Friday, May 28, 2010

The Gift

I’ve always loved running in the rain; it keeps me cool and it means there will be fewer people on the path. Sometimes I want the convenience of dry shoes and not walking home in a downpour without an umbrella, so last night, I scheduled my run to avoid it. The universe had other plans.

The Boss had me down for an hour run, and since Wednesday was so unbelievably hot, I was planning to do it in the morning while it was still cool. Then I remembered I don’t yet have a place where I can shower near Central Park, so rather than stew in my own stank all day at the office, I decided to suffer through the heat and humidity after work. The day turned out to be pretty mild and overcast with showers to come around 9pm, so when I finished up work at 6, it was looking to be a comfortable run. I changed into my gear and headed to the park for a long loop around the bridle path.

The run up the west side was nice. There were a few teams out, some people running hill repeats, some kids heading over to the fields for baseball practice, but most of the traffic was on the main road, which was packed with people, so I was glad to be on the bridle path. It has been so rainy this month, everything was lush and green, and it was nice to not have to suck down water every 5 minutes to stay cool. No pain to work through other than the discomfort of pushing my heart rate up, maintaining my leg cadence and not letting my stride devolve into a distance runner's shuffle. The first few miles of every run seems to be me telling my body, 'yes, we are doing this again, and we are going a little longer this time, so quit your bitching and get on board'. I don't think that negotiation will ever completely go away, especially as I get into the 15+ mile runs leading up to the Marathon, but its getting shorter and I'm remembering enough of how it feels to finally push through it and resist the urge for a sissy walk break. It hurts and I'm tired, but I'm already here, so lets get this done and go home for dinner.

I love the bridle path because it presents you with a good variety of hills. I've been trying to remember to go easy on them until I've got a few weeks of pain free miles behind me, but by the time I got to the steep uphill that takes you to the lower reservoir loop I was feeling reasonably strong and I heard a thunderstorm coming, so I decided to put my head down and charge up to the top and try to beat the rain. My energy level went to zero, but I wasn't going to let some stupid hill beat me, so I turned right and headed for the REALLY steep incline to the upper reservoir loop.

Pain, misery, not wanting to finish my run followed. I'm not strong enough for hill work yet. I couldn't hold my pace on the way up and I was having trouble getting it back as I ran the level reservoir path. I remembered why I used to prefer running the east river promenade- it is flat as a pancake and easy to crank out long runs with relatively low fitness. The bridle path was making me work when I didn't want to and I was NOT happy. And then it started to rain.

I finished half a loop on the upper path, and at the turn off to go back down the west side, I noticed a lot of runners stretching quickly and packing up. I wanted to join them but my bag was at the office and I had no cash for a cab, so I had to keep running.

Running along the main road, I still saw some teams out, a lot of cyclists in pack rides, but no one looked pleased about the sudden downpour. I wasn't either. The raindrops were big and heavy and there was a lot of lightning starting to come quick with the thunder. It was suddenly pouring and I still had almost three miles to go.

Then I crossed over the road and back into the darkness of the bridle path and everything changed. I had recovered from doing those steep inclines and was back on pace. My breathing was less labored and it felt like the world shifted more into focus than it had been a moment before. I looked around and I was the only person on the path. It felt like I was the only person in the entire PARK. The air smelled like wet earth and electricity. It was dark, and the only sound beyond my own breathing and footsteps was the rain coming through the trees. I felt my stride become more fluid, I was lighter on my feet and everything felt effortless.

I'd see groups of runners waiting out the storm and I picked up speed as I passed them in the dark, cool shelter of the bridges . I felt sorry for them; If they had started their run a little earlier, they might've tapped into the same magic I was feeling and not cared about the rain. I passed a few runners going the opposite direction, and we gave each other 'the nod'; that acknowledgment that we were both logging the hours and working hard, but this time we were also sharing something that few other people were. As long as it kept raining and as long as we kept running, we OWNED Central Park.

I flew up the last two hills on the lower west side of the path and kept running out of the park at Columbus Circle. I got caught at a few lights and had to dodge some umbrellas, but I kept running until I was at the lobby of my office building. My boss was by the door waiting for her car service to pull up, and she shook her head at me as I coasted past her.

'Poor you, what a miserable night for a run.'

I didn't expect her to understand, so I just smiled and went through the lobby and up the elevator. After I grabbed my bag, I went back down, to the subway station and onto the train. The doors closed and I looked up at several people staring at me. I glanced at my reflection in the window and saw what they were seeing. I was soaked to the bone and my legs were covered in mud and dirt. My knees and hands were purple with bruises and scabs from a couple of spills off my bike the last weekend, my hair was wet and stringy and my 'waterproof' mascara had shifted down far enough to give me some serious panda eye. I looked like I had been through hell. How could I tell these people that I do this on purpose? I push because it hurts, I get up because I know I'm going to fall again, and I run because most of the time it is hard, but sometimes is the easiest thing in the world. Anyone who runs long enough can tell you about the 'runners high', and knowing that it lives just on the other side of pain is enough to keep you going when you are really in agony. Sometimes, if you're REALLY lucky, the universe gives you a gift; time stops, you are given a double shot of endorphins right in the mainline, and for a few minutes, you get to own one of the most beautiful parks in the world.

I paid for pushing those hills too early in my comeback with sore achillies tendons, and I have some serious stretching to do before I go back to the park for my run with my coach tomorrow, but it was worth it. I can't hope to have that exact same experience again, but I can keep running until I am rewarded with a new one.


  1. You make Central Park sound like a magic place. In fact, all the lucky runners I know from New York make Central Park sound like an amazing place to run. Your post stepped it up and made me feel like I was there too.

    Good luck with the recovery and I can't wait to hear about your triathlon.

    All the best,


  2. many many thanks, Ron. your blog is one of my favorites. You definitely have to come experience CP for yourself! I am indeed very fortunate to be able to run here.

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