Falling Down (published Sept 2010)



I ordinarily resist drawing analogies from so thin a thread as a single homonym.  Take the following word with one sound and two (actually several) meanings:  fall.  There is the season fall.  And there is a fall from a higher to a lower state.  It doesn’t take an etymologist to understand how very different these words are.  No self-respecting writer would make much of the connection.


I thought of the word fall.  I thought of drawing an analogy between its diverse meanings.  I was briefly embarrassed at my thought.  And so I moved on.  At least I tried to move on.  Until the analogy recommended itself in terms of my laughable martial arts foray (or should I say folly?) and the practice of fall detraining.  I couldn’t resist.


The term fall detraining will no doubt elicit envious snickers from more than a few readers.


For the high school and collegiate cross-country runner, his or her time to shine is September and October: the heart of cross-country season.  And marathon runners routinely train and taper well into autumn in quest of a 26.2 mile PR time.


But it is usually otherwise with the recreational runner, free as he or she is from the structuring influence of a coach, accountability to a team-in-training or that $100.00 registration fee that shall not have been paid in vain.  For the runner whose goals are never loftier than racing half a dozen 5 or 10ks from May to August (as if that weren’t lofty enough), September may be viewed as the month to put the “recreational” back into his or her “recreational runner.”


To a considerable extent, this reaction is healthy, anticipating the plan of nature herself, which soon enough will denude her trees of fruit and leaves and lead her fauna in an ever-slowing metabolic dance.  We need only think an instant about the word recreation to notice that it contains the word recreate, whose meaning is to refresh.  And recreate and refresh we runners must.  And no less than nature.


But certainly we need to recreate no more than nature.  And on no more aggressive a plan.


What a perfect pacer nature is.  She begins the winter work in August when diminishing daylight becomes perceptible in marginally cooling temperatures and that gloaming start to the 6 am run.  She begins her work in no particular hurry and seems, like a negative-splitter, to pour it on in the home stretch as autumn falls under winter’s sway.  We do not find nature’s streams and rivers one day bubbling and flower-rimmed and the next day thick with ice and the detritus of summer glories.  The plan of nature is a plan of gradualism, whether she is gearing down for winter or revving up for summer.  And if we are going to join in her dance then we ought to pay attention to her footwork.  We should match her step for step.  This means that we should not let our star fall too quickly.  And most of all we should not forget that nature does not let her domains go to waste in winter.  No winter—even in Colorado–was ever so forsaken as Narnia under a curse (or even as cold, Mark Twain might quip, as a summer in San Francisco).  We needn’t be naturalists to understand that vital processes and even a good deal of growth take place while nature is in her winter slumbers and that though she sometimes assumes the appearance of the dead the breath of life is ever present in her steady, easy respiration.  She does not repair by ceasing all operations.  She keeps her domains in a state of healthful readiness for easy marshalling in March.  And so we must follow suit.  Our Brooks and New Balances, while accumulating mileage at a gradually slower rate must not, beginning in September, be relegated to the nether regions of our closets under the flip-flops.  And throughout the season (we are jumping ahead) when white and bare describe the ground and trees, the pages in the latter third of our running logs must be anything but white and bare.  They should continue to tell an uninterrupted story, one with a different narrative pacing, it is true, but a story with color and purpose nevertheless.


One of the first—indeed, one of the only—things I learned from my martial arts experience is that there is a right and a wrong way to fall down.  A bad fall—one resulting in too abrupt a letdown and a complete discontinuance of motion–and one may have difficulty springing back into action.  The key to falling down properly is to remain in motion throughout the fall (and it doesn’t hurt to have an appreciation of slapstick either).  Falling down is an art.  If I learned nothing about the martial arts from my Sensei (my fault), at least I learned something about running.


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