Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Thirteen point one

The last time I ran a half marathon (the only time, in August 2005 -- see blog entry from 8/28/05), I staggered to the finish line with bloody ankles, distended muscles and a throbbing in my stomach and chest. It was the worst running experience of my life, through heat and rain and the kind of smutty fog that only settles over this blighted island during the worst days of summer.

With 8 months of gym time under my belt and fresh athletic socks on my feet, I attempted another half-marathon yesterday. Beloved reader, it was fantastic - one of the best running experiences of my life. Nike and a few city agencies joined forces to organize this ass-kicking course through Manhattan: a loop and change around Central Park, straight down 7th Avenue into Times Square, then a turn onto 42nd Street over to the West Side Highway, then down to Battery Park. They closed the streets for us, and we had to line up a bit earlier than usual, slogging into the Park for the 7 am start time.

Once we began, it was so packed that during the entire 8 miles in Central Park, I spent more time and energy jockeying for position than paying attention to distance or the clock. There was just this incredible sea of people you had to wade through.

But then when you turned onto 7th Avenue and started a straight shot down into the canyons of Times Square, it was simply exhilarating - bands playing on the sidewalks, cops guarding the streets, people watching and cheering - even when the heavens opened up and these huge, fat raindrops came pummeling down, I felt so good and so strong. The stretch down 42nd St, to the West Side Highway, was a bit depressing in the rain and cold, and I tried one of those carb infusion goo's (like a cross between icing and toothpaste - not cool). The stretch down the West Side Highway was surprisingly boring, and I felt my energy lag at the monotony of running on flat highway, as the buildings of lower Manhattan slowly emerged in the fog. in the last two miles I had a stitch in my side and my knees were aching, but I kept pounding away, 800 meters left, 400, and that was it. I ended up running 1 hour, 47 minutes - 8:09 per mile, 13 times over - a full 20 minutes better than my time last year, during the massacre of August 2005.

Anyways, it was a brilliant race, one of the highlights of my time as a New York Road Runner. I took James' advice and walked through each fluid station, sipping on water and Gatorade. We took this photo later that night, after we were all cleaned up (but while our legs were still twitching from the exhaustion and strain): L and I triumphant on the couch, holding our medals, as well as the "Run Like Jimmy" button L created in honor of our friend who just ran across an ocean. It was a great experience.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ready to run

This is true for me, and it is true of a lot of other people, based on personal experience: at the gym, people think it's ok to be a jerk. I'm paying big money to go there, and when I'm stuck in some horrible group exercise class, I have no qualms about stomping out of there with a furious scowl across my face. A few months ago I was all pumped up for my standard Thursday ass-kicking bass-thumping step class, when some perky substitute came in and started prancing all around the room. Like bad step teachers everywhere, she had stupid names for stupid moves: "Ok, let's loop the loop! Loop it! Loop it! Loop it LEFT! Loop it LEFT! Loop it! Loop it! Loop--" With a grim look on my face, and muttering the words "this is horseshit," I stalked past everybody else, put my junk away and left. Do I care if people were looking at me weird? Do I care if I offended the teacher? No, I don't. It's my time, my workout. Perhaps this is the kind of thing I should never bother worrying about, ever, but I do, so this is big for me.

Anyways, last night I was stuck in the worst group gym class anyone has ever participated in, and I include the activities of Hitler Youth in that statement. Maybe it was my fault -- the class was called "Cardio Video Dance," I was bored, I figured, what the hell, I watch enough music videos. I walked in and everyone was on the floor stretching like it was the prelude to "Flashdance." The teacher struts in with her posse of J.V. Pussycat-Dolls types, and announces that "today we're going to be 'Mimi.'"

Oh, like Mariah Carey? OK, that could work -- maybe some "Say Somethin'," "It's Like That"....

"...Mimi from 'Rent.' So, all you guys [eye contact from teacher to me], today you're going to be girls."

You know, usually I only grit my teeth when I sleep, but at that moment I felt a familiar tension throughout my jaw. Still, I tried to be a good sport and lined up with the group. First was the toe-tapping thing, then this chest-thrusting thing - awkward but still within the realm of my dignity. Then the teacher starts shimmying her hips and running her hand along the side of her body - moving into a squat on your haunches, rub another hand down your torso.... OK. Yeah. I'm in the wrong room. Not daring to look at anyone, I grab my music and towel and scurry out of there.

