Tag Archives: runner

“I Want to… Thank You, Thank You. Thank You, Thank You.”

If this hour — or weather — were to happen back in LA-LA, I would be the only pedestrian seen for miles.

Well, at least I started off — as a pedestrian.  Having left my dear college comrade hibernating in the cocoon of her comforters inside the generously heated West Village apartment, I stepped out into the frosty morning with that blissful gratitude that came from knowing I had nowhere else to be:  Nowhere but here, in this City that left no human heart unaffected.  Because how ever New York — the Strange Iron and Steel Beauty — came off to others, indifference was never among Her effects.

That morning, I quickly understood:  In this City, I was in the minority.  Time moved relentlessly quicker for all others; and in my aimless, fancy free wandering, I belonged to neither the tourists nor the exhausted locals, who made it a point to survive Her every day.

The street sweeper, who was swinging his broom with enough intention to cause a flurry of broken black ice against my ankles and smoking simultaneously, gave me a queer eye, from underneath his Russian fur hat.  I had just passed him and made the mistake of smiling.

“Where is your coat, girl?” he growled in response, then puffed a visible cloud of nicotine in my face.  Yep, he was Russian alright, and not in the least bit entertained by my getup of a single turtleneck, a little red hat and thin running shoes, with funkily striped ankle socks peaking out of them.

“Can’t run in a coat,” I gleefully shrugged.  I was grinning.

Since when did I become so bouncy?  Back in the days of my aspiring to be a hardcore New Yorker, this Amelie character I was currently channeling would annoy the shit out of me.  But there I was:  Having gotten older, I had managed to also get lighter.  And if there were a single chronic mood of my soul — it would be its certain predisposition for gratitude.

To get my point across to the Russian, I began jogging lightly.  Right foot, left foot…  Ouch!  Ouch!  I hadn’t realized that my feet had gotten frozen in a matter of minutes of my being outside.  Stepping on my toes, as if leaping over tiny puddles, was my new running technique acquired back in Cali.  There, healthy living was merely a science; and I had actually studied it, not for the sake of getting off with others, at juice bars of some fancy, celebrity-ridden gyms of Hollywood — but for the sake of healing.

Fuck!  I didn’t even know I needed it, to tell you the truth, until I finally settled down into the natural flow of the local time, so different from New York’s.  It didn’t gnaw on my nerves and upset my inners.  Nah.  LA-LA had its own stresses and costs to the system, but at least there would be much more time — and space — to be a Self.

“‘Scuse me,” I sang out.  I made sure to smile.

(Seriously:  Who WAS that girl?!)

The bundled-up old woman, dragging her comatose Yorkie through the snow buried flowerbeds, looked back at me.  A thought had no time to form in my head before she granted me the dirties elevator look since the one I earned from a Kardashian lookalike, on my first Hollywood attempt to go clubbing.  (That young one assumed I was rubbing up against her man:  A short and hairy creature in rhinestoned jeans buying her girlfriends a round of pink drinks.  I, however, soaked from dancing my ass off next to the Go-Go Girls, was just leaning over the bar to ask for some water:  A request hated by the bartenders all around the world (but hated a little less than when I requested a cup of coffee).)

Upon my “‘Scuse me?”, not even a centimeter did the old woman move over.  Here, time and space had to be fought for; and considering she had to, most likely, persevere through mortal hell in order to own her rent-controlled apartment in Washington Square — the woman was highly unlikely to budge for my sake.

By that point, I could feel neither my toes nor my hands.  Still, it would take a lot more than a couple of dirty or simply baffled looks from the locals to snap me out of my grateful mood.

“Just look at this, would you?!” I kept thinking.

The perfectly aligned, naked and black with wetness trees were covered with sticky snow.  The skies were arguing with its fluffy clouds on whether to grant us some sun or snow that day.  The skeletons of Christmas trees littered an occasional side of the road, but the smell of trash and sewers had been put on hold until the next warmer front.

