Theatre Review: Endure — Run. Woman. Show.

What happens when the race of your life is your life? You get something like Endure: Run. Woman. Show., a 360-degree meditation on marathoning as metaphor. Melanie Jones, the creative force behind this immersive theatre piece, which takes place in Prospect Park and its immediate environs, found me through the miracle of Google and invited me to the premiere yesterday. I’m so glad she did.

Endure is a show in which you’re along for the ride, rather than sitting passively in a theatre seat. Wearing an MP3 player, you start at a nearby playground (after “registering” for the show and pinning on a race bib, which is also your program) and make your way to Prospect Park. Along the way, you’re taken on a sonic journey, with visual cues if you look carefully enough for them, as you make the transition from the workaday sidewalk world of Park Slope to the more timeless and untethered world of the park. Once there, you are quite literally led down the garden path, emerging at the crest of an overlook where, at last, you meet our narrator, Ms. Jones.

We’re at the start of a marathon now, with the cannon about to go off. And, as anyone who’s ever endeavored to train for and race a marathon knows, this is just the beginning, and you never know what’s going to happen over the next 26.2 miles. Marathons are a lot like life in that way.

I won’t give away what happens over the next hour, but I will say that the workout is more sensual and emotional than it is physical. There’s a little bit of running if you want to run, but you don’t have to. There’s a fair amount of walking, some of it quite brisk, but there are also many quiet moments in which you’re simply standing, watching, or, if you’re lucky, playing a small part in the performance.

The narrative is backed by an original soundtrack by Scandinavian composer Christine Owman and it’s a perfect aural backdrop: at times it’s spare and floating, with heavy reverb and overlays that lend it a dreamlike quality; at other times, it’s mournful and exhausted, reflecting the training and life grind that our subject is often trapped in, adhering to cruel deadlines of her own making.

There are dark miles. And there are good miles. And that middle bit is the hardest. It lasts so much longer than you want, or think it should. But time keeps going, so you have to keep going, on the days that you want to and the days that you don’t.

While you don’t have to be a marathoner to connect with this piece, it helps. You will “get” things on a level that others won’t: the strange mix of kinship and bloodthirsty competitiveness we can feel during a race; the sudden obsession with the weather; the math we do as the miles tick by, with OCD-like focus, and how our ability to continue to do that math fails as our glycogen depleted brains struggle through those later miles; how giving into a bodily function as basic as urinating becomes an epic mental struggle when held up against a race goal that threatens to slip away at any moment.

But these details are not what make up the meat of the show, which turns out not really to be about running at all. Instead, Jones presents how the dark side of marathoning — how quickly we can slip from hobbyist to enthusiast to cocktail party freakshow to runner as Carmelite nun — can mirror the darker sides of life. When other parts of our lives veer off the rails, many of us are tempted to look to the marathon as an emotional life raft, something that we can control and that will keep us afloat. What often happens, of course, is that instead, that most unforgiving distance, and all that goes into training for it, only serves to drag us further down under the waves. Rather than helping us to define ourselves through our determination and success, the distance becomes instead, with frightening and undeniable clarity, the embodiment of what we’ve most feared about ourselves all along: that we are failures. Failures at marathoning. Failures at life.

I’ll let you go see the show to see how this race turns out. Along the way you’ll see innovative use of public space, some striking visual metaphors, and a lot of blood. I can guarantee that you won’t be bored. If you run marathons, you’ll find common ground with the author, and if you don’t, you’re still apt to gain some insight about your own life’s journey, whether or not you’re taking it in racing flats.

Endure is brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed. I still can’t believe I got to see this for free.

The show’s running next Saturday, 7/16 (and possibly the following Sunday, 7/23) before Jones takes it on the road to Canada. RSVP here.

We’ll also have Jones on this evening’s New York Running Show podcast if you’d like to tune in at 8pm EST.

Lykkelig løyper, Grete Waitz

[That's "happy trails" in Norwegian, at least according to Google Translate]

What can you say about Grete Waitz? She was not only an inspiring talent, but she was one of running’s greatest ambassadors. There is a huge hole left in the world of running today.

I will keep the bloviations to a minimum. That’ll be easy because I never met Grete. I saw her at the expo for my first marathon, the More Magazine Marathon, 2007 edition. She was standing there with Lynn Jennings, greeting people. I was such a newbie to the sport that I had no idea who Lynn Jennings was. But I knew who Grete was. But I was too shy and awestruck to go over and say hello! Now I kick myself for that. The next time I saw her was in 2008, when she flew by me in the back of the press truck at mile 20 of the New York Marathon, where I was watching from the curb. When I started interviewing elites last year I vowed to try to meet her at the next Norwegian Festival, but I was away during the weekend of those races in October. And so that was that.

