two. I think with the human body as a medium, the chances of an action being classified as art depend on the complexity of, or talent required for, what it can do.

I hate the saying that “everyone who runs is a runner” because it’s not true. Is everyone who paints a painter? No. Is everyone who writes a writer? Also, no. I know a bunch of people are going to get mad reading this and remind me that everyone who runs deserves recognition, and to an extent that’s true, but there are things you must do before you can be considered a runner. I read once that you can tell the difference in any activity between someone who dabbles and someone who is more involved, because they will say the activity as an identifier versus a verb. A painter will not say they paint, they will say they are a painter. A globetrotter will not say they travel, they will call themselves a traveler. It follows that there are those who say they run, and those who say they are runners– therein lies the differentiator.

You become a runner not after a certain place, certain speed or particular action, but once you’ve begun to love the sport, the craft of it and the rituals. The meaning and the depth of it all. Once you’ve began to call yourself a runner.

You are not a runner if you don’t have at least a modicum of respect the for sport, some kind of opinion of it. Same as I’m not a painter just because I own a few paintbrushes and enjoy playing with acrylics and printer paper once in a while.

You might not become a runner in a day, in an instant. It takes years, sometimes.

When did I become a runner? My foray into running began in high school, when I started really working for it and being part of a team and putting effort into the sport. But that was not when I became a runner.

That was in Singapore when there was no one and nothing asking me to run, telling me what to do, and I began to marathon train anyway.

So.

If it takes a certain something to call yourself a runner, what does it take to call running art?

There are criteria for everything, every definition of something, but it’s never in black and white, always in a variety of murky grey shades.

I’ll ask again… what does it take to call running art?

Suppose we set aside physical beauty. Unless you have an intimate knowledge of the sport and the human body and the myriad of ways you can understand and appreciate a race, a hard run… well, just by looking at it, you’re not going to call it art.

What other aspects of running exist? The enormous history of it is one thing. Art has history, or I feel like is at least usually relevant to it.

I guess to compare running to art we would need a clearer definition of art, to be able to hold running up to it as if up to a light, to look at it through the lens of that definition.

Is art something with a true definition or does it, as most things in the world, vary ever so slightly by the definition of the individual?

I’ve explained my confusion at seeing all sorts of things at museums and labled “art” throughout the world. Some people call graffiti a nasty teenage rebellion, others respect is as an artistic cultural phenomenon. The same probably holds true for plenty of art across the world.

Is there anyone who would deny ballet as an art form? Few, probably.

Does art need to be pleasing to the eye? Remembering the toilet- no.

Does it have to be thought provoking? Perhaps.

The one thing I can find in every definition of art from every angle is that it must be influenced by the hand of an individual or group of people. There is no time when you are walking in the forest and you say, wow, look at the art here- and if you do you don’t mean it in the way that would lead to it being included in the halls of a museum. The replication of such a forest, whether in a medium that matched the exact feel of the thing it mimicked or incorporating some new and invigorating element, would be considered art, but not the natural thing itself. Clear?

So- let’s use that as our definition. In order to be art, something must fall under two criteria.

1) it must be something created by a person

2) it must be something an individual is able to consider “art”- not every individual, necessarily, but there have to be at least a minority of people that are able to consider it as such.

Is running art, then?

My mother, who I posed this question to,  asks, “bodies moving in space? of course it’s art!”

Running is an art because:

Once you become a runner, you set the ball rolling in search of improvements on form, time, strength… you begin the process of attempting to perfect the body you’ve been given in order to achieve greater things. The art of running is the art of the body, of what a person can achieve when they fine-tune the vehicle that carries them through life.

Running is an art because:

It links the body and the mind. It demonstrates the effect practicing mental strength can have on overcoming physical limitation. Going for a run allows you to access near and further reaches of your mind, to push past boundaries in your thinking. Art is thought provoking.

Running is an art because:

It is essentially a craft, an activity to be developed and improved upon while learning and exploring the world surrounding it. The work of any craftsman would be considered art- therefore,

running is a form of art.

What do you think?

running, Thoughts, Uncategorized

why I’m obsessed with the marathon

I love seeing the number 26.2 in bold on bumper stickers, written across T shirts and engraved on rubber bracelets. To be honest, I’m thinking about getting it tattooed on my wrist.

It’s a strange number, if you aren’t a runner. A lot of people, when I tell them I’ve run a marathon, ask me how far it is- which is funny, because the word “marathon” is supposed to describe the distance.

