Grind-scuttling-stone 100

“. . .
It’s this expectation that you’ll grow up
and become one of those scuttling
commuters with a very large filing cabinet
and nothing marvelous to say. The way
to not get lost is with the body. . . . ”

Oliver Bendorf. 2015. “The No Shame Theatre.” The Spectral Wilderness. Kent State University Press, 14.

“. . . in our running-together, not only do we see and hear that our co-runner is struggling to ascend a slope with her/his usual degree of alacrity, but we also know experientially the feeling of such struggles, we know the corporeal feelings of being in that moment-of-struggling, of legs feeling heavy and weak, or breathing becoming ragged and raspy. We understand (although never completely or finally . . .), via shared corporeal knowledge, ways of knowing and experience, what the other is feeling, and we adjust our own actions in accordance with that understanding, in our case in order to sustain running-together over the terrain . . . ”

Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson and John Hockey. 2017. “Intercorporeal enaction and synchrony: The case of distance running together,” in Moving Bodies in Interaction – Interacting Bodies in Motion: Intercorporeality, Interkinaesthesia, and Enaction in Sports, ed. Christian Meyer and Ulrich v. Wedelstaedt. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 173 – 191.

The race report as genre still seems to escape me as an author. For anyone who knows me, there is ample evidence that I am quite capable in conversation of joyously extracting and dissecting the tiny details of a course, the quirks of an event, and the race I’ve run. Grindstone 2017 is no different in that sense, but I just can’t seem to do it here. Once again, I find myself narrowly focused in writing on a couple of details and maintain my continued wonder at running as phenomenon and experience. But, and I feel especially qualified as an archivist to say so, there is no race report more meticulously detailed and true to the event than the one composed by Chris Roberts here. Fast and smart.

As a few readers may know, my first attempt at the Grindstone 100, one year ago, ended the second time I arrived into the North River Gap aid station (~ mile 67). A couple of miles earlier, on the steep descent from Little Bald Knob, I had taken a fall so painfully awkward that my right hip shut down most useful movement, and I was left with about one inch of lift for my right step. The consensus at the aid station was that I was done running, but I was so far ahead of cut-off times, that I could surely hobble the remaining thirty-five miles. (Who hasn’t been on the receiving end of a David Horton “pep” talk involving the word “wuss”?) Alas, no. I seek to run freely and quickly in a healthy body, so I called in my first (and only, so far) DNF. I’ve never felt particularly prideful in my running, so the agony of making that decision didn’t seem to come from that kind of place. (Nor was I having any issues with the constant rain; in fact, I enjoyed it.) I love to run, and I wanted to run to the end. So, this year’s Grindstone wasn’t necessarily about redemption as much as reconciliation between my body and that space. Spoiler alert, I finished this time.

In the year that separates the two runs, there have been two important, yet oppositional, physical changes that impacted this year’s finish. The first (largely, positive) change is that I came to the race in a stronger, faster body that weighed about eight pounds less than the year before. In essence, my running practice has continued to maintain an overall trajectory of improvement across all major indices. The second (largely, negative) change is that I transitioned into a traditional professional position at Virginia Tech Libraries six weeks before the race. Having spent the past two years working independently as a consultant for acquisitions and cataloging resources from Southeast Asia, I had developed a work and travel schedule that ebbed and flowed with training and racing. The net effect and impact of this new position was that I was suddenly faced with less flexibility for fitting in higher mileage weeks and runs on the course. Additionally, the effect on my sleep schedule was immediately clear with an average of one hour less sleep every night. Certainly, the work/life/family/health balance is one with which we all struggle, so I don’t anticipate any great concessions of pity here. Instead, I see this change as something that needs to be better incorporated into my running practice and sense of life-enactment, holistically applied.

Our running bodies definitely reflect the experiences of our working bodies. On the margins of my phenomenological inquiry, there is no small amount of interest in the future of work. Particularly, I am drawn to the thoughts of folks like Buckminster Fuller and Herbert Marcuse in considering the impact that technological progress should (and sometimes does) have on our personal freedom of movement and occupation. For another post, perhaps . . .

