Filed under: Members
NBR Profile No. 11
Brian Calavan grew up in the middle and south of Riverside County, California—stretching from Orange County to the Colorado River—in Moreno Valley (Brown Valley) and Temecula (Pechangan for “sun shining through the mist in the morning”).
As a young boy, he did his share of “dirt trekking,” running on horse trails, weaving through tumbleweeds, shooting through vineyards, trespassing ranches and gliding up steep mountain slopes for mile after mile. His first spin with NBR was on a “Morning After Run” at 6:15 a.m. on the 1st of August 2011. He had been on the hunt for a running team for some time, so when his peeled eyes (powered by a freshly-healed peroneal brevis tendon) spied a genuine live North Brooklyn Runner in the ancestral homeland of NBR (McCarren Park), his days of “hobbling through subway stations in winter’s gloom”—came to a sudden halt. Soon, Brian was organizing non-official NBR group runs for the “Just Southers” (in Northside dialect, “Southies”) based in Prospect Park.
A decent High School runner (several times reaching California Interscholastic Federation – Southern Section’s prelims and finals in track and cross country), he continued to run right after graduation. That summer, he steadied into a “base phase” regimen of 70+ miles/week. Two weeks before moving to Berkeley, he e-mailed the UCB track coach and asked if there were a tryout in the works. The coach said he had recruited several “stud freshmen” and that there wouldn’t be any walk-ons. Still, he inquired about Brian’s times (which Brian withheld because he knew they weren’t blue-chip) and welcomed him to try out.
Not sure of where he was, physically and mentally, Brian went out and measured a 6-mile course one afternoon with his car. He decided to run a time trial the very next morning, on his own. He ran a steady-and-easy 5:40/mi. pace the whole way to 34:00, remembering when 17:00 for a 3-mile race was hard. The college tryout that followed was a 5-mile out and back on the Fire Trail in the Berkeley Hills, and though he outdid all of the freshman favorites and would have, with 27:45, been 19th on the Top 20 All-Time UCB Freshman for the course, he disappointedly did not make the team. Out of a developed sense of self-preservation and a need for escape from the intensities of school life, he continued running every day. That very next spring, out of sheer moxie, he ran a 12-mile long run in the Berkeley hills on a Saturday morning. He felt light and energetic, and noticed his time was hovering at around sub-6:00/mi. pace; he then dug deep into the dusty, dirt trail. When he was done, stretching in front of the dorms, he did the math from the time on his watch: 5:20/mi. for 12 miles.
RT: Holy Braised Mounds of Soggy Hoof Clops! That’s one “long run” to remember! When you told me (via e-mail) about this incident I immediately wondered about all the—oh, how to put it—“not fully tapped talents” that are on this team. Runners, who with a turn of the fate dial this way or that, might have blossomed into something entirely else. And yet, that seems to be an integral part of amateur competitive running. Some folks still face a significant amount of woulda-coulda-shoulda’s, while at the same time, everyone has to meet running as it actually comes to them, day in and day out. What’s your current thinking on this quandary?
BC: No doubt! Lot’s of untapped or unrealized talent on the team. Some late starters and some returners who maybe got stuck in a rut earlier in their careers and are now exploring distance, everyone helping each other along our individual paths to improvement. For me, and hopefully for most everyone else on the team, I don’t think much about how fast I could have been, but more about what am I doing now to see how fast I can be.
It’s funny you bring up that long run. I think back to it whenever I’ve been feeling a little rundown, over-trained, over-stressed, and consider it less an indication of how good I might have been given different circumstances, and more as a reminder of how much anyone can improve through consistent, moderate, literally recreational running.
Freshman year in college I was running just for myself. I was so busy getting involved in music and film and attacking my studies full force that I only had enough time to run roughly 40 miles/week. My high school coach liked tinkering with different training metrics, heart-rate monitors, etc. When I ran on my own, I learned what various paces and efforts felt like. So, in college my running became very free. I mostly ran by feel, took a watch only to tell the time, threw in a threshold run and fartlek each week so I wouldn’t get bored. Often, I’d stop somewhere mid-run for a minute to just hang out and look around, usually out at the Bay and the Golden Gate.
Sure, it would have been great to run in the Pac-10, but I probably would have got injured under a heavy workload, like most of the other runners on the team that season. I probably would have learned to haterunning. I don’t think back on it much though. Not running competitively actually allowed me to invest in other interests, and to socialize. Hopefully, I’m not done yet; I feel I still have time to see how fast I can get. Now that my legs and feet have been healthy, I have been training with that intention, but as I’m sure is the case with a lot of us older runners, I have also been at times a little anxious about when that breakthrough will arrive. It’s natural to try to push for it in training sooner than it’s ready to come. Patience! Patience leads to greater enjoyment and results. Patience produces crazy long runs in the hills.
RT: For sure, it’s going to be interesting to see where you start to plateau in terms of speed. But you have years of breakthroughs ahead of you, even if in small increments.
I’m essentially of two minds on where the desire to get faster might come from. One drive might be the sheer primal, animalistic joy of being able to run lightly and swiftly across the surface of this sexily contoured planet. Who (runner or non-runner) would argue that the onset of feeling sluggish diminishes a sense of bodily (mental) joy?
The other drive might come from a sense of competition,straight up. But what is “competition” psychologically (if not zoologically!) speaking? What does it mean to compete against others, and to compete against one’s self? Isn’t it very perplexing this stuff about “competitive with oneself?” Though most of us engage in it for sure. How would that be even possible unless “one’s self” is in some way already understood as being multiple: one Brian against some other Brian, another Brian noting it? Phew! Dude, talk to me.
BC: Phew, indeed. I hear you on merely feeling swift. I remember back when 7:00/mi. felt like nothing on my easy days.
