Eights 2010

And now, for your reading my writing pleasure, my in-depth coverage of Summer Eights Rowing Regatta, a.k.a. the second best thing to Princeton reunions.  Check back for regular updates of interest to literally no one!  And just because I think it’s sort of how real blogs do it when they cover things of actual import, I will pretend like this is being updated “live” – so read from the bottom up!

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Sunday – 6:53 p.m.

Okay – I swear, this is the last thing I am going to write about rowing – at least until training for Torpids 2011 starts (270 days!).  It’s also the most important, since it’s the only stab I’m going to make at explaining why this matters to me.

Rumor has it that there were about 15,000 people down at the river yesterday.  Not quite what you’d see at a Pac-10 (American) Football game, but a pretty astonishing number, when you think of it, and not just because it was raining.  What makes it so impressive, I think, is how large the number is given the low-quality of the sport.  My crew is right in the middle of the pack – and two weeks ago, we were being beaten by 15-year-olds.  A third of the crews in Summer Eights aren’t even serious; they’ve trained inconsistently, or pulled together in the eleventh hour in order to give a few finalists an opportunity to drink heavily and don ridiculous costumes.  As many races are decided by poor steering and disastrous technique as by strength and talent.  And yet, 15,000 people still came to watch.

We as a society like winners.  The extension of this is that we like specialists; people who dedicate themselves to being very, very good at one thing.  At Oxford, though, rowing is truly amateur.  Sure, there are some seriously dedicated crews, but even among them, there is little of the professional coaching, brutal cuts and tryouts, or perfectly-honed lifestyles that characterize semi-professional college sport in the U.S.  While I’ve never been much of a believer in the “everyone’s a winner” mentality, I like the idea that, even at one of the world’s most competitive universities, there’s something in which everyone can, at least, participate.

As for me, rowing is a complete dead end.  Every minute I spend rowing is a minute I’m not spending working on my thesis, positioning myself for a top-tier PhD program and tenure-track faculty position.  It is, by all accounts, dead time, thrown away on something that won’t help me save the world and will never win me any recognition or respect.  And I think that’s exactly why I love it so much.

Sunday – 10:39 a.m.

Almost, but not quite.  Our crew prepared for our final race with a single-minded intensity that I had never seen from my teammates before.  We knew that we were skirting a fine line between a mediocore Summer Eights and one we could really be proud of, and there was no question that we had a tough task in front of us.  Off the gun, we were immediately closing, and by “the gut” (midway through the course) we had cut their lead down to a matter of inches.  Our cox called for one final push and then… nothing happened. They started pulling away and we started fading, just as another crew came up behind us.  Only some excellent steering prevented us from getting bumped ourselves.

There’s something to be said for giving it your all and just barely coming up short.  The problem, though, is that you can never really give it everything. Had we known we were just inches away, I’m sure we could have found just a bit more strength in ourselves.  But life is all about “ifs”, I suppose.  While I feel like I should have had it in me, though, a teammate brought up a good point: “We’re not racing against the computer.”  Trinity II also gave it their all; they also trained hard; they also wanted it badly.  And kudos to them for that.

Saturday – 9:20 a.m.

Sufficiently exhausted from yesterday that I fell asleep at ten – and slept for eleven hours, something I can’t remember happening for a long, long time.  I fell asleep early enough, in fact, to not even hear results from the upper divisions, which – thanks to the ridiculously long English summer days – don’t race until the evening.  Overall, it was a tough day for Worcester – W3, W2, and M3 all got bumped – but our top two crews both connected (apparently, we haven’t had crews ranked this high since 1992!).

And, as usual, the daily photo of our crew ripped off of some website somewhere:

So close.

Friday – 10:37 p.m.

Let’s spice things up a bit and talk about something I don’t like about rowing.

We didn’t get the bump today.  We knocked off half a length at the start, and by the bridge (early in the course) our coach was already blowing the whistle that indicated we were closing.  We never managed to finish the job, though – we stayed even on their tail for the entire length of the course.  At the end, we were totally shot – more so than had we been straight-up beaten.

