Saturday, December 15, 2007

Getting back into the Groove

There are a couple of things that I want to do this year: one is to set a world record, the other is to make all religions redundant. I’ll document the first journey here.

So today I got out of the house to make a start – just get out there and do it! This process is going to take me a year, but as the ancient Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

I’ll begin modestly with my training. I’ll only do 20 kilometres. Did I mention? I aim to break a German guy’s record for the greatest distance covered barefoot in a 24-hour period. I figure that a hundred miles is within my reach, and that would do it.

Now, I’m not a beginner at this sort of thing. I’ve tackled journey running and walking, barefooted, shod and be-Jandaled. I’ve covered the length of the country (New Zealand). I’ve walked for thirty-five hours straight to complete the Otago Rail Trail, all 150km, in one go. Yeah, I’ve got guts and grit.

I drive on down to Logan Park where I’ve previously trained. There’s a circuit there that measures 2.2km. It was checked out and measured a few years ago when a group of us organized the world’s first marathon of the millenium.

The funny thing is that once more I feel like a novice; I’ve forgotten everything there is to know. No matter – I’ll simply re-learn those old-dog tricks. That’s part of the fun and the beauty. All those tips and techniques of food and hydration, clothing, preparation and psychology.

Today I front up in the clothes that I woke up in. Apart from a plate of muesli, I’ve gulped down a microwaved cheese and Indian pickle sandwich. I tell you, I’m casual. Don’t give that mind a chance to get itself in a tether!

First off, I drive around the circuit. On the odometer it reads 2.25km which makes sense, allowing for the ‘outside lane’ extra. But I’m going to have to cut out that back straight. It is unsealed and unsuitable and unsustainable for skin. The rules say (I’m going by the Guinness book) that the surface must be asphalt. Three quarters of this circuit are good, but not that 500 metre stretch at the back.

I whip out my unicycle with the 20 inch wheel. In the kitchen earlier in the morning I’d measured its circumference: 1.62 metres. And now I stroll around the loop, and start counting where the gravel turns into tarmac. Keeping track of the tally, with half an eye on the wheel, the hundreds thumbed onto the fingers, is quite a feat in itself! Anyway, it comes to 1030 revolutions, which multiplies out (or up) to 1669 metres, just over a mile, or 5007 metres, almost exactly 5km, every three legs. It will work if I complete not the entire loop but a C shape. I’ll reverse my direction at either end, and just stroll up and down that banana!

I march up to the start line: where I’ve parked my car . . . and scrape my toe. The Morton’s knuckle is now bleeding. Ha! Just a rite of passage, say I, as I glance at my stop watch.

Within minutes, I’ve settled down. Walking is easy, so natural. My brain works best when the rest of me is pleasantly occupied. If this were the Lakes District I’d be composing poetry. Instead, I just jot notes:

The sun comes out, but then as quickly retreats. What’s with the climate in this part of the world? It’s almost Christmas; it should be summer! The footpath here needs sweeping too. As I enter into Butts Road, a piece of glass enters my right foot, but I react quickly and pull it out before I push it in further. This is normal – nothing to panic over. Once a month on average I get punctured. If it hadn’t happened today, it would tomorrow. No worries.

The route is not uniform. There’s a stretch beside the main road heading toward Ravensbourne where a lot of sharp stones have been kicked up. Also, there are student flats along Harbour Terrace where bottles have been broken, just for the hell of it. To hell with them! Butts Road is really an avenue, and there are twigs from the trees, especially after wind, and cracks in the pavement from their roots. There are two crossings to make where you need to look out for cars. There’s a mild rise up each end of the C, but the only significant hill climbs up to the back section that I’ve eliminated. I make friends with half a dozen dying bumblebees. I make a mental note of their locations and take care not tread on them.

Back to that section along the main road, and I stuff in the earplugs that I always carry. At the back of my notebook which is also always at hand (or in a pocket) I start a list of essential items: notebook & ballpoint, earplugs, sunglasses, sunscreen, cap/hat, jacket/windbreaker, shorts and underwear that don’t chafe, money, watch, car key, handkerchief, waist pouch, reading material. I think it’s worthwhile to have a broom in the back of the car. Also in its boot I have water and food – this morning I rinsed out a milk bottle and tossed in some muffins, fruit and chocolate treats. But if I’m to trim to my target weight of 146 pounds, more thought will need to go into nutrition.

Each C length takes me 20 minutes, or 40 min per return trip, exactly 5 kilometres an hour. That’ll do for training. Let me build up to twelve hours for 60km. After that, I’ll incorporate a little jogging. When I can include a few hours of 10km per hour pace into the first half of the day when I do the event then I ought to be able to average the 6.25 km/h that I’d need to do 150km. (I know – a hundred miles is a little more.)

First though, let’s see how I manage today. I know that I clocked an average of thirty kilometres a day when I walked NZ shoeless on the roads. (It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t comfortable, but heck what an experience!) I figure on doing a long stint every week or two. That will allow the wear and tear of my skin to keep up. When I go running the rest of the time, I’ll wear my lucky Lasers.

Walking never gets boring, especially when I take out a book. Today I have the last chapters of Ruth Stout’s “How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back” to finish. As long as I remember where there’s glass I’m okay. There’s some right near where there used to be an Eden Street where I lived when I was seven. The Polytechnic now owns that land, and they employ me.

As I read, I reflect that writing is the best way to communicate. I don’t know what Ruth looks like or sounds like – or looked and sounded, because she must be long dead. Instead, I hear her words but in my own voice. I customize or personalize them. They sound nearer and clearer and even dearer to me than if I were to hear her speak them out aloud. I consider what she says more patiently than if she voiced them herself.

Do movies work that way too? Hmm, I don’t think so. What a movie does – for me at least – is to put me into the other person, the director’s, perspective. My personality changes and I become him or her for a couple of hours. It’s disconcerting. It’s like being under the influence of booze or hypnotism. When I walk out it takes me some time to yank me from under that brainwashing.

Today’s insight, therefore, is that I need to work more on my written communiqués instead of worrying about how to win over friends and influence people in person. Quite a relief, really!

Speaking of relief, I think I’ve overdone the hydration bit. Or maybe it’s this cold weather. I’m wearing a ski-jacket and a woolen hat. From time to time I’ll slide the zip down, but then I come to a windy open space. I need to pee four times in the first two hours. There’s a toilet nearby outside a sports ground that I can use, but for convenience I find a thick copse of bushes more preferable.

On the reading front at least I’m well prepared. I return Ruth to the back of my car and pull out “Let’s not Screw it, Let’s Just Do it” by Richard Brannon. In his introduction he uses the 1000-mile-journey-starts-with-a-single-step saying, so that resonates nicely with me. That starts me thinking that I could get a lot of use from these hours if I was to wear a walkman. I’ve never got into that habit, but it would be great to listen to talking books on the move. I wonder in terms of intimacy where they would fall along the written word-movie continuum. Um . . .

But the reading has slightly slowed me down. At the halfway point I’m about five minutes behind schedule. We can’t have that! That gives me the opportunity to see how much leeway or give-and-take there is in my pace. I walk a little more briskly and easily catch up. Fantastic!

There are cricketers afoot. There are rugby players training. There are groundsmen, builders, concrete workers taking a break. I outlast all of them – cool! – yet this has only been my first short four-hour session. (Squeezing in six, eight, ten and twelve hours will require a little more finesse.)

Next week (or the week after) I’ll go for 30, and then 40 (or 42 as that’s the magic marathon). I try a little 20-walk-20-jog scout pace to finish off with. The feet have stood up well, I reflect, as I cross the road to take a ‘fireman’ shower.

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