Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Woodshed

“When a jazz musician comes wailing out of the gate, spinning riffs and complex runs, fellow musicians will appreciatively murmur: “Cat’s been shedding!” Alternately, when a player’s ego outmatches his technique, his peers may suggest he spend more time in the woodshed. Woodshedding is the nuts-and-bolts part of jazz, the place where you work out the techniques that form the foundation of your improvisational ability.

The term woodshedding in jazz means more than just practicing. It is a recognition of the need to sequester oneself and dig into the hard mechanics of the music before you can come back and play with a group in public. There’s something philosophical, almost religious, about the term. The musical treasures of jazz are not easily accessed. You have to dig deep into yourself, discipline yourself, become focused on the music and your instrument, before you can unlock the treasure chest.”

-Paul Klemperer

Wikipedia defines it as:
'The mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and success in the process of the activity.'

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about it in the '90s. He described it as a completely focused motivation - a single-minded immersion which represents, perhaps, the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. Emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized and aligned with the task at hand. Its hallmark is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.

US ultra-runners use the term a lot. They use other terms too to describe the same thing: in the moment; in the zone; on a roll; cooking on gas; on fire.

It's what The Art Of Empty Miling is entirely based on.

It's The Flow.

If you're a runner, you know The Flow. Those times when you lose yourself. Some find it on a fast road run. Some during a session of 400m repeats. I find it on the trails. In the mountains. In empty miles.

At least, I did. Because, at the moment, it's gone. Without The Flow, there's a big hole in my life. I've waited for it to come back. Waited too long. And now, I've a feeling that it's not going to happen. Instead, I need to start again. I need to find it, rediscover it. I need to spend some time in The Woodshed.

I posted a status update on my club's Facebook page a couple of days ago:
'After years of conditioning, I am finally ready to embark upon the next journey. It is long, arduous and fraught with dangers. Its path is clear, but its destination uncertain.'

Over the top? I know. Melodramatic? But that's how I feel right now. My search for The Flow is but a small part of this journey, but I shall be making it from the refuge of The Woodshed. I suspect I'll be there for some time. When I return, I'll be happier. I'll be a better person. I'll be a better runner.

I'd looked forward to this year for so long. My grand statement. The fact that it's all gone wrong has taken some dealing with. The fault lies both within and outside of myself. Maybe I set myself unrealistic goals? That's almost certain. Whilst I know I can run 100 miles in a week with few negative effects, the Viking Way Ultra and its aftermath proved to me that there's no way I can handle single-journey runs of 100+ miles each month. My body just isn't ready. Am I too old? Not tough enough? Not sure. But certain injuries have developed into longer-term problems that have scuppered my dreams.

The Lincolnshire footpaths will be travelled - that is certain. What I'm also sure of now is that the project won't be complete before the end of the year. My hope - the thought that sustains me - is that once I've rediscovered The Flow, when I take the final steps of The Sixth Statement next year, I'll feel amazing.

The Woodshed's not a bad place to go. It's not a room of torture. It's a place of enlightenment. What happens in there will dictate the direction my empty miles take for the rest of my life.

Now is the right time. I'm ready to go.

I'll enter The Woodshed with a slate wiped clean. I've abandoned all plans to race for the time being. Aside from travelling the Lincolnshire footpaths, I will put aside any plans for future challenges. Although I'm sure there will be challenges in the future, since it is in those that The Flow is most truely represented, their nature will be determined by what I find in The Woodshed.

In The Woodshed I shall start from scratch. Freed from the pressure of races, events or challenges, I will use an intuitive approach with my running. I'll use no set training guidelines, no watch, no mileage log. Each day, I'll do what feels right. No doubt, I'll make mistakes and have to start afresh, but I'm confident that by the time I leave The Woodshed, I'll have rediscovered a type of 'running' that inspires me and a method of doing it that enables me to do my very best. I've a feeling that this may involve travelling by foot over long distances, exploring wild places most runners don't go. But I carry no preconceptions. It is equally likely that I'll emerge with a burning desire to run fast 10k's on the road. Only time will tell.

I'll spend much of my time in The Woodshed by myself. Although I won't turn my back on my club or friends, it's important that I use this time to learn and grow, and that's best done alone.

The days are long. The Woodshed is inviting. The Flow is inside - I just need to find it. But find it I will, and who knows what else I'll discover inside?

I open the door. Step inside. Close the door behind me.  

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