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Of Tracks and Shoes

There is a book, Swimming Studies, by a Canadian author Leanne Shapton, which documents her notes on swimming and the shapes of pools she swims in. The book also contains photographs of the swim-suits she has collected over time as a swimmer – both serious and recreational. She writes of the smells of pools and the sensation of moving through water and of becoming tired and exhilarated in the water. She writes of early mornings and feeling compelled to go to training despite the snow and cold of Canadian winters. The book is one of my favourite examples of ‘sports writing’: largely for how little it describes the winning and losing or the regimented scientific training routines, but for how it emphasises the aesthetics and senses of the sport she practices. It is thoroughly personal in its scope: it documents her routines, her folly of collecting swim suits and her artistic practice in painting portraits and making prints of pools. She is a writer, an illustrator, a swimmer and these practices are combined into one text. Nice.

Of Tracks and Shoes

The 400m athletics track is to the runner what the 50m pool is to the swimmer. It forms the base for one’s times over a standard distance, and, is a kind of true measuring of one’s progress or regress. ‘Track speed sessions’ are a weekly element of the long-distance runner’s regime. The track of Leiden Atletiek (photo above), was on the city’s outskirts and next to a forest, a few square kilometres in size. I would arrive on cold, dark evenings, with the rain blowing horizontally across the track and field, make my way into the changerooms before heading out for technique exercises and then the session proper of whatever track variations the coach had prepared. Puddles formed, and we splashed against one another on bends. A head-wind regularly greeted us on the back straight as we passed next to the forest. The faster runners, some of the best young runners in the Netherlands, would pass us at speed and ease: the hierarchy of running is indeed brutal – at training at least. Racing allows room for a greater art and creativity. The steady progress of working out how to move one’s body more efficiently and how to overcome minor pain and discomfort prevents the repetition training from being boring. Sharing the experience with trusted partners makes the process feel collaborative.

Kinvara 8sI had started running regularly in June 2013 and I bought my first pair of shoes in an Adidas shop in Kuala Lumpur. The shoes were light and blue and probably one from their Adizero range. They felt good and I bought them. I threw them out after having probably run 1,200 kilometres in them: some 400 kilometres more than they could probably handle. They had long since become damaged, sullied and lacking in any cushioning or providing any kind of support. Then in Leiden, I had my foot-fall analysed and was recommended a pair of Saucony Kinvara #5: a neutral, light-weight shoe. For good luck and knowing the mileage I was doing I was also recommended a heavier, more comfortable pair of Saucony Guides, just to break up my running week. Interchanging the kinds of shoes one wears is apparently a way of avoiding injury and definitely a way to make more money for the shop. The Kinvaras fit beautifully and I was hooked. The sides have often worn quicker than I would have hoped; but their otherwise snug fit and comfort have always outweighed their weaknesses. Over five years of running 50-100km per week, I have bought six pairs. Sometimes doubling up on a model, with getting a different colour combination; but mostly just one model before getting the apparently next model which may have minor improvements.

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The track at the re-furbished, grand-standless Olympic Park aka the Holden Centre is on the perimeter of Collingwood Football Club’s training field. It is on the site of the former-Olympic park and is in the shadows of both Aami Park and the old Olympic swimming pool venue. Apparently, the distance of the track is 507m and it has no straights. I used this track once a week with the group of runners known as Love the Run. Like a regular athletics track it has markings every 100m, yet it is only three lanes wide. I am not sure if one of the 100mm sections has an extra seven meters, of if the hundred-meter sections are just a little longer than they purport to be. GPS watches are apparently not precise enough to accurately mark the discrepancies. Despite the track’s narrowness, even on busy nights, there is rarely any trouble. Athletes, after all, grow used to running in tight packs; adjusting their gait according to those around them. During the lead up to the footy season, Collingwood’s women’s team trains there in the evening. Once their brief season is over, the reserves soon follow. They take shots on goals and the balls narrowly miss passing runners. The venue is a mix of private and public and both sets of users are unwilling to cede territory. Unlike the athletics track of Leiden, I associate this track with windless, summer evenings, when the sky is still blue and the temperature stays steady at 36 despite it already being 7pm.

In its former life, this was one of the sites of the Alternative Nation concert. I lined up for what seemed like an age in the freezing wind and rain. I looked up at the Nylex Tower and it said: 7degrees, 11am. It was the first or second weekend of April – if I’m not mistaken. Once inside, and somehow not too frozen to enjoy the music, my mate and I saw any number of bands we loved: Nine Inch Nails, Cosmic Psychos (video includes vision from the concert), Skunkhour, Ice T, and for me, the highlight was Lou Reed’s grumpy, cantankerous solo set. I ran too on the old athletics track: in a school house competition. I was bedecked in a Bonds Hawthorn-brown t-shirt and baggy white-shorts. Who knows what running shoes I was wearing, but they certainly weren’t Kinvaras. I led the 1500m for a lap, was in third for two, and then when the crunch came, I settled back into an inglorious fourth. All that is gone: instead we have the Holden Centre upon the very sight in which Indonesia played the USSR in the 1956 Olympics for a glorious and unexpected 0:0 draw. The architecture of sport is so quickly demolished.

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My copy of Leanne Shapton’s book, Swimming Studies, is still at my friend Sander’s house back in Leiden. Swimming and running are indeed complementary sports: obsessed with times and conditions being uniform. They have their corollary in ocean swimming and fell-running. A book of Running Studies would require a study of running singlets, shorts, and shoes. Of tracks and shoes, I might call it. And, a series of reflections on tracks and the memories they create: the heat of the new Olympic Park, the rain, wind and puddles of Leiden Athletic’s silent and dark track. In my running, my times are an indicator of progress or regress; that much is unavoidable. But, the value and the pleasure comes from that which is concomitant with one’s progress: the who and where it happens and whom it is shared with.



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