Strong Armed in the School Yard

As I turned the corner onto Commonwealth Avenue, and passed the construction site that had occupied the already-scant visitor (2-hour, non-permit) parking spaces for the last few days, a memory bubbled to the surface. As I finished the warm-up walk and started my half-hour run around the reservoir, I couldn’t shake it.

I was perhaps nine. Standing at the corner of the street below the hill waiting for the bus to take me home. I was with a couple of friends, and we were bored and young. The schoolyard where we stood had a fence that was under construction, just an upright post with a bar for chicken wire.

I had recently seen Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood Men in Tights and found myself intrigued by a pose adopted by Little John, where he wraps both arms around a staff held across his shoulders. It seemed leisurely and badass, and I wanted to try it out for myself. So, I approached the upright bar, just at my shoulder height, and did so, wrapping both arms lithely around it. It was comfortable, and I held the position for a few seconds.

“Check out strong man over here,” came a gruff call from an approaching construction worker.

I was just old enough to recognize mockery, but not quite old enough to know how to react properly. Instead, I dropped my arms, stepped away from the fence, and hoped to all the deities new and elder that the bus would hurry up. I don’t recall whether it came with “Get away from there” instructions. But, I do recall feeling very small, very weak.

Back in my late twenties, as I crested one of the early hills in my run, something occurred to me. The difference between that moment, and me teasing my friends and family–and sometimes strangers–was subtle and key. In that moment, I was being mocked, and I knew it, because I was not part of the joke, I was the butt of it. He was calling to his friends, with a “Look at this freak!” circus barker air. Whereas sassiness and sarcasm, at least how I aim to do them, are inclusive of the subject of the joke. “Look at this silly thing you just did. Anyone could make the mistake, but let’s all take a moment to laugh at it,” instead.

I then started to feel a little larger about that moment, so many years now gone. The old adage about bullies needing to put other people down to feel good about themselves notwithstanding, my thought now was: some construction dude in his thirties or so straight up mocked a nine-year-old. I won’t judge his self-esteem, but it’s kind of a dick move.

In other words, if I could go back to that moment with my knowledge of my older self, I might have reacted more appropriately. Flipping him the bird, for example, or just calling him a douche.

As I paced on the spot at the red light coming back across Chestnut Hill Avenue, the main obstacle between me on the reservoir and Beacon Street, a large black pickup truck blew straight through the red light. I was glad I had not been too antsy to leave, and waited until all the cars stopped. However, I also felt justified (as, in my old age, my tolerance for douchebags has decreased significantly) in flipping him off as I jogged across the street.

 

When the Whistle Blows

The Fitbit step counter, disguised as a watch, was strapped to my wrist all day. I am not sure whether it fit the dress code for my new job, but no one seemed to remark on it, as it quietly counted up to, and far past, the 10,000 step mark. By the time I had finished pacing the small room, greeting families and taking their photos (which we would later try to sell back to them), the count read over 16,000.

And about 15 minutes past my shift, I was relieved of my post.

I recently got a job at a new midway attraction opening in the Boston area, working in the retail department. I spent my whole Saturday there, and was then too wiped out to go for a run.

Sunday filled up quickly with family, and rushing to be supportive after my girlfriend’s car broke down. Monday, work, and more helping with the car situation took over. Tuesday, I was back at the attraction, and again feeling pain in my legs.

In the past week, I also read an article indicating that running may not be useful for my weight loss, and that some professionals prefer a long walk or sprints for fitness. I haven’t been able to turn up the exact piece I read, but one on Active.com (which I found while searching for the other) gives a slightly more positive light on my particular program. The notion was a little discouraging, but also made me feel pretty good about being on my feet at my new job so much.

But, my hope is that on Thursday, I will get back out to the track for a run. It still seems to hold some sort of psychological draw.

Rain Date

Grey clouds hung heavily over the reservoir as my girlfriend and I went out for another run. Expecting a downpour, I set out for a 20-minute run, and she aimed to knock another week off the C25k program she’s doing.

“You went this way last time. I’m going this way today,” she said as we started walking down the track in the same direction.

I turned around and started off in my prescribed direction. A short walk, followed by a complete circuit (and a little extra) around the reservoir. We smiled and waved again as we passed, twice, before the last few minutes on our respective timers ran out.

Again, I put in a sub-11-minute mile. I made it around the track in 16 minutes–far faster than the 20 minutes it usually takes me. I was kind of impressed with myself.

As I finished the run, I started plotting setting my tracker to give me a 5k’s distance. Perhaps the next time I run a 5k, I’ll realize I’m doing it.

Control Group

Back at the reservoir, but running alone on a colder May Tuesday, I returned to my average time.

Perhaps I started off faster–I confess, I never looked at the statistics, in part because they bore me, and in part because I don’t know what they mean. But, at the end of the run, I heard my usual time in minutes-per-mile come through the headset as I completed essentially the same route I did last week with my girlfriend in tow.

