A Year of Talking About Running

Years sneak past me these days, but then again, I think that’s one of the hallmarks of being a grown-up — some time toward the end of college one thinks, “holly crap, that went fast!” and from there on every year seems to pass with an increasingly vertiginous speed, exponentially accelerating towards an asymptotic point in the future.  The end of college rushes past, then the next few years of jobs and apartments blur, the sounds of friends and family slightly distorted due to the doppler effect, and then suddenly you are at your 10 year class reunion with two kids and teaching students who were born the year you graduated high school and one day while talking to them you realize that the film you still insist on calling the “new Star Wars movie” is the same age they are.  (You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?)

***

All of this self-indulgent rambling is to say: today this blog turns one.  Odd to think that it’s just 13 days older than my daughter, and that when I started writing here I not only had no idea who she was, but didn’t even know she was going to be born (adoption is sort of crazy that way).

My last post was about starting a new year and turning 33 — it just seems I can’t get away from Significant Dates.  Those two events, however, were more about my life outside the confines of this blog; one year of ” . . . When I Talk About Running” seems like a good time to reflect solely on a year of running and writing about running.

***

From a statistics standpoint, I published 140 posts and received 10,718 page views over the last year, both of which seem pretty good to me.  But writing, like running, isn’t about numbers for me.  Sure, its felt pretty good the few times I’ve gotten a spike in readers and had more than 100 views in a day, but since I don’t have any larger goals for this blog other than to share my thoughts on writing with some people who might find them interesting, those numbers are mostly irrelevant.  Over the last year, this blog has pretty much been exactly what I first thought it would be — a place for me to write down some of my musings on running and during running, a place to reflect and dream and plan.

What I was not expecting at all, honestly, was how fulfilling and fun its been to connect with other runners.  I’ve never been a very social-network or virtual person, so before this blog I really had no experience of getting to know people through the internet.  I’ve also not been a social runner at all: I run with M, and I run races, but other than that I pretty much run alone.  Which is how I like it, when it comes down to it, as I deeply enjoy the solitary contemplation of the long solo run, but occasionally I’ve thought it would be nice to have a running group to be a part of.

And then, quite unexpectedly, this blog brought me both virtual friends and a running community.  Its pretty much all Kate’s doing, as somehow somewhere while looking up barefoot running I came across someone mentioning her starting the Run Smiley Collective, and from there I started meeting people — people who I really like.  People who I actually count as “friends,” even though I might not have met them (or not met them while they were sober).  It’s great to have a random assortment of fun people scattered across the continent who are always ready with encouragement, running advice, and somewhat off-color humor at all hours of the day.  Thanks, guys.

Looking back over a year of posts, I’ve definitely drifted from the initial model, which was almost exclusively writing about specific runs, and have written more general “about running” posts.  I think that’s largely due to the fact that I’ve had less time to write about each run, and also because lately my runs have consisted almost solely of commuting to and from work on the same route over and over again.  I haven’t uploaded any Garmin maps recently, or put the milage in the title — all indicative, perhaps, of my ongoing shift away from stats and towards a more holistic view of my running.

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Of course, that is somewhat belied by the anal-retentive Excel spreadsheet I have of every run I’ve done since July of 2006.  This side of me always takes people somewhat by surprise — I’m the laid back artsy guy, the runner who doesn’t go for PR’s, the doodler and buddhist and harmonica player, and then I have a spreadsheet that calculates weekly and monthly milage and graphs showing monthly totals.

And all the colors?  Coded by which shoe I was wearing, so I can track milage for different pairs.  There’s no good way to show the whole file, but the pay-off to such obsessive recording is a great look back at my year in running.

This year I ran 1,134 miles, just 40 shy of my all-time annual high in 2008.  I started 2011 trying to transition to Vibrams, and in early February, just after starting the blog,  I gave myself a case of Achilles tendonitis.  The color-coding of my footwear shows the transition over the rest of the year, with my Altra Instincts and Vibrams slowly phasing in, then the Inov-8 155s, as my Brooks Adrenaline were rotated out.  July 25th was the last time I ran in a raised heel, motion controlled shoe.

The spreadsheet also shows me slowly loosing interest in my pace. Runs in January, February, and March all have a time as well as distance, but April and May I started not timing all my runs, and by August I’d pretty much stopped all together.  Which seems to fit in with the larger patterns of development in my running and writing — less numbers, less recording, more barefoot, more musing, larger goals.  I was a holistic hippy nut-job just in time for the 2nd Annual Barefoot run in September, which was definitely the highlight of my year in running.

In 2011 I ran my first barefoot race, finished my 3rd marathon, broke my previous 10K PR by 6 minutes, and didn’t run an ultra.  Not bad for a year, I suppose.

***

Looking back over 2011, everything seems to tie together: barefoot running, a growing interest in ultras, blogging, Run Smiley, not timing runs.  Its all about something bigger, something less defined, less clear-cut, less objective, about running falling somewhere into a messy confluence of sport and meditation and art.  A physical metaphor, an escape, the journey and the destination rolled into one.  This year has gone by quickly, as they all do now — Angelica will be one next month, and it seems like she just came home last month.  (I swear she turned one twice as fast as Nat.)  This last year I pushed Nat in the jogging stroller through the snow of last Winter and the heat of the summer; he’s gone from a two-year old with a handful of words to a young boy who can hold full conversations as I run behind him.  One of these days, he’ll be running with me.

Thanks for sticking around for all or part of this year with me, and for taking the time to read what I talk about when I talk about running.  I’d be writing this even if no one read it, since its more for myself than anyone else, but its nice to have company sometimes.  Just like running, when sometimes the best running partners just run beside you, not speaking.  This next year I’ll keep running and thinking and writing, if you want to run along for a while.

Into the blue again, into silent water, under the rocks and stones, there is water underground, letting the days go by, into silent water, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.  

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

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About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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4 Responses to A Year of Talking About Running

  1. Kate Kift says:

    Beautiful post Chris. I have to admit, I was so glad I was able to connect with you. When we did finally meet –and I think we were sober for a very small part of it — I was amazed that we had only been emailing and talking for a few months. It felt like I had known you for years.

    The Barefoot Running community I feel has some of the most honest “virtual” people I know. In New York I was astounded that all these people I knew on-line (some of them for years), were no different in real life. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and I think deep down we are a genuinely happy bunch who like to have fun.

    I am glad that you stumbled onto the Collective. I am so honoured I was given the opportunity to get to know you.

    • Chris Van Dyke says:

      And I always need more people in my life spelling “honour” with a “u” — thrills my inner anglophile to no end 🙂 I agree with everything you said about the barefoot runners I’ve met, and falling in with “The Collective” was one of the highlights of not just 2011, but my last few years. I’m hoping to go back to being one of the more active members in 2012, but don’t promise anything specific yet, since this whole “house” thing is still falling into order. Still, I’ll be around . . .

  2. Jen says:

    I’ve kind of fallen out of the blogging world lately… But I’ve always enjoyed reading yours! I’m actually all caught up with you now. I’m looking forward to another year. And I LOVE your spreadsheet. I haven’t been running much, which fills me with an immense sadness, and I enjoy reading your more philosophical about running posts. 🙂

    • Chris Van Dyke says:

      Thanks — hope you enjoy the next year as well, and get in some time for running. Lord knows I know its not always easy to fit it in.

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