Left foot, right foot…  Right:  Ouch! ouch!  The black asphalt underneath my feet was sparkling with shards of ice.  Leaping over the tiny puddles and seemingly fallen down stars, off I went:  Navigating the seemingly different City unlike my former self claimed would have done.

But which one of us had changed more?

My every rhythmical exhale resulted in a visible cloud.  I was hardly the only pedestrian, but definitely the only runner seen for miles.  It was my new way of exploring new lands:  Right foot, then left.  Flying.  Slowing down only to zigzag in between the baffled, sleepy or plain disgruntled locals.

Grateful.

Right, left.  Right…

Yes:  Definitely grateful!

“I Change Shapes Just to Hide in This Place. But I’m Still, I’m Still — an Animal.”

I would have much rather gone out for a walk.  But stubbornly, yesterday, I began to run.

I ran mostly out of habit, and because I was running out of time.  But even as I changed my stride, from one block to the next, I still thought:

“I think I’d much rather be walking, right now.”

It had always been my thing:  to run.  In junior high, I’d run long distances.  I never thought of myself as being good at it.  It was just something that came easy.  And it happened way before I knew about meditation or understood transcendence of the mind.  To me, it simply granted the easiest excuse to be alone and not talking.  Just breathing and placing down my feet.  My breath would change throughout the course, and so would the stride.

Sometimes, I’d stare at the ground:  The soggy fields of Russia, and the uneven asphalt of Eastern Germany.  I’d study the way the surface would respond to the impact of my feet.  We had no knowledge of American footwear back then, so the cloth running shoes with thin rubber soles were the only type we knew.  And even as the surfaces would change — as I would change my continents — the thin-soled shoes remained my favorite choice:  In the gravelly passages of Central Park, and the dusty hills of Southern California.  

Other times, I would look ahead.  It was best to do so on an open track.  I wouldn’t strain my eyes for a strip of color marking the end of the course.  Instead, I would let my vision get blurry, and I would study the blending of objects in the endlessness of what’s ahead.  Things didn’t matter.  People would be accidental.  So, I would find the empty spaces of air ahead, and look at those.  That’s why running in the fall of Russia’s coastal cities had always been the easiest.  The fog already blurred my vision, and all I would feel was — the change in breath and stride.

I don’t remember being tired, as a kid; and not until the first menstrual cycles of my classmates, did I begin to overhear excuses for not running.  My thin, balletic body was one of the last to be introduced to its new function that made my female contemporaries embarrassed and secretive among each other.  But even when it happened to me, I kept up with my running.  On bleeding days, I would wear longer sweaters and tighter underwear; but the slow, moaning ache in my lower stomach would not matter.  It would change my stride a little:  I would prefer to run lighter then, as if doing a chasse step across a dance floor.  I’d land on my toes, as I would when leaping over strewn blankets on a lake’s bank in my grandma’s village in the Far East, while I myself dashed for the water:  to join other sunbathing kids and to avoid my motha’s strict instructions to put on sunblock.  (But secretly, I hoped that my silly chasse step would make her laugh and shake her head, with bangs getting into her glistening eyes.)

The days of tiredness that would seduce me out of running would happen much, much later.  They would happen in the late mornings of waking after a graveyard shift at a Westchester diner.  A pair of ugly nursing shoes with sole support and splatters of dried foods would be the only visual reminder of the night before.  And the heavy lead-like weight of my calves would talk me out of running.

“Who’s up for a walk?” I’d holler down the hallway with three other doors.

And if the bathroom at the end of it was free, I’d forget about the lead-filled feeling in my calves and make a run for it, while pounding my heels into the carpeted floor.

Much later in my running history, I would begin to study people.  It had to happen in California where exercise is fashion; and depending on one’s routine, we all belong to little clans.  When running with others, it would propel me, out of competition, anger or inspiration.  Sometimes, I’d follow their footsteps like a shadow of compassion:  The sweaty faces of lonesome hikers in the Hollywood Hills, or the bright eyes of those rad people of San Francisco who’d made a life out of NOT giving up.