The weather may have been a factor, and I was just as eager to go see her for dinner (we still had plans, and I briefly considered cutting my run short). But, I was on my own this time.

The other variable: my leg. I was starting to feel a growing pain in my right knee about halfway through the run, which eventually subsided–or perhaps numbed to a background ache. I thought of my friend Sam, who ran the marathon with cramps. He later told me that he only had running cramps twice: the two times he ran the Boston Marathon.

I dragged my way around the rest of the course, finishing at my usual time. I wandered through the trees again, back to my car before heading over to my girlfriend’s place for a shower and some dinner. The run somehow felt longer than last week’s did, likely a condition of being out on the nearly-deserted track by myself, but it still felt as good to be done.

Being done, in my view, is still the best part of the run.

Untapped Potential

Friday was an unexpected day off–a training for one job canceled, and an on-call shift for another was not used. So, instead, I caught up on TV like a good couch potato, and went running, like a bad one.

I found myself plotting the entry I had intended to write about my Wednesday run, and coming up with witty ways to explain that I went running with my girlfriend. But, as my trip around the reservoir came to an end, and I returned to the city streets I knew, I found myself reflecting on something I had only sort of thought about: My speed.

Wednesday had been my fastest run that I could recall, clocking in about 45 seconds faster per mile than I usually ran. I think it was something in the desire to get to the end of the run faster (despite, obviously, not being able to outrun time). I also thought about getting intoxicated by the energy of the crowd at the marathon. A friend also commented that actually running a 5k, with other people, will get you going faster because of the rush from competing with others.

A leisurely run on a quiet day in early May, I can do. But, what would I be capable of if I had the right crowd, the right competition, and the right company at the end? When this baby hits 88 miles an hour, what kinds of serious sh*t might I see?

I found myself a little excited to find out.

Unfortunately, cash flow problems made it a little tough to sign up for the AIDS Action 5k, but my hope is to get a little money and get my name down, so that I can do just that.

Which, is my way of saying: watch this space, and you too could contribute to helping out another Boston charity, as well as cheering me on for my first 5k (even from miles away!)

Clockwise and Anti-Clockwise

“No one else is wearing pants. They’re all going to judge me!”

I brought my girlfriend to the reservoir to run, it was her fist visit. She wore her sweatpants and black martial arts tee-shirt, as before. I was in shorts and a tee shirt. Wednesday was a bright, warm day, and the track was littered with people going in varying speeds in varying directions. We sat in the car, and I offered to take her elsewhere, and told her that when I started running, I had similar bouts of self-consciousness, but eventually realized no one cared.

After a few minutes, I spotted a couple both wearing pants and heading toward the track, and pointed them out to her. She seemed a little unconvinced, but came out to the “stretching area” with me. Said area is, in fact, an overlook with a bench set above the parking lot, but I have co-opted it before to pretend I know what I am doing.

After my stretching routine–and watching the girlfriend doing stretches that actually look like she knows what she’s doing–we headed up to the track. By my suggestion, we set off in opposite directions. My hope, and the reality, was that was passed each other a couple of times. We flashed each other smile, a wave, and a high-five. I found myself trying to spot her from across the water, eager to make that brief connection–which happened twice.

I also made my fastest time per lap, and was only maybe 5 minutes shy of completing a 5k. I kind of credit her with this, as our plans after the run were dinner, and I was eager to finish and get to that part of the evening.

She is in the second or third week of a C25k program, and I was aiming for however far I could get in 30 minutes. Her program ended a few minutes before mine did, and after my cool-down walk along a small, forested path, I found her practicing a partially-forgotten martial arts form in the stretching area.

(Note: At this point, as I am writing about a week out from my runs, I know that I ran last Monday as well, but I can’t remember whether anything significant happened. I believe it was a pretty straightforward half-hour run.)

Common Carriers

I have been known to get slightly activist here in the past, although I try to keep this page mostly neutral politically. However, the worst-case-scenario for a situation like this could effectively kill off the internet that allows me to write this blog. If ‘net neutrality becomes a thing of the past, there is nothing stopping telecom companies from charging you to read this blog, or me (by way of WordPress) to allow people to read it.

Would it stop me from running? No. Would I keep writing if I had to pay for it? Almost certainly not.

Click the image above to learn what you can do about Net Neutrality. 

A Balancing Act

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time,” is the line with which Death Cab for Cutie opens their heart-wrenching ‘What Sarah Said.

Flexibility is a trait I have worked to cultivate in myself. Life has a habit of putting obstacles in front of even the best intentions or most perfect plans; this is a notion all writers rely on because it is precisely how stories happen, your characters set out to accomplish something, and are stopped along the way by circumstance.