Here are some highlights from around the web. Also, I can recommend the movie Run for Your Life, a documentary about Fred Lebow, in which Waitz has a large presence.

Fellow New York Harrier (and fellow runner of Norwegian descent, although his name’s a lot easier to deal with than mine is) Douglas Hegley’s post is worth a read. He had a few chance meetings with Waitz that tell you everything you need to know about the woman. This is the most personal blog post I’ve found about Waitz thus far. But Amy’s is a good runner up, and contains links to other great stories.

Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World has this lovely tribute.

Here’s the IAAF’s remembrance of Ms. Waitz, who, it should be noted, still holds the Norwegian record for the 1500.

Waitz was ambitious and driven, yet humble and generous. Everything a champion should be.

The invisible woman: Desiree Davila’s perfect run in Boston

For once, I called something correctly in a marathon. While I didn’t predict that Desiree Davila would come in second, I did say to Jonathan, right before the gun went off for the women’s race, “I think Davila is going to wipe the floor with Goucher today.”

I will not go into why I thought this, although I think some of it has to do with the way Goucher races marathons, and by that I mean in a way that reflects a narrative that she seems to have internalized, but a narrative that reflects a racing strategy that does not favor beating Africans. Davila, by contrast, was still relatively under the radar going into Boston (despite having run the fourth fastest marathon for an American woman recently) — and, of course, that’s all changed now. But she has not had dramatic expectations foisted upon her. Yet. Let’s hope that now that she’s effectively secured her spot as the top American female marathoner that she keeps her head. Because her head is what got her second place today in a race that I don’t think she could have executed more flawlessly.

So, let’s look at that race (my mile markers are approximate, since there was no mention of them in coverage). In a marathon weekend that saw spectacular performances in both London and Boston, Davila’s run is the one that I cannot stop thinking about. We can learn a lot from it.

Note: Runners’ pre-Boston personal bests are shown in parentheses after the first mention of their names. This should give you a better idea of the calibre of the women Davila was up against in this race.

At the start: Davila (2:26:20) is not even in the front row. Where is she? Hmm.

Mile 1: So much of the women’s race was about Kim Smith (2:25:21). Smith shot out to the front within the first 30 seconds. She was like a woman on fire. I thought she had a shot at winning today anyway, but with this move I believed it even more. So immediately it’s Smith followed by a huge pack. Davila is in the front of that pack, which I will refer to as “the pack.” I notice Davila is being careful to hit the tangents. “Smart girl,” I think to myself. It’s the little things.

Mile 2: Davila is still motoring away in front of the pack, or at least in the first two rows. After Smith, the commentary is still all about Kara Goucher (2:25:53) at this point, as it will be for the next 19 miles.

Mile 3: Smith’s lead is now about 30 seconds. You can’t even see the pack.

Mile 4: Lost to ads and coverage of the wheelchair races.

Mile 5: Now Goucher’s in front of Davila. The pack has now split into two packs. You can just make out Davila hovering between them, just ahead of the trailing, second pack. The first pack is taking off in pursuit of Smith. Davila stays cool, checking her watch. She is running her own race for the time being. I am getting excited, mostly because she looks so relaxed and unflustered.

Mile 6: Again, we miss most of this mile.

Mile 7: Smith’s lead has opened up to about 40 seconds now. She looks strong. Now Davila is positioned midway through packs one and two. She’s slowly working her way up to the lead pack. She casually sips water. She looks like she’s jogging. I am getting more excited.

Mile 8: Now the pack behind Smith consists of [I think] a Japanese runner, Goucher and a large collection of Africans. But who’s that woman who’s just about caught up? It’s Davila. She’s still hitting those tangents.

Mile 9/10: Smith’s lead is now huge. You can’t even seen the pack behind her as she runs along the long straightaway in Natick. She’s on 2:21:20 pace. Incredible. Leaves are blowing up the road in the same direction as the runners. It’s a strong tailwind.

Approaching the halfway point: Smith’s lead is shrinking. It’s 38 seconds. While Larry Rawson has spiralled off into a floridly incomprehensible soliloquy on the history of the marathon ["Just give me water for my village!"], he and Al Trautwig have managed to totally miss the fact that Smith has hit the halfway point in a shorts-shitting 1:10:52. Had they noticed this, they also would have noticed Smith’s pace dropping off. I think this is where she started to have problems, because she doesn’t look quite right.

Mile 14: Smith is valiantly fighting off whatever ails her, because her lead is up to a minute now. The camera cuts away to Goucher, who is running without anyone around her. She’s fallen off the back of the pack. Which pack? Maybe both. Meanwhile, Smith’s balloon has sprung a leak, because the lead pack is closing the gap. Now her lead has shrunk to 36 seconds. There’s a shot of the pack behind her. Davila is either not there or she’d hiding her 5’2″ frame somewhere. I briefly panic. Wait! There she is, way off to the left of the screen. She’s catching up to that pack. Or maybe she’s parallel. Anyway, she’s in the game.

