02 February 2007

"Reports of my Death..."

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the full quote from Mark Twain which begins in the title of today's post: "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." This was part of a letter that Twain famously posted to the New York Journal in May, 1897, in response to an obituary the paper had printed earlier (the editor had apparently read a death notice for Twain's cousin, Samuel Ross Clemens, and confused the two). In the interest of historical accuracy, I suppose I ought to point out that the text of the actual handwritten note reads "... the report of my death was an exaggeration." Or something pretty close. Either way, the point is the same.

Anyway, regular readers here already know that I've endeavored to keep things interesting (or, at the very least, to feed my pretentions of scholarly and literary grandiosity) by littering these posts with occasional and sometimes gratuitous allusions to everyone from Homer to Haruki Murakami to Tim O'Brien to Virgil to Arthur Herzog (no, really!) to Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin. Many of these references are arguably a bit on the oblique side (all the better to cultivate my pointy-headed mystique, of course) -- so why I am I now leading off with something as obvious and hackneyed as the quote from Twain?

I guess because it seemed appropriate, that's all. Seriously, I wasn't going to post anything for another couple of days, but I found myself compelled to pass along the following:

1) I am not mortally injured, and
2) I still plan on resuming this whole running thing.

A few days ago, I was surprised to receive a phone call from a reporter at the New York Post asking me to verify whether or not I was, in fact, abandoning my plan to run all the streets of Brooklyn. I of course replied in the negative, and went on to explain that I'm merely taking some time off to rest up and heal a bit. And while I hadn't really thought about it prior to talking with this guy, after our conversation I realized that there were indeed a few hints here and there that might lead people to this (quite erroneous) conclusion.

Some of the confusion, of course, probably has its origins in my predilection for self-deprecatory rhetoric, and my apparent fondness for endlessly writing about the various aches and pains I've encountered and my general physical decrepitude. (When reading back through the archived posts, in fact, I was struck by the frequency with which I engaged in this sort of grousing. Yikes!)

But some of the rest might be traced to brief mentions in two relatively small local media outlets. First, a couple of weeks ago the Brooklyn Paper (a free weekly distributed to "bulk drop" locations throughout the borough's more upscale neighborhoods) ran this short piece which, though I didn't seem to notice at the time, does offer a somewhat distorted version of things. It calls me an "Iowa native," for instance, even though the "About Me" box at the very top of this blog clearly states that I'd moved to Brooklyn after "thirty years in New Jersey and another ten in Iowa." Moreover, the piece seems to imply that I might not even run the second half because I didn't think things all the way through, or simply because I'm "too lazy."

This last quote was actually a (typically self-deprecating) comment responding to the question of why I didn't stretch more, though the writing isn't particularly clear and it's kind of hard to tell what it refers to. Nonetheless, between the Forest Gump comparisons, aforementioned "Iowa native" references, and out-of-context quotations, it's understandable how a reader might possibly come away from the article with the impression that I'm some kind of midwestern rube standing at the edge of Brooklyn, rubbing his eyes in disbelief at the sheer vastness of the Big City and wondering just what he's gotten himself into. I'm not quite sure whether the general tone of the story and its casual treatment of the facts are due to specific editorial policy or simply the result of a young reporter's inexperience, but regardless, it does make me seem a little ambivalent about continuing. (To be fair, however, I should note that over the course of a few emails and a short phone conversation my impression of the writer in question, Christine Rizk, was a positive one, and the photographer they sent out couldn't have been nicer.)

The second mention consisted of only two sentences in last Wednesday's end-of-the-day wrap-up in Gothamist (the widely-read blog covering local news, events, and popular culture), quoting me on some of the aches and pains I'd written about and implying that injury might prevent me from running the second half. And while there's obviously no malicious intent lurking behind this (frankly, I'm quite sure the folks over there don't spend all that much time thinking about me or my sore legs in the first place), and though I appreciate the concern (really, I do), the quote about occasional numbness in my legs was part a larger explanation of why I needed to take some time off before moving on to the second half, not instead of moving on to the second half.

Whatever. The reality is probably that the underlying meaning of almost anything I try to say here is hopelessly obscured as I attempt to negotiate the text of each post between the Scylla of my ineluctable loggorhea and the Charybdis of my complete inability to self-edit (see? I'm doing it again! It's like a disease!). In other words, I have only myself to blame if readers of my blog walk away confused. But self-incriminating finger-pointing aside, let me wrap things up by saying, as straightfowardly as possible:

True enough, the first half took its toll both mentally and physically. But I'm going to take a few more weeks off, and if everything heals up properly I'll pick up the running right where I left off -- hopefully some time in early March.

Now why couldn't I have just said that in the first place?

