Sunday, June 21, 2015

John L. Parker's Once A Runner: A Book Review

First off this is not my typical book review. Once a Runner is not a perfect book, but this book is a must read for any runner or endurance athlete. There is a plot flaw here or there (think the lengthy diversion with Nubbins and honor court), but the meat of the text is the journey of one runner and how he learns to reach his goals through inherent and complete sacrifice.

To some running is a chore, something they do to drop a pound here and there or to get away from the stress of the world, but to many, and especially to those select few lucky enough to live running, the act becomes the stress, the devotion, the aim, the goal. Runners, as John L. Parker notes, are either obsessive compulsive or on their way there, and Once a Runner, hits a nerve the nearly every runner can understand as he follows the life of the fictional college senior, Quenton Cassidy. Cassidy is a runner, an idea that non-runners do not understand, hell, an idea that many recreational runners will never understand. He embodies athletes that I have coached, do currently coach, and that will slide down the pipe to my feet at some point. Parker lived this life, made the sacrifices, and devoted himself to doing something he loved (and hated), for that is what runners do, and thus this protagonist is real. Cassidy bleeds hatred for running but loves every painful step. He curses at cars for invading his space, at gawkers and their comments, and possess a drive and will to be great that not even those he loves can grasp and understand.

Whether it is harkening back to high school cross country and track teams, collegiate competitions, or the throngs of people who meet on weekends to tackle marathon training together, Parker encapsulates the competitive runner’s psyche. Cassidy, a man who has caused the coach in me many a frustration—but coach, they ran 400m repeats barefoot in Once a Runner so I’m going to do it now—has the will. While running requires genetic gifts: the ability to withstand pain, a high VO2 max threshold, and a high motor, it also takes a will. Cassidy reeks of this will during every minute of his cabin isolation. I hear seventy mile a week high school runners begging to run with a person, to rejoin civilization, only to blaze away from me a mile into their ten mile jaunts. They want to be told what to do, how to act, how to respond. Yet, these people are all about avoiding the blank spaces, for blank spaces are lost opportunities, chances of failure, cracks in the armor that could pop up with a 100 meters to go in a goal race. You are never sick, you are only running an undersdistance day.

When Cassidy warms up, when he cools down, when he sees friends, he basks in routine. He calls certain people captain out of custom, he trains at the same time, with the same people. It is all about routine. Same things, same times, same ideas. He basks in the smells, the nuances of exhaustion and pain. In Cassidy we see the truth: the life of a runner can be consuming, but the pursuit of the goal, in any sport, in any facet of life in general, is about said consumption. Not everyone has the grit to run 80 400’s, most of our legs would fall off, but the idea of 80 400’s, the idea that another set will not only make you more fit, but also make you understand who and what you are is why Parker attempts to convey. How many people cut their efforts short just because they are about to break mentally? The answer is an astounding too many. This book is about not quitting, not going my mind is not in it and I am overtraining and I’m cutting it short, this book is about seeing that said training is the only way to reach the goal. You cannot do the impossible unless you do your best to attempt everything that is possible.

Favorite Lines:

  • “He ran not for crypto-religious reasons, but to win races, to cover the ground fast. Not only to be better than his fellows, but better than himself” (121-122).
  • “It [running] was all joy and woe, hard as a diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free” (123).
  • “But here was the decision for all time, the decision that would lead him up the path to the higher callings or off on a side road to end up in the bushes” (262).
  • “Sometimes you will work your fanny off and see very little gain; other times you will amaze yourself and not really know why” (167).
  • “Such matters, as Denton had often said, were settled much earlier: weeks, months, years before, they were settled on the training fields, on the ten mile courses, on the morning workout missed here or made up there” (248).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni: A Book Review

Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni spins a captivating tale, one I have been waiting to read, experience, and am eager to confront once again. While some disguise the novel as historical fiction, outside of the primary setting, late 1890’s New York City, the novel focuses more on the mythical and fantastical. Page after page, the reader confronts mythological precepts of both Arab and Jewish origins, yet these points come to us in a metropolitan era and in a city of cultural convergence. The fantastical becomes real, humanity converges and merges with it, and one becomes lost in the existential nature of those that lack humanity attempting to be human.

