Monday, August 05, 2013

Not as Bad as Woolsack Racing

The last time I participated in any official running group was close to ten years ago. Even though this said group was meeting at the nearly still-slumbering hour of 7:00 a.m. on a frigid upstate New York winter Sunday morning, I distinctly remember feeling very excited to join the ranks of runners in the 'Brian Baker 10 mile run' group. An invisible badge of pride cloaked my tired body as I trotted slightly behind this speedy group of athletes that morning. There were a few rules to contend with: 1)You don't stop running. For any reason. Despite the commonly understood definition of 'group run', connoting a run involving more than one runner, there was an understanding amongst regular participants that basically, every man was for himself on these group runs. A mutual friend relayed the story of a time when he arrived at Brian's house to discover the mercury had not quite reached the 1 degree mark yet. He had to tap on Brian's bedroom window to stir him out of bed. On this occasion, the run (always timed, naturally) started at a tardy 7:32. As the miles ticked on, my friend noticed his shoe became untied, and so he stopped to retie it. When he looked up, Mr. Baker's form could be seen far ahead in the distance. He had to sprint to catch up.(His pride has yet to recover.) Fast forward ten years to Albany, California. I have found an enjoyable group run that meets Sunday mornings at 8:00 a.m. There's a good mix of runners possessing a wide range of paces. This morning I chose to do the 8 mile run. The organizers had mini maps printed for each of the 3 different course distances. Though each group had a designated leader, I grabbed a map. Not that it would do much good, since the font was rather small, thus making the prospect of actually being able to read the street names while trying to hold the little map steady as I ran, a highly unlikely prospect. None of this deterred me from clinging to the little paper square of directives, possibly dreaming of the remote possibility of serving as the hero understudy should our fearless leader Ricardo have any unexpected mishaps along his course of duty. Since he started his tour running up Solano avenue backwards while monitoring his charges, this seemed like a real possibility. What began as a slight incline up Solano turned into a more serious uphill grade ascending Los Angeles Avenue. My breathing quickly became labored while lactic acid flooded my quads. At that precise crossroad of discomfort, a smiling fresh-faced young woman neatly trotted beside me. 'Is this the 5 mile run?' she asked cheerfully. I let her know I was doing the 8 mile run, and wasn't sure about the other courses. I tried to convey this information using as few words as possible, due to my compromised state of oxygen-deprivation. Oblivious to my plight, she instantly abandoned her plan to run the shorter distance in favor of joining me. 'This will be fine', she said with a toothy smile, 'I'm just going to take it easy today.' Hadn't Bill Rodgers used that trick as he passed his foes during the Boston Marathon? She proceeded to pick up the pace. We turned onto Spruce street and the course got steeper. It baffled me that her smile had not faded in the slightest. If anything, it intensified. It seemed to increase in direct proportion to the gradation increase. So did my grimace. Spruce street was an endless road which kept climbing higher. Tiny sprinkles of fog condensation misted my bare shoulders. I failed to appreciate their refreshing qualities. When we turned onto Grizzly Peak Boulevard and the course finally leveled out, I uncrumpled the map to check for our turnaround point. I was very impressed with how well the ink from the map was holding up- so different from my own printer's cheap ink copies. We arrived at our check-in spot, and started heading back down the hill. Life instantly improved. Breezing back down Grizzly Peak, I was able to hold a normal conversation with smiley. I discovered that she's a scientist who recently moved to the Bay Area. She gushed about how young and enthusiastic all the people she worked with were. As opposed to all of us old, resentful job-seekers, I thought. She asked what field I was in. I told her I recently went back to school for Early Childhood Education, and I was exploring classroom teaching and alternative curriculum with the goal of incorporating genuine (as opposed to theoretic) differentiated instruction which seeks to build on students' interests. 'So which end are you working in then, the schools or the design end?' 'I'm in the unemployed end', I replied, with a nervous giggle to break the awkward silence that followed. Just then another runner joined us and I decided to pick up the pace. I like downhills. I think my new running partners did too, as they quickly caught up to me and somehow we were all chatting together like it was second nature. So this story reminds me of an old Jewish folkloric tale. A man lamented to his rabbi one day that his house was too small and he asked for guidance. The rabbi told him to bring all of his farm animals into the house one by one. The man did so. His feelings of being cramped in his modest home increased. He lamented again to his rabbi, and the rabbi had him remove all the animals. The man was then content with his modest house. Sometimes you need a big hill to run up to appreciate how much you love running down hill.