As usual, here are a few more pictures:

gables, midwood
Somewhere in Midwood

wall, williamsburg
Marcy Avenue, Williamsburg

truck parking, cypress hills
Along Jamaica Avenue in Cypress Hills

30 January 2007

A Painful Confession

I know, it's been a while. Tempus fugit, indeed. Anyway, some of you might be wondering where I've been the last week or two, and when I plan on resuming this whole thing (or indeed if I'm even planning on continuing at all). Have I lost interest? Could it be that I'm just waiting out the cold weather now that winter has actually arrived? Did I get all lazy? What's the holdup with starting in on the second half? Let me quickly begin by affirming that yes, I still have every intention of continuing, though it might not be for a while. But it's not simply a matter of sloth or the desire to wait for warmer weather, however, that's keeping me off the streets at the moment. So, by way of explanation, I offer the following overly-complicated and unnecessarily self-indulgent tripartite (or perhaps quadripartite) confession, replete with needlessly pretentious Latin introductions to each part:

I. Quod me nutrit me destruit.
Running is supposed to be good for you, right? Or at least that's what I've always told myself. But everything needs to be done in moderation, I suppose, and I've never been one to be particularly moderate about anything. So I'll go right out and say it – I've been in a substantial amount of pain for quite a while now, and I'm running out of ways to deal with it. With the exception, of course, of taking an extended break and hoping that my body will, indeed, heal itself if I actually give it enough time to do so. What started as occasional soreness in my heels last summer has by now become more or less constant pain throughout most of my legs – not really any acute discomfort anywhere, but rather a chronic and pervasive tiredness and achiness that never goes away. Seriously, except for those few hours a week when I'm actually running (oh, those endorphins!) even the basic process of walking is proving painful. More disturbingly, I've been experiencing a weird numbness from time to time (especially from the knees down), like when your legs fall asleep or something. History of compulsive behavior notwithstanding, even I know that's probably not good.

The most vexing aspect of all this, however, is that I haven't been running all that much by most objective standards. I've averaged maybe 35 miles a week over the first half, which many runners would consider a pretty moderate total (non-runners will have to take my word on this one). So if it's not the mileage, why am I hurting? Is it that my typical run is close to nine miles long? That I usually run at a pretty constant pace of around 7.5 minutes per mile? That I do the absolute minimum amount of stretching after a run (and, if the subway's right there when I get to the platform, sometimes none at all)? The answers, I'll sheepishly admit, are indeed yes, yes, and yes. Most runners (the smart ones, at least) mix up their weekly runs so there's a nice complement of short and long, easy and hard, slow and fast. And any good runner knows how important stretching is. Again, my rational self knows all these things, but the compulsive self is fixated on the accumulation of unique miles, all else be damned.

II. Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare. Sure enough, almost everyone I know (or, at least, everyone I've confided to about the pain and numbness) has urged me to take a break and rest up for a while. Again, the rational side of my brain realizes this is because they care about me and don't want to see me injure myself more severely (or more permanently), but the compulsive side brushes their admonishments aside (or worse, interprets them as a challenge to my resolve) and vows to press forward. Now, however, I've got to agree with them (and with Cicero, apparently) and admit that continuing to run at this time would not only be potentially physically destructive but monumentally stupid. And so it's not without at least a modicum of anguish and wounded pride that I hereby pledge:

Although I haven't run in twelve days, I'm going to take an additional four weeks off with the hope that my body will undo all the abuse I've heaped on it over the last seven months and heal itself well enough that I can continue with this project and finish up running all of Brooklyn by this fall.

So there you have it. Maybe now that it's out there for everyone to see (or at least my dozen or so regular readers), I'll have to follow through or risk even more wagging fingers and well-intentioned cautionary advice.

III. "Haec olim meminisse iuvabit," said Aeneas to his shipwrecked crew after the storm. And, with a similar admixture of irony and optimism, so say I. Maybe, after I finish this whole thing, hindsight will render the next several weeks not as the extended period of discouragement and frustration that they seem now, but merely a brief interlude in which I gather up the strength and energy to see things through. That's what I'm hoping for, in any event.

Looking on the bright side, a month or a month and a half off from running will allow me to spend some quality time on the dissertation, an activity that would definitely benefit from a little more attention. In fact, I'll probably take five or six days and drive back to Iowa City, to meet with my advisor and see some old friends. As for staying in shape, the Greenpoint Y is a short walk from home, and I'm thinking that there are most likely plenty of ways to start one's day that are worse than spending thirty or forty minutes in the pool.

Finally, I'll continue to post here whenever I have anything worth sharing (and probably even when I don't), and there are still a few dozen photos in the Runs Brooklyn archives which I could dig up and post as well. So do be sure to stop by from time to time and see what's up. With any luck, I hope to be back on the road around March 1st or so.

IV. Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum viditur. Then again, you probably knew that, right? And bonus points for identifying the individual whose portrait appears above. In any event, here are a few more photos that until now have managed to avoid being posted:

houses and wall, sunset park
Somewhere in Sunset Park

auto repairs, bed-stuy
Lexington Avenue in Bed-Stuy

morning in williamsburg
Sunday morning in Williamsburg