What a Tuesday Night Run Feels like

I try to get up as late as possible, but usually the best I can do is 8am.

I wait for this all day.

Everything I do during the day will be done in an attempt to make tonight’s run as fast, and as painless as possible.

I won’t eat after 4:00pm. I stop drinking water by 6:00pm.

7:00pm I start to get my things together at home, I’ll roll out my quads and thighs, calves etc.

7:15pm I open my apt door, I tap my pockets to make sure I have my phone, keys and wallet. Then I walk out.

7:25pm I arrive at the meeting spot. Sometimes someone like my buddy Ed or my friend Nacho will already be there dressed and good to go. I always get a big smile and a warm greeting, I look forward to this.

7:30pm others will start to accumulate. A lot of the time there will be new people showing up, often approaching the group with a look of confusion or curiosity..at first many won’t make eye contact. Anyone can tell they’re runners because they’ve dressed the part, “Is this the running group”, they will ask. At that point I approach and introduce myself, I will ask how they found us. Usually it’s via instagram, the race photos, sometimes its the website that pulls them in..sometimes a friend. A lot of people have come once, it is always interesting to see who