To be fair, in some cultures (when I lived in Singapore, for example) it seems that people used the term ‘marathon’ in lieu of ‘race’ or ‘run’. I ran a 10k over there and even the people hosting the event kept calling it a marathon run… However, the accepted definition among distance runners, the definition I grew up with, is 26.2 miles (just over 42 km).

Why? Because of a legend with some plausibility involving a Greek messenger, Pheidippides, who allegedly ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for help during an invasion. The Spartans were in the middle of a religious ceremony and were unable to help for a few days, so Pheidippides ran back to inform the people of Athens. I think then he ran to the Bay of Marathon (which literally means “field of fennel”) to tell them the news, then join the fight. Upon their incredible victory (the Athenians were heavily outnumbered but still managed to defeat the invading Persians) he ran 26 miles back to Athens to shout his famous last words- “We have won!”

After which he promptly fell over and died.

Of course now we all run marathons because, what, we want to prove we won’t meet the same fate? I’m fuzzy on the details of how this became the massive cultural phenomenon it is today, but here we are!

Many marathons were run with distances around 26 miles before the 1900s, but that’s when the modern distance became official. The marathon course for the 1908 Olympics in London was extended by 385 yards so the athletes would finish in front of the royal box, and that became the distance we use today.

That’s the quick and dirty version. Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes does the best job of telling this story in his book “The Road to Sparta“. So read that.

The marathon has so much history behind it I couldn’t do it justice in one blog post. From its origins in ancient Greece to its evolution into a semi-popular endurance event, so much ground has been covered. You have the success of elite athletes in continually bringing down the world record, the inclusion of women in running and endurance events, the training adaptations modern science has allowed us to discover, and the eventual inclusion of runners of all ages, shapes and sizes… The marathon is a world unto itself.

I love the marathon because it’s not just about who runs the fastest or who wins, it’s about finishing. Often it’s against beating your own times, fighting your personal limitations. It is a tough thing, yet people from all walks of life run marathons. From teenagers with lots of energy to great-grandpas with T-shirts reading things like “I ran this course 5 years before you were born!” Elite runners sometimes start a little bit ahead of the field, but at the end of the day, everyone starts and finishes in the same place, from the fastest in the world to people that jog at a snail’s pace.

People run for friends, family, community,

People run for themselves.

The marathon brings people together in a way that little else does.

It’s a feat of endurance, which as my coach used to say translates to everything you do in life. You get out of it what you put in.

When you run a marathon for the first time, you will change. It is a lot of running. I mean, even if you’re reading this as an ultrarunner who’s done 15 100 milers in the last few years, I’m sure you remember the feeling of finishing your first marathon.

First there’s the training. You cover at least a couple hundred miles over a few months, which may or may not be something you’ve ever done before. The training makes you appreciate your world. You learn to understand your body, learn how to work harder and grow stronger. You appreciate, the sights, views, sounds, and smells of wherever you’re running in a new way. The right music becomes something that makes you high. I think this is the feeling people are searching for when they get drunk and go clubbing- isn’t it great to know all you have to do to reach euphoria is wait for a great run?

You learn to push through pain, and how to differentiate the kind of pain that hurts you from the pain that challenges, then changes you. You are able to carry these lessons over into your daily life.

The training is half the beauty of it. Then there’s the event itself, a massive starting line or a small one, but a gathering either way of people about to submit themselves to the same challenge you are. These people, like you, are all running for a reason. They’ve all trained for this, as you have. You might swap stories on the starting line, you might just stand in companionable silence.

But you’re all there for the same beautiful struggle.

I am terrified of writing about the marathon. I worry I can’t breathe the right words into it, the words that will make you understand what running a marathon truly means. I worry that at the end of this post you will shake your head and sigh and wish me luck with my knees.

As I sit here still frustratingly in recovery, I worry that one day I’ll find out this isn’t my distance, after all. I worry that I’ll never qualify for Boston or New York, never break 4 hours, much less 3, never meet the goals I’ve set for myself.

But if there’s one thing the marathon has taught me, it is that worry has no place in my mind. All the worry and hype your brain tosses at you over the course of your life is just noise. What matters is the choices you make, the actions you perform, the work you put into things. I read once that there is no cheating in a marathon, because your body knows exactly what you have or haven’t done in training.

The marathon will test you. It will challenge you. Ultimately, it will change you. It will teach you to put the work in, to trust yourself, and eventually, to give the distance everything you have.

As the writer Hunter Thompson said,

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!'”

 

 

running, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

why going for a run is the best way to get to know a place

I love the feeling of stepping off a plane into a yet-unexplored part of the world.

