Monday, November 11, 2013

HWAET!!!: Cross Country Grand Prix (11/10/13)

Master's race start
Photo by Joe O'Leary
Event: USATF Cross Country Championships
Race:  Masters' Men 8K
Goal Time: 35 ish??
Actual Time: 33:15


I was King Hrothgar in my fourth grade class's play Beowulf.  I'll let that sentence settle in.

But, since that time I have had an odd fascination with Beowulf.  I've read it several times in retellings and "translations."  (Since the epic poem was written in Old English, it is actually not correct to call it a "translation" into modern English.  But to be truthful, you'd have a better chance of reading Tasso's La Gerusalemme liberata in the original Renaissance Italian than you would reading the first known work in "English".)

Last Autumn, I discussed the connection of the Old English idea of wyrd - or, personal fate - as it related to Marathon Running.

While that might be weird to you (or even wyrd), I have found another odd connection between running and Anglo-Saxon epic poetry.

The first word of known English is - hwaet.  For as long as I've known the word it's been generally thought to have been used by a bard as he started his poem in front of a hall of drunks at the end of their meal.  And it was thought to have the meaning roughly analogous to: "EVERYBODY, SHUT THE $%&# UP, I'M ABOUT TO RECITE AN EPIC POEM!!!"

Often on races soon after tough ones or when I'm generally tired in a workout, I yell "HWAET" (rhymes with "bat") to myself.  Either because I need to focus or because I'm so tired I need to recite epic poetry to myself:

"I sing of arms and of a man, who - exiled by the Fates - 
 First from Troy came to these Latium shores..."

Sunday, in Franklin Park, another Canto in the Epic of 2013 USATF took place.  The last race of the Cross Country Grand Prix followed the last race of the Road Grand Prix - the Manchester City Marathon - by one week.  And my legs were definitely feeling the 26.2 from Man City.

The Masters' Men 8k was the first race of the day and it was the only race SRR had a full team for.  (We had exactly five masters.)  As I warmed up, I found myself trying to wake up my legs - HWAET - and trying to work out some pains in them.

At the horn, HWAET was not enough.  The usual ridiculous speed over the first lap took me to a 6:12 mile.  (The 8k course is the same as the 5k from the Mayor's Cup, just with a fourth loop that includes another trip through the Wilderness and another ascent of the Bear Cage Hill.)

In his 2000, version of Beowulf - now the Norton Critical Anthology Edition - Seamus Heaney did not use hwaet as an interjection but as a conjunction.  He merely starts his "translation" with: "So."  This actually was the only part of the entire work that bothered me; and it bothered me a lot.  Good thing there wasn't facebook because I would have been ridiculed for a 3 paragraph half whining half angry commentary on my favorite 20th Century poet because of his translation of this obscure word.

Easy into mile two, it definitely felt more like "so" than a yelling interjection.  While I slowed way down, I did pass 4 people who had run the first mile even too-faster than I.  By the first trip over and down the Bear Cage Hill - around a mile and a half - I was only 50 yards behind Matt Story from Greater Lowell Road Runners.  I determined that while I was more "so" than "HWAET"  I was going to use his white hat as a rabbit to chance down over the next 3.5 miles.

Recently, Dr. George Walkden has presented a new and disconcerting view of Hwaet.  In his paper, "The Status of hwaet in Old English" Dr. Walkden concludes:

"According to the alternative analysis pursued in section 4, there were two variants of hwæt in Old English: both were interrogative, but one was underspecified for the feature [thing] and thus able to assume a non-argument role. Non-interrogative clauses preceded by hwæt are wh-exclamatives parallel in interpretation to Modern English ‘How you've changed!’"

This interrogatory word would not only challenge the view of my fourth grade Challenge class teacher who had me play King Hrothgar and my old drunk English 201 professor who saw it as the interjection to quiet a crowd, but it even challenges the late Heaney's conjunction theory.  (Heaney's translation does makes sense if think of the bard is following especially bad minstrels who storm off stage yelling their band name "Sexual Mead! Sexual Mead!" or some Anglo-Saxon comic with antimetabole nationalist jokes: "In Mercia, you break the law; but, in Wessex the law breaks you!" It's like the bard might be saying "So [that guy's done].")

Clowning at mile 4
photo by Joe O'Leary
While I passed the 5k point 30 seconds faster than I did at Mayor's Cup, the race kinda fell apart there.  I was burnt from the three miles and I went into my five miler "strategy" whereby the fourth mile is a recovery mile.

Unfortunately, like the now new definition of hwaet downgrades it's excitement from:

"EVERYBODY SHUT THE $%&# UP, I'M ABOUT TO RECITE AN EPIC POEM, We have heard of the might of kings..."

to the more mundane:

"How we have heard of the might of kings...."

So, too was my fifth mile downgraded in excitement.   As we came down the Bear Cage Hill, I could not catch the three people who had passed me on the way up.  And along the flats Matt Story just motored away from me like I was slowed by a Firedrake.

My 33:15 was good enough for 72nd out of 98th.
Finishing strong(?)
photo by Liz Cooney
SRR Masters' Team was 8th out of 8th.
Greg finished 7th overall, Tom Bok and Rory were 42nd and 47th.
Tom Cole ran is first five miler, first cross country race and scored for SRR in his first club race
Matt Story took 70th - 15 seconds ahead of me
Bev and Kate were 23 and 34 in the women's race
Matt Ridout did not finish in last in the Men's open 10k (better than I can say for the year I ran it).

Honestly, if you think about it, why would the scribe ever write down the "EVERYBODY SHUT THE $%&# UP, I'M ABOUT TO RECITE AN EPIC POEM" part of the recitation?  It would be like writing down "the Castle of Arrgghhhhhhh."

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