There is, also, a more personal coda to this section that deserves spotlight and celebration. I simply cannot say enough about the care, support, and grace that my family demonstrates as I continue to dedicate vast amounts of time and energy towards running.

The avocado on Dowells Draft East Branch, with Frank Gonzalez, a smiling Ginny Pannabecker, and a fuzzy Clark Zealand. Photo: Chris Thompson.

As of Grindstone 2017, Ginny, Piay, and Odessa have developed into a fine-tuned trail-running support machine. Their navigational and organizational skills are only matched by their ability to sort out details of projected arrival time and nutrition under heavy sleep deprivation. They are truly expert in the most counter-intuitive of acts: minimizing the amount of quality time spent with a loved one battling endurance-racing-induced duress. AvocadoPitCrewPiay, our guru of positive motivation, has even designed a team logo (inclusive of our pup, Modopep, who joins when he’s allowed). They have faithfully made certain that I am so much more than a “scuttling commuter with a filing cabinet and nothing marvelous to say.”


Another major, though interkinaesthetic, difference for this year’s race was my decision to arrange for a pacer to run with me from that fateful aid station at North River Gap (NRG). For the duties thereby associated, an amiable, thoroughly thoughtful, and determined Josh Gilbert volunteered. [Shameless plug here, Josh and Gina Gilbert organize a terrific race series in Roanoke in which everyone within the region should participate, if for no other reason than to feast on the very fab chocolate-chip pumpkin bread at the end. Also, the community of people thus collected is top-notch.]

There is a lot I could say about my experience of the race from mile 67 forward to the end. Every aspect of that experience would include Josh’s presence on my run, which I mention here as a means of intentionally communicating with all awareness his impact on my enactment of running those remaining miles. Josh left absolutely no stone unturned in preparation for our run together. By the time we came together at NRG, Josh was well-versed, through his own perseverance and investigative skills, in all aspects of my engagement with running this race, from time/pace goals to nutritional and conversational preferences. In the course of running together, he had terrific instincts on when to push and when to relax, which made for an experience that I truly valued and enjoyed. And, that’s saying a lot, because when I rolled into NRG that second time, it was with the news that my stomach was an absolute wreck. Not only had I not taken in any nutrition since the turn at 50, I couldn’t muster the physical desire to consume anything that even remotely passed for food and drink. That meant trouble. As a result, most of the words that escaped from my mouth for the remainder of the race, when I wasn’t trying to get nutrition in (with Josh’s consistent encouragement), were giving voice to many negative thoughts. Obviously, Josh kept all of that from reaching a critical level.

But, the most impactful interaction I had with Josh occurred about thirty-five miles earlier, on my first time through NRG. As a phenomenological thinker, physical exchanges impact me very deeply. My plan for the race included a shoe and sock change both times through NRG (essentially splitting the race in thirds across three pair of Altra Superior 2.0’s). As I sat down to make this change, Josh dove in to help take off my shoes and socks, quite possibly the most intimate moment I’ve had with another man in recent memory. There’s even a picture of this happening.

The avocado and Pacer Extraordinaire on the North River branch. Photo: Jordan Chang.

The moment didn’t pass without me noticing it in the way that you may experience something so powerful that time slows down substantially. There is no way to be hyperbolic about the foulness that can accompany a pair of feet or the socks that are on them after 35+ miles of running. And yet, Josh didn’t flinch at that enacted exchange. (I should note here that Josh is a practicing chiropractor, and so, by profession, a person who is skillful in healing contact.) If I had any doubt (and I had not) that Josh was the right guy to pace me the next morning, it would have been solved right then and there. Instead, what flashed like light into my running body was the immediate knowledge that no matter what shape I was in when I came back around, that I was going to run with this guy to the end of the race. It may not have been pretty, or nearly as fast as I would have liked, but it was good.


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