I love the subtle shift in language, how you start your day surrounded by your mother tongue and gradually, through security lines and long flights, become surrounded by something foreign. It excites the mind. You start to recognize the words and phrases that are used most often.

You start to understand the place.

That feeling of newness is difficult to recreate, once you’ve grown accustomed to the place you’re in, even if only a little. We as a species are fairly adaptable, and once we gain a little traction in any new place we’re pretty much good to go.

But what if you crave that feeling, that sensation of peering behind the curtain and stepping into a world unknown?

Well, you should go for a run.

Exploring any place on foot immediately introduces you to a world of sights, sounds and smells the average tourist never interacts with. You have access to places cars can’t go, places only the people that live in the area normally pass through. In Paris you might jog around the Eiffel tower, but as you follow the Seine you might decide to cross the river and climb to the top of Parc de Belleville, navigating through the rough edges of the 11th and the stunning homes of the 10th until you feel like you’ve seen the entire city in a day.

In high school I was lucky enough to visit a couple of cities in China. When we landed in Beijing, stepping off the plane was thrilling (and slightly gloomy because the smog was so thick we could see chunks of grey stuff floating around). We were here! In China! Somewhere new!

But Beijing very quickly took on a familiar atmosphere- it appears to be the city which most American “Chinatown” areas are modeled after. The places we visited mostly catered to tourists, and I was losing my sense of wonder…

Luckily, my cross country coach had come along for the trip.

He and I met before the rest of the students were out of bed for a quick 4 miles around the neighborhood.

It was unreal, like someone had flipped a switch and the real Beijing had suddenly come out from behind a facade.

We ran past dilapidated houses and single-room shops. Old men sat outside selling fresh cooked eggs and boiled greens. Their eyebrows went shooting up to their receding hairlines when my coach and I, both pale after a Seattle winter, went panting by. We made enough of a pair to stop their morning chitchat, him tall and lanky, me short and blue-eyed, both of us taking in everything around us.

The morning was quiet and simple, another day of smog-dimmed sun for the locals. But for me it was eye-opening. It showed me how much difference a run can make in the things you see in a place. Had I not run, I would have woken up in our semi-Westernized hotel, had cold cereal for breakfast and followed our tour guide with his bright yellow flag through all the famous places in Beijing. And while walking on the Great Wall was absolutely amazing, my favorite memory of China is still that run though the random alleys of Beijing.

When you run through a place, you’re seeing what the locals see.

You’re cutting through alleys or less frequented streets, finding new trails and parks that aren’t in the guidebooks. You might duck into a shop where you have to mime for a glass of water, or be surprised by a 2 euro fee to use a public bathroom. You’ll see what a city’s homes and schools look like, where businessmen eat expensive lunches, where schoolkids gather on breaks.

You’ll see life in motion.

You might see someone hanging their laundry out to dry, or hear the music someone’s put on rolling out of a window. You’ll smell what people are cooking at home, see how they’ve chosen to decorate their houses and lawns.

The biggest thing you’ll feel is that you’re a part of it. You are exploring the city as an inhabitant, rather than a visitor.

It’s hard to explain if you’ve never done it, if you’ve never tried to reach out and reclaim that feeling of exhilarating newness, if you’ve never sought to snatch a piece of a place to hold as your own, even if only for a moment.

Which is why I recommend the next time you go somewhere new, you bring your running shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

running, Thoughts, Uncategorized

in search of solitude

You hear a lot about “the loneliness of the long distance runner.”

Which makes it sound like a bad thing, but…

I crave that solitude.

 

I walked through downtown Seattle recently, unable to run and trying to merge errands with a pleasant walk by the water. It surprised me how quickly I became frustrated by the noise, the people walking by, the multitude of things interrupting my thoughts. I tried to put on headphones but the tinny music made it worse.

I wanted to slip through the woods hearing nothing but the trees and the light tapping of my feet. I found a park but even the park was filled with people whose eye contact I wanted to avoid, whose conversations I wanted to not hear, who I wanted to breeze past in my own world.

But I couldn’t run, and that inability is making me so grateful for the times I have, and will, run alone again.

Then I will watch the shadows on the trail from the nettles that seem to always be where you think they’re not. I’ll round corners I think are going to be downhill but are actually steep hikes up to the sky, and take off my shoes before I go home so my sore feet can seek out the energy of the grass beneath them.

I want to tune into my own breathing, mimic the rush of wind between trees, that breeze coming off of the water that reminds you there’s motion in the world beyond your own.

