A couple of administrative notes before today’s post …
1) I know that everyone is probably suffering from post-election burnout this week, but there’s another important contest going on right now that you should know about. Remember the raceAthlete Best Blog competition for which I shamelessly pandered last November? Well, it’s happening again, and it’s up to you to pick the winner.
The good news, as far as readers of this blog are concerned, is that I’m not in this year’s contest, so I won’t bother you about voting nearly as much as I did last fall. I figured that in the spirit of the Miss America Contest and the National Spelling Bee (which, of course, I hold in the highest possible regard), a previous champion should be automatically retired from future competition. However, I did help select the list of finalists, and I can tell you there are some very good blogs to choose from - so head over to the contest this week to see the list, discover some new talent, and vote for your favorite.
2) I’m finally, gradually, working my way back into running after the unfortunate rib-cracking episode four weeks ago. The pain has gone from “intense and debilitating” to “achy and bothersome”, so I’m considering that to be progress. I also got back into the pool this week, which was as refreshing for my spirit as it was restorative for my body. I only managed to finish half of a workout at half speed – but at this point, I’ll take whatever I can get.
One major obstacle remains in my way, however: this whole process of getting back in shape wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if Safeway wasn’t selling pumpkin pies for four dollars this month. Or if my car didn’t mysteriously sputter to a stop in front of the Safeway store every time I drive past. Have I mentioned before how glad I am that this is the offseason?
As far as today’s post is concerned, it’s somewhat related to an entry earlier this week, on the topic of race preparedness. The Big Sur Half Marathon and 5K is this weekend (obviously, I won’t be there), so a lot of folks in these parts are busy tending to last-minute details and psyching themselves up for some fast running along the coast.
Everybody has different ways of mentally preparing for races, and occasionally they’ll seek recommendations from articles or advice from training partners. The question has been posed to me a couple of times, and I usually give a garden-variety answer about how racing is for testing yourself, pushing outside your comfort zone, giving your best effort, yada yada yada. I never feel like I have anything truly groundbreaking to say on the subject.
Then I thought of the Maori and Aborigines.
More accurately, I thought of the video at the end of this post, from a recent Rugby League World Cup pre-game ceremony. It features a New Zealand team’s Haka dance followed by the Australian "Dreamtime" team’s Aboriginal war dance.
Hakas were originally performed by Maori warriors prior to battle, and are absolutely mesmerizing in their intensity and aggression. The dance also made headlines on the Monterey Peninsula last year when a local high school football team was forbidden from performing it before games. The team had several players of Samoan descent who taught the ritual to their teammates as a form of cultural awareness (on a football field!); unfortunately, the grunting, shouting, and suggestive hand gestures were deemed offensive by opposing schools, and the school board eventually outlawed the pre-game routine. So much for culture.
The Aussie Aboriginal dance is a more extensive production, with warriors in full body paint, native clothing - what little there is of it - and props in the form of spears. (Needless to say, this would never be permitted at a high school football game in Monterey.) Honestly, it's not so much a dance as it is choreographed marching and shrieking - but it’s no less intimidating than the Haka which precedes it.
The video below is almost four minutes long, culminating in a face-to-face standoff between the teams that prompts the announcer to note, “Those spears were getting awfully close!” (And then, in a completely random analysis, his counterpart compares the whole show to seeing Billy Idol. I didn't even know that guy was still alive, let alone that he's a celebrity in the Southern Hemisphere. How bizarre.) Afterward, it almost seems anticlimactic when the teams separate and get ready to play the actual match. As far as pregame warm-ups go, this one definitely gives you your money’s worth.
It also gave me an idea for a novel approach to pre-race preparation. I mean ... those guys look like they're ready to run through a brick wall; there's got to be some benefit for recreational athletes who employ a similar routine, don't you think?
Before your next race, try adopting a bit of Maori or Aussie customs to psych yourself up. Practice chanting and grunting while you’re driving to the race, then do some stomps and arm swings – which will also help warm up your body - in the parking lot before you make your way to the starting line. Sure, you’ll look like a maniac, but there’s no question that you’ll feel ready to go to battle.
Which, if you’re really racing hard, is exactly the way you should feel.
(click to play)