Desire to get faster could come from many different psychological, primal, or even spiritual origins. I think external and internal motivators are at play; although, they might not always be in balance for every individual all the time.
Competition with others is a clear external motivator. Even if you don’t get your greatest pleasure out of beating a particular opponent in a race (I don’t)—racing against others, pulling from others’ energy, can push you past what you’d be capable of alone. Even when racing against friends, something triggers in the brain, the firing of our synapses, and the involuntary grunting of our muscle fibers. Often one person might have more will at a given time, but generally, when he or she goes faster, you go faster.
Competition with oneself is the real mystery. Racing against others one still has to push to even have the opportunity to compete. When racing against the self, pushing alone might not be enough. Who are you catching up with? The partitioning of the selves you mentioned I think has some truth to it, but here’s what getting faster means to me: running your fastest is a feeling. People might achieve PRs and feel like crap. Who would argue that they could have gone faster or farther if they had felt fast that day? Go watch video of athletes’ setting records. The runners don’t grimace or look taxed at all. They look engaged and relaxed, especially at the end, when then look like they were made for that moment, running their best.
Running fast is a beautiful feeling, involving so many components of one’s physicality, psyche, soul, and environment in which one moves with and against, but it is overall a unifying feeling, of oneness, of wholeness. A true PR shouldn’t be merely a time. Time can fluctuate based on course, weather, drafting, etc. Did you feel your fastest that day? When that feeling and the performance reflect each other, combine together, commune, that’s the pinnacle.
RT: Your take on PR-ing is totally unique and new to me. Thanks for that. You also hit on something else that’s vital, about the infectiousness of running one’s best alongside—or for—or rather from training partners, teammates, or even imaginary running companions. Like, how many times have we seen in running communities, that when someone has a running “muse,” whether a new friend, perhaps a lover, a silly crush, or maybe someone they admire from a distance, it catapults his or her running to a completely different level. The only downside might be becoming dependant on such “muses.” And also, don’t some people also run out of a sense of sheer defiance, defiance of their current life structure, defiance of set limits, real or imagined?
Brian, what’s currently making you tick?
BC: I guess I am mostly training now in hope and defiance of the past, because I feel like I reached that pinnacle once, peaked perfectly in a season, and had the beautiful fast feeling. Not really a happy feeling, or one of exhaustion. It felt like I existed to the fullest that I could have on that day in that particular moment. I made the decision to push past the wall and had the fitness and sharpness to back it up. As I realized what was going on, that all the parts of me and my running body, my running spirit, were all coming together, that the taper had worked, that all tools were at my disposal, that any misgivings or fears were being fused with this euphoria of taking the next step forward and not falling back, that any traces of pain past and present were engulfed by this perfect glow from within that I could feel radiate with each pounding footstrike, each muscling stride, each pumping arm swing—as I realized that I was not just knocking at the door of running my fastest but had already crossed the threshold, entered that universe, “I am here. I am doing this. This is possible.” I felt like I was transcending everything in that moment. Transcending the bad, transcending the good. Flying through a space where neither mattered. All was together, working together, in harmony, no parts, just one being of poised movement, of acceleration, of faster.
As for motivating muses, running itself is my running companion. It connects all aspects of the world, and that gets me going, can sustain me no matter the mood or particularity of a run. Being outside, being part of this world, interacting with its sometimes brutish, sometimes delicate physicality. We are the true sportsmen who work and play in its streets, its trails, its parks. We are the lovers who behold its dirt, its grass, its ether. We are the moderns who suck in the urban air without discrimination, hurdle the detritus of industrial wastelands, greet the relics of wildlife scurrying up telephone polls toward the wires and the sky. We are the ancients who sweat, brave the elements, exhale the most for the trees. We notice and consider man and machine, stroller and ambler, coos and cacophonies alike. We behold the city, we listen to nature. The honks, the hums along the pavement, the trains roaring up through the vents, the dogs yapping, the dogs yelping, the dogs panting, digging, running, the slap and patter of claws on the sidewalk, the jingle of the leash and collar, the huffing of fast freedom in the Long Meadow morning, the ding ding of bells from bikes whose riders smile as they pass, the devoted shufflers shuffling, the slamming of bodega cellar doors at dawn, the lapping of waves against dilapidated piers to remind us. We run laps, we run loops, at sunrise, at sunset, gliding, striding, sprinting gallantly, against the wind, breeze at our backs, against the wind, breeze at ours backs, into the sun, into the daybreak, into the sun, into the twilight, into the great glow and into the growing gloom, and the crickets, and the cicadas, and the raccoons, and the half-moons. Feeling our way with our feet, seeing terrain through toes, the echoes of footstrikes headed home, the breathing that’s no longer there, the heavy thick silence of the wild night. We weave through the world’s disparities as proof that it is one, that all senses are one, that our exercise is in fact hyper-real.
RT: That one run—wow, the ever-fresh imprint it left in your psyche, its ability (even now) to motor hundreds of runs in its wake, and your Whitmanesque paean to it, your improvisations—us—spying raccoons in half moonlight glowing over an industrial detritus. It’s all that stuff and more, why we have an indelible itch to get out there, huh?
Can you now, please list for us, three goals to be achieved from now (mid August) to December: one that’s for you, one that’s for the club, and one for someone on the team, someone who’s unlikely to have crossed your path in life—but has, someone who shall remain anonymous.
BC: For me: relax after all this grueling summer racing and watch our marathoners come out to show their fall colors. For the club: keep representin’, anywhere and everywhere. Keep our sinews strong, and growing. For “anonymous”: glad you’re feeling better, man, and getting back at it. You can bike yourself to pieces, but we’re all excited to see you return to your former fierce self. That said, no pressure. Just remember to keep your fists lightly closed and your arms partially raised. And take your time. You have plenty of time.
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