The last time I ran in downtown New York I was trying to avoid falling glass and concrete. Tripping over dropped purses and briefcases, my gait was anything but smooth. My breath erratic, harsh, and shallow. Believe it or not, I’d forgotten about all of that until this past Tuesday when Marian the Librarian and I got off the subway and headed to the starting line at the World Financial Center for the American Heart Association 5K. My constant stream of chatter was due as much to a case of pre-race nerves as to the jarring influx of memories. With all the mental jump cuts, it was almost like watching MTV back when they actually showed music videos. While passing new stores, restaurants, apartment buildings and bars, my mind was working like a flip book; scanning back and forth trying to remember what used to be there. My hands started to shake a bit and I wondered what would happen if the starting gun went off and I just started running, and running, and running somehow ending up in Central Park like I did almost six years ago. I knew what would happen: Marian the Librarian would never run another race with me again.
Once I got over the initial not-quite déjà vu, the newness of the downtown area was actually stimulating. “Fuck you, terrorists! We’re still here. I’m still here and I’m about to run a race.” And then Marian the Librarian said something about going to a bar after the race for mozzarella sticks and beer and my walk down patriot lane was over. I get all fired up about messin’ with the US but I’d sell national secrets for a plate of mozzarella sticks and an ice cold Smithwicks.
I had a lot of questions for Marian the Librarian: Will the route be clearly marked? What happens if I lose my racing number? Will Meredith get back together with McDreamy and is Callie really a lesbian? While she answered all my queries patiently I could tell she was reconsidering her promise to not leave me behind and run at her own pace. We got to the starting line, well, we got near the starting line. There were thousands of people packed into an area the size of my bathroom. While I am used to maneuvering around Mr. Dingo for sink space in the mornings and doing some fancy footwork to avoid stepping on Not a Dingo and Dingo Girl as they work their furry wiles to prevent our heading off to work, I was not used to the organized chaos at the starting area. The starting line looked less like a civilized group of racers and more like a cattle call for the new Fox reality series, So You Think You Can Run?
We stood in place for at least thirty seconds after the starting gun went off. The bottleneck gradually eased and we were finally able to run. I was running! I was running in my first race! See Dingo run! Run, Dingo, Run! I used my Nike+ Sportband (best running gadget EVAH!) to check my starting pace. Marian the Librarian assured me that while it seemed as if everyone was passing us by and the wheelchair and crutches contingent would soon be nipping at our heels, it was best to pace ourselves.
Most of those zooming ahead and elbowing us out of the way would soon be gasping for breath. I believed her but I still had to resist the urge to accidentally blind them with my long flowing locksnudge them back. The whole talking while running thing? Not a problem. Marian the Librarian and I chatted and before I knew it a mile had passed by. I kept checking my pace. Wow! I was doing great! I was clipping along at a pace much faster than anything in my training runs. I mentioned this to Marian the Librarian and we both attributed the faster time to the lack of hills in the race course.
Do not be fooled, folks. Central Park has its own mountain range. Yes, it does! It has to, otherwise how can I run uphill both ways on both the east and west side of the park? Somehow I never seem to be running downhill. Just up, and up, and up. As I’ve bitched before, I haven’t lost much weight but my calves, lord!, my calves have gained about thirty pounds of muscle. It was a bit cool today so I thought I’d give my kick-ass and takin’ names boots one last hurrah before summer. No dice. I couldn’t zip them over my King Kong sized calves. So, sexy boots are out, but if you need someone to climb a building, I’m your gal. Anywaaaaaay….
No sooner had we said, “No hills!” than the course began a gradual incline. Are you freakin’ kidding me? Hills in lower Manhattan? But you know what? I flew over those hills. And you know what else? We started passing some of the smart asses who had bolted out of the starting area. I resisted the urge to turn around as I passed them and taunt, “In your face! In your face!” This nod to decorum was not because of any humility on my part but simple recognition of my limits. I lack grace and coordination. I am fortunate enough to be able to run in a straight line. To run backwards, even with the incentive to serve some humble pie, would surely result in having a pie thrown in my own face. So, I plodded on.
It was fantastic to see the city from the street and note all the reconstruction that had taken place. There were parks and gardens. Stores and vendors. Even Ground Zero had finally lost its death pall and taken on a new vivacity. As we ran through the streets people cheered for us. It was an incredible feeling.
Marian the Librarian kept checking in with me to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself too hard and to discuss our options post-race. We’d passed a bunch of bars but there were also some shoe stores that looked inviting and Century 21 (a massive designer discount store) was still open. You know, it’s one thing to run a race, it’s another talent altogether to scope out store hours while dodging potholes and sewage grates.
As we rounded the corner to the finish line I could hear loud clapping and cheering. As we got closer we discovered it was a group of children, probably between 7 and 9 years old, who were cheering on the runners and giving high fives. Chalk it up to being tired or overly emotional at nearly accomplishing my goal, but I found it incredibly moving. I nearly knocked Marian the Librarian over in order to reach the kids before we passed them. Hey, I wanted my high five!
And then, it was done. I crossed the finished line. I wanted to cry. I felt great! I felt light. I felt happy. I felt hungry. It was time for food and celebratory beer. Marian the Librarian is the perfect race companion. She cheered for me and encouraged me all the way. Although we’ll see what I have to say about her in a few weeks; at her urging I signed up for a 10K.