Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't sweat the technique

The alarm went off this morning at 7:30 am, way too early for a Sunday. Once I registered the facts of the alarm and the radio and the morning itself, I was immediately aware of the insistent ringing in my ears and the dull hum in my brain, remnants of L's birthday festivities from last night. So, with about five hours of sleep under my belt, I lurched out of bed and got ready to run a 4-mile race in Central Park. I brushed my teeth, put my contacts in, and headed uptown on the train.

Last night we kicked things off with a tapas dinner, which sounded great in theory but in actuality may have left all of us slightly hungry. I know I was about ready to eat my napkin. Then we moved on to our latest nightspot of choice, conveniently located two blocks from the apartment. Knowing I had this race in the morning I kept my alcohol consumption to a minimal degree, for me, at a birthday party, with fun people. We were having a great time, the music was lively, except for a weird Bon Jovi interlude, but as the night progressed, Ashesh rightly pointed out that "the crowd was...changing." Changing into a more surly, outer-borough, inappropriately-dressed permutation of its previous self. (Ladies: keep your bras under your clothing. This applies to most of you.) So finally we left, got some pizza, and went home. Success.

On the train up to the park this morning I assembled these recollections in my brain as I thought about why I was running, and also tried to focus on not getting mugged by the other tired and untrustworthy people around me. My head felt a little inflated and my body was exhausted. L had just rolled over when I left the house.

So I finally started doing this run, then, and it seemed pretty standard: pick somebody up ahead of you and gradually overtake them; run on the periphery of the road so you don't waste too much time jostling past other people; take note of the dreadlock guy you see at every race, who runs at about your pace; don't stop for water, don't even think about it; focus on your breathing; note how pretty the park is in the springtime; let gravity speed you up on the downhills; consider the communal nature of these races, the fact that you can dissolve into a sea of 8,000 runners with 16,000 legs pumping on the asphalt just like yours, the way that the crowd becomes something almost organic; just listen to your music and keep moving.

I felt winded at points and felt like I dropped my speed down to a crawl. At other times I really pushed hard and basically stalked some hapless runner until I passed them. I was dying to come across mile marker 3, and when I finally passed it, I didn't feel like I had much left for the remaining mile, and I couldn't even muster up a decent sprint for the very last stretch, when the banner at the finish line is in sight, an actual crowd is present along the edges and the thumping dance music obliterates whatever club tune you've been listening to. But I crossed the finish line, gave myself a high-five over my head (which may look like an ordinary clap, but it's not), gathered my complimentary water and sportsdrink and tart macintosh apple, and headed home.

Later in the afternoon I checked my results out on the web, and it turns out that today I posted my fastest pace-per-mile time ever, in the two years I've been running these things. It was a solid twenty seconds quicker than my usual effort, and I beat last week's time, in the same distance, by a solid minute. Maybe I didn't waste as much time dodging other people today, or maybe I happened to just hit some nice new peak of fitness today, but whatever the case, I felt really proud of myself.

I'm already thinking about what my goal time is for the next four-miler I do, and the next threshold for my pace time. In hindsight (of course) it felt great to wake up early and get out of the house and do something, to wipe away the cobwebs left over from a night on the town and embrace the day. When I came home the ringing had subsided in my head. Today I felt a certain pride and contentment that I doubt I could feel from, say, Federal Income Tax, or Professional Responsibility, or Entertainment Law, which are the exams I'm facing in the next couple days.

I guess the moral of the story is, if you can't eat your Wheaties, try knocking back a few Heineckens and not sleeping for a night, and watch your athletic abilities soar! You'll see a real spike, I guarantee it.

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