Miles 15/16: No idea what happened. There was a huge gap in coverage.

Miles 17/18: Smith is now clearly in big trouble. Her stride has a big hiccup coming down a hill. At the bottom of that hill, at 1:38:00, she pulls off to the side, clutching her right calf. Might be a cramp, might be a torn soleus. Who knows. But she takes off again. But now she’s running with gritted teeth, her lead eroding with each stride. She is effectively fucked. Her race is over.

There’s another shot of the trailing pack. I see a non-African way off to the left and I momentarily think it’s Davila, but then I can see by the height that it’s Goucher. Dammit. Where’s Davila?!

19/20: Smith has another stumble. Her pace has dropped to 6:00. I feel bad for her. At 1:41:00, everyone’s passing her. Now I can see Davila again. Goucher is now behind her. Trautwig and Rawson are still talking about Goucher’s status. At this point Caroline Kilel (2:23:25) has taken the lead and is running assertively.

[There's coverage of the invitational mile races. More opinions from me: Lukas Verzbicas should have been disqualified for shoving Andy Baddeley at the finish. What an asshole.]

Mile 21: We’ve come back from a commercial and something big has happened in the meantime. At 1:51:00 the lead pack consists of four Africans: Kilel, Sharon Cherop (2:22:42), Dire Tune (2:23:44) and Alice Timbilili (2:25:03). A fifth runner is running up to join them: Davila!!! Davila gets right to work and at 1:52:30 she’s taken the lead with complete and utter confidence. She does not care that these are Africans, and Africans always win. Trautwig and Rawson can’t believe it. This Davila chick must be nuts! She is running with, and passing, Dire Tune! Now she’s solidly in front, challenging the whole lot.

Mile 22: Davila continues to look incredibly relaxed and unfazed. There is no tension in her body and no sign of strain on her face. The pack has dropped Tune. Timbilili is dropping off the back.

And then there were three.

Davila has a shot at third!!! No, screw that. She has a shot at winning. She can win this thing if she’s smart about it.

Kilel goes to the front. Davila looks unconcerned. She sticks to the tangents, moving inside the group on a slight curve. I believe that this is where the race took on a new dimension. Here is where Davila took the opportunity to evaluate what state her competitors were in. Mere inches away from them, she could sense how tired they were and gauge their tiredness against her own. Why do I think this is what was going on? Because at this point Davila moves to the lead again and shortly after this she starts throwing in little surges. She is going to start wearing these ladies down.

Mile 23: Davila’s leading by a metre, asserting herself. But she’s also enjoying the moment. She’s checking out the crowds. Jesus. She looks totally cool, like she’s on a training run. Timbilili is dead meat now, a distant fourth. The game is officially on for win, place or show. Davila stays in front. Trautwig starts calling her “Desiree De Silva.” I become apoplectic.

Mile 24: Kilel and Cherop move to the front. Davila sticks with them. She throws in another surge. She is totally fucking with their heads! Kilel responds and retakes the lead. Davila eases off on a downhill, when again Kilel and Cherop go to the front. Actually, she falls back a good three metres, in a scary way. We are starting to groan. But then Davila opts out of the water stop and regains some ground that way. Remember all that water she was drinking earlier? She’s back with the Kenyans. Then she’s in front again. Kilel keeps challenging Davila, whereas at this point Cherop is out of that battle, content to stay in contact. I theorize that Cherop will be third based on this behavior.

Mile 25: Davila’s lead is now about two metres. People all over the country are screaming at their televisions right now, including us. They’re at 5:17 pace. Davila is still trying to wear down those Kenyans. Not just with her legs, but with her attitude too. She’s still trading Kilel for the lead spot. Then Davila slips to third again. But she looks fine. I have to believe she’s doing this on purpose.

Mile 26: Davila is trying to catch Kilel, but Cherop keeps cutting her off. 2:19:50 — after hanging out in third, Davila throws in a huge surge on a turn. This takes both Kilel and Cherop by surprise. Whereas Kilel is straining, Davila has broken Cherop with this move. I say that I hope to hell she’s running the Mini 10K because I want to interview this woman more than any other marathoner now.

Kilel shoots to the front at 2:20:20. Is Davila cooked? No!!! She’s not giving up. She makes an effort to close on Kilel. Universal Sports manages to turn off the onscreen clock, so I have no idea where they are on Boylston Street, but I think it’s about 300m out from the finish. Trautwig and Rawson are calling Kilel as the winner, but Davila starts motoring and — holy fuck! — she catches Kilel and passes her. We are screaming and clapping. The cat has run down into the basement. But Kilel has just a little bit more speed in her legs and she pulls away again, finishing just two seconds ahead of Davila in 2:22:36.

