Sunday, May 20, 2012

Across the Finish Line

I did it!  I successfully ran a half-marathon yesterday.  I even beat my goal time.  I'm kinda still surprised.  I called my mom after I got home and she told me she was proud of me and that she still couldn't believe I had done it--never would she have imagined that I would become a runner.  I agreed with her--never did I imagine.  And yet, I love that we have that freedom: to perpetually remake ourselves, to know that our identities are never fully shaped with finality.  What a privilege that is.

Photo found on
This weekend the weather has been absolutely gorgeous.  It was in the high 50s and sunny yesterday for the run, with just a slight breeze.  Throngs of runners gathered well before 7am to take their places and work through pre-race jitters by stretching or talking.  Once the race finally started I wasn't nervous anymore, just happy to finally be running.  Before the race began I heard several men comment that if the need to pee arose during the race that you had to use the portable toilets provided, otherwise you risked being banned from all future NYRR races, including the NYC Marathon.  This, however, did not deter dozens of men from jumping off the route in the first mile to pee into a wooded fence area at the perimeter of the park.  It was such a bizarre sight, mostly because it seemed as if I were accidentally running by a bank of outdoor urinals.

I felt almost nothing for the first seven miles.  That is, I simply enjoyed the sea of runners, the people standing by to cheer, and the beauty of the day and didn't yet feel tired.  My favorite sign was black letters on a hot pink poster board that read: "Run like you just stole sumthin'!"  Cracked me up.  I'd run most portions of the race route over the past few weeks on my long runs, but it's completely different when the traffic is blocked off in every direction and you're no longer a solitary runner.  As we exited the park and made our way onto Ocean Avenue, the route took us down the freeway entrance ramp.  I've never run down a freeway entrance ramp before, and I found myself smiling and enjoying the moment as I looked down over the multitudes, smoothly making their way to the ocean, like a human river in search of its delta.

Around mile nine I wasn't smiling anymore.  Running was getting hard at that point.  My feet were sore, I was trying to maintain my pace, I was getting tired, and I still had four miles left to go.  But you know, you just keep running.  At mile eleven I noted that I had reached the "this is the farthest I've ever run" point again and asked myself whether I was ready for the last two miles.  And to myself, I responded that I was.

I know that sounds silly, but I think tests of endurance take a lot of actual talking to yourself.  These conversations I had with myself yesterday, they were different from thinking.  I didn't speak aloud necessarily, but they were deliberate conversations with real questions and concrete messages of encouragement.

So, on I ran, all the way to Coney Island's boardwalk.  One of my past students who I am close with came to cheer me on across the finish line.  Knowing she would be waiting there helped me keep running that last mile.  And then it was done.  Just like that.

Today I am somewhat fatigued, but the good sort that’s like a lingering echo of recent accomplishments.  And I'm happy not to have to run in the next few days, looking forward to a bit of rest.  Even as I type this, though, I'm listening to my race-day playlist and finding myself thinking, I could go for a run...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Saturday Commute

The half-marathon is six days away.  I'm excited, and nervous, and ready.  It starts at 7am, but it's suggested that runners arrive by 6am in order to negotiate the other 15,000 person sea of chaos that will be the start of the race.  That sounds early, even to me.  I don't anticipate sleeping soundly the night before.  I'm guessing it will be more like the night before catching a 4am flight or the first day of a new school year.  But, the nerves and adrenaline are all part of the experience, not to be disparaged, since they help propel you to the finish line.

Yesterday marked the last long run of my training.  Greg and I ran 10 miles together from our apartment in Brooklyn all the way to where he works on West 57th Street in Manhattan.  He ran this same route as a portion of a longer run last weekend, and later quipped that it would be considerably faster for him to run to work than to take the train.  Not really a thing either of us would want to do every day before work, though.

As always, I enjoyed the tourist-as-runner experience of the new route.  It's so pleasant to pass from one neighborhood to the next, encountering significant landmarks on the way, seeing a city I've lived in for seven years from an entirely new perspective.  We passed over the Gowanus Canal into Redhook, then headed north through Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Brooklyn Heights.  From there we crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge--magnificent as always.  I've only slowly ambled across before, never run.  The sky and water were both shockingly blue and I kept turning my head right and left to take in the view on either side: of boats and buildings.  Problem being that it's difficult to run forward and not crash into bikers or other runners while doing this.  Definitely worth the risk, though.  Once on the other side, we crossed lower Manhattan via City Hall and then headed north for another few miles on the West Side Highway running path.  The path parallels a park that runs along the Hudson River, so the route is populated with docks, gardens, artistic places to sit while you take in the view, and a billion other runners.  That's something I really enjoy about running: even though it's solitary in so many ways, encountering other runners reminds you that you're part of a larger community.