I want to figure out what I’m thinking about all the time, what’s beneath the way I exist on the surface. There’s something deeper in me and I want to know it.

I want to know who I am, truly, what I know and what I don’t and what I really care about learning.

I’ll admit, city runs are an amazing way to see a new city, to open up a world beyond the one you already know…

but sometimes getting away from it all is what you need.

I think this is probably why people do yoga, only I have the patience of a flea and can only hold a pose for about 3 seconds before it starts hurting. I feel more relaxed when I’m faced with the challenge of an enormous hill or watching my footfall over uneven terrain.

There’s just something about moving through the world relying on just your body and your mind to get you someplace.

I want to run alone so I get a clearer picture of myself. How do I react when faced with a challenge? What speed, what distance makes my body sing out in joy? In pain? How much pain can I take, what can I push through, how much is too much ?

How much stronger than I think I am can I become?

I believe that the purest version of ourselves emerges when we are alone. When we are immersed in something that we love and that challenges us.

Running in a group makes me feel connected, social, happy.

Running alone makes me feel alive.

I am free to be selfish, to consider the needs and desires of no one but myself. I am permitted to be wild- no one can see the expression on my face, no one can hear the things I might say to myself. I can daydream and annoy no one with the fact that my mind is light years away from the present.

I’ve cried while running, pouring my heart and soul and the worst emotions I’ve felt into the ugliest of runs, and while I didn’t feel magnificent after, it felt like it helped lift some weight.

I’ve also bounced along grinning, rejoicing in the freedom of being alive and free and having a working heart and body and the fact that I get to be wherever I am, now, doing this one thing I love so much.

Again and again when I need to find myself, the answer is not to sit down and write about things.

It is not to read self help books or to turn to Google. It is not to sit and fume, to lash out, or even to blast loud music (though that can help).

Instead I rely on the resplendent, beautiful loneliness that is part of being a long distance runner- a pleasant loneliness, and a remarkable one.

When I need to find myself there are a few steps I take.

I put on running shoes.

I walk out the door.

I run miles and miles, enjoying the companionable quiet of solitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts, Uncategorized

In Transit

Last night I looked through the screen covering my open window to watch the sun set behind the city. In a moment, it had bundled together landmarks, old buildings, mountains and construction sites into one beautiful silhouette.


I thought of the people in cars driving to and from on the streets below me, wondering if they had taken a minute to notice the beauty that surrounded them, coloring sidewalks a rusty gold and blanketing dirty alleys.


Maybe it’s because I don’t drive, that I notice these things. When I get in a car, on a bus, on a plane, I am never the one in charge of controlling the vehicle, which leaves me free to think about and notice the world around me.


Looking through the window last night, I remembered a year ago, when I lived further north, and often caught the bus at this time of day. I rarely read or used my phone on these rides- I’d always look out the window, listening to music to alter my perceptions of things.


In cold and dreary rainstorms I would play Crystal Castles as the sky was dark and the sound of traffic hammered away at me. On sunny days I would relax to Charli XCX…


But I digress.

When we travel, we find ourselves in an ideal setting to look around. To notice.

In transport, we often learn more about a place than we’ll have a chance to discover on our own. Due to the speed of travel when one is not on foot, more can be seen and experienced. Often, more places can be accessed. This is not to say I don’t appreciate a certain kind of foot tourism (I walked all over Paris last year), but you can absorb so much of a place simply by looking our the windows as you go somewhere.

When your plane lands, what do you see? What does the landscape look like? Can you see the glimmering lights of city streets or small villages? Often you’ll find swathes of farmland, patchwork quilts over the globe.

When you take the train between cities, what do you see of the countryside? Animals, people, gatherings, festivals. Cobblestone streets in Paris or old cars abandoned in bushes in rural Florida. Greenery; flourishing, long-dead or somewhere in between. Stately manors and homes where the roof shingles have fallen off one by one.

Traveling by bus, by cab in a large city, you become a witness to the millions of interactions happening around you. Watch the arguing couple kiss and make up, the family of tourists awestruck in Times Square. Listen to the old lady with the needle and thread on the seat beside you as she tells you how she was married in the park across the street underneath a white tent dripping rainwater.

We tend to focus on arrivals. On getting somewhere. But there’s more to every trip than the promised bounty of a destination.

The journey is so beautiful, and can show us so much.

Remember, when you are in transit, to look, to listen, to absorb.

Remember to watch for the moments that will allow you to truly understand a place, its people… 


or yourself.