I can hear the music pounding in the studio but I hop on a treadmill and start running. I was pissed that I wasted my time and felt embarassed for looking stupid in front of a room full of dance chicks and local gays. I ran for half an hour in that mincing, cramped treadmill way: my pelvis bonking against the front of the machine when I moved too fast, staring intently as the time crawled forward, considering the variations of heart rate and calories burned and when I could stop and go home. It was not cool. I did three miles and walked home, careful to avoid eye contact with the dance class people who were now filing out of the studio.

Outside it was beautiful out in the last waning hours of light, and I knew what I had to do. I went home, dropped off my water bottle and headed out for a real run, outside, along the Hudson down to Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty. Running outside I felt weightless, free, legs reaching outward and into the breeze from the river. The setting sun cast a warming glow on the bricks and glass of lower Manhattan, and I was struck once again by the narrow and beautiful palette of this city: rich browns and ochres and reds, in contrast to the roiling blues of water and light reflected in glass windows. I kept running, the streetlights flicked on one by one, my shirt was sweaty but cool in the night air. I tell you, it felt so good.

I'm doing a half-marathon this weekend, so I was glad I could run eight miles or so last night. To be outside among the anonymous community of Hudson River runners was the perfect antidote to the wretchedness of the gym. It was as if I had burst through the mirrors of the studio and the metal and plastic of the treadmill to come back to reality, to forget the artifice and attitude of the gym to run into and through a place of nothing more than night, water, sky, and sweat.

It was perfect. And I bought a new batch of songs on the internet to get through it - here is a nice little night-running mix you may use for your own devices: "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" by Panic at the Disco, "Deja Vu," by Beyonce, "When You Gonna Give it Up To Me," by Sean Paul, "Me and My Gang" by Rascal Flatts, and --this is the kicker -- "Get Up," by Ciara. Ring the alarm, y'all.

Open letter

Dear Reader(s),

First of all, you look great. You look really tan and relaxed from the summertime. Oh, really? Wow. Yeah, timeshares sound really neat to me too. I'm glad you had the moxie to go ahead and do it though, that's really awesome. Totally. Totes.

Yeah, my summer was good too. I actually got married -- no, to L. Yep, her. No, it wasn't a secret engagement or anything. No, she isn't pregnant. I actually don't think that's funny, no. The wedding was unbelievable, though, I honestly don't think I could have asked for a more perfect day. Well, I was going to try to write some massive summary of my summer -- talking about the wedding, and MK.D.Day, and everything leading up to that, as well as the time a guy drove past me in a car and rolled down his window and said "blow me," but I actually don't think I'm going to do that. Yeah, I thought instead I would just return to the ol' blog in standard form and just write kind of randomly about the random things that happen. I actually just want to write better, that was the whole point. Oh, thank you. No, thanks for the tip, I will try to make it more interesting this time around. That's a really constructive suggestion, so thank you.

What else is new? Well, the social deck has been reshuffled. James has moved to Barcelona, Spain, to teach low-income students -- oh, I'm sorry, he's actually educating the wealthy upper-crust of international expat society in Spain. The real top layer of the paella, if you will. But I guess they need education too, lest they cuss out their groundskeepers in an ungrammatical way once their prize fighting bull-slaughtering toreadores are injured in some comically unfortunate polo mishap. So, they need learning too (and it is more pleasant for me to be resentful of Spaniards I don't know than to consider just how sad it is that James moved away). Anyways, I'm also in my second year of law school, looking for work for next summer, and my friend Dima is moving into the neighborhood. Also, since this is just like the season premier of some awesome TV show, please assume that everyone I know and love has gotten trendy new haircuts, and there's a new montage that plays with the theme song, complete with some of these pictures:

This pretty much sums up June through July: James and I, drinking, making faces. This actually sums up the entire thing.

This was a tame moment from MK.D.Day, the now-legendary bachelor trip. Note the ass-kicking shirt I am wearing, which James made for everybody.

This is me and my new blushing bride, L, in our new state of marital/conjugal bliss.

Welcome back, old friend(s). Thanks for sticking around. Let's meet up for a Jamba sometime, aight?