Saturday, July 21, 2007


I've been looking forward to today for a number of weeks now, and am happy to say that it completely lived up to expectations as the second-to-last non-guilty non-work day between now and September, a particularly good one because packed full of the most perfectly enjoyable things.

(The other remaining non-guilty non-work day, though inevitably there will be a handful of guilt-stricken and non-enjoyable non-work days also, is August 5.)

Of course it was a happy coincidence that the release of the final Harry Potter book should fall on my birthday! Very exciting--I resisted going to buy it at midnight last night, for reasons that will become clear shortly, but I got it this afternoon, flopped down on my bed with it around five and have just finished and am now going to go to bed.

But before lavish Potter-reading, and slightly less decadently, the real highlight of the day was meeting up with the others in my running group at Van Cortland Park at eight this morning for an absolutely delightful twelve-mile run.

(Possibly a bit shorter--there was some debate, more or less unresolvable--either it was short or we ran very fast, but probably the former, and my footpod certainly thought it was short!)

It was a real trail run, too, quite different from what I usually do--hilly, and uneven and interesting footing, and in the woods (I was in nature!), and all very good. It wasn't one of those insanely blissful runs you get sometimes, my stomach was a tiny bit unsettled and my legs got (satisfactorily) tired, but it was very all-round enjoyable, including perfect low-humidity weather, and of course afterwards you feel quite amazing.

(Comically our coach, who is usually the voice of strict and utter healthiness in eating, insisted that the ritual runners' accompaniment to a "Vanny" run is a slice of carrot cake afterwards--with icing, she was most particular!--at the exclusively carrot-cake-purveying Lloyd's Carrot Cake. It was quite delicious--I waited to eat it till I got home, though I am afraid that I did not have time to drink the cup of coffee I'd brewed to have with it before having to go out again--had to stow the coffee in the fridge and drink it later, iced...)

I had just time to shower before I went to yoga (I do it at the Columbia gym mostly, but it's this kind if you're curious), and then I purchased Harry Potter which I could not get last night in case I stayed up all night reading and ruined my morning run, and then I had mid-afternoon lunch (it is funny the way a long run makes you ravenously hungry) with my dad who is in town for Wagnerian opera, and then I had a few birthday phone calls and then I plunged into the world of Potter.

No spoilers here I hope, just close your eyes though and skip to the next paragraph if you're trying to stay pure for it--the final third or so of the volume is perhaps a more satisfying read than the first half, I kind of just forgot that our trio weren't going to be at Hogwarts at the beginning of this installment, and of course the school is a large part of the books' charm, once you temporarily have on hold any school scenes or Snape appearances it is perhaps not quite as enjoyable--there's a bit too much mythic patterning for my taste, where you get Lord of the Rings-Arthur-Aslan-Christ kind of stuff in rapid succession--but J. K. Rowling really just has a genius for making a world, there's no doubt about it.

I wouldn't say that these are my favorite books in the world (Philip Pullman and Garth Nix and Diana Wynne Jones all seem to me rather superior writers in this sort of vein), but I do love them, and I also just get a huge kick out of the way everybody's so obsessed--I mean, I often feel like I'm going to die if I can't get hold of (fill in the blank's) new novel that minute, but most people do not live this way, it is nice to get an alternate-universish vision of a world in which everyone has this kind of relationship with novels!

Further thoughts on turning 36: no surprises here, the thirties are undoubtedly better than the twenties (and the twenties better than the teens), so that's all good. My resolutions and goals go in calendar years rather than birthday years, but it can be said that I will be very disappointed in myself if I have not done at least one and possibly two or three triathlons by July 21, 2008!

Further thoughts on running: oh, the agony and the ectasy!

From where I sit now, there are two main problems with running.

One, it's hard on the body and injury-producing: I don't have any injury right now, I seem to have finally gotten rid of most of the last traces of stress-fracture related muscle problem, everything's good, but I am keenly aware of the hazards. It is my heart's desire to run the marathon, it kills me that I'm not going to run my first one this fall, I am sure I'm right to have decided to wait till next year but it makes me sorry to think about how careful you have to be with this stuff.

Two, running is terribly conducive to self-dissatisfaction and self-criticism! Because there's no two ways about it, it's totally a sport of numbers. I was having despairing philosophical reflections on this earlier in the week, though I have firmly put them out of mind now and will stop over-analyzing.

This unproductive line of thought was prompted by a really very satisfactory result in our little time trial run on Tuesday. We did two loops of the Central Park reservoir (3.14 miles total), and had to commit in advance to a specific pace and then guess afterwards (i.e. before we got our times) what our pace had actually been. I picked 8:30 (a rather aspirational minutes-per-mile pace for me), was afraid I'd fallen short (though was certainly running very hard, it was not comfortable!), but actually made it at 8:24.

