Running shoes (peeking at the complexity)

After half-marathon on the road my trail running shoes proved to be not cushioned enough and I have decided to purchase new road-running shoes. This seemingly simple task proved harder than I thought, and the subject of running shoes, even though not completely rocket science, is nevertheless not that simple. The running advisor (a good starting point for those interested in their feet shape) suggested that I may be underpronating. My previous road-running shoes, Asics 1090, exhibit wear on the outside more than on the inside, hence I would opt for stability shoes such as Nimbus 10.  I could possibly also go with Asics 1130. However, another model, Cumulus 10, seems not to offer as much support and cushioning as the Nimbus. The top of the line, Kayano 14 and 2130 are both more suitable for over-pronating runners, and therefore, even though they feel comfortable in the shop, they may not work well on the road. And, the final word about Kinsei: it seems as if they do not work well with under pronating runners.

The complexity of the running shoes technology stems from the fact that each runner differs in the feet shape, stroke technique and running style. There is truly no single best design, and therefore, the market exhibits complexity equivalent to the biological systems it tries to serve. From one hand, the manufacturers dream would be the single best shoe that covers the majority of the market (Asics Kinsei?). Yet, it seems that the best manufacturers realise that the majority of customers lie in the long-tail, each with slightly different needs, and offering the best trade-offs must be the norm. The market seems to be partitioned into multi-dimensional clusters: according to: pronation, cushioning, stability, motion control, and shoe shape (straight, semi-curved, and curved). The complexity is truly amazing, and when comparing shoe designs that are 10+ years old, it is clear that manufacturers learned to serve the runners better by providing more targeted and tailored product range.

Update: Nimbus 10 turned out to be more for over-pronators – they are pushing the feet considerably outwards, which is not what my feet need. The light Gel-1130 turnout out to be the best overall, and I settled for UK size 9 with these. They are clearly the nice continuation of my previous 1090, and I hope they will work well. The first two runs turned out to be really comfortable.

One monk gone.

Adrian has left today. It was great to have him in Dunedin and spend time together. As with everyone who comes temporarily to Dunedin, the day of the departure came much faster than we would expect and we had to say goodbye. We went for a quick look to Mt.Cargill and then headed towards the airport.

On the way back I thought about attachment and about the way we operate in relation to things, situations and people. Even though it is not easy, it is still easier to understand and try to follow non-attachment principle in relation to inanimate objects. But when it comes to people, and relationship, our non-attachment is so much harder to understand, and almost impossible to follow.  Perhaps some form of attachment is fine, as long as there are no specific expectations and if we are able to carry on easily with or without the other person. Understanding that we are all individuals that must support each other’s freedoms and the ability to “let go” perhaps is essential.

In the church today the priest talked about the behaviour of a mother towards her child. Well – as much as I do not agree with any of such idealisations and generalisations, it was used as an illustration of a certain mindset and behaviour, which I guess makes it easier to understand: a mother every day conducts a series of acts, actions, that help and sustain a little child, and the mother does it out of her own will, without any expectation or any reward. It is not a trade – it is something that comes internally from the mather, something pure, something depleted from expectations of reward, etc. The child may make a smile or not, may make it easier or more difficult, but there is something that is unconditional and pure in the way the mother handles and takes care of the child. Is this the kind of love we are all after? Can we love and be loved this way? As opposed to the more abundant mutual trading of favours and selfish calculations of what we give away and what we get in return?

