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June 21, 2013

Matthew Crawley Was My Boston Marathon Training Partner

Written by Dena Evans
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Like many of my red-blooded American middle-aged sisters, once I saw my first episode of Downton Abbey, I immediately proceeded to completely DVR binge the rest of the collection.  Although admittedly late to the party, this process proceeded according to the typical fashion. Quoteth the husband, “Ah Downton Abbey….I was hoping to go to sleep right away….. perfect….(snore)”

 

I was training for Boston and it was now mid-January - time to get down to brass tacks.  With a lot of solo long running ahead and in need of good reading while currently subsisting on a daily diet of early season Downton, my interest was piqued when a random iTunes search led me to find that Matthew Crawley reads audio books, and reads them like a boss.

 

If you have read this far, you likely know that Dan Stevens, the actor who so ably inhabited the character of Matthew Crawley for the first three series, is no longer doing so (see: #Christmas #Downton #carcrash #twitterpocalypse). Instead, he has been up to all sorts of things like producing and acting in a recently released movie, starring in a Broadway play, judging the 2012 Man Booker Prize, and writing. But what he should be doing, my friends, is reading audio books, because lawd ahmighty, he is very good at it.

 

With every new marathon training cycle, we learn new subtleties about the reasons we train. Originally exploratory efforts become tempered with expectations and a more complete understanding of the difficulties and physical pain ahead. Even if you love it all, a 20-mile route can begin to feel like rote if you have done it many times.

 

When running solo and on a safe route, my personal solution to these issues has been to press play. When I clicked “buy” on iTunes and started Fall of Giants, read by Stevens, I was at the trailhead of the tough part of the Boston training cycle with hundreds of miles ahead. First in a trilogy by Ken Follett of Pillars of the Earth fame, it fell squarely into my favorite dusty, middlebrow Michener/Rutherford bookshelf.

 

After many hours and miles listening to Stevens rattle off 20+ different accents from people of all ages and both genders, delivered with the weight, tone, and pace as if notes from Yo-Yo Ma’s cello, I was right back looking for the second volume, or a secret 1000 page appendix. As a kid, the characters of a well-read book almost leap from the page and visibly animate in the room.  Well, now I was five years old again, and had gotten used to these characters running alongside me while I shuffled along for hours on the San Francisco Bay Trail. Back to iTunes I went, only to find that another (probably perfectly nice) person had read the second book.  I quit the series and went pure Stevens-read until April.

 

Much has been made of the timbre of Stevens’s voice, but attached to the persona of Matthew Crawley, it has been confined by saying things like “You are my stick” for three years (and this is coming from someone who really enjoys the show). While his recent successes and the William Morris Endeavor agency will likely take him far commercially, I hope for the sake of my future marathon training (and for yours, should this prompt an iTunes run) that Stevens continues the likely financially inefficient pursuit of reading books to us. Perhaps he is just enough of a word nerd to do so.

 

As Stevens’s voice essentially became the narrator for my own journey toward the race, intertwined with the escalating weekly mile totals and the big fat long run at the end of the week, my kids would get in the car and hear some book I had plugged in after running and roll their eyes. “Does Dan Stevens read anything for kids?”  I was asked.

 

“Well, as a matter of fact, he does!” I happily replied, only to be reminded quickly how little my opinion counts.  Rather, my third grader asked to listen to one of the books popular with her set, the Dork Diaries (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid with a female protagonist). Quickly, I realized, I couldn’t take it.  Pages of “O.M. Geeeeeeeeee. Ma-ken-zieeeeeeeee! I was soooooooooo embarrassed I could hardly breeeeeeeathe!”  had me soon talking to the CD, occasionally banging my head against the steering wheel, threatening all sorts of things if they ever turned in papers that sound like this book, and ruing the day it was published.

 

Brilliantly, my older daughter recognized my distress at the inanity one day and blurted out, “Hey Mom, how would Dan Stevens read it?”  Now, our family has a durable new parlor game as well.

 

For each of us, this year’s Boston Marathon immediately ceased to be what it was the instant before we knew of the events at 2:50pm on April 15. Yet, the well-worn metaphor of training as a journey remains true here, maybe more so. In reflection, this season became a completely separate episode from the race itself, populated memorably by the various character tableaux as well as the creative and technical talent that kept my mind busy while my body did the hard work. I am reminded how precious is the gift of losing oneself in fiction, in music, in the observation of nature, or in a great conversation. May we all have a case of jet lag, a load of unfolded laundry or a run where our feet know the route well enough that imagination, for that mile or two or twenty, is again enough breeze to carry us to the other shore. And may Dan Stevens read a couple more books this year – I’m planning on another spring marathon.

Last modified on June 21, 2013
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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