Climate and Culture

There’s always something to be found in a used bookstore. It’s harder than it might first seem, however, to make a successful selection. I often feel overwhelmed when I enter such a place: walls of books, floor to ceiling, all call to me to be read. But I’ve already got such a backlog. In a box of running materials recently donated to me by my late coach Terry Goodenough, via my Waterloo Warrior teammate Stephen Drew, among many great books of running, was a funny little plastic Nike clock. It is one of those “back at 1:30” signs where you can set the hour of your return. On one side it cleverly says: “Gone Running.” But on the other side, presumably the side you can see if you are the one inside of the shop, and you are in there because you haven’t gone running yet, the sign reads: “Time spent thinking about running is time spent not running.” That is the truth. I think used bookstores should have a sign in them, too: “Time spent in used bookstores is time spent not reading the stack of books you’ve already got.” Perhaps that’s not as pithy as it could be.

I did make off with four books, to go with the five that I brought with me, and the two that Davison has graciously decided to lend me for what will certainly be an indefinite period, approaching forever. First, let me share the books I brought: Best Efforts, by Kenny Moore, which I mentioned yesterday. I actually finished that one off this afternoon. Pre! by Tom Jordan (next in the hopper. It’s pretty short, should get through it soon) and Out of Nowhere: The Inside Story of How Nike Marketed the Culture of Running, by Geoff Hollister. These three were for to get me in the mood for Oregon, obviously. Also, I brought a couple books on Kenyan runners, Train Hard, Win Easy: the Kenyan Way, by Toby Tanser and Kenyan Running: Movement Culture, Geography and Global Change, by John Bale and Joe Sang. These I brought because I thought a) three books might not be enough and b) there were no books on my shelf about Victoria or Canadian running specifically (which makes me think there’s an opportunity there–except the market would be very small), but these can certainly count as research. Upon perusing Davison’s shelf (he has an original printing of Once a Runner–legit!) I noticed and thumbed Runners & Other Dreamers, a John L. Parker, Jr. book I have not read, as well as “The Milers” by Cordner Nelson and Roberto Quercetani, which features Coe, Cram and Ovett on the cover, and which seems to be a complete history of the mile/1500m up to 1985.

With this stack, you might find it hard to believe that upon entering Russel Books on Fort Street in Victoria, I was compelled to purchase not one, but four books. Actually, I almost bought a fifth. I had to text my wife at home and have her go through Terry’s box to see if the sport psych book by Terry Orlick that I held in my hand was the same one I had thought I’d seen or a different one. It was the same, so I saved myself ten bucks, at least. I did pick up two sports psych books, “Winning Habits” and “The Mental Edge.” I suspect they may be as run of the mill as their titles suggest, but I do like to see what the millers are saying. Better, on the same shelf I found a copy of “The Mechanics of Athletics” by Geoffrey Dyson. Those in the know will gasp and say “oooo.” This is a seminal work on the physics of track and field. It may or may not be out of date, but I know that almost every world-class, old-school coach I’ve heard or read interviewed mentions it when asked about books. It’s full of diagrams and the chapter titles include “Linear motion”, “parallelogram and resolution of velocities” and “Path of projectiles.” I think it is a first edition from 1962. Finally, downstairs in the “vintage” section, was a cute little volume called “Track and Field Athletics” by D.G.A. Lowe, first published in 1936, though this one is a reprint from 1947. It’s a fairly basic manual, and yes, probably wildly out of date, but still instructive to read, I’m sure. The best part may be the photos of high jump technique. The author notes that “the oldest form of high jumping is known as the scissors. It is now out of date, and no good coach would teach it.” The other forms are “eastern form” and “western roll.” This is, of course, pre-Fosbury (who competed for Oregon State). I would love to see a jumper break out “the eastern” in competition, just for fun.

Before my afternoon in the bookstore, I spent sometime with an equally encyclopedic, but much more up to date man, Rob Reid, owner of Frontrunners. In the short walk from his New Balance store to the Habit coffee shop, several people stopped him to say hello. This town must be runner crazy, I thought to myself, everybody knows the guy who owns the running store! He should run for mayor! Then he tells me that he DID run for mayor. At first, I was impressed, but after hearing about all the pies this fellow has his hand in, I should not have been too surprised. I’m just surprised he didn’t win.

I asked Rob about what he thought made Victoria a special place for runners. It seems like everyone mentions the climate first. It’s hard to escape (especially when it’s raining and you are biking around town looking for a pub that Chris Kelsall gave you faulty directions to, but that’s another story!). Everyone talks about the weather. I’ve been lead to believe that the weather this week is no different from what you’d see in October or February. Must be nice.

Another thing about Victoria that I’ve noticed is the hills. It is a hilly city. Not the way Montreal is set on a slant and forces you up a varying degree of climb depending on which part of downtown you are attempting to escape from. No, Victoria’s hills have a randomness to them, a fartlek of hills, almost as if the waves of the Pacific had washed through the streets, rippling them from bay to bay. I have a suspicion that when I go out tomorrow, the undulations will have shifted. That would make training here special. Like reading a new book every day, there would always be a different stimulus. This variety makes runners strong, or maybe it just distracts them from the work. The geography tests runners as it embraces them.

Rob Reid’s impact on running cluture in Victoria is akin to a force of nature. He has been able to create a number of local, national and international programs to support all levels of runners, and, more importantly, all kinds of people. He helped start, and discovered just how important running could be: one of the first clients used running to sort out her life and ensure she could be there for her kids. This is not frivolous stuff, here. He’s also formed an association of Canadian independent running retailers, with whom he meets regularly: he was flying out to Saskatoon on Sunday to see that gang. Yes, Pierre and Bert from Boutique Endurance will be there. He reveals to me that he’s a partner with John Carson in the Rift Valley Marathon, and in building the training camp for mid-level runners that Ryan was able to glimpse the start of this winter. He may be one of the most influential running men in Canada.

As he explains all this to me, I think of a question, but as I ask it, the answer comes to me. “What does it take, do you think, to unite all these various types of runners? The recreational and the elite and those in between?” With the usual questioning of whether the governing bodies are doing enough, or whether they can, given their institutional limitations, Reid claims all that it takes is a person with a vision. That’s what I think, too. One crazy person that people will follow to the end of the trail. I think of Bowerman, of Prefontaine, or of DST, Gillis and Coolsaet. So perhaps the answer to my question lies not in climate or even culture, but of leadership, example and inertia. One man*, a plan, and tunnel vision to carry it out.

*Women are conspicuously absent from these leadership positions, with the exception of the soon to be retired Thelma Wright (who had the energy of 5 to 10 teenagers in full hormonal buzz). Despite it’s hippy reputation, Victoria does not seem to me to be any less affected by the gender inequalities of our sport. It is what it is.