Tonight I ran in Nike's "Run Hit Wonder" five-mile race in Central Park. My primary goal was to make it the whole way without stopping at all, and the secondary was to maintain eight-minute miles. These are modest goals, admittedly, but running has not been going well lately - there is an intense and persistent soreness buried deep within my right calf, and the mugginess of the air and shitty conditions of some of my usual routes (construction on one side, highway on the other) has made running less than pleasurable lately.
But the race was different. I was one of ten thousand people decked out in the same red shirt and following the same instructions issued by the same chipper British man. (Being herded around, though, reminded me that I would much rather be alone than one of a crowd - it is easier to follow your own instructions.) Along the five miles they had different musical acts set up to goad your progress: Fountains of Wayne (what?), Chingy (who?), Nina Sky (who's she?), DJ Z-Trip (Is that like EZ Pass?), and, finally, Joan Jett (she's not dead?). Running sans iPod was nice, and Nina Sky's "Move Your Body" was surprisingly rousing. I attempted a thunder clap but started cramping up, so it was abortive, tragic as that may be.
The actual run, the progress of my feet across the pavement and my body's willingness to supply energy and adapt to this endeavor, was awesome. The entire time I told myself to take it slow. When I would see myself becoming ambitious - passing other people, charging up or breezing down a hill - I would force myself to slow down to a stately pace. This was hard to maintain, but I never felt any severe pain or stiffness. Once I reached the fourth mile marker I opened up a bit, and I sprinted through the last half mile, making up for lost time and passing many people on the far right edge of the path, weaving around metal fences and up onto curbs. At the line I had energy to spare and I felt fantastic. I didn't stop, and I think I came damn close to my 40 minute goal.
But the actual speed is not what matters - what matters is the discovery of a new way to run, to move. Usually I am hurtling forth at the brink of mayhem, pushing my body to move as fast as possible and demanding the rest of me to keep up with a stubborn will. Today, though, every step was under my control. I felt in control of myself through the entire race, and saying no to my desire to speed up somehow took more than the eager abandon that usually drives me to sprint and compete.
I am still knee-deep in Potterania, and I felt like Harry himself being able to accomplish a great deal but meting out his efforts calmly and assuredly. I think exercising this control and being pleased with the result (respectable time, no major injuries) was a great antidote to some of the fears and insecurities that have been whispering to me in the quiet moments. In this time of transition, I do maintain control over some elements of my life - and today I was deeply grateful for this physical manifestation of my own agency, an ability to know when to let others pass and when to run without feet even touching the ground. It feels so good.