Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Central Park Jogger

When I mention that I run in Central Park at 6am, more often than not the reaction is something along the lines of ‘is it safe?’ My response is laughter. All spring, summer and fall – up to the marathon – the park is a party in the early dawn hours. There are tons of people running and biking around the loops in Central Park and more often than not at least one of those people provides my inspiration and motivation.

To start off there are the baby stroller joggers. Sometimes the weight of my iPod feels like a burden, but the baby stroller joggers are pushing fifty pounds of extra weight, not a few measly ounces. In addition to working out much harder, they actually have to be parents when they aren’t running. Where do they find the energy for all of it? Whenever a stroller jogger passes me, I make a mental note to work harder right there, because one day I hope to be strong enough to push my kids up those hills too.

Then there are the old people. There is one guy in the park who I think had a stroke because he runs holding his limp right arm by the wrist with his left hand. I see him all the time – all seasons and a few times a week. Each time I see him, I immediately start to wonder about him. Why is he running? When did he start running? Who is he?

I like to think that he’s been running since he was a young boy and that once upon a time, he was fast. Four minute mile fast. And then I start to wonder about how old he was when he ran his last four minute mile, and I can’t help but pick up my pace right then. Marathoning is a mature sport because mental strength is the difference between the winners and losers. As I get older I get tougher, but at some point my body won’t be able to keep up with my brain, and seeing him trudging along reminds me that I’m wasting time complaining.

I can’t forget about the hot bodies racing around the park. This city is full of beautiful people, and some of the best bodies are the sweaty, dirty ones running around the Reservoir. I’m talking eight-packs, calf muscles split in two, and thighs with no (no!) jiggle. These aren’t your body builder types either. These are small, lean, sexy bodies that I think most people try to emulate. When I’m running and I see one of these perfect forms, I get insanely jealous because I want to bounce quarters off my abs! So I suck in my stomach and pick up my knees.

Finally, there are the cycling teams. Like a swarm of bees, ten to twenty cyclers in matching uniforms race around The Loop. They are hardcore. When they get on a hill, their leaders start screaming to go faster and in unison they all rise up and power over the peak. What gets to me about them is the way that they move as one with long, powerful strides. There is a grace and fluidity about them that is magical and it immediately stirs up a deep urge to run for something or for someone – which is how I ended up running with Team in Training.

The park is full of so many characters – overweight, disabled, young, old, pregnant, poor, rich, professional, amateur, cancer survivor, veteran, mom, dad, police officer, and everyone in between – with the same goal: to place one foot in front of the other repeatedly. The collective act of so many people from all parts of life coming together to engage in such a simple task IS the most inspiring thing. It reminds me that running is not a sport where you have to be born with the right body for it, or where you need tons of fancy equipment and expensive trainers to reach the elite levels. You don’t even need two legs to do it! You can pick up hand cycling or a prosthetic. It’s the sport where sheer will and determination are the only equipment you need. In fact, these days even shoes are optional.

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