With plenty of time on my hands, and an unhealthy eagerness for information, I find it difficult to avoid a regular and tedious feeling of deja vu. Let me illustrate with a subject matter that I follow on a permanent basis: mountain and trailrunning news. Very quickly, my categorizing mind starts pigeonholing stories and, lo and behold, the universe of topics/perspectives taken is quite limited and soon, yes indeed, again a story about suffering/flow/camaraderie/grit/….or nutrition/training/mental prep/gear/….
How many of those can I take before they actually start putting me off something I apparently like so much that I am compulsively consuming ‘news’ about it? What is going on here? How come this kinda storytelling so quickly becomes repetitive? But maybe I should be more specific when asking that question. Because it’s not that I don’t come across really enjoyable writing any more, interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, or perspective changing stuff, but I come across it less and less. And, I also know that I do not need to fear this supply of worthwhile reads to ever totally dry up, but the amount of stories that I need to scan before coming across something captivating keeps increasing. It certainly feels like the cost-benefit balance of ‘following’ some main sources of stories is tilting the tedious way.
So what exactly starts drying up, and what exactly seems everlasting? What turns boring quickly, what never does? My impression: the fountain of basic conceptual content is ultimately quite limited. When first immersing myself in subject matter, nearly all shows me something new, but very quickly, the broad outlines of the fitness landscape start emerging. Then, for a piece of writing to arouse interest and enjoyment requires subtlety, creativity, beauty, art. And those are relatively rare qualities.
Let me illustrate with example of someone who manages to keep reinventing himself and his art (with thanks to Keiko for introducing me to this guy).
You all know where he comes from, B-boying, which is fun to watch, but once you watch it a lot, like anything else, it turns stale very quickly, with the exception of the occasional highlight. Which, again like anything else, might be either an example of pure, seemingly effortless, perfection, or breaking out of the confines ‘defining’ the whatever it is that you are watching. Daniel Cloud Campos showcases the latter for me.
Back to trail and mountain running. The confines of these disciplines seem stricter than those of dance, music, and other conventional art forms. But are these constraints necessary? Regarding the actual running? The universe of imaginable formats for letting skill and performance compete is surely a lot richer than what is on offer in the real world. And regarding its representation in writing, and other media? The possible storylines to represent a personal or event experience or perspective must be a lot more diverse than the limited set of standard moulds normally followed.
If you watched the last video, you might have realized that B-boying Daniel wasn’t a purely random choice. In this first of his short films he seems to create a shared space for freerunning and dance choreography. And freerunning is a further development of and shares a reasonably well-defined property space with parkour (with freedom & creativity of movement and efficiency of movement as its main dimensions). From a certain perspective, parkour is to running urban ‘trails’, what the run/climbs of Kilian Jornet and Ueli Steck are to running mountain trails.
The from a certain perspective, in the last sentence, gives away what I (currently) think is probably the biggest creativity inhibitor in trail and mountain running. It refers to the shared focus of covering ground as fast as possible. But parkour, unlike trail and mountain running, is not uni-dimensional, it defines itself as speed and efficiency, and the latter opens up such a variety of extras, that it allows practitioners (who often call themselves traceurs), a much broader spectrum of aspects to focus on.
It’s weird, because trail and mountain running are in principle as open to innovation as any other discipline or art form. Is their ‘sports’ frame the culprit that limits creative developments? Where to look for inspiration? One direction that comes to mind is giving more weight to the beauty of the route, finding the ‘perfect line’ in a landscape, with different possibilities of what counts as perfect (Fell running already includes some of that). Another would be to explore style from more vantage points than speed and injury prevention. What about rhythm, what about movement synchronicity between runners, what about aesthetics of movement (I’m making it up while writing this, the point is to go beyond speed as the only yardstick).
The writing and the images? I guess the problem here is that most of that is produced by those that are primarily fascinated by the sport, not by the representational (art) form they use to disseminate info about it. Pragmatic tool users, not artists. It’s just very rare that a genuine wizard/witch of the pen or camera happens takes a fancy to these pursuits. I don’t expect that to change any time soon, or ever. Why should it? It is the same for all sports. So I shouldn’t complain about it. Really.
But it would be nice, wouldn’t it, if mountain and trailrunning would have a couple of Daniels.