Monday, February 7, 2011

Gridiron report: Why I race

The blog police is very active around the track at the Park Slope Armory and I got a citation from them last week. Even though the strongest complaint was about the missing post: NYCM Report Part 4 and I'm missing five more reports from races I've done since, I'll risk a more serious summons and skip ahead to the Superbowl, or rather the NYRR Gridiron Classic 4M.

I run so I can race. The solitary and meditative qualities of long distance running regularly provide me with a quiet mind that makes me happy. My long runs and their encounters with butterflies, ducks, swans, unexpected trails and views of bridges keep me sane and I'm looking forward to going back to running on more varied routes once the ice is gone. But right now I run so I can race.

In most races there is a moment - often on a hill or a curve - when the view of the course opens up and I get to see hundreds of the thousands running with me. The power of the crowd sweeps over me and I feel myself part of a human stampede. I see the beautiful variety of runners, running for different reasons, but all of us running for the same finish line.

We've all felt lost and alone at some point in our lives. We've all ached for love. We've all mourned loss. We all want to be loved. We all dream of a better tomorrow, through a better now. We're all putting one foot in front of the other hoping to gain something from it. Maybe it's the strength of knowing the courage and stubbornness required to finish a race will help us accomplish our goals.

Everyone is different, and yet, deep down, stripped of the superficial, we're all the same and we can all relate to great joy and great pain and it is in the joy and pain of races that I'm humbled and reminded that I'm just like everyone else. The camaraderie of the pre-race corral, being cheered by strangers, the struggle through the rough spots and the thrill of the post-finish bagel line - all in the anonymity of spandex - put me in touch with some of the most basic pleasures of being human.

Yesterday's 4Mile race gave me that. The feeling was so intense I ended up pushing myself harder than intended, harder than my training allowed. For the last quarter mile I pushed myself so hard that for the first time ever I crossed the finish line looking for a bucket. Dry-heaving by the side of the road from great exertion was one of those pleasures and a privilege.