After “rowing on” (the term for a race where you don’t bump and aren’t bumped) and pulling in, we went to the back of the boat house for a chat.  All manner of excuses surfaced: the cox didn’t steer us in a good enough line.  We weren’t quick enough off the start.  We needed a better racing plan.  The boat behind us didn’t chase us hard enough to motivate us.  We were technically sloppy.

Back in High School, when I ran Cross Country, we also had our fair share of post-defeat chats.  But while we would talk about what we were going to do next time, there was never much sense in talking about why we lost, because the answer was inevitably simple: whomever beat us wanted to win more than we did.  They worked harder before the race and put themselves through more misery during it.

Rowing, I think, leaves a bit too much space for excuses.

Friday – 11:26 a.m.

You would think that after eight years of racing – and now, almost a year of racing in boats – I would be able to be a bit more blase about such silly things.  But here I am, up for the last four hours, and completely incapable of getting anything done.  My entire body is coiled up like a spring, and my brain is on infinite repeat of the first ten strokes of the race.

Time to concede defeat, give up on productivity, and walk down to the boathouse.

Friday – 7:18 a.m.

Boat club captain’s summary of yesterday is far cleverer than anything I could come up with:

A day of drama unfolded on Thursday as Worcester took a roller coaster ride through three bumps up and two down.  The numbers fail to do justice to a thrilling day of racing that saw the bank take a beating, the re-emergence of the crab as a craze, and an enthralling if ultimately unfulfilling duel in men’s Division One.  The day’s successes came from W2, M2 and the W1 Machine.  W2 took down Keble in a performance that can only be described as brief.  Your correspondent was reliably informed that the bump took all of 22 strokes: 4-seat was apparently keeping count as they go toe-to-toe with W1 for the ‘fastest bump’ award.  W1 themselves were somewhat off the pace today, allowing Queen’s to reach the bridge before pouncing upon them in typically domineering fashion.  Three bumps and five places gained in two days makes them Eights’ leading crew after two days.

For the sheer excitement of the spectacle, M2’s bump will be the one that lives longest in the memory.  Sent out under instruction to ‘humiliate’ Keble M2, their intent was clear as they overlapped well before the bridge.  Nothing is simple with M2, however.  Especially when there is a rudder involved.  Sufficient time has not passed since the Torpids Ruddergate scandal for its name to be taken in vain, but there was an impending sense of doom as M2 swung for Keble, and the bank.  Video evidence has since shown that this move was in fact successful as Front Runner’s bow struck the Keble stern, but the race continued nonetheless.  With Worcester’s cox by now helpless, the rudder descending into the Isis’s murky depths, the pink-and-black blades desperately sought the Keble hull.  In the next two seconds, a lot of things happened and the order of events remains unclear in the mind of your correspondent, despite his playing a leading role.  There was a loud crunch, a far-from-brief scraping sound, and two-man took a handle to the face.  On the water, Keble rowed on.  On the bank, the umpire stopped.  Also on the bank, and in close proximity, the bank-rider did not.  Another crash ensued.  Despite this assault, the umpire was kind enough to confirm that he had seen some contact.  An American, roused from a fit of anger, screamed loudly, splashed a little, and screamed some more.  Those rowers that had been, somewhat despairingly, attempting to continue the race, decided that it might be best to celebrate.  All part of the plan.

In slightly less eventful races – the occasional crab notwithstanding – W4 and M3 succumbed to Keble W3 and Hilda’s M1 respectively, whilst W3 rowed over.  By the early evening, attention was focussed upon M1 as they sought a place in Division One.  Part I was well executed as they resisted an early onslaught from Keble to row over at the head of Division Two (note: also in Div Two, Wadham suffered a bump; this makes Buzz displeased, which makes us pleased).  An hour later, Exeter were hunted down to a canvas by the gut, but from there the race went away from Worcester, as Exeter put up a fairly large dose of stiff resistance, crossing the line only three or four feet clear.  Close finishes, your correspondent can confirm, are not all they’re cracked up to be.  Tomorrow, we are promised, things will be different.”