When running stubbornly, yesterday, I thought of the history of my strides; and then, began trying them on.  At first, I ran tiredly, as if I was back to working my way through college, in Westchester, New York.  Then, I began to push, hitting the ground with my heel (so unhealthy!) — out of anger and never wanting to give up.  The chasse step would eventually take over, and the lightness of it spread up my body, up to my lungs and face.

That’s when I saw him:  A headless man walking slowly ahead.  At first, I thought he may have dropped something to the ground and was now retracing his steps.  But as he continued slowly placing his feet onto the smooth pavement of the quiet neighborhood, I realized he was a victim of arthritis, age, and most likely incredible loss.  He was hunched over so low, I could not see his head, as I ran up on him, from behind.  I slowed down and began following his footsteps.

A pair of khaki shorts revealed his thin, brown legs, covered with sores and age spots.  His shoes were worn out and the thick white socks were pulled halfway up his calves.  I studied his stride:  He dragged each foot ahead, then struggled to gain balance.  Then, repeat.  Stubbornly.

He would much rather have been walking, yesterday, alone and not talking.  I shook off the idea of offering help (this was the time when charity would have been offensive); passed him quietly, and began to run.

Stubbornly.

“Hey, Girl! I Can See Your Body Movin’!”

“Gentlemen!  Be gentlemen — and pee in the bushes!  Let the ladies use the bathrooms.”

Oh, so that’s how I get to start my day:  On the other side of the gate on 36th and JFK, in the midst of a foggy park that, despite this early hour, is already overwhelmed with humanity?  Okay!

In the endless line to the portable bathrooms, my fellow marathon runners are in all shades and sizes.  Many have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums.  Others — are more modest, in size or definition.  But all — are quite beautiful, and very, very human.

I slide in somewhere in the middle:  I’m an a’right-lookin’ shawty myself, with a newly perfected ass, recently acquired from all my running and the running away; and that ass is significant enough to snap one of the drugged-out wanderers of this City into alertness.

(You think I am in love with myself?  Oh, you bet yo’ ass I am!  You bet your own magnificent ass — with which I am likely to fall in love, even if just for a second, as I watch you pass my life and never be inconsequential.  And yes, I’m in love with myself — in YOUR likeness.)

“Damn!  Look at that ass!” the tripping-out wanderer hollers after me, in a blip moment of sobriety from his stupor.

“Please, do!” I think.  (Yes, I’m in love — with myself!)

And so, I slide in, somewhere in the middle, in between a stocky Filipino cutie loaded with some fancy running equipment (me:  I travel light) and a handsome gray-haired player who in a few minutes would indeed be “a gentleman — and pee in the bushes”.

The man in charge of regulating us looks like an aging, forever inspiring school teacher I have never had in own my life; but heard so many of my comrades mention, in theirs.  Let’s call him Mr. Chips, shall we?

And so, Mr. Chips carries on with his routine:

“Gentlemen!  Unless you need toilet paper…  You know what I mean?”

We laugh.  My fellow runners are at ease, with the task ahead and apparently with the very task of living.  It must be this City:  It has taught them that — how to live well, and with a sense of humor. 

At the bathrooms, the Japanese kiddo directing the line (now mostly consisting of women) does not take his job seriously either.

“This one is now open,” a fellow female runner points out when he turns to us, now basking amidst all these ladies, in different shades and sizes.

“Don’t know whatcha talkin’ about,” the kiddo delivers with a well-practiced deadpan.  “And I didn’t see YOU — skipping the line and sneaking past me to use this one bathroom, NOW OPEN!”

We laugh again, and it suddenly becomes a bit of a free-for-all:  The women start slithering under the tape while exposing their magnificent asses to the rest of us.