Last weekend I ran my longest distance ever: 11 miles.  In the past four weeks I've run 90 miles.  I can pull off 13.1 on Saturday, right?  Eep...

In school we've been studying comedy, satire specifically.  Last week the kids completed a new and experimental project in my class.  Each 9th grade class section had to create an Onion-like satirical newspaper from scratch, without any guidance from me.  After introducing the challenge to them, I put on a sticker that read "I am invisible," at which point they could not talk to me, nor I to them.  It all went astoundingly well; my biggest complaint is that I was bored out of my mind.  But the kids, they were amazing.  At the start of class Friday, each section handed me a beautiful satirical paper, written collectively by their section.  The 10th graders have agreed to judge the papers this week--I'm curious to see their assessment.  This whole experiment was merely a trial run for the project the kids will begin this week: producing and pitching a new comedy show.  Oh my.  I'll keep you updated.

P.S.--These are my running shoes, which I love and adore.
These are my brand spankin' new Nike Frees, just arrived in the mail yesterday.  A post-race treat to look forward to.  Hot pink laces...whee!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spring has spru... (I guess we'll never know.)

The weather has been unpredictable this week, vacillating between stormy, muggy, chilly, and outright sunny and pleasant.  This is fine, except for the weather report was wrong every single day, so I never wore quite the right thing this week, which means that I was also chilled or overheated, depending on the day.  Yesterday threatened to storm all day.  By the time I went for my run last evening the air hung heavy with moisture, rendering it thick and comforting.  Because it had been raining on and off all week, the park's trees and grasses were lush and vibrant, giving off the sweetest mid spring smell.  A large puddle had accumulated in the road and a pair of ducks decided that this constituted a small pond, upon which they appeared to have taken up residence.  Comical and adorable

When I started training a couple months ago the farthest I'd ever run was just over 6 miles.  I set out on my first long run of training, hoping to match this personal distance record.  What's odd to me is that my long runs have become short runs; last night I got home from work and casually ran 6 miles in the park for my easy run.  This continues to surprise me.  A couple of weeks ago I ran 9 miles for the first time ever, and on Monday this week I came home to do my speed workout, which turned out to be 9 miles.  This week alone I've already run 25 miles.  This is so bizarre to me.  Don't get me wrong -- it's exhausting and time consuming, but I'm doing it, and I like that.

I find that I love small things while running.  I love the first drops of sweat that slide down my elbow, indicating that my body is heated and working.  I love the fine, gritty white film of evaporated sweat that covers me after a long run.  Similarly, I'm fascinated by how red my face gets and how long it stays that way.  Long after I'm home and rested my face will still be flushed.  I imagine that this sort of thing might be commonplace to many people, but I was never very athletic growing up, so these experiences still intrigue me.

Meanwhile, at school the children are growing incrementally up.  This does not stop them from doing ridiculous things on a daily basis, though.  I have a large closet in my room; the closet is not of the walk-in variety, but has shelves running from floor to ceiling, on which are kept supplies for the kids.  Markers, paper, folders, paper towel, Kleenex, etc.  The students have taken to using this closet as their own private space recently.  One of my seniors chose that spot the other day to practice aloud for his graduation presentation -- in the dark without room to move, he shut himself in the closet so that the other four people in the room wouldn't make him nervous.  My 9th graders go there to grab a Kleenex and stay crammed in the closet while they blow their noses in private.  One of the boys regularly goes in there to fart.  The hallway is just across the room, but somehow he's more comfortable in the closet.  No one bothers or teases him about this, which confuses me.  It's become somewhat of a class joke at this point and I relent to their sense of humor.

Another one of my students is a lovely but odd child, usually ostracized by his perplexed classmates.  One of his quirks is that he chews on -- really gnaws to bits -- everything, especially writing utensils.  Yesterday another boy had lost his pencap only to discover that the first child had it in his pocket.  He confessed to us a bit sheepishly, "Oh, I chewed it."  The second boy, watched intently by the entire class, replied, "That's no problem, it's not a big deal."  He even let the first boy hug him in apology, never indicating with his face or words that he was in the least upset.  I thanked him for being so magnanimous, at which point I realized it was necessary for him to learn this word in order to appreciate my appreciation.  Over to the dictionary we went -- magnanimous: generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness.  They really are growing up.  Just maybe they're ready to take on the 10th grade.