Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A race as a work of genius

"Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration," Thomas Edison is said to have coined.

It's a phrase you or I would apply to art, to science or to creating an idea that we would all look upon with wonder. But why does it have to be a scribble on a disposed paper, a eureka moment or something sculpted into a form visible to the eye.

What if a run was a work of art, as much a creation as other works of -- dare we say it -- genius?

(If you want the short form of my argument, just watch a world-class marathoner run)


Somewhere in the middle of my long run this weekend, while my body was still waking up while my mind was fully engaged with one of my favourite podcasts, Radiolab. It was a typical episode, slightly less science-bent, with a segment called "Me, Myself, and Muse." (Listen)

In it, the hosts and their 'guests' talked about the writer's struggle to overcome deadlines, to find inspiration, to perspire and sweat and toil to craft that perfect work that would transcend even their greatest hopes and their perceived talent.

All this talk of sweat got me literally thinking about the parallels between writing and running. In some forms of my professional life, my cohorts struggle to find their voices. In running, we pound the pavement to find our stride. We sweat over pen or keyboard to find a rhythm -- cadence, in the running parlance -- in the ways our words and foot strikes mesh on paper and pavement. In running, you continue to dutifully put in the miles, not unlike the inches of type writers pound out day after day. You are as good as your last story, like you feel of your last pace run. To run is to equip yourself with the syntax of human movement -- quick strides, smooth turnover, easy pace over long distance, which, in the writer's world, can be translated into flowing sentences, carved only by the smooth curvature of a comma -- abruptly interrupted by other more blunt devices.

Writing and running, no wonder there are so many books by runners for runners.

But of that first phrase, 1 per cent inspiration, I find big solace in that the runner's world has its equivilant.

Liz Gilbert (yes, that one, I know, I know), in the Radiolab segment, likened the writer's technique of pausing, letting the muse strike at unknown times to give that 1% inspiration. I remember being told almost 15 years ago in one of my first feature writing classes that if you had done your reporting and you still didn't know how to start your story, the best thing to do was to walk away. And let inspiration strike.

"It's a bargain to get 1% inspiration, it's a miracle," she said. She spoke about speaking to your work, of how she couldn't come up with the title of her book until she addressed it fully (yes, a little odd), but how different is that for those of us who speak to our bodies or body parts. "Hello legs, will you give me a miracle?"

Ninety-nine perspiration? I believe that is what makes a runner. Race day is where that 1% comes into the picture.

I guess this flows through my mind because I was thinking of how one achieves the perfect race. True, in everyday running, I sometimes pull off the most amazing splits, when everything feels just perfect. Those 7:15 miles feel easy, tempo is not problem, trackwork is painful but at the same time a joy, if happiness is defined by being hunched over, or catching your breath with your hands on your hips. You know what I mean, especially on those other days when everything feels so... ordinary. Too many of them.

I guess when I look back at my progression as a distance runner, there are many moments that I would not be out of turn when I describe them as "great works." My best 30K run on a hot muggy day in the dark in the middle of heavy training. Wish I could put that one on the wall. My marathon PB? Gorgeous. Messy at times, but I look back at my calm mind, my smooth first half, my finishing ability and the artful way I dodged the wall?

I may have a huge-ass medal, a nice little race picture and even a trip or two to Boston, but in my mind's eye, that kind of run is one that I love to appreciate, to try to recapture. It's a showing for one, one of best long runs a marathoner could get. And that was a work of genius.

The best part? To this day, I still love to put in the 99%

5 comments:

Marlene said...

This post is a work of genius! Very well said, as always.

Thanks also for your comment yesterday. It still feels like it is coming too easily, but I am trying to put that out of my head and believe I'm in that glorious "phase" you referred to. Just have to get through the next 5.5 weeks, putting in that 99%!

Robin said...

Great post!

Sam S. said...

Thank you. I needed this today, more than you'll ever know.

Boris Terzic said...

Great post, well said sir.

Patrick said...

Great post!