Today I woke up at five in the morning, after a hearty four and a half hours of sleep, interrupted only when a flowerpot fell from somebody's fire escape and shattered on the sidewalk, causing me to bolt awake and try to figure out where the inevitable intruder was located in my apartment, to run a half marathon. It was dark when the alarm went off, but I shoved my contacts into my eyes, got into the running clothes I had laid out the night before, and stumbled into a cab to head up to the park.
Three and a half hours later, I was on top of the world. It was a glorious morning for running - warm, clear, with an occasional breeze. I finished this thing in 1:44, a couples minutes speedier than last summer. My goal was to run eight-minute miles, and my average mile-time turned out to be 7:56 (last year's was 8:09). I was so, so happy.
The first eight miles or so was in Central Park, and it felt great. As soon as I began running, I realized that I had to pee, but I managed to keep this situation under control and it was fine for the whole race. I walked through every fluid station (about every two miles initially, then once a mile for the final stretch) whether I felt I needed it or not. My body felt great, even the injured left leg that had me limping/strutting unnaturally all week. (I spent the entire workweek denying that I could possibly have pulled a groin muscle.)
Things went slightly downhill for the last five miles. Running down 7th Avenue was exciting, but I was a little tired, and I developed a stitch in my side. My earphones kept bouncing out, too, which was irritating. During the final four miles on the West Side Highway, my muscles grew fatigued and I became increasingly aware of the unforgiving pavement beneath my feet. During the last mile, it was all I could do to not walk for portions of it (I had no energy left over to sprint and finish strong, which had been my goal -- instead I felt like once I crossed the finish line, I would have to head back a quarter mile or so to gather up my intestines). As a matter of fact, my last mile was done in 7:45, totally respectable; the final 0.1 miles, though, took 52 seconds, which would have put me around the nine- or ten-minute mile mark for a 14th mile. I was beat.
But I was also thrilled. I didn't give up, and I didn't walk, and I came out with a time I'm proud of. I was really nervous about this race because of my injury, but I felt great and I'll take a couple days off now. Random thoughts were meandering through my head as I ran today, including: the realization that me writing a blog comes from the same impulse that makes me go to the New Yorker festival and do road race events: the chance to make solitary activities more communal and shared; and the fact that as I run these events year after year, I really struggle with being too competitive with myself, and always feeling the need to beat my previous times. The pressure is unnecessary, and the relief I feel at beating my previous time is not quite as good as genuine pride in the accomplishment. As you can see, the fancy new digital watch I got for training purposes has not helped this situation, since I'm now recording times for just about every aspect of the race.
They say runners feel a sense of euphoria as they run, as all their endorphins swarm inside them and produce that elusive "runner's high." I don't think I've ever felt it, although maybe I experience a low-grade version that has kept me running for a while now. Still, on days like today the feeling of physical exhaustion and exertion, the pride I feel in running 13.1 ridiculous miles, the astonishment that my body is capable of doing such things without total collapse -- there is definitely something euphoric in that.
(Also, as I walked home from the race, I was gripped by the very real fear that I would possibly go to the bathroom in my pants, an affliction known by many a runner, and I was making numerous contingency plans in my brain for what I would do and how I would avoid a citation -- and I'll have you know, with a certain, different sense of pride, and maybe even a little euphoria, that I successfully made it home without incident.)