Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fencing for runners

I ran three hours on trails this morning and I was kicking myself the whole time for forgetting the camera. I had such fun taking pictures last weekend, and the trail today was lovely: grey trees, green rocks, blue ocean, blue sky. Early spring in New England is like a cathedral. The sunlight is getting stronger, and the leaves are not yet out to block it. The forest floor comes alive, drinking in the temporary light. There is a feeling of gratefulness in the air. Of stretching and coming alive.

My daughter Nell and I were on these very trails just last evening at dusk for a Woodcock Walk. We had the great pleasure of seeing several woodcocks strutting their stuff. It's time for their annual mating dance. The male jumps around on the ground yelling PEEEEENT, PEEEENT. He then very suddenly he takes wing, shooting up in a widening spiral about 300 feet into the air (WEEP WEEP WEEP WEEP WEEP), and then just as suddenly plummets back to the ground. The wind literally whistles in his wings.

Very impressive. The woodcock ladies love it.

I listened on and off to my Zen book (Alan Watts: The Way of Zen). In the absence of a running partner, I find AW to be fine company. He gives me a morsel of wisdom in my ear, I turn him off and think for a while, and when I need another shot of human voice I turn him back on.

Today he talked about fencing. Fencing in Japan is evidently quite serious. Fencers train for years, living and working with their teacher. They begin their training as houseboys, cleaning floors, doing laundry, cooking, that sort of thing. But there is a catch. Every now and then, the teacher will pop out from behind a door (or wherever) and whack them with a broom.

The teachers are cunning. When the teacher senses the student is protecting himself, that's when he will strike. If the student seems to be protecting his belly, the teacher will pop out and whack him in the back.

Either this drives the student mad, or he stops trying to protect himself altogether and begins to think, "Well, if I get hit, I get hit. There's nothing I can do about it."

Once the student reaches this "correct mind" he is ready to begin his formal fencing training.

I think there is a lesson for ultrarunning in this story. The longer the race, the more unpredictable it becomes. I tend to focus too much on my stomach. Am I feeling sick? Am I okay? What should I be eating? What should I not be eating? It's when my brain is spinning like this that the stray rock pops up and sends me ass over teakettle onto the trail.

It happens every time.


  1. Hi Pam,

    I love your description of New England in the Spring time. I'm sorry you forgot your camera, mornings can be the most exciting times to catch just the right shot. I'm a nature nut who takes pictures of the moss on trees, at the bottoms where it is a rich Irish green, etc. Hubby says I drive him crazy. I don't believe I have ever seen a woodcock that I know of, but I will be sure to look it up and learn a bit more.

    I will look for you when you run in the North Stonington area. Just maybe you will run my road someday if you haven't already. It's really beautiful with the farms and the animals. I particularly love the little brown goats.

    Be sure to stay upright Pam, those road burns really hurt and last awhile. Happy running.

  2. You can see the woodcocks at Haley Farm in Groton. Go right at dusk, around 7:30. Walk down the main path and listen for the PEEENT! PEEEENT! The woodcocks stay on the ground and take off very unexpectedly.


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