Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Quieter Race

Last weekend, in an attempt to connect with local runners while simultaneously celebrating the completion of my first real public school teaching job, I joined in on a group of 11 other hearty souls for a ~200 mile relay race in Vermont. It was the sort of adventure that brings city-dwellers a little uneasiness, as we had to make do without our covetous staples: sleep, privacy, and 24-hour artificial lighting. Adapting to the awkwardness of travelling with strangers was made easier by our common goal: run your leg, let the next guy run his. Try to run fast. Try to be pleasant. Try not to stink too much after, because it will be noted and likely blogged about at some unknown date in the future. Rinse and repeat, two more times. So that's the short version. I just read three longer versions written by my teammates, and don't want to risk accidental plagiarism, so I think I'll stick with what I've got. So coming home was the strangest part of all. Now what? Sort of like post-marathon apathy, this big grand exciting event in Vermont was over, and so was my beautiful teaching job. (It is summer break, I reminded myself, though the younger kids I worked with would surely be in favor of year-round schooling.)
So having raced three times over relay weekend, (a 4 miler and two 5 milers, one run at midnight) I was sort of in racing mode, and ready to go again. The only problem was that physically my body was barely able to jog slowly. One day I went out two miles and had to walk back. I didn't feel tired or sore, but I just couldn't run anymore. Despite this, the two races that were coming up this weekend kept playing in my head. Mentally I was really ready to race. Saturday rolled around and I got up early to watch race #1, the Gay Pride Run. Despite the extreme humidity, the top four runners came flying down East Drive in Central Park to finish in some phenomenal time under 24 minutes. For five miles. Wow. It is always exciting watching races, and discovering and cheering for people I know. I thought I saw a friend finishing, and I walked towards the finish to say hello. There were so many runners, I lost track of my friend, but then discovered something that really distracted me: each finisher received a rainbow missile popsicle. I walked across the street, half searching for my friend still, but I couldn't get the thought of obtaining one of those popsicles out of my head. I had never seen that kind before. It looked like it had a lime flavored coating on the outside, wrapped around a rainbow swirl of flavors inside. I really had to have one. I walked back to where the volunteers were handing them out. It didn't look like they had enough for all the runners. I looked longingly one more time at some racers enjoying their treats, and realized that it wasn't meant to be for me. So I ran my little training run, felt like my legs were coming back, and decided that I would run race #2 the next morning, the Hope and Possibility 5 miler, for athletes with disabilities and able-bodied runners. I woke up in the middle of the night with the Michael Jackson song 'Miss You Much' in my head, and then heard that song in real life a few seconds later on some one's boom box in my neighborhood. I wanted to acknowledge the singer during the race somehow, so that morning I stuck some craft letters on my good-luck Kenya tank top: MISS YOU MJ. Off I went to the 110th street subway station, this time with 'I'll Be There' firmly planted in my brain's turntable. In Central Park at 7:30 a.m., one hour before the start of the race, there were many vans parked near Tavern on the Green unloading athletes and race participants in wheelchairs. I saw a woman around my age looking very fit and sprinting. As her figure receded in the distance, I noticed her black prosthetic leg attachments. I heard an announcer introduce Trisha Meili, the famous Central Park Jogger from the brutal 1989 attack. It sounded strange to hear his game-show host voice say jovially, 'And here she is, The Central Park Jogger!' She had a surprisingly big and strong voice, which made me happy. A handsome man asked me if there were corrals in this race. We started talking a bit about training and racing, and then I had to remove myself to focus on the total anxiety that sometimes overcomes me before a race. This race was much smaller than the one the day before, so it was possible to line up close to the front. I took a good spot, re-affixed the letters on my shirt that the air's moisture was loosening, and felt calm. It was good to be on a starting line again. I smiled to myself. Some guy in the front had turned around and was staring intently at me. It was my friend Gael. I felt my face start to smile at him, then instinctively stopped its course. I looked back at him with a blank expression, then we both looked away. Gael had written me a really nasty email some days before, so nasty in fact, that I actually felt sorry for him. Clearly he was projecting something that had more to do with his own issues than anything I could have incited in him. Unfortunately, words can have better staying power than Michael Jackson tribute letters on a humid day. I tried to put my mind in a neutral place. Somberness replaced my previous pre-race giddiness. The horn went off, and the race begun. My first mile felt like work, and then my pace and energy died. I knew that I might not be recovered still, so I tried to change my mindset from race mode to 'getting a good workout' mode. The finish line was in sight, and I kicked to get under 37 (37! I have run 1/2 marathons at faster paces than that!) As I gave my final kick, there was Gael cheering me on with a big smile. In my spent state, I thanked him and smiled genuinely. I walked to catch my breath. Someone handed me a bag of pretzels. (Pretzels!) I stood to the side as finishers walked by to the baggage claim area. Three young women who had just finished the race were laughing and enjoying themselves. One called over to me. 'Kenya! Kenya!' she said excitedly. Turned out they were all from Kenya. One of them commented on my DIY graphics. 'Aww, MJ.' They all took a moment to make sad faces, and one did a sort-of moondance. The one who called me over looked at my arm and pointed. 'You're getting goosebumps!' Why is it only foreigners seem to notice things like this? We talked for a while, then went our separate ways. I liked the low-key aspect of this race. I felt like it was OK to run slower. Today it was OK to just be.


TeeJay said...

I'm glad it was a good day (the day of the second race) to just "be", Tamar.

As I move forward in my own personal life, I find myself doing that more and more, and it feels good. :)

Anonymous said...

Tamar you were an excellent teammate. You neither smelled nor acted stinky.

I raced Tuesday night; it went better than I could have hoped. But then I bombed out on my run this weekend. Alas.

tamar said...

teejay~ doesn't it? I also find myself saying more and more 'just let things happen'.. us runner-types are so focused on choreographing the whole story (or race), that it feels really liberating to not do it.

pigtails~ (that sounds so cute!) thank-you! back at you! :-)
That's great that you are easing right back into the racing world- please be careful! (I'm sure you're sick of everyone telling you that), but you worked hard to recover.

paz13 said...

tamar: Enjoyed reading about the 200 mile relay and the 2 races in NYC. They are quite different. The Vermont relay is rural while the NYC races take on an urban setting.

I ran the Vestal 20K for the 21st time on June 20th. It's a challenging race with quite a few hills in it and a course where I ran a negative split. I don't have a next race on the agenda yet, but something will turn up.

Do you have any racing plans?


Anonymous said...

Hi Tamara. ;-) That guy Gael is such a nice guy and a super fast runner. :)