Another parable told today was the one about the vineyard owner, paying the same amount to workers who started working early hours in the morning and worked hard the entire day vs. workers that started in the afternoon, and worked only few hours. To those who worked entire day, it seemed unfair to be payed exactly the same amount as those who only worked few hours. The owner said, that his generosity should not be questioned – he payed everyone as agreed, and everyone got their daily wage, to have enough to sustain themselves. In game theory, such reward structure would lead to workers not willing to work entire day, because they could be rewarded the same way by only working in the afternoon. There are two aspects of fairness here. On one hand, the more hardworking should be rewarded more to those who work less. This is what “market economy” teaches us, and this is how we perceive a “fair” rewards structure. On the other hand however, the second aspect of fairness is concerned with the agreed wage and the fact that daily wage should be earned by a full day of work. The system is only fair and sustainable if everyone works for their daily wage entire day. The focus here goes onto the second aspect of fairness: the workers who worked the entire day, should be content because they have got day’s worth of wage, and they can sustain themselves, and they do not owe anyone anything. Their lives are in balance. However, the workers who only worked part of the day and got entire day’s wage, owe the vineyard owner – they got more than they worked for. The balance is disturbed, and they should make conscious active effort to bring the balance back.

Two funerals.

Keith Clark, 1938-2008. I went for Keith’s funeral today with Ula and Lidia. Lots of people, family, friends, colleagues from work (Police) and golf club. Watching the family and friends, thinking about his live, it occurred to me that we are never prepared of loosing the loved ones – no matter how it happens, it is always unexpected, and catches us unprepared. Keith was sick for the last 3 years, and even though the end was approaching inevitably, it was still hard to imagine that it can just end. We just cannot do that – we cannot think of what’s really happening. Can we?

The priest has spoken the same standard sentence that I’ve heard so many times: “… and we find comforting the thought that one day we’ll meet Keith again, and reunite with him, and he will be again a good friend to us. Husband, brother, father and grand father, and we will enjoy him and his company”. As comforting as this thought might be to some people, it is outright wrong. For two reasons. First – it is just a figure of speech, never intended to be anything else. It points out to the moment of our own death, in which everything stops. As such, it cannot be comforting if one actually thinks about it. There is no Keith to be reunited with. The moment we die, there will be no us neither. Second, the sentence assumes that Keith stopped being a friend, husband, father etc to those who are still going on with their lives. And that’s not the case. Keith remains alive in many people thoughts. He will surface as a subject of conversations, he will be missed, remembered and brought back to existence through all his friends and family, whose lives were intrinsically linked and interwoven with his own. His impression will be visible in all those lives. Even though his life ended, his influence will continue to work on lives of those close to him – his wife, family, grand children, etc. For many years to come.With time, this influence will dissolve.

Will I manage to explain it all to my daughters? Will they be prepared to let me go once the time comes? How my life will look like when I eventually turn into non-existence at the end of my life?

I’ve been on another funeral last week, of Shirley Homes. She had battled cancer the last few years too, and died last week. It was a smaller service, with similar proceedings. In both cases, I’ve known them for almost 10 years – from very early on when we moved in to Dunedin.

On Shirley’s funeral it occurred to me that I could grasp, for a few seconds, the feeling of having a life completed. Of having it all “done”. It is difficult to describe, but I could see and feel of the totality of my own existence: from the start to the finish, with part of it already clearly known, and the remaining part still in a fog of discovery. It was weird, but not frightening. To the contrary – quite peaceful experience. It reinforced the metaphor of flow of life. One is being born, goes through life, and dies at the same time observing others, in various stages of their own life/journey, travelling the same roads or trails, and ofter rediscovering the same patterns, principles or truths. And on and on. With no interruptions. It all flows. Irrespectively of our own (mis)conceptions, fears, hopes and desires. It just flows. And the cycle repeats. Over and over. With no end.

By the river Piedra I sat down & wept

By the river Piedra I sat down & wept” by Paulo Coelho (book review) is a story told through the experiences of Pilar. The author captures perfectly the various stages the relationship between the two main characters. Starting from the early childhood, dreams and fears, through selfish possessive desires and concepts of ownership, fear of rejection and desire to self-sacrifice, through understanding and, as described in the book review above, enlightened relationship where none needs to fear or sacrifice anything. Through the mystic and religious transformation Pilar achieves better understanding of what’s involved and where she feels her role fits the best in the ordinary and love life. She finds herself understanding it better and faster to her monk-like, enlightened friend, who is prepared to give up his gifts and himself to be with the woman of his dreams. She first achieves the balance and true long-lasting inspiration and peace of mind. Following one’s path should not mean a sacrifice on the other part. Her friend follows, re-discovering that none of the fears or sacrifices are necessary, and that their love is simpler to what might have seen at the beginning.

