Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vita Activa vs. Vita Contemplativa

If you live in Cedar Falls, you know that the summer's main event is Sturgis Falls. I've been here for two years, but had never been to the festivities because of traveling. The celebration is typical for midwestern municipal summer festivals: a parade (shout out to T.D. for his award-winning Pump the Viking float), live music, dangerous folding carnival rides, food on a stick (photo documentation of a Jurassic dog is needed!), beer, and a running race. I've been to more than a few of such festivals, many somewhat disappointing, but CF does a nice job with this one. We get not only tribute-to-Bon-Jovi and Journey bands, but also pseudo-Johnny Cash. And the racing tradition is older than the Twin Cities marathon by three years! This year marked the 33rd running of the half-marathon. I had signed up for it as a training event for San Francisco. Despite my mental categorization of it as a training race, I had some trepidation as the race approached. I had pushed the weights on Wednesday, immediately followed by a 16-miler Thursday. Combined with not a lot of sleep, I was hurting by Friday. Turns out though, that rest and fun sets the stage for PR!

I was interested to read this morning a NY Times opinion piece that challenges the current privilege our society places on extroversion. I must of course, frame this--and my training--in Renaissance humanist terms. One of the debates among humanists in early modern Europe was whether the vita activa (active civic life) was more virtuous than the vita contemplativa (contemplative scholarly life) or vice versa. This debate had more to do with courtiers advising their princes about how they could best serve their polities (going back to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers' theories, if you want to go there), but I'd like to co-opt the terms to frame why I think I had successful race. I found balance between activity and rest, between extroverted sociability and more introverted sensitivity to myself.

My body was wasted after that long run Thursday. So I scheduled a massage--quiet time for me and my muscles. This was followed by beers with my colleagues (social time), and a good 9 hours of sleep and a complete rest day from workouts and social engagements on Friday. Saturday I felt great, and I was psyched that I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted because my husband was out of town. I didn't plan on going out. I had little interest in the music downtown. I'm an academic. I cherish my alone time to think and work uninterrupted. But around happy hour, an invitation for socializing stood open. I thought long and hard about staying in. But I decided to go out, just for an hour (I had a race to run the next day!) But that one hour turned into five hours and a really fun time with good friends in a community sparking with good will.

The good will carried over into the race. Much of my run was quiet, but there were five other women with whom I jockeyed positions between miles 6 and 12. It was at mile 10 that I asked two of the women whether they were training for anything. I did so just to make conversation, really. I mean, we had been running pretty much together, sometimes one ahead, sometimes another, for a long time. It seemed that it would be the nice thing to reach out and acknowledge our shared experience. I was also impressed that we had been running a pretty good pace, and pushing each other, no doubt, to stay at that pace, and I wanted to acknowledge and appreciate that. We chatted a little, and agreed it was nice to have each other to push ourselves. After mile 11, I dropped the two. I felt great, and in fact, the conversation had amplified my mental state, and my confidence. I felt comraderie, and shared purpose. It might sound oxymoronic that I felt comraderie with them and still left them behind, but that was exactly what we were doing for each other--providing incentive and a goal for each other. And in fact, with 400 meters to go, the woman who I talked to the most passed me. We both huffed a "great job." I like to think that that woman was as amped as I was by my reaching out to talk to her about marathon training and acknowledge our shared hard work. It helped take our minds off our bodies during those last few hard miles.

I ran 1:43:33--seven minutes faster than my half-marathons last year. That is huge for me. It must be because I rested and stayed inside when I needed to--and because I went out and had fun, and chose to reach out during the race too.

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