Saturday, September 6, 2008

Of Sunsets, Reading, and Running

The surfers were carrying brightly colored Popsicle sticks that wobbled towards the evening's dying surf.

Shorebirds were feeding, alighting for a few minutes before noisily taking off in perfectly coordinated formations for the next choice spot, gulls were returning to land from their daily exertions, a lone Osprey was making its way back from hunting around Frank Island, and in the distance an Eagle (huge even at this distance) disappeared over the mountain.

The tide was out revealing all kinds of wonderful shells, interesting patterns on the beach, and a dead sea star.

The occasional dog ambled by, exhausted by the day's exertions but happy to be out with their packs for one last romp.

The day ended with a brilliant orange ball that rapidly disappeared into the blue of the sea. We all walked into the sunset and watched as the oranges, pinks, and purples faded into that peculiar pastel gray dusk of the sea side.

What a day!

M and I got up early-ish and went for a foggy walk on the beach. The plan was to head out to the Tofino Farmer's market to get some zucchini for dinner but when we got there we found that there was no produce to be had. Arts, crafts, photographs, and Pirogies, yes. We walked around town a bit, got some bread and muffins at Common Loaf. Just as we were leaving Tofino proper the fog started to clear in the mountains and islands to the north and it looked like we might be able to get down to Ucluelet to hike a particularly scenic trail. No dice, though, as the fog had yet to recede from the shore areas and a check of a web-cam in Ucluelet showed similar conditions there.

Instead I spent the bulk of the afternoon racing through two books: Murikami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Zahab's Running For My Life. Memoirs are not really my thing but these two looked quite interesting to me in the mad rush to buy books for this trip. Murakami presents the parallels between writing and distance running and explores how each activity can, and does, inform each other (at least for him). This work is also a meditation on learning, self-discovery, and aging that is quite insightful—especially the notion of acceptance. He writes:

My muscles can be as stubborn as—or more stubborn than—I am. They remember things and endure, and to some extent they improve. But they never compromise. They don't give up. This is my body, with all its limits and quirks. Just as with my face, even if I don't like it it's the only one I get, so I've got to make do. As I've grown older, I've naturally come to terms with this. You open the fridge and can make a nice—actually even a pretty smart—meal with the leftovers. All that's left is an apple, an onion, cheese, and eggs, but you don't complain. You make do with what you have. As you age you learn even to be happy with what you have. That's one of the few good points of growing older. [86]

This passage especially resonated with me given the struggle I have been having of late to recover from this wonderfully hard summer of running and racing. Murikami seems a poetical, pragmatical optimist as both a writer and as a runner.

Zahab's book is a VERY quick read that starts off with the predictable "My life was screwed up and . . ." recitation (See Karnazes story and, to a large extent, Murikami as well). As Zahab discovers his own talents, passion, and gifts as he treats the reader to a rapid succession of races that are possible impossibilities and shows us both his failings and his successes without undue celebration or self-pity. Along the way he has something of a social awakening that has resulted in his association with Matt Damon's "H20 Africa" project (alluded to but not discussed in the book).

One obvious question of runners arises in both books. Is running simply the substitution of a new addiction for older vices. Neither of them falls into that trap and takes on the subject of addiction head on. Zahab writes, "As far as running being an addiction, well who knows? Maybe it is. I love running. I think about it all the time. I love pushing myself to the limit and seeing what my body can do. If I've had a stressful day, I almost always turn to running to relieve some of that stress." [117] Murikami also suggests that running can balance one's life:

To deal with something unhealthy, a person needs to be as healthy as possible. That's my motto. In other words, an unhealthy soul requires a healthy body. This might sound paradoxical, but it's something I've felt keenly about ever since I became a professional writer. The healthy and the unhealthy are not necessarily at opposite ends of the spectrum. They don't stand in opposition to one another, but rather complement each other, and in some cases even band together. Sure, many people who are on a healthy track in life think only of good health, while those who are getting unhealthy think only of that. But if you follow this sort of one-sided view, your life won't be fruitful. [98]

Like Murikami and Zahab both, I have a personal sense of this and I am not running from anything (as the old question goes) but simply running towards something.

What that is I don't quite know yet. Could it be a balanced life?

It is as mysterious and as wonderful as a sunset.

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