Thus, flexibility is a somewhat unsung trait in a vast number of famous literary heroes. It is Bilbo’s adaptability that, time and again, helps him complete his journey there and back again. It works in tandem with a number of his more celebrated traits: his cleverness, his braveness, his hospitality. When a company of Dwarves show up uninvited at his house, he could well have called up the Shire Police Force (or, perhaps more accurately, didn’t round up an army of friends to force the intruders out) and had them kicked out. He went with the flow instead.

I will begin with the warning that this story is far less interesting than, say, the Hobbit. Which I mention because it is part of my excuse:

Saturday and Sunday, I had shifts scheduled and plans with my girlfriend. We had made loose plans to go running together; instead, we wound up unintentionally taking a nap and watching the Hobbit. Which means, I went on Monday. The relationship itself is still new and exciting to me, but it’s also a novel concept to me to have to balance something like running with something else like spending time with someone special.

Flexibility means that not going out for a run is not a failing. It’s just going to be something I fit in later. Whenever I can, with my hectic schedule…

Flexibility is also necessary to runners, because stretching is an important part of your exercise routine. Even if you still don’t know what you’re doing.

That all said, it was really hard, come Monday morning, not to simply procrastinate on the run until Tuesday.

Returning to Normal

With the exception of a two-minute work-related phone call just after the middle of my run, I completed the run again.

I grant, I stopped running and walked while answering the call. But what surprised me was how easy it was to pick back up again. In the past, when I have stopped, it has been hard to get myself back up to speed for any length of time. But, it occurs to me that the difference is stopping because I’m out of energy is different than an unplanned stop.

Despite that minor interruption, the run was easy, simple. I completed my route, and was glad to reach the end of it, but was not struggling to hit it. With a couple of updates to my phone, however, it has become a lot easier to check my time remaining and other stats. Which is a habit I tried to drop out of.

But on Thursday’s run, it helped. I saw that I had 5 minutes remaining, and kept going. I did some quick math and figured out roughly what time I would be finished. I kept myself moving until that time, checked again and learned I had just a few more seconds remaining.

So, while the routine is picking up again, it’s weird to reflect on things that seem to have changed. It has been a long, weird winter. But I seem to have turned into someone capable of running. Where I was previously just running for exercise, I am also now gearing up for a 5k at the beginning of June…

Hollering Atcha

Tuesday is my day off. I have nothing to do, except run. So, naturally, I put it off until the mid-afternoon.

The temperature outside has dropped as Boston’s spring goes into yet another false start. I don’t notice the wind whipping as strongly until I hit the reservoir–and even then, only after I reach the more exposed side of it. Something in the combination of the wind directly in my face, and an allergy-fueled cough, and some aches and pains from running puts me in a very strange moment of tunnel vision. I see the road ahead of me, and I know there are at least two other runners, but I can’t really focus on them.

One of these runners I believe is doing a Couch to 5k, or similar program. She and I have been passing each other for about two thirds of the reservoir circuit. I have lost track of her, and she suddenly pops up in my periphery again. This is when I realize something isn’t quite right. I marshal my senses and press on until I reach somewhere where the wind is at a different angle. The C25k girl has perched on a stone staircase and appears to be doing stretches, and I zip behind her toward the path to the road.

But, I am already starting to think about slowing up and walking the rest. “Just to the edge of the park,” I tell myself. Then, “to the intersection.” I manage to push myself for another few blocks, for a 25-minute run, before I let myself fade out and give up. I am still not quite sure what to make of the tunnel vision. It sapped my energy somewhat, whatever it represented. I am feeling better now that I have slowed, and am walking back to my apartment.

When I return home, I shower quickly and make last-minute plans with my girlfriend (the date went well). I aim to head over there as she completes her run, then cook her dinner while she showers (She started a C25k program a few days earlier, and has been reading my blog; I am kind of pleased with myself about these two facts). When I arrive, she is stretching on the floor, and quite agitated.

“I think I’m going to write an essay about the feminist perspective on jogging,” she says over the footboard of her bed.

On a previous run, men had called out to her while passing them on the street. They had apparently done more of the same today. I asked what had happened, and at first got a snarl, before she explained there was more of the “Hey baby, work that ass” type of calling while she was out mere minutes before. She stands up, wearing baggy grey sweatpants, and a black martial arts T-shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. A look she calls the “Jogging Metal-head Grandmother.” It is not her sexiest look.

I hug her, and suggest that the problem could be Mission Hill, but could offer no better advice.

This incident brought me back to my previous thoughts on encouraging passing runners. Generally, when I am in a good mood, I also want to encourage other people, even when I’m not running. I have also had smiles and encouragement from other runners, and it has kept me going.  But I also can’t shake the feeling sometimes this comes off as creepy. But when in doubt, I keep to myself.

She also asked whether any of my female running friends had advice on how to deal with it. Ideally more helpful than “Run somewhere else” and “Ignore it.” As most of the runners I know read this blog, I throw the question to you all.