Friday, February 26, 2010
| Category: Training
There is a geranium in your running program, and it needs to be nurtured.
I came to this realization yesterday after reading Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful and aptly named story, “The Geranium.” By the way, even though Flannery O’Connor never ran a step in her life, few writers have more to say to runners. I’ll explain why in a moment.
The story progression in The Geranium focuses on a troubled fellow named Old Dudley. Now that “Geranium” has appeared four times in the first five sentences of this essay, can you imagine how many geranium Googlers will end up reading this narrative about running? SEO-copywriting experts would give me a huge pat on the back – if I were actually writing about Geranium sanguineum.
But back to old Dudley, who is very well-named – he is old, and he’s a bit of a dud, too. He lives with his daughter’s family in a large, nondescript apartment building in New York City, with long dog-run hallways and stairways which open like gaping wounds onto the floors below. The adjacent apartment structures are replete with rasp-faced individuals hanging out of their windows and look so similar to Old Dudley’s apartment complex that he gets lost whenever he ventures out onto the street. Dudley’s relationship with his daughter is tense and empty, his grandson doesn’t speak to him (even though they share a room), and Dudley’s son-in-law appears only on weekends and uses the word “nah” to keep conversations rolling along. The “golden days” are actually pretty rough for Old Dudley.
The star of the story, the geranium, sits in a window in a neighboring apartment building, about 15 feet away from Old Dudley’s window. The plant is on a tight schedule, appearing at 10 each morning and disappearing at 5:30 in the afternoon, and Dudley likes to gaze at the plant as the day progresses. That cranesbill in a pot reminds him of his life “back home” in Georgia, when times were much better. Down south, Dudley had lived in the upstairs corner room of a boarding house, and he was the king of the domicile, the cool guy who protected the old ladies with jiggling heads who gossiped in the parlor each evening. For fun, he fished and hunted with Rabie, who could steal cleaner than a weasel and who knew where all the fish in Coa County could be found.
The geranium, with everything it represents, becomes the organizing principle in Old Dudley’s life. He counts on it being in the window every day; he needs to see it to remind him that times were better, that he once had a happy life which was complete and made sense. The geranium’s appearance at 10 each morning is reassuring and allows Dudley to make it through each troubling day.
Of course, the day comes when the geranium does not take its place in the window (if Flannery had been writing with the commercial or personal-growth communities in mind, she might have called her story “Who Moved the Geranium?”). The non-appearance of the potted plant occurs at a particularly bad time for Old Dudley, at a moment when he is extremely lost and disoriented.
The surly geranium owner is in the window instead of the actual cranesbill, and he is a very poor replacement for the potted plant. Mr. Geranium tells Dudley that he doesn’t like folks looking in his apartment window, and that he “only tells people once” (presumably before geranium-related violence will occur). He also tells Dudley that the geranium has plummeted six floors, and Dudley’s downward glance reveals a mangle of pot shards, black dirt, up-thrust white roots, and crinkled pink petals.
Dudley vows to retrieve the geranium, but his trip down the tape-measure hallway and into the cavernous stairwell does not go smoothly. Old Dudley returns to his apartment, geranium-free and defeated.
What does Dudley’s tale have to do with your running? If you are like most runners, you have a geranium in your running – something which helps you organize your training program, something which makes you feel good about what you are doing. Sometimes the geranium is in your window, right where you want it, but at other times that geranium gets a few wilted leaves or falls away from you a long ways. When that happens, it’s your job to retrieve the geranium and repair it.
You have probably never thought about it in this way, but the troubled geranium might actually be your performances. You might be going through a period during which you are not running your 5Ks as fast as you used to, during which your marathons are troubled or your workouts are not going smoothly at all. Your performance geranium has fallen a long way, and you are feeling bad about it.
Or your wilting geranium might simply be the way you feel about your running. Perhaps you have lost some enthusiasm for training, perhaps you are no longer getting the satisfaction you once obtained from conducting quality workouts. Maybe you don’t look forward to your sessions with energy and zeal any more.
When your geranium has fallen apart, it’s not a time for despair. Geraniums tumble and get broken frequently; almost every runner experiences a geranium loss at some point.
An essential part of running is realizing that a fallen geranium is not gone forever, it can be retrieved. That geranium simply needs a little water, perhaps some glue for its pot, and maybe a little more dark soil for its roots.
Replanting the geranium might involve getting up early one morning and going out for a beautiful, rhythmic, steady run, not worrying about pace at all but just flowing along, with no one else around, and then returning to your house just when the cardinals and robins are preparing their morning matins and that wondrous aurora is beginning to appear in the east.
The following day, packing in rich soil around your geranium could involve hitting some one-minute intervals, anywhere, at a brisk pace like mile or 5-K running, flowing along powerfully, with enough recovery in between, and no worries about anything other than enjoying the fast movement, the warmth of your muscles, and the sweat flowing out onto the surface of your skin.
Each day thereafter, replenishing your geranium would be the same as nurturing yourself, doing things with your running that are really satisfying and fun. And a funny thing – when you do that, when you take the time to cultivate your running and fertilize it with joy, the petals on your geranium will burn with the brightest-possible colors, and your running will be very unlikely to fall six stories again.
To understand more about Flannery O’Connor’s impact on your running, to enjoy a fantastic time, and to make perfect those geraniums which are called running form, running-specific strength and vVO2
max, please sign up for one of Owen-Anderson’s summer running camps at http://www.educatedrunner.com/Camps.aspx
Runners of all ages and ability levels are welcome (and nurtured) at these highly educational, very “vacational” camps.