Races and Stories

Absurdist Running

by Madeleine Page

[Webmaster's Note: I'm sorry to report that Maddy Page was struck down by cancer on December 15, 2003. Her story is heartbreaking to those who remain, but she fought bravely, retaining her humor, wit, and wisdom to the very end. She died quietly, surrounded by friends who made sure she did not face that battle alone. The Noble Hound followed her only a couple of days later, having reached the advanced age (for German Shepherds) of 15. The connection between them was clearly profound enough to cross the human/doggie divide, but Madeleine was uniquely and specially able to cross the even more complicated and inscrutable human/human divide. Though I'm not sure many still venture into this old and obscure part of my web site, those who do will continue to see this story even if most other things get replaced; it's how I want to remember her. If you have a box of tissue handy, read her weblog account of her illness here.]

Yesterday evening I discovered the (to me) new concept of Absurdist Running. I heartily recommend it.

It was raining. Hard. However, I was feeling in need of a brisk run to clear my head. The Noble Hound was reluctant, but the usual carbohydrate loading (a pocket full of dog treats) changed her mind. We set out and it was a lovely run. Apart from anything else, the usual charging hordes of warp-speed cyclists and Olympic-style inline skaters stay home in the rain, leaving the entire trail for the few runners and walkers loopy enough, cranky enough or obsessed enough to go out in such weather.

The first minor mishap occurred going under our first bridge: a huge sheet of standing water poured unexpectedly down from the road above and drenched the Noble Hound. Now, the NH is definitely N, but also, alas, something of a wuss. She decided (a) she wanted to go home and (b) she wanted to do so *now*. We had a small discussion about this, as I attempted to twist my dislocated shoulder back into place, stop running backwards at high speed and prevent her galloping into traffic in sheer doggie panic.

Treats more or less did the trick. Well, treats and a song. When the NH is feeling particularly craven, I have found that a bracing song will give her heart. I make them up as we go along, and she (and she alone) appears to appreciate them. So when we got to the next bridge, I had her to heel on my left, a treat in my right hand held as far in front of me as I could manage on the donkey-and-carrot principle, and was bellowing the day's Doggie Fear Song ("My dog is a stellar dog; mind like a sieve, brain like a log") as loud as I could. It worked.

Unfortunately, as we emerged from the tunnel there was a lone stalwart walker coming towards us. She looked at me, one arm stiffly extended in front of me, soggy milkbone dangling invitingly from my fingers, singing at top volume, my dog glancing from bridge (shudder) to my hand (skip), to bridge (shudder) to my hand (skip). The walker gave me that look that people reserve for those who are listening to jokes told by invisible others. She hastily crossed the trail in case it was catching.

The NH and I ran on a couple more uneventful miles. Then we got to a part in the trail where it separates from the road and skirts a car park. Ideal privacy to do what I often do around mile three of a run: practice form. As I started, I remembered reading here about running upright. So I pulled myself up (driving rain tends to make you curl in on yourself anyway), tucked in my regrettably substantial butt, and ran impressively upright.

Then I remembered Ozzie Gontang's paeans to running as "falling and catching yourself". Think I got the hang of it more or less, though it did seem to involve something awfully like stumbling and recovering on an icy surface. Then I remembered that Ozzie talked about falling and catching yourself gracefully. I was into this by now, so I decided I'd fall to the right (lurch), catch myself to the left (stagger), and do so gracefully (small arabesque flourish with the arms). The dog was enjoying this, too and got into the spirit of the thing. We developed a pas de deux: I'd lurch, she'd woof; I'd stagger, she'd skip; I do my arabesque, she'd respond with a leap. Unfortunately, I'd failed to take into account the fact that car parks tend to contain parked cars, and that parked cars sometimes contain people. The NH and I looked up from our rather less than stately progress to see a car-load of folks parked right by the trail, staring at us intently, slack jawed with horrified amazement at our antics.

I decided that we had reached the halfway point on the run and turned quickly around.

I might have retained a shred of dignity with this manouevre, had the rain not been driving into my face on the way back. In order to stay cool, I'd need to unzip my rain jacket, but the direction of the rain meant that this would involve getting very wet. So I did the obvious thing under the circumstances: took my jacket off and put it on backwards. When last I glanced their way, the folks in the car looked like they were nearly in tears.

Madeleine " I, on the other hand, ran back in record time, laughing the whole way" Page