This is really very good. I didn't do the time trial at the beginning of this particular season's training, I think I had a swimming clinic that night, but I looked back at my times from last year and I really have made a huge improvement. My beginner's time for one loop on 8/22/06 was 9:04 (I'd been running inside on a treadmill for six months or so previously but hadn't really nerved myself up to take it properly outside), and I remember I was very pleased indeed when we got timed for two loops on 9/28/06 and I made 8:59 pace at the longer distance--seemed a great barrier to have broken under nine minutes per mile, especially since I always believed that nine minutes was my genetic limit...

So briefly I had pride in my result!

But the thing is, I have my heart set on running eight-minute miles! I hope that by the end of next summer, I might run a four-mile race below eight-minute pace, and I hope that by a couple years from now I could do long runs at eight-minute pace--think of the satisfaction of being able to race a half-marathon at eight-minute pace!

You see where I'm going with this--I suddenly got this horrible inkling of how once you get eight-minute pace you look at the folks who can do 7:40 really comfortably and just think with longing about how you should be able to do that too. Where does it all stop?!?

Oh dear...

However I am just saying now and to my future self that really eight-minute pace would be pretty great, there is no shame in not being a really fast runner, and whatever speed you run at there is always some perfectly good other runner, rather slower than you, who would be glad to run as fast as you do!

So I must just take this as a lesson in resignation and striving, I will strive to run as fast as I possibly can and reach the utmost of my realistic genetic limits (certainly I should be able to do eight-minute miles, this is an ambitious and yet also a fairly reasonable goal), but I will not let myself fill up with self-reproach for not being a superb natural athlete whose body responds magically well to training! Because really the magic of training is that it works on everybody, your body does respond even if you are not very genetically gifted, and really also I am within all reasonable expectation strong and fast (enough) and healthy.

It's funny, back to the same talent-striving thing I seem to have posted about several times recently: I feel that my one really huge advantage with this training stuff is that I am incredibly hard-working and consistent, I never skip workouts or training sessions and my nutrition (other than today!) is excellent and I feel that really this gives me a leg up over the naturally talented who train inconsistently, and I do not think I'm wrong on this.

But perhaps in honor of it being my birthday I should say to myself that I do have a very modest little talent for running (not at all an unusual talent, in the universe of fast runners I am a very slow runner, but a little talent just like in the parable), it's not mere force of will and dogged hard labor that lets me run faster, and I should try and enjoy cultivating it, for fun, rather than turning it into another extreme and self-critical striver's project!



  1. Jenny, happy birthday! And how can it be that I am older than you? From my 4-month experience with it, I heartily recommend 36, it's been treating me much better than 35.

  2. as a data point, i, for example, am thrilled to be able to run twelve-minute miles on the treadmill. (a messed-up knee makes me fear running in the actual world.)

    also: happy birthday!

  3. Most happy birthday to you Jenny! The thirties are so much better than the twenties and oddly the closer I get to 40 (next year) the better life is. It's all that hard fought wisdome I suppose - and finally figuring out what I want to do in life!

    I'm so glad you had a good run and good yoga and good HP.


  4. A belated happy birthday, and I'm glad that you could enjoy it so thoroughly.

  5. Happy birthday! I am rather number-obsessed too, so I know exactly the dilemma with numbers you are talking about!

  6. Everyone isn't number obsessed? Blink. Oh.

    A very happy belated birthday!

  7. Happy belated birthday.

    There must be a way to *make* enjoying cultivating it for fun be an extreme and self-critical striver's exercise. The way probably involves numbers. And charts. Footpods not optional. ;-)

  8. Although I feel a little bit naked without my lurker's invisibility cloak on, I am taking it off just for a minute to say that I hope that in addition to acknowledging what seems to me like a more-than-modest talent for running you also acknowledge a more-than-modest talent for conveying to your readers with unusual vividness the real base joy that one can derive from running, the drop-dead exhausted satisfaction of finishing a loop and knowing just how far you've been and just how long it's taken and just how good it's been for your own body, the exhilaration of it all. And the frustrations, too! -- injuries, limitations imposed by things out of one's control, thwarted expectations, etc. The way you write about it is just delicious, and also inspiring: it makes me want both to run and to write, all at once. I am a fairly new runner (but not a new reader of Light Reading) myself, and like you I am more likely to crash headlong into something than to do it halfway; I've spent the last several months wholly absorbed in the number-crunching of running and the discourse of running and other running-related things, and the most satisfying of all of those things is reading about your own running here. So -- happy birthday, and having never known you at all at Columbia (where I was an undergraduate; now I'm starting the English PhD program at Harvard, where I will be seeking out that Cambridge Trust ATM in the vain hope that it still gives out $5 bills) I hope wholeheartedly that I run into you someday at some academic thing, and thank you very much for all this!

  9. Thanks belatedly to everyone for very nice comments, especially Maggie! Maggie, I fear that the Cambridge Trust ATM definitely does NOT dispense such small-denomination bills these days, but I trust you will thrive in any case and that one of these days we'll actually have some literary conversation in person! Drop a line if you're Columbia-ways & want to stop by to introduce yourself, or accost me if we cross paths in some academic or other location...