Monday, February 29, 2016

Ed Caesar’s Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon: A Book Review

Ed Caesar’s Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon stands part science, part athletic admiration, part Kenyan exploration. Unlike most running texts that can either get caught up in the spectacle and admiration of the sport or bogged down in the science of it, Caesar attempts to tell a story of a rather complex and challenging event: the marathon. He digs into the history, the once significant yet pedestrian races of yesteryear that established the event and the slow rise of the race throughout the twentieth century to both social and professional prominence. At the same time, he takes a dip into the science, discusses the limiting factors, and delves into briefly into the impossible—the two hour marathon, something that is run at a speed most humans cannot hold for one mile, much less twenty-six plus.

Caesar also follows professional Geoffrey Mutai, using the man as an archetype for the marathon experience. Mutai’s story is the vehicle Caesar drives through his narrative. With a tough upbringing, Kenyan heritage from Kikuyu country, the will to get out, and the will to succeed Mutai stands as a perfect example of one who could achieve such a lofty marathon goal. Caesar details Mutai’s past, his course records in Boston and New York, and his world record attempt in London. At the same time, like in Running with the Kenyans, Caesar lives in Kenya for a time, exploring the training, the lifestyle, and other members of the country’s running elite. In doing so, we are treated to an expose on the marathon, a unique and entertaining journey through a sport and event so many tackle but so few truly understand.

Favorite Lines:

  • “Nobody finds the marathon easy—even professionals, especially professionals. The distance is democratic in that way. Everyone who runs a marathon is running against his or her limits. Everyone is forced to manage a certain amount of pain and to recruit hidden reserves. Whatever one’s talent or preparation, nobody runs an easy marathon. Geoffrey Mutai’s prayer at the startline is not to win the race, but to finish it.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

R8 Deep Tissue Massage Roller: Product Review

The R8 deep tissue massage roller from Roll Recovery is yet another in a long line of recovery products. This one is eye catching, two columns of roller blade wheels spring loaded and ready to fight. Thus we are not dealing with your typical foam roller or variation. People are drawn to this device, in a local running store nearly every customer picks it up and gives it a whirl, at a track meet kids invent muscle pain just to try it out. To some it is a toy, to others it is effective.

So what does the product entail? First off, it is great for trips. Put fifty kids on a bus after a meet and they need something for the legs at times. Using a foam roller in the aisle doesn’t always cut it and the stick requires torque. The R8 only needs enough muscle to spread the spring loaded wheels and insert your leg. Then you are off. No more sprawling on the floor, no more beating yourself with a blunt pole. You are able to put an adequate amount of pressure to work out knots and muscle adhesions, and to do so without inflicting an extreme amount of pain.

So does it work? On the quads, IT-Band, and hamstrings, I would be inclined to say yes. On the foot and lower leg/calf complex no. Your upper leg is a ball of muscle, so regardless of the angle of approach, you can dig in. The lower leg, with the shin, leaves the central calf out of play. To hit all the angles, the shin gets a rolling as well. Not a negative, per se, but not ideal either. Further, ranging from $100-$120 the price is quite prohibitive. I have this item to meet the needs of many athletes, but individuals might not and most likely cannot afford to purchase it.
Verdict: if you can afford it, a useful recovery item, but not a panacea catchall either.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Brittany D. Clark's The Mistake Tea Can Sometimes Make: A Book Review

From having a toddler watch a flock of birds attempt to resuscitate one of their fallen brethren to a father mowing around dandelion islands of lawn weeds out of paternal love, the chapbook The Mistake Tea Can Sometimes Make (click the title to buy) by Brittany D. Clark and from ELJ Publications confronts the odd and mundane of familial life. In this novella, Clark blends the poetic subtlety of flash fiction into a novella form. Arranged around a series of short vignettes, many of which have been and could be published as singular stories, the narrative follows the promising life of Julia Carlton, a child prodigy who for multiple, cascading reasons ends up a college dropout and stay at home mom in her dead end home town. To say dead end is not an exaggeration, for Douglass rests at the terminal end of a long New Jersey road. One way in, one way out, and a place founded by man who was at the end of his personal rope.

Julia, a woman who steamrolls forward, falls in love during college, dropping out to marry Eric Gardner. The two raise Benjamin, a child who can glean French from language CD’s, who detests sushi, and finds himself at MIT at age sixteen. Benjamin rests as the centerpiece of the novella’s action. Julia, once taken to reading tea leaves, becomes terrified of her life’s stasis while all the while attempting to raise a child worthy of her once promising life’s work. She wants to give him everything, looking toward the future, eliding over the past. Success eludes her, for she fails to stop, to read the tea leaves for what they are.

Beyond the familial discourse, the town of Douglass comes to life, first through Julia and the Gardner family’s stories, but then through the town newspaper. Clark intersperses the narrative with news updates, advancing time and space, while inserting culture. Alerting us to oddities, the movements of hunters and birds, and in the process letting her creation live and breathe. In the end, you will read this chapbook in a single sitting before turning to the front cover to read it once more.

Favorite lines:

  • “As she lay there, aware of her failures, her exposed body seemed all at once to lurch towards something” (17).
  • “He let the rest hang there in the stale air, absorbing all the years of waste and confusion until there was nothing left but a breeze”(42).
  • “He would cut the yard around patches of the flowering plant, creating islands Julia would soon run to with her gardening sheers, cutting the few blades to match the freshly cut grassy waters around them” (3).
  • “They fluttered as Julia said, ‘like a heart murmur.’ She came up with this metaphor when one of the semi-trucks pushed straight into one of the birds” (21).
  • “It wasn’t because their families didn’t have the money; Julia liked these kinds of projects, and Eric liked making Julia happy” (14).