The feminine face of god, or the feminine side of divinity is an interesting concept, that is explored in the novel too. Christianity often invokes it when discussing the pure unconditional love of a mother to her child. Coelho explores the topic somewhat, although through symbolism and vague references the reader is rather left wondering on what exactly is being communicated.

What I did not like that much: the love scene is poor and quite male-centric. Pilar does not seem to engage much more beyond being a passive observer of her partner moaning. The notion of woman following the man is stressed on few occasions and even though unintentionally (I think) the author re-enforced some undesirable stereotypes.

It is a really good love story with lots of valuable insights into the intimate aspects of relationships, the stages love usually goes through, with the fear of rejection, the desire to sacrifice up to the balanced and self-conscious relationship of partners who work together towards something larger then themselves. A really well written spiritual journey that provides good food for thought and interesting take on male vs. female differentiation.

30th Moro Marathon, Dunedin.

One of the most scenic marathons in New Zealand, the Moro Marathon, was held today. And for the very first time, I’ve participated in such an officially held running event. I’ve been running recreationally, on roads and trails, from as early as I can remember, but never actually took part in any official event like that (with the exception perhaps of Baldwin Street Gutbuster race).

Todays’ one was an awesome event. Probably close to 2000 participants. The race is organised in such a way that half-marathon folks are chased and overtaken (in most part) by the full marathon runners, and all of them run together. There was also a strong presence of walkers and recreational walkers. I’ve run the event today with Melanie, and our time was just over 2:06. Melanie made 2:02 last year and we failed to go under 2hrs this year. The weather was just amazing – summer-like. The slow breeze from the harbour was cooling enough, althoug Melanie complained a lot about the weather being too hot for this year’s event. I enjoyed myself enormously, although my trail running should turned out not to be suitable for the long road-running event like this one.

Top time today for the marathon run – slightly over 2:27. Half-marathon – over 1:10.

Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Melinda and Melinda (2004), directed by Woody Allen. A family and love story told at the same time by two people: one with drama- and one with comedy-based perspective on the sequence of events. The plot is jumping interchangeably from one perspective to the other, and the same sequence of events is told by those two narrators. It is really cleverly made and overall makes a good movie, although most of the story line is based on cliches and typical take on the subject of infidelity, love, romance and family organisation. The two narratives diverge towards the end of the movie, ending up in two different points: one with more of a happy-end, and one with more of a tragic end.

Paulo Coelho, from Author’s note to “By the river…”

“[…] we must never forget that spiritual experience is above all a practical experience of love. And with love, there are no rules. So we may try to control their emotions and develop strategies for their behavior; others may turn to reading books of advice from ‘experts’ on relationships but this is all folly. The heart decides, and what it decides is all that really matters.

All of us have had this experience. At some point, we have each said through our tears, ‘I’m suffering for a love that’s not worth it.’ We suffer because we feel we are giving more than we receive. We suffer because our love is going unrecognized. We suffer because w e are unable to impose our own rules.

But ultimately there is no good reason for our suffering, for in every love lies the seed of our growth. The more we love, the closer we come to spiritual experience. Those who are truly enlightened, those whose souls are illuminated by love, have been able to overcome all of the inhibitions and preconceptions of their era.  […] They have been joyful – because those who love conquer the world and have no fear of loss. True love is an act of total surrender. This book is about the importance of that surrender. […] Sooner or later, we have to overcome our fears, because the spiritual path can only be traveled through the daily experience of love. Thomas Merton once said that the spiritual life is essentially to love. One doesn’t love in order to do what is good or to help or to protect someone. If we act that way, we are perceiving the other as a simple object, and we are seeing ourselves as wise and generous persons. This has nothing to do with love. To love is to be in communion with the other and to discover in that other the spark of …”