Zach Bell, Yale University
This may not look like the best burrito I have ever eaten. In fact, this burrito looks woefully shrunken in the middle, wrinkled, not stuffed to bursting like a paragon burrito should. Despite its visual deficiencies, I can assure you that this was a burrito sent from the heavens.
A ten minute writing exercise for a class I’m taking this semester, Ordinary Romanticism. The prompt: describe your ordinary.
The ordinary is the space in between steps, breaths, heartbeats—the inexplicable pause in flight as one hamstring stretches back, drawing bands of tendon across kneecap and retracting the foot in one long arc, the other thrusting forward, a transformation of flesh into energy, body translated across space. Running (every morning) begins in the gray fog of the Hudson, where I can barely detect outlines of old docks and a crane poised to rip rotting timber from the water. I live in Morningside Heights, close to Riverside Park and a few jogging paths, so I step outside and start running immediately, allowing the urban and the real to recede in my peripheral vision. When I am running, by the river, in January, my imagination flickers like a projector running scratched film. For an instant, I run along the Charles, another, a beach in South Carolina or Greece, or sometimes I return to the Cumberland—last summer, I injured my knee and could not run, only walk, past the Country Music Hall of Fame to the Cumberland Greenway. I enjoy revisiting that site of defeat and running past my tired and hurting, ancient, memorialized self.
If ordinary is defined in its negative term, that which is not extraordinary, then running is a paradox. It simultaneously celebrates an expression of the body extraordinary and frees the mind to fixate on nothingness. In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mishima describes the world as beautiful only in its reflexive state: as illuminated on a pond, in the moonlight, or reflective of the titular structure itself. Similarly, running and the ordinary are beautiful and coterminous because they capture the permanence of impermanence: the space in between the spokes, where the usefulness of the wheel can be found. And it is in the space between strides that the body and mind are, spiritually, in a state of ordinary perfection.
Last spring, I recorded my diet three weeks before the Fargo Marathon. Currently, I’m building back towards marathon fitness, and so I decided to undertake another brief food diary. The hardest part about eating a reasonably healthy and diverse diet in college, at least at Columbia, is a paucity of easily accessible fruits and vegetables. Keeping a supply of produce on hand requires careful management of refrigeration space and frequent stops at the supermarket. Essentially, I’m just making excuses for randomly binging on huge bowls of vegetables (instead of spreading out my servings throughout the day) and for not eating the macronutrient proportions ideal for marathon training. Gotta live a little. Continue reading
This summer, I injured my iliotibial band. From June to August, I walked and swam to maintain my cardiovascular fitness while I went through withdrawal. Running is an addiction like any other; it requires regular feeding. After adopting an extensive stretching and strengthening routine, I finally began to build my mileage. Although I had been injured previously and taken time off from running, I had never been forced to curtail my activity so dramatically. Back at square one, I had my moments of weakness: I insisted that I was done with running, that I would never run again, that I was finished as a runner, that I needed to move on with my life and forget the joy of running. But once a runner, always a runner. Continue reading
In my last triathloning column, I discussed my dislike of swimming.
72 degrees and I’m schvitzing. Central Park feels like an oven, roasting me to a perfect degree of doneness. Gusts of warm air buffet my back, and I start counting down the miles to a water break. Going from Fargo—a frigid 55 in the mornings—to New York shocked my system. Simple runs proved unnaturally difficult and I dreaded heading out into the “heat.” Explaining my poor performance as a problem of “heat acclimation” seemed ridiculous, since I was actually exercising at room temperature. But with high humidity intensifying the temperature and a poorly prepared personal thermostat, I was experiencing all the symptoms of heat acclimation: an inability to sweat enough, a too high concentration of salt in my sweat, and accelerated heart rate. Continue reading
Yesterday, I wrote about what it means to be a consistent winner.
In every race, there is a moment that justifies the struggle and legitimates the pain. At the 20th mile marker, I encountered a man sporting a too tight t-shirt and an impressive Jewfro. He enthusiastically beat a cowbell, dancing to his own music. As I ran past, I shouted, “More cowbell!” He beat that cowbell even harder, and I ran faster. Since the Fargo marathon bills itself as “Rock ‘n Roll,” bands line up along the course. From a solitary man plucking a banjo on his front porch to a garage band playing heavy metal, the acts were humble and inspiring, head-scratching and repellent. Unlike at the St. Louis marathon, Fargo residents blanket the entire route, listening to their local talent and cheering on the runners. When legs start to give out, it helps to hear a cowbell’s manic rhythm. Continue reading
In my last Marathoning column, I talked about the taper.
“To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month, or even one year—but for a lifetime.” –Bill Rodgers
This quote hung on my wall from September to May. Every morning, I woke up and paused, readying myself for the run ahead. Anyone who has ever laced a pair of shoes and headed into the dawn understands the trepidation that presages pain. The first step is infinitely harder than the second; the instant of decision in which we commit to the run is a resignation to discomfort. To become a runner is to become deaf, to ignore the seductive whisper of a warm bed and its comforting caress. We run to know our strength, our discipline, our tireless struggle against our imperfections. Continue reading
In my last Marathoning column, I discussed eating for sustainable energy.
Race day rapidly approaches. Next Friday, I’ll be on a plane to Fargo, mentally and physically preparing myself for 26.2 miles. During these final days of training, the paradoxical objective is to avoid training—or, more accurately, to decrease the training burden on the body. The “taper” allows the body to recover, rebuilding muscle and repleting glycogen stores. As weekly mileage gradually decreases, the body approaches an optimal state of race preparedness. Unfortunately, a minor hiccup in my training schedule reduced my taper to only one week; experts recommend up to a three week taper period. Still, I can feel the energy concentrating in my body. Whereas last week I knocked out 20 miles on the long run, tomorrow I’ll do just 12. Continue reading
In my last Marathoning column, I shared my Columbia diet.
At dinner the night before an 18 mile run, a friend and fellow runner asked me, “what do you eat just before you run and what do you eat right after?” Ironically, we were at What Happens When chowing down on some decidedly non-runner friendly foods. (Sour cream tart, anyone?) I do my best, however, to eat for sustainable energy before and after running. Finding a mix of carbohydrates and protein that provide consistent fuel and maximal recovery is mission critical—the “before” goal is to make it through the run without fading, the “after” goal is to minimize soreness. Continue reading
In my last Marathoning column, I wrote about pain and rotisserie chicken.
Every Friday, an “interesting” pseudo-celebrity—often a food professional—publishes their diet on Grub Street. This egoistic and strangely entertaining exercise in narcissism seemed like fun, so I decided to keep track of what I ate for a week. Currently, I’m about three weeks away from running the Fargo marathon; tomorrow, I plan on an 18 miler. Without further ado, my marathoning diet. Continue reading