From the get go, we are introduced to the mythical, fabled creature made of clay: The Golem. This figure is lifelike and free to roam the world without a master after the man died at sea just moments after animating her. Unsure of her nature, prone to fits of anger she cannot control, the Golem seeks refuge in a world of confusion. She is cast into New York City after walking along the bottom of the sea floor to avoid immigration and comes out of the sea a lost newborn. Were the reader only privy to this tale: the education and acclimation of an alien creature to the world, then he may be happy, for she is soon seen for what she is by a skilled and learned Rabbi and thus taken in and groomed toward humanity.

But the reader is given a second tale, that of a Jinni, a creature made of fire that has been imprisoned in a flask for generations. The Jinni is released by a Syrian Blacksmith, Arbeely, who takes the organism, trapped in human form, in as his apprentice. The narrative then juxtaposes back and forth between the two plights as each creature creates a purpose and seeks to find its place in society. Ultimately, and begrudgingly, the two meet and begin a mutual narrative, one distrust and anger, one that seeks a Golem looking for a purpose, a Jinni looking for freedom, and the seemingly destructive force the pair is, turning everything they touch into either earth or fire before discovering that they share a bond more concrete than their fantastical nature.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Jurek Endure: A Gear Review

The folks at Ultimate Direction asked if I would check out one of their products, and I was thus sent a new hydration belt, the Jurek Endure. Even though I live in Florida the land of heat and humidity, I have never been a hydration belt guy—they are always too big or too small or too hard to get to fit right. Often they chafe and bounce around, and on more than one occasion I have dumped them in the bushes (and not returned to get them willingly). Thus I will do long runs on loops with water bottles stashed and placed along a route. I have commonly used a handheld and gone into drug stores, hotels, and gas stations to fill up. While a hydration belt doesn’t preclude the stop and fill up method, if done correctly it should aid the endeavor.

Stretch Mesh Pocket
Enter the Jurek Endure. This belt solves a universal problem: belts are often unbalanced and prone to bouncing around. Countless times, I have craved up the side of my torso as hydration belt meets sweat line and frantically bounces to and fro, especially with a full bottle. Here, with two 10 ounce bottles, when full, the belt feels quite snug. The bottles bungee in, each with their own strap, and feel rather secure. While I am typically a water guy, I tried what Ultimate Direction suggested, and filled one bottle with an other: my mixture of honey, chia, and water, the other with straight water. Despite the liquid weight, the belt held steady and continued to do so even when one bottle was depleted.

Beyond the balanced design, the strap adjusts quite well. The front of the belt has an elasticity to it that allows it to be snug, a tight fit, more like my running shorts than a chaffing army of darkness. The stretch mesh pocket allows for stashing essentially anything: gear (think gloves in the winter), salt tabs, gels, phones, keys, money, etc. You name it and desire to have it, stick it in the pocket. While there is not a counter balance, you can slide this pocket around the strap, allowing for preferred placement.

Advertised as waterproof, the belt deflects moisture at a strong rate. My gels stayed dry, and while I have yet to put a tissue in there, I am fairly confident that the only moisture the will find its way into the pockets will drip from my hands when opening and closing the pocket. In between the bottle holsters, one can store more items, and even bungee in products for quick grabs. Once again, stash your Huma gel here, in plain view.

All in all, while I have never been a huge hydration belt guy, I have been pleased with this product and will continue to update this review as I use it more.

General specs (via Ultimate Direction):

    Two 10 oz bottles included
    Bottle holsters are stiffened with lightweight foam for quick access
    Front pocket is sweat resistant and moveable, with foam backing
    3/4 in. waist webbing with stretch panel
    Movable Race Bib clips
    Adjustable buckle fits all sizes

    Weight: 6 oz / 163g
    Pocket Size: 6.5 x 3 in / 16.5 x 7.6 cm
    Pouch Size: 4 x 4 in / 10.2 x 10.2 cm
    Fits to: 26 - 44 in / 66 - 112 cm
   Hex Mesh: The structure of this belt is totally breathable, while also being extremely strong,lightweight, and will not absorb moisture.
    Silnylon: Silicone impregnated for ultra lightweight and durable waterproofness
    Velvetex Edge Binding: Super comfortable and soft