Thursday, February 5, 2015


Waldeinsamkeit: Classical music, KESHA, and running in the woods

The view from a trail in Juneau, Alaska!
Some of you may know that I am a classically trained singer and on occasion, I geek out on all things classical. Although I don't sing much anymore, I find much pleasure and satisfaction in connecting my singing past to my running present.  There are many similarities between expressing the beauty that is life with the human instrument and running for hours, alone with yourself, your legs, your mind and the flora and fauna that give us life and sustenance. There is such basic humanity in both, and each is a metaphor for the other.

Photo of me, Courtesy of Tammi Nowack, Photographer
Have you ever wandered into the woods and become struck with a sense of awe, peace, and complete connectedness to your own self and to the surrounding beauty? That is Waldeinsamkeit, German for the feeling of being alone in the woods. To experience Waldeinsamkeit is to experience a sort of visceral spirituality. It satisfies that basic human longing to connect with nature, the universe. I love running trails because I am and have always been an introvert. Even though I have a job which requires me to be around and engaging with people constantly (and TEENAGERS at that!) all the time, pretty much every day except during the summer, I prefer to be alone immersed in a hefty tome or experiencing flow, running amidst trees, on pebble and boulder, splashing in puddles, crossing cold, rushing brooks. Running like this, even in a race situation is a meditation and complete envelopment of body and soul. Anytime I'm in a forest, whether it be the Chattahoochee National Forest in the South, or the Bronx's Van Cortlandt Park in late spring with the distant hum of cars and trains, I am immediately soothed by an exquisite solitude in running through trees.

Dem Schnee
One of the pleasures of singing classical music is becoming intimately acquainted with with sublime poetry set to most vivid piano accompaniments. Many composers, particularly those from the romantic era, had and expressed a strong, almost ethereal connection to the outdoors. They read and  obsessed over poems and novels, particularly those about love, unrequited love, and nature. Sometimes nature offered solitude and time to ponder all things existential.  Other times it proved to be a huge life metaphor; there were things humans simply could not overcome, although we tried and still try.

I sing a lot while running--or power hiking, as is the case on many a trail run. Sometimes it's a Schubert song with an energetic accompaniment that mimics driving rain and snow (been there, done that) that I imagine my friend Sylvia playing spiritedly. Other times it's a more pensive and slow-moving piece like Brahms' Feldeinsamkeit.  Ach! The Germans and Austrians knew. They simply knew the cleansing and mind-clearing and mood-enhacing abilities of the outdoors! NO DRUGS NECESSARY.

Trail with creepy cave, in Spoleto, Italy
I recall each section of a particular trail or race by the music that I associate it, and sometimes it is decidedly not classical. In my last ultra, The Georgia Jewel 35 Mile, I distinctly remember singing, well...yelling Kesha's Crazy Kids at at the top of my lungs. It was a very long uphill section after the 17.5 mile turn-around. I was in last place at that point (and remained so for the rest of the course) and happened to be asking myself "WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING and WHY?" when miraculously, this song started playing on my Pandora, deep in the woods somewhere on the Pinhoti Trail. I totally needed the affirmation of crazy. After three miles of power hiking uphill, stopping, crying, thengetting angry, and being okay, and then not being okay,  I changed the station to Maria Callas. The aria (an operatic solo) from Puccini's Sola, Perdutta, Abandonata sung by Renata Scotto came on (Alone, Lost, and Abandoned). Perfect. Just perfect.  Sometimes the universe just knows.

School Cross Country Trail
Other times, I listen to and sing Luther Vandross songs, like I did at the Wildcat Ridge Romp--that was because of a particularly scary section of trail. Everyone's fair game. Extreme, the Indigo Girls, The Cranberries, TI, Missy...and Debussy. Jay-Z is GREAT by a rushing river with few rock-hopping opportunities. Sometimes, the flood of testosterone is all that is needed to overcome any fears of being sucked into a hydraulic. But I digress...

So happy to be on a trail in Italy
Alone in the woods, running, I am able to focus on the pure physicality of existence. When I am singing, there is a physicality, spirituality, and direct connection with the world that can only be expressed with the human voice, which is an essential part of the human body--just as your legs and heart are. Prancing about in the forest is the perfect fusion of of pure physicality, nature's awe-inspiring and silent yet noisy poetry, and solitude that is simultaneously stimulating, sensuous, and calming. Singing while running only enhances this experience (in addition to making you less scared of the imaginary cougar stalking you in the trees.) Go run and sing!