RIP The Year of the Cow

I’m back.

This week I actually made more than one workout.  This suggests–ironically as Winter arrives with all the subtlety of a TSA wanding–that my self-imposed (but longer than anticipated) training freeze might slowly be thawing.

So it also seems like a good time to press the blog back into service, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.  There’s a new, cleaner look, with a format that will give me a few new features to play with.  I’m still doing a bit of furniture re-arranging but check out the new description of the blog under the “About” tab.  I’ll do my best to provide the same level of intermittent, randomly profane and marginally useful service to which you have all become accustomed.  I’m a lot like airline travel in that regard.

I wanted to use this post however to talk briefly–I said, briefly, self!–about what was, for me, the most surprising thing about training for the Ironman, in a year that was defined by almost constant surprises.  That surprise was this blog.

I started this blog for a couple of very simple reasons.  I saw it as a way of overcoming distance and keeping in touch with far-off friends and family concerning the ins and outs of the Ironman training.  I’m a better writer than I am a conversationalist so I knew it would be easier to describe in writing things in a way that would hopefully make sense (if, that is, you accept the basic premise that Ironman training makes any sense in the first place).  From their point of view, the beauty of a blog is that the rellies can also read it intermittently, selectively, or not at all, rather than being forced to listen to me yammer on about heart rate zones and carb/protein balance for hours on end over the phone.   I’ve also read a few tri blogs and I was hoping that maybe the raw information would prove useful to someone else training for multisport events in the way that those blogs had proved useful to me.  I also knew from Mary’s blog that there would be a virtue, on occasion, in writing your way through some of the hard times that would come.  There are all kinds of reasons why writing is important: exploring your creative side, social and political advocacy, documentary.  But for me there is one purpose that trumps all others: writing is still the best tool that we have to try and make sense of the world and your place in it.

But as the blog got rolling something very strange happened.  People started reading it.  People other than my family.  Quite a few people.

Now, you’d think, that as a writer, I might have anticipated such an outcome.  But you have to understand, most of the writing I do is academic writing.  No one reads that.  Before you ask, it isn’t that my academic work is unusually bad.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  And beast it is.  Academics pour a massive amount of time and effort into producing work that, nowadays, unless you are a super-star prof or a high-profile researcher splicing the DNA of dolphins into Velveeta, no one reads.  Print runs for most “books” in the humanities can number less than 500, and most of them go to libraries.  More people have read this blog than anything else that I have ever written.  A lot more.  In addition, I can say that it has probably had more of an effect.

Because I gradually realized that people weren’t just reading the blog for the information–valuable as my tips on how to tripod the bike so that you don’t pee on your shoes undoubtedly were (hint: take the wind into consideration).   People were reading it for the emotional elements.  They were reading it because it mirrored things that a lot of us were going through.  They were sending it to other people to say “Look, this is what it is like.”  Incredibly, some people were reading it for entertainment (yes, there are some sick people out there but hey, I’d rather they are reading the blog than watching Who Wants to be  Millionaire Wife-Swapping Top Model Chef?).  People I knew or barely knew would come up to me and talk about the blog.  I’ll never forget the first time that someone came up to me and quoted something from the blog back to me.  Wow, I thought.  You memorized that?  As an academic that has happened to me approximately never.

Then there were the genuine surprises.  One of my most-read articles last year had nothing to do with multisport at all, but was where I wrote about Dylan’s death.  It was a post where even to write it surprised me: I just knew I had to.  I was floored by the interest it generated.

I’m not laboring under any illusion that this is the Huffington Post or that I’m as popular as Dan Brown.  Nor is this the best most awesomest multisport blog out there (DC Rainmaker may have that honor locked down already).  Indeed, I think the fact that people read this blog says more about them than me.  I go long.  In my races, and in my writing.  I’m sure that some of my race reports took longer to read than it did to actually do the damn event.  But there are people out there, strangely enough, that wanted to go long with me.

My writing philosophy is at its core pretty simple.  Life is hard and reality is complex.  Working your way through the tangle of experience takes time.  Sifting, and filtering, and analyzing and figuring out what is momentarily attractive versus what is enduringly important takes time.  Flashes of amusement can be had in 140 characters or less but nothing that will finally feed your soul.  There is all sorts of conventional wisdom out there about the web and the world: people don’t like to read on the screen, they don’t like to read long documents online, they don’t have time in their busy lives for more than headlines.  Well, my experience over the past year has shown that some people at least do have time; moreover, many of those people are already sacrificing huge chunks of their lives running, biking, swimming, not to mention managing their households and wrangling their kids and, oh yes, working a job.  Yet somehow they managed to make time for writing.

So I have no plans to yield to the dumbed down Twittification of culture.  It may well be that the blog generates less interest over the coming year.  I’m not training for an Ironman, so there will be less drama (he says hopefully).  But, as the triathlon cliche goes, life is not a sprint, it is an endurance event.  And I hope a few of you at least will continue to go long along with me.

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