The finish line: Leg speed is what won this race today, not endurance. Why do I say that? Because Kilel collapses to the ground after breaking the tape. By contrast, Davila stops, rests her hands on her knees for a few seconds, reflexively turns off her watch and then starts walking around. She looks like she’s just finished a fun run. Had that race been a mile longer, with a few more minutes of wearing Kilel down, I think she would have won. But a marathon is 26.2 miles. Today, Desiree Davila covered that distance in 2:22:38 by running one of the smartest races I’ve ever seen.

Edited: Here’s an interview that Peter Gambaccini of Runner’s World did with Davila a few weeks before Boston. In it, she talks about the “simulator workout” she did, a 26.2K run over an exaggerated version of the Boston course. There’s another lesson: prepare for your goal race’s course and conditions. Here’s some video of that workout. I love the little pieces of visualization the Hansons use.

And here’s a nice post-race interview with Roger Robinson.

Life is short. Life is precious.

Sally Meyerhoff, one of this country’s fastest female marathoners, died yesterday. I never interviewed or met her, although I was hoping she’d be running the More Half again this year (which she won last year while setting a new course record, in pouring rain no less), so that I might have a chance to.

Meyerhoff was no waif, which is one reason why I found her inspiring. Solid girls like me can run fast too. She proved that. I also liked how she was no shrinking violet, at least not from a sartorial standpoint. Lately she’d taken to wearing fuscia compression socks with banana yellow racing flats. An adventurous racer, she not only raced on the roads, but on trails as well, and was moving into a dominant spot in triathlon.

You can find links to the news reports easily enough. Instead, in a nod to a life well lived, here’s a link to her blog.

The long journey of a cyclist with no hands

Why am I writing about a cyclist? Because this post is as much an appeal for help from New York’s athletic community as it is a fascinating human interest story.

Damian Lopez-Alfonso, 34, is a Cuban athlete with considerable athletic achievements — ones that are made all the more impressive by the fact that he has excelled despite competing with major disabilities. Details about him appear in the links below, but here’s his story in a nutshell: At the age of 13, while trying to retrieve a kite stuck to a streetpost, Damian hit a power line and sustained a range of catastrophic injuries as a result of electrocution: facial disfigurement, blindness in one eye, severe burns, and the loss of his arms below the elbow, among others.

Damian is self-sufficient and has adapted to his disabilities, but he nevertheless wants to benefit from whatever reconstructive surgery and prosthetics are available. A group of organizations — including the U.S. Cycling Federation, Achilles International and NYU’s Reconstructive Plastic Surgery unit — are working together to facilitate a better quality of life for Damian.

Here’s what this post is about: Damian needs hosts while he’s in New York for his surgeries at NYU. He will be arriving sometime in mid-March and has his first round of surgeries scheduled for April 3. Then he’ll be recovering at NYU and preparing for the next round on May 5. So hosts are needed from around March 15th through April 2nd or so, then again from the end of April through the end of May.

Achilles is funding his food, transportation and other costs so that he will not be a financial burden to his hosts. Since he doesn’t speak English, Spanish-speaking hosts would be ideal. Someplace within reasonably easy commuting distance to NYU would be desirable, I’d think, but I don’t know that it’s essential.

If you’d like to open your home to this inspiring athlete for a few days or weeks, please contact Tracy Lea for more details: tlea@tracylea.net

If you’re not able to host but you’d still like to contribute financially to this effort, then you can PayPal to: teamdamian2011@gmail.com

This guy’s pretty interesting. Read more about him:

Download a complete bio (PDF)
Cyclists Helping One of Their Own
A Tale of Ultimate Survival and Human Kindness
Cyclists Rally Around a Competitor
Armless Cyclist to Get Reconstructive Surgery in NYC

New Houston Hopeful interview: Lori Kingsley

Lori Kingsley is fast enough to have regularly rubbed shoulders with (and been lent hotel room showers by) marathoning’s professional elites. She wins a lot of races. She likes to play dress up. And she describes herself as “a happy runner.” This one took awhile to post, but I think it was worth the wait. The 90+ minute audio is an added treat.

Houston Hopefuls > Lori Kingsley

Upcoming Podcast: Eating Disorders and Exercise Addiction

Next week on Monday, January 24th at 7PM ET I’ll be hosting an edition of The Runners Round Table on the subject of eating disorders and exercise addiction among runners. My guests include three runners who are distinguished not only by their athletic accomplishments, but also by their having overcome these problems and — beyond that — their efforts to educate others through writing, filmmaking and speaking out.

Here’s a description of the show and bios of my guests > RRT 111: Eating Disorders and Exercise Addiction

Listen in online, join us in the chatroom, or download the show afterwards for later listening.

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