Thursday – 9:17 p.m.

It was messy, but we pulled it off.  We went after Keble hard today, grumpy at them for denying us a bump yesterday.  Within twenty strokes, we could already hear the whistle blowing indicating that we had closed to within half a length.  Then, things got interesting.  In some sort of kamikaze move, our Coxswain decided to steer us directly into Keble, rather than simply lightly tapping their blades.  The result was that we went careening into the wall, munching our blades and taking off our rudder in the process.

At this point, I pretty much went ape shit (see video below – yes, the profane one is me).  The shift from despondency to elation was quick, though, as the umpire declared that we had made contact prior to our “innovative” finishing move, and as such we got the bump.  Much rejoicing (and maybe more profanity) then ensued. I’m not sure if Keble got the memo, though, as I’m pretty sure they rowed the rest of the race oblivious to the fact that they had, in fact, been vanquished by a crew that couldn’t even row in a straight line.

Thursday – 9:08 p.m.

In case you didn’t catch them the first time:

At least they are safe from aliens.

Thursday – 4:45 p.m.

Bump.  Ridiculous bump.  Details to follow.

Thursday – 11:55 a.m.

My program only has one marked assignment this term: our thesis ‘Research Design’ essay – and I just turned it in a day early.  Wise?  Probably not.  But I need to set some priorities, and clearly, rowing should come first.  I was already at the word limit anyway, I guess.

Thursday – 6:06 a.m.

Up early, which is good because I need to eat about 10,000 calories of carbs before 3:00 p.m.  Because I’m totally going to burn that in a four minute race.

Wednesday – 10:24 p.m.

Excellent.  The hot-pink flames on Worcester M1’s uniforms have been awarded “Worst Stash [Uniform] of the Week” by Oxford University Rowing Club.  As our captain puts it,”a remarkable achievement when one crew rowed with cardboard boxes covered in tin-foil on their heads.”

No, really, someone did:

Row sexy, guys, row sexy.

Also, it appears that the French made an appearance earlier today:

Do it for Le France!

Wednesday – 10:06 p.m.

Keble College Men’s II boat – I am going to make you cry.  You are, in the words of our Stroke, “A bunch of muppets.”

Wednesday – 9:26 p.m.

Okay, short explanation of today: best possible outcome that is not actually good.

Long explanation: Summer Eights is “bumps racing,” which means that the regatta consists of several divisions of twelve boats that start in a line and try to run into each other.  If you “bump” a boat, you and the boat you hit drop out of the race, and the next day, you start one forward in the start order.  The goal is, over the course of twenty years or so (really) to work your way up to first position in first division – “Head of the River.”  So you not only want to bump and avoid getting bumped – you also need to bump before the boat in front of you does.

Unfortunately, today, the boat two in front of us – Keble – missed the memo that you are supposed to row fast, so Trinity (one in front of us) got an easy bump just as we were about to catch them.  Thus, our chance to get a bump was snatched from us, but we rowed to a strong finish and easily outdistanced St. Katz, behind us.

Reading this, I am quite confident this is not coherent to anyone but myself.

Wednesday – 5:25 p.m.

Sweet, pictures from today already online and available to steal:

I don't even recognize myself.

Wednesday -10: 52 a.m.

Rowing really cannot be understood outside of the context of extremely over-dramatic pump-up YouTube videos.  This one is an old standby:

Though I also feel strongly about this one:

Or, if you want just a general introduction to how Worcester College Boat Club feels about its own importance and/or the degree to which what we do merits really dramatic music:

Now if that doesn’t get that testosterone coursing through your veins, I don’t know what will.  (I should note, after that manly comment, that Worcester’s women’s crews invariably do infinitely better than the men.)

Spring Has Sprung!

In celebration of finishing exams, a few development studies students set out to find the least productive way to spend an afternoon.

We found this paragon of procrastination.

It is called cricket.

Don't tire yourself out.

I freely admit that I do not know enough about cricket to appreciate its nuances, which I’m sure are fascinating.  I also know that plenty of people here think that American baseball and football are mind-numbingly boring. That said, I’m skeptical of any sport that can be played while wearing a white khaki suit and panama hat.  I mean, the sport was invented by colonialists who had nothing to do: it is, in short, intended to be a spectacular waste of time.

What really got me, though, was the guy who was smoking and reading the newspaper while ostensibly also playing in the outfield.  At various points, players would stop paying attention to the game and do a few push-ups; I think if you didn’t, and you played cricket all the time, you’d get out of shape.  (I think I’m also bitter because my classmates who were playing in the match didn’t seem very appreciative of me shouting “Hit a homer!” at the top of my lungs when they were batting.  I guess it really is a “Gentleman’s Game.”)

Magdalen Tower

In all seriousness, though, spring in Oxford is fantastic.  Our workload hasn’t really changed, but our approach to it definitely has.  The terms here are so short, and good weather is so rare, that the opportunity cost of a moment spent inside at this point feels almost too high to bear.  I’ve been gardening, rowing, running, wandering – pretty much anything but working on my thesis.  This morning, to celebrate May Day, we woke up at 5:15 a.m. and trundled down to Magdalen Bridge, where the college choir sung madrigal hymns from the tower.

I was about to write that things couldn’t get much better, but it occurs to me that they most definitely can – and will – when Jackie’s flight arrives this evening!

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Jukebox: The Lawrence Arms – Quincentuple Your Money

How the other half lives

Can't get a high quality view like this on TV.

Bused down to London yesterday to view “The Boat Race,” the hundred-and-eighty-something year old rowing race between Oxford and Cambridge.  It’s quite a big deal (and not just for wanna-be, neophyte rowers like myself) – the Oxford boat had several Olympians and two guys who claim to have invented facebook, and it seemed like half of London was lining the banks of the Thames to watch.  In preparation for reading this post, I suggest you get pumped up with this overly dramatic introduction to the boat race created by the sponsors.

The race itself was, well, a bit anti-climatic.  The problem with races on rivers is that the boats tend to go by in about thirty seconds, and then you don’t see anything else aside from the jumbo-tron.  And there’s the fact that the heavily favoured Oxford boat lost to the forces of evil.  Everyone seemed to take it in characteristically English stride though – the Cambridge fans reacted to their come-from-behind victory with a “Well done, Cambridge.  Jolly good match.  Shall we go grab a pint?”  (For comparison, I would have reacted to an Oxford victory with something like “HAHAHA YOUR SCHOOL IS STUPID AND YOU ACADEMIC ATTIRE IS NOT AS COOL AND YOUR PARENTS HATE YOU AND YOU SMELL BAD,” but then again I’m American.)  In summary, the event would have been much better had the band been present.

Where it all went south.

Speaking of which, afterward I went out to dinner and drinks with some other Princeton Band alums, which provided a much needed digression to my former life – and a window into the life I could have had if I had made different choices last year.  Six months into grad school, there’s something that seems weirdly appealing about having a job: real weekends, finite working hours, coherent and clear tasks, and – for the bankers at least – the ability to go out to dinner with friends in London and not panic about the cost.

The irony, of course, is that only one year after we graduated, my friends with jobs are all signing up for GMATs, GREs, and LSATs en masse, hoping for any opportunity to get out of real employment.  And when I talk to them about my life, it is quickly obvious how good I have it: I set my own hours, I work on things that are intellectually stimulating, and if I want to go wander off into the forest in the middle of the day, no one particularly cares.

That realization, though, is not particularly helpful.  I was thrown into mental crisis a few days ago when I realized that I need to starting thinking about what I am going to do post-Oxford now, especially if I want to do more school. And the frustrating thing is, I just don’t have a clear goal anymore, and the clock is ticking.  For the longest time, I wanted to be a lawyer – until I realized all the lawyers I knew were miserable.  Academia seemed good, until I came to Oxford and had to confront how rigid, competitive, and constrained life is for most academics.   At some point, I just have to choose something and go for it – but what if I choose wrong?

The grass is always greener, I guess.

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Jukebox: Bouncing Souls – Big Eyes

The Thames giveth; the Isis taketh away

The Mighty M2 (see if you can find me)

Sometimes, I have the self-awareness to notice my friends’ eyes start to glaze over when I start rehashing my most recent rowing exploits, and realize that the fact that I currently have an unbalanced cult-like devotion to the sport does not, in fact, mean that anyone else cares.  But, since this week was “Torpids” – which is actually a big deal in the Oxford rowing world – I will leave it to you to decide whether you care enough about klaxons and ergs and bumps and crabs to read onward.

The Isis is not wide enough to have a proper side-by-side race between boats.  So Oxford, in its infinite cleverness (rumour is Cambridge copied us), came up with “bumps racing.”  Basically, twelve boats line up one after another, with a boat length-and-a-half distance between them.  When the gun fires, everyone rows as fast as they can after one another.  Although technically coxswains are supposed to concede the race before there is contact, the real fun of bumps racing comes from celebrating our unique obligations as Oxford students to use our privileges to the betterment of humanity by ramming one $40,000 boat into another.  If you get “bumped,” you move down one place in the start order the next day, and the places carry over from year to year.  There are seven divisions, so you literally have to be consistently good for decades to be head of the river.

Rowing seems to be the only thing English people have yet to figure out how to do in the rain, and as a consequence, our first day of rowing was canceled, leaving me in the unfortunate position of actually attending class. On Thursday, though, we were good to go, and, having spent the morning pumping up by watching cheesy you-tube rowing montages set to speeches pulled from 1980s football movies, I was ready to roll.  Our quarry for the day was Lady Margaret Hall, with Pembroke giving chase.  Following the maxim that if you fail, you should fail spectacularly, I managed to fall off my seat at the critical moment of the race (look, I was pulling really mightily).  At that moment, LMH was only a quarter length away, but quickly escaped, while Pembroke careened into us, severing our rudder.  Without steering, the entire remainder of our division proceeded to bump us.  “Ruddergate” shall live in infamy for many years, which coincidentally is about how long it will take us to regain our previous place.

Like in any good formulaic sports movie, Friday offered a chance for redemption, which we seized.  We had now been dropped down to the front of a lower division, so in our first race, our goal was simply to avoid being bumped by Wadham, whom everyone hates for some reason.  This time, I managed to keep a hold of my oar, and we put six lengths in front of the evil college from East campus.  As a result, we got to race in the next division up an hour later, and managed to ram Teddy Hall in the space of twenty strokes.  Back slaps all around.  You can see my lithe, ripped self in seat six in the below clip, rowing with terrible form.

By Saturday, we had already had a day of racing canceled, a day of catastrophe, and a day of fabulous success.  All that was left for the Thames to throw at was a “klaxon.”  I actually have no idea what part of speech a klaxon is, but whatever it is, it happens when – during a race – a bunch of boats crash into each other and block the river.  A horn blows, and the whole affair stops mid-way through, with no re-do.  I will maintain to my deathbed that we were going to catch St. Peters in fine form, but since our race ended 400 meters in, the outcome of our race will go down with the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop as things the world will never know.  That said, this hilarious video surfaced on you-tube, which shows the crash in action as well as a bunch of people getting hit in the head with oars.

All in all, a stirringly mediocre performance – but I couldn’t have been happier to take part.  On Saturday, the Hogwarts regalia was out in full force, and it seemed like half the campus – including some of my amazing friends from the department – braved the cold to come watch me (not) race.  When we pulled into the boat house, M1 handed us pints of Pims,  which we drank with oars still in hand.  Our women’s first crew bumped every day, winning “blades” (you actually get a huge oar to take home), so we showered them in champagne.  As for boat club dinner later that night, well, that would require a few more words, and having spent four days rowing, I think its time to return to unreality.

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Jukebox: Against Me! – New Wave

The Race

There are so many things to be stressing about on a Saturday morning: ever-nearing deadlines for assessed essays, upcoming meetings with my thesis advisor (still without a topic), and looming qualification exams.  And, for all that, I’ve spent all morning with my mind fixed on five minutes I will spend on the Isis this afternoon, racing with Worcester rowing against the evil empire of Wadham College.

I always hit a moment of panic about two minutes before a race.  Whether I’m sitting in a boat or standing on a starting land, I’d usually give anything to escape.  I know that the only way I can win is if I sentence myself to more misery, pain, and exhaustion than my competitors, and I know they realize this too.  I almost want to scream for them to take it easy on us, but I don’t, so I am left wondering why I do this to myself.  I had every chance during weeks of training to back out, but now it’s too late.  My torment is both unavoidable and completely self-inflicted.

And then, at some point, the gun goes off, and my world compresses.  At first, I can hear the cox screaming at us to pull, and I can both see the boat chasing us from behind and the boat we are chasing, a few lengths in front.  The simplicity is blissful: for a few minutes, all the complex problems of my life are caused by those bastards in front of us and the wankers behind.  And then, at a certain point, my world narrows further, down to just my boat, and all I am doing is trying not to let down the guy in front of me and the guy behind me.  And, about a minute in, when my body goes anaerobic and my mind goes numb, the competition is only between me and myself, and I am in nirvana.

If we lose, there’s practically nothing that can cheer me up; but if we win, I’m pretty sure I can go on and conquer the world.

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Jukebox: Complete Control – Are You Ready?

“Shoeing the Tabs”, whatever that means

I hadn’t looked at my passport photo for a long time prior to embarking on my now moderately infamous quest to get a U.K. visa.  It’s actually pretty amusing.  I have no piercings—not in my ears, not in my eyebrow—and my hair is closely cropped and normal colored.  The thing that really humors me, though, is that I’m wearing a varsity letter jacket.

My passport photo is a window into a very specific period of my life, a huge divergence from what came before and what has come after.  The photo was taken my senior year of high school, when I was applying for a passport in preparation for a school trip to Mexico.  It documents a few month period where I lived and breathed running.  By the final months of high school, I pretty much only showed up to school for practice afterward.  Even then, I had a note from my parents giving me permission to leave class to go running.  Fourth period physics was a personal favorite to disappear from.  I shudder to admit it, but at that point in my life I was, at least, insofar as I could be at a tiny and unconventional school like Northland Preparatory Academic, a jock.

Ghosts of jock-dom past.

All this is amusing, to me at least, because it’s a part of my identity that has so thoroughly disappeared in subsequent years.  A few months after the picture was taken, I tore my Achilles tendon on a training run, and my athletic career was over.  When it happened, I was thoroughly crushed, but I got over it.  I joined the band, went vegan, embraced punk culture, and tried to forget that I had once been the kind of square who would wear a letter jacket.

The person in my passport picture has been feeling a bit more familiar since I moved to Oxford.  Following the standard American-in-Oxford path, I signed up for crew and, by merit of being slightly tall, having some familiarity with a gym, and my willingness to practice for more than two hours a week, I found myself in Worcester College’s “A” boat.  For the last eight weeks, I’ve had weekly six a.m. outings in complete darkness and circuits in the rain—and absolutely loved every minute of it.

This week was Christ Church Regatta, the first proper race of the season, in which it seemed practically half the student body was competing.  Boathouse Island was a non-stop party, with each of Oxford’s thirty-nine colleges putting its regalia out in full.  The night before our first race, our crew, consisting of two undergraduate coaches (from the U.K.), six undergrads (all from the U.K.), and myself and one other graduate student (from Australia), got together to carbohydrate load, trash talk Worcester’s B crew, and, as seems to wind up happening, teach me English slang terms.  (Those other crews are so naff).  Afterward, we watched a horrendously clichéd rowing movie which borrowed heavily from Mighty Ducks and stole its soundtrack from Rocky.  It was fantastic.

I hadn’t realized how serious I was about rowing until race day, when I couldn’t concentrate all morning and wound up skipping class to warm up, stretch, and you-tube Olympic rowing matches.  At the boathouse, the eighteen-year-olds on my team were putting on pink facepaint (Worcester’s color), but I could practically hear Mr. Elder, my high school coach, reminding me “the only way I want you to call attention to yourself is by winning.”  By the time we had rowed up to the starting line, I was half roaring with adrenaline, half sick with nervousness.  Two minutes and five hundred meters later, we had beaten St. Hugh’s College, and I was thrilled to no end.


Getting pumped.

The regatta is a knock-out tournament, so we were slated to race again the next day.  In a turn of events that must have been surprising to absolutely no one except the race organizers, it rained for the rest of Wednesday.  The river rose, and Thursday’s race was cancelled.  After another day of rain, Friday was out too, and Saturday thereafter.  We “finished” the regatta unsatisfied, but undefeated.

The silver lining of the cancellation was that I had a chance to run against Cambridge on Saturday.  I’ve only run one race previously this semester, an intercollegiate match, but I had to row for two hours prior and rush two miles to the starting line, so it wasn’t exactly a stellar performance.  As a result of not running any other qualifying matches, I was thrown into the “mob match” rather than the varsity race, but, having trained for rowing not running, I was okay with the diminished competition.  For whatever reason, though, yesterday everything clicked.  The course was a slimy, muddy mess, with tight turns and steep hills; in other words, proper cross country.  I started out conservatively—assuming that I was out of shape—but around mile two, really started cruising.  Even when the misery of running hard for thirty minutes started to hit me, I didn’t let up, and wound up sprinting four-hundred miles to the finish, before collapsing.

Gentlemanly competition, but which I mean, I hate you Cambridge.

While I wasn’t running proper varsity, I’m still pretty proud of the fact that I took second (and the guy in first was varsity last year) and managed a massive personal best for the 10k.  It was such a pointless, meaningless race, and yet it felt so good to do well.  I had forgotten how much I missed running, how much it had killed me to let go if it freshman year.  I was honestly tearing up by the time I got in the van to return to campus, and couldn’t wait to call up my old coach and thank him-once again-for bringing running into my life.

So, I suppose, things have come full circle, and the jock in the passport photo seems more and more familiar to me.  I was chatting about rowing with a woman in my program who is also doing crew, and she made a comment to the effect that “I didn’t think vegans were ever into sports…”  It made me realize how incongruous my rediscovered passion is with the rest of my life.  Sometimes, I struggle with whether or not this is really a worthwhile use of my time.  I can’t help but think the people paying for me to be here didn’t do so expecting me to be a B-grade runner and a C-grade oarsman (and wouldn’t be particularly satisfied if I was “A-grade” in either).  I’m not going to solve world poverty on a training run, or figure out a life purpose at a 6 a.m. crew outing.

Coach Elder told me once that “running is life.”  He didn’t entirely mean it in the you-should-make-your-entire-life-running sense.  He also meant that running is, in a weird way, a metaphor for all of life.  My existence is, indeed, one long competition: my studies are supposed to be part of the fight against indifference and apathy, but frequently feel like a battle over the inertia of academia.  As an activist, I’m in conflict with the university over arms investment and in my personal life, I’m challenging the oppression of animals and the depletion of natural resources.

The toughest fights, of course, are with yourself, and on Saturday—competing against my own limits—I for once felt like I won.  And that, to me, is worth it.


Long-missed signs of hard work.
These are actually kind of graphic. Sorry about that.