By Bruce Greenhalgh
I have a confession. I don’t really understand gravity. Oh, I know the basics, what goes up must come down, why the apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head, all that stuff. What I don’t understand is why gravity works in such an exaggerated fashion. Let me explain by reference to the ‘Stirling Pump’ 4-hour rogaine. As the record number of participants will attest, the Stirling area affords gravity plenty of opportunity to strut its stuff. The terrain is, to put it mildly, hilly. I can’t recall a truly flat section anywhere on the course. When I was running downhill this was fine. Good, in fact, and I found myself thinking, ‘I can run for four hours. It’s not that hard.’ Unfortunately, when the road or track turned upwards my thoughts ran (at least something was running) along the lines of, ‘Will this climb ever end? I can’t take much more of this.’ It’s such a complete and extreme change in what I experience that it challenges my comprehension. I can appreciate that gravity can help or hinder, I don’t get why it does so in such a dramatic way.
Another thing I don’t fully understand is time: how its passage is so variable. For example, take the five or ten minutes before the start of a rogaine when everybody assembles and last-minute instructions are given. Time almost stands still. At Stirling, the course setter, Guy Schubert, did his best to make the time pass, but no mere mortal can change this phenomenon. Conversely, as soon as the rogaine starts, time begins leaking away faster than water from a Camelbak bladder whose top hasn’t been properly tightened.
The passage of time is supremely fast if you find yourself not finding a control and having to spend precious minutes looking for it. Time flies by like you wouldn’t believe. This happened to Steve and me with control 72. We approached it late on, well on schedule and with enough time to think that we could bag a couple of extra controls near the Hash House at the finish. But then we just couldn’t find the control. We ended up abandoning our search (yep, no 70 points) needing to take the shortest way back to the HH to get in on time with all thoughts of ‘bonus’ controls gone.
Attempting to find a control, getting somewhere near it, and not finding it is one of rogaining’s most frustrating, annoying, and dispiriting experiences. The time lost can’t be regained, as surely as the points are missed. Which brings me to the title of this article, ‘In search of lost time.’ Literary buffs will know it’s the title of Marcel Proust’s mammoth masterpiece (also known as ‘Remembrance of things past’). I’ve long thought that this novel’s title encapsulates the rogaine experience, especially when you’re searching for a control while vaguely lost and losing time. However, unlike Proust, who was able to regain, or at least remember things that had passed, time wasted in a rogaine is time irretrievably lost. Admittedly, a memory is created, but not a good one. I know that I will remember our failure with control 72 time and time again. It will remain, alas, my most prominent (and painful) memory of the ‘Pump.’
And that’s unfair since it was a top event choc-a-bloc full of good things: record breaking entries, wonderful weather and a course that was a credit to the setting, vetting and mapping team namely, Guy, Craig Colwell and Jo Powell. They are to be commended for creating a course that used the available bush to the max and explored interesting and obscure little byways. Admin too, was a credit to the many volunteers. As a competitor it was an easy, seamless experience. What more could you ask for?
Perhaps an article that wasn’t so focussed on my cerebral failings (and obsession with control 72)? And I guess I’d like one that didn’t make me look so clueless. I’ll admit that my knowledge and appreciation of physics and such has never risen above the dismal level reached in high school. I have, however, thought much about Proust’s work and even have a theory about a phenomenon relating to ‘In search of lost time.’ Invariably, any consideration of the novel makes mention of the madeleine cake passage, where the taste of a cake brings childhood memories back to the narrator. It is an important (enough) event in the novel, but my theory as to why it is so often cited is that it appears quite early in the book before many (most?) readers quit, having been beaten by Proust’s long, long, long sentences and convoluted thinking. In rogaining terms, reading up to the madeleine cake section and no further is the equivalent of only getting the 20-point controls near the Hash House, then calling it a day. It’s an approach that has its upside. If you’re reading the novel, it saves you a lot of time – you can say you’ve read Proust and mentioning the cake authenticates your statement. If you’re rogaining it saves you from being tortured by control 72.