August 7, 2012

Inspiration and Work

I am not, and never have been, particularly fast. And yet I run, as fast as I can manage, quite often. Sometimes, but rarely, I win; but more often, I finish somewhere in the top ten, filling the gap between the lead and mid pack. And so it is that I watch these Olympics with something that might be called jealousy, but is really more like awe. From Usain Bolt uncoiling his sinew over 100 meters, to Mo Farah prancing on his forefoot over 10,000, I, like millions of others, marvel.

What they do is not fundamentally different than what I do. And yet the results are staggering, different by such a magnitude as to be incomprehensible. When I run, there is a lilt to my stride, my hips swaying and dipping, my legs spinning out at awkward angles. If they are poetry in motion, then I am chicken scratched prose. They are Beckett; I am, well, not.

This is not self deprecation. But it is not depressing either. Perhaps I, the 37 minute 10K runner, should look at Farah, and throw my shoes in the garbage. After all, no amount of aspiration or training could get me close to the B-standard for the women's qualifying race. So why bother? Why spend hours on a treadmill set to mountain-esque inclines, when you will never be Max King?

Why? Because I'm somewhat masochistic and in need of other hobbies? Probably. But also because greatness, while it intimidates, also inspires. I watch those races, to inhale the drama, and to see what is possible. I read blogs of runners faster than me, logging mileage and hammering workouts that would hobble me, and yet feel better about my efforts.

This is also why I have, since I started working in a coffee bar five years ago, searched out every latte art video I could find, read every treatise on customer service, roasting times, origin countries, and brewing methods. I've streamed competitions and read reports, subscribed to Barista Magazine and interviewed James Hoffmann.

Running is simple, and ultimately, fair. And that's what I like about it. It rewards effort, and the person who finishes first, wins. There is little room for bullshit, and you can't fake your way to success. 26.2 miles doesn't care who you are or what you think it owes you. It only demands that you put one foot in front of the other, keep working, keep moving forward.

Coffee, I've found, has a similarly egalitarian bent. (And better yet for me, it requires no athleticism.) You read about what people who are good do, watch them work, and study everything you can. But mostly, you put the work in yourself. There is no faking it. Good training helps immensely, but until you've been baptized by countless rushes, you just don't know. But, as with running, you keep working, and you keep moving forward. It doesn't always get easier; but you always get better.

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