Mr. Chips greets us again, at the starting line:

“At the end of this thing,” he hollers through a megaphone, “we’re gonna hang the shuttle bus driver that made some of you late today.”

We laugh.  We yelp.  We are impatient and content with the task ahead.  (Yes, it CAN be both ways.  Just run a marathon — and you’ll find out.)  And we all must’ve learned something about living by now, because this — this very moment! — is about how to do your living well.

There is no whistle that goes off; not any sort of fake gun shot to launch us:  On a gentle count by Mr. Chips, we all…

Just.

Start.

Running.

I notice that no one dashes ahead, propelled by their ego juices.  No one shows off; even though many, looking like they have just stepped off Michelangelo’s podiums, no doubt can kick ass at this thing.  But they have done this before — these magnificent asses ahead of me, in all shades and sizes — and they pace themselves, for the task ahead.  For the living ahead!

Because this is how you do some good living:  You pace yourself, you measure your strength, and you do it in pursuit of your health.  And if you’re in love with yourself — you’ll go far, and longer.

“What a way to start!” I think.  “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  And thank you.”

I start my running music.  Curtis the III winds up his track, setting the pace.  My feet do their thing and not once do I fancy dashing ahead of more than an a’right-lookin’ shawty ahead of me with thighs so large, I can see their edges from behind.  Instead:  I stay on her ass.

“But bein’ a little off landed me on top of the charts,” Curtis mumble-sings into my ear.  Well, you’d know how it is, Mr. “Metaphor for Change.”

I pass the a’right-lookin’ shawty, look back.  She’s more than a’right:  She’s a 10.

“Which one?  Pick one!  This one!  Classic!”  I start taking my orders from Eve ‘n’ G.

From behind, I come up on a baby-tall.  I cannot figure out his age yet, but his glorious headful of Tom Brady-esque hair sends me spinning into my dreams of my future.  His back is exposed, with some Zen symbol tattooed onto the left shoulder blade.

“Behind that — is his heart,” I think and slide underneath his elbow, on the left.  For a bit, we run side by side:  A perfect fit.

“I got somethin’ to lose, so I gotta move,” Kanye begins grunting into my brain, scratching off the last mildew of the departed lover with his perfect teeth.  The African drumbeat kicks in.  I start leaping.

Who knows just how long I’ve been running:  I am not watching the distance markers.  They’ll only psych me out.  And I’m:

Just.

Going.

The distance.

It’s all in the mind. I have heard a fellow female runner state that once.  The game is all in the mind.  So, I rein mine in:  Don’t judge other humans, and don’t compete!  This thing — is in the very doing of it:  You against you.  And if you do it for the love of you — you’ll go far, and longer.

This City has taught me that.

(But, um, how long have I been running?  Anybody knows?)

(To Be Continued.)

Run, Lola! Run!

“I feel like I’m suddenly living in a body of an athlete,” I texted to a comrade the other day:  Someone who has witnessed my coming into my own from the last miserable stretch of my 20s into the chiller version of me, in my early 30s: cooler, confident, more comfortable in my skin.

“You are,” my comrade responded.  “You are an athlete.  You are a pugilist (pounding out pages) and a hurdler (watch her leap over unworthy douche bags in a single bound).”

(They are like that:  My people.  They are eloquent, empathetic and overall — on point.  And how they adore me!  How they worship!)

I’ve always been a runner.  Blame it on the nomadic predisposition inherited from a long-time-ago gypsy, but when struck by anxiety or edgy uncertainty, I prefer to pound my feet on whatever ground I’m calling “home,” at the time.  And I never need to go far:  I just peel on my running shoes — and I get going, zipping past the unknowing, the unaware or the undisciplined.  And when life has caused me some serious grief, I’ve been known to run for kilometers, as if running for my life.

It started back in my childhood — in my perpetually disheveled but always somehow magnificent Motha Russia that makes for one fascinating terrane to cover with one’s feet.  In the beginning of a school year, we once showed up to an early morning phys ed class only to find our gymnasium with a collapsed rooftop (so typical for my perpetually disheveled Motha Russia).  For that day — and for half a year to follow — we would be locked out of the facilities; until the bureaucracy of the city’s administration and the innate laziness of the building contractors would delay the repair no longer.

Our instructor — an aging Don Juan in the younger Jean Claude Van Damme physique (and that same buzz cut) — was not prepared for such a shift of circumstances that morning.  For the hormonal dry-humping of ropes and poles by my male classmates and the whining by the pretty girls who would flirt with him to sit out the class due to “that time of the month” (chronic, for some) — Don Juan was prepared for that.  But for thirty pairs of eyes, with dilated pupils from all the excitement in an anticipation of a cancelled class — nyet-nyet, for that he was not ready.

He lingered, that morning:

“Nooh…” he said.  (Russian for “Fuck me!” — depending on how you say it.)  He took off his hat, did the roll call, then lingered again.  Breathlessly, we waited for the verdict.

“Tell you what:  Today, we are running — OUTSIDE!”

He did his best to up-sell it to us, but the only way to stop the moaning and the complaining by the girls; and the sighing, and the spitting, and the swearing by the ballsier of boys — was to let us have it.  Which he did:  Don Juan barked, in the manner of someone with enough Army training to cover up his insecurities for the rest of his life.  He was the boss around here, no matter how ridiculous most of us found him to be.

“SHUT UP!  OUTSIDE!” — and he led the way to the school stadium that sat in the middle of a forest.  (Back in my perpetually disheveled Motha Russia, we’ve got plenty of those forests-thingies.  So, no one is particularly shocked when they find themselves in the midst of some mutilated ground, torn-through, ravaged, utterly misused — and typically disheveled.)

The morning was cold and wet, which caused more moaning, and more sighing, and swearing.  At the sound of Don Juan’s whistle, the boys tore to the front of the line-up and started running for their lives.  I?  I paced it.  Somehow, I knew better.  Not paired up with anyone, I calmly passed the group of daintily jogging popular girls who would eventually start walking, after the first 100 meters; then, flirt with Don Juan to sit the whole thing out.  I then caught up with the teenage beauties that took the exercise slightly more seriously — and passed them as well.

The shortest boy in my class was running alone, along the outer edge of the track, in his school uniform and his father’s rain boots.  Being from the country side didn’t make him popular; but being humiliatingly poor — had made him into a leper, among us.  The only dyke of my group kept me company for a while, and although we didn’t exchange any words, I felt we were definitely on the same page; or the same pace, at least.

I would catch up to the boys soon enough, and they wouldn’t as much as tease or patronize me, as my skinny ass squeezed in between.  A late bloomer, I had nothing on my body to entice them with; so, they would let me be, for a loop or two.

But they did get their feathers ruffled when I continued to pass them — 200 meters on top of another 200, and another!  And when most had left the course while faking sudden ailments to save face, I still found myself running.  Perhaps, I was running for my life; because that year, it had already struck me with the first serving of anxiety.  And Don Juan would have to holler to summon me and the only dyke of my group; and with a pride of someone who’d known it all along, he made examples of us, that day.

For the entire year, my late bloomer’s body would keep me running, on my own and in regional competitions.  And when finally, I started trying on the features of my own womanhood — it would take a slight adjustment in gravity, but I would continue to pound the ground I called “home,” at the time.

And when at the end of my second decade, I took off for a whole different continent — away from my perpetually disheveled Motha Russia — landing in a balmy Southern state I had only seen in American movies:  Every morning, I would peel on my running shoes — and I would get going.  Because in my mind, I was indeed running for my life — for a better one!  Oh, it would be an upgrade, fo’ sure — a choice that to this day, makes my father take off his hat to me and linger:

“Nooh…”