The Poles

On one end, there is extreme specialization. In our case, that is trail running. Trail running feels good, so we do more trail running, then more. We sign up for events and train for them. That requires more running. We leave behind all the other activities, the bike rides, the paddling, the hiking, playing soccer, walking casually with family and friends. They’re all distractions.

Now we have reached one pole and feel the inexorable draw of the other. This is the natural flow of things. Maybe we think we’re choosing our destiny, but it’s really just some force beyond our reason, or maybe we are choosing, but we fail to see the consequences of our choices.

We are tired of running, Meghna, Caitlin and I. We are all signed up for 50km of trail race in about two weeks, and having done all the training (or most of it), we all feel like we’ve run too much. We find ourselves dreaming of those other things, riding bikes, hiking, sitting still. In our minds, other things appear like an oasis on the sandy horizon, salvation, the clear way forward, the other pole.

In two weeks we will run 50km, and it will be what it will be (more on that tomorrow). And then we’ll relax (probably not). We’ll diversify the portfolio of fun, and for a minute or two it will feel good to be back to that variety.

Eventually though, you round that pole and find yourself preoccupied by one thing, maybe the mountain bike next time, and gradually you overcommit to it, until it too reaches its breaking point, you round that pole, and come back again.

In my mind, specialization is a mistake, an error I anticipate making over and over. On the one hand, you have to follow your motivation, which is what keeps this orbit in motion. On the other hand, I am clear that, within any of the pastimes I adore, I am never going to amount to much. Practice won’t make perfect. Fun is the only line worth plotting on the graph.

How to manage all this? How to do it better? No clue. Maybe just keep moving.

As an endnote: Back in the early ’90s, I lived in a big, stupid house with some friends. It looked like a barn, so we called it the barn. There was an urban park nearby, the sort of place families had barbecues and solitary females got assaulted, more of a vacant lot than a park, a vaguely grassy spot to break up the asphalt.

At one entrance to the park there were a pair of poles, put there to keep cars from driving in to the park. At some point, someone discovered that these two poles were conducting electricity, and that if you put a hand on each one a low voltage current would pass through your body. For some reason, any visitor from out of town would be taken to the poles more or less as soon as they arrived. It was some rite of passage. Those also were the Poles.