There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion.
– Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Once upon a time there was an alien race from the planet Tralfmalador*. These creatures perceive time differently. Actually they have no notion of time, seeing every moment simultaneously, as we might view a broad landscape from a spatial point of view. Events in our lives happen in places at singular times: When your wedding is over you can’t come back to its moment. Your first kiss is finished. You can return to the baseball bleachers it happened on, but the diamond’s been plowed into a Whole Foods parking lot. While Tralfmaladorians get to be everywhere and everywhen, we’re caught in a swollen river of time after a rainstorm with garbage and treasures rushing past us. Clutch at them. Save some of them, put them in photo albums. But they are hazy. They fade. We can’t hang on to the bobbing grandfather clock with the warped veneer flapping in the current coming around the bend.
But I think the Tralfmaladorian alternative would be boring. Sure, that’s an emotion invented by a species concerned with time, so I might be biased. But time makes for challenges. Time is the sap of progress and goal setting.
The earthling world of olympic sports takes four years to journey around the Sun. (It must be easier for people born on February 29th to understand this.) When I got back from racing in Europe last month I looked at my Egyptian water clock and noticed there are less than ten months until the Olympic track and field trials next June. I’ve been counting down to 2016 since the day the 2012 trials ended in Eugene. Does the countdown “year” field ticking to zero change my training? Why would I not have been training to my full potential already?
A year ago after the thrill and swagger of peak fitness that comes with a season’s end faded, my break was over, and I began building base again, I forgot some things. Normal running waxed routine, workouts grew longer and aerobic, and there was little to remind me of sharpness and lactic acid and racing. The battles of summer were once again far-off dreams, each training mile a block I mortared distractedly into a slowly-drying conglomerate that would later, I knew, become my rock but was today only the necessary work put in. I forgot what it was like to sit in a warmup area in silence surrounded by the nervously stretching and shuffling competition. Their affiliations, brightly colored plumage, adrenaline, the start, calm, and the finish. Things that are far from Zap’s quiet home on Bass Lake in Blowing Rock, NC. But maybe there’s a reason for that. Taking a breath.
All his life has he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, hmm? What he was doing. Hmm. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.
– Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back
Beginning the drive. The last few years have been about prodding, testing what the sacrifices feel like each day and each season. Learning what it takes to do everything within the context of Zap Fitness, our training, and our racing schedule. That took some distraction; some rest. I suffered some mental lapses and learned from them. But it’s now, and if now is only these ten months, the next two months, these two days, make them your entire life and all will be in proportion.
– – – – – –
European track meets are an irony. Plopped in rows of corn or along an old canal is a track lined by chest-high fence. Sensory reminders of high school meets: scents of icy hot and overflowing toilets at odds, spikes scraping on concrete and distant cries circling through still twilit air following straining combatants heeding anciently laid instinct. The sun sits low and an insect hatch clouds the air, tiny sparks spiraling in random paths about each other in the failing light. Here the athletes outnumber the spectators, and they are good at what they do. Accents and languages from across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas meet, endpoint of various pilgrimage to staged trials. To a Belgian out for a causal trackside beer, this looks like another athletics circus come to town.
I didn’t look at the clock with a lap to go like I always do. The 5000 field in Ninove, Belgium had broken into two groups; one in front running 64 second laps and a chase pack running 65’s. By one kilometer remaining our slower group had caught and overtaken most of the first bunch. My fifth race in only 24 days between Ireland and Belgium, this was the last chance to grab a 5k personal best in the summer. After a painful and sloppy 14:14 performance in Portland two months earlier,Pete asked me seriously if I was mentally ready to travel to Europe and compete. The U-turn from that point to now took some patience and confidence building. I looked to all the good work I’d put in since January and couldn’t settle.
|Eyes on the prize in Ninove, Belgium last month
Up front Great Britain’s Andy Vernon and Azerbaijanian Ibrahimov Hayle were stretching the pace out. It was going to be a kicker’s race with a lap to go and a pack of nine vying for third. (The group had some good international flavor: Burundian Irabaruta Olivier, Djiboutian Bouh Ibrahim, Somalian Ali Mohamed Mohamed, Moroccan Hadadi Tarik, and representation from Germany, Australia, and Canada.) In many of the 5000s I’ve run in the past two years the final lap has been the sticking point. As in someone sticks a knife in my leg and twists it. I tense up knowing the finish nears, trying to muscle out a kick and straining, in the process actually slowing down in some cases. I’d had enough of that. On an international trip and in a race hinging on time, I need to paradoxically forget the clock and just race the guys here, around me, now.
Tunnel vision kept my brain from laying down a detailed memory of the final minutes of the race and that’s a good thing. In the moments after the finish I relished in the thrill of racing others to the finish in a 5k instead of just trying to get there. I’d closed the final lap in 60 seconds and finished eighth with a small PB of 13:32.19, my first 5k personal record in over two years.
I won’t deny that I have to improve greatly to accomplish my 2016 goal. I would have liked to be further along this year; I’m still in the 13:30’s club three years after joining it. But that’s not how I’m thinking. The pressure for a breakthrough has built. Every run, every day, every week and month are fractal components of the time remaining, and as they march by they are each Now.
– – – – – –
The final race of this late spring / summer / early fall season is the US 5k Road Championships in Providence on Sunday. A calf issue kept me from working out for a couple of weeks recently, but with the help of Zap’s Alter Gravity treadmill, some pool running, and time off it’s stopped mooing. The workouts this week showed that it was only a graze and that I’m still milking the track fitness. I’ll stop with the cheesy puns now.
It’s been a busy time at Zap Fitness lately with running camps and preparation for our yearly Mayview Madness road 5k in Blowing Rock this weekend. It’s illuminating chatting with our campers during their stay; the team learns just as much from them as they do from us. The interaction helps keep everything in perspective and reminds me how lucky I am to be able to run full time and pursue a difficult goal with life-changing implications in the process here, now, and tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
|Venue / Distance
|CVS 5k / US Road 5k Champs
|.US National 12k Championships
|Manchester Road Race
|Road 4.748 Miles
|Third Annual Grind Fest
|Indoor Track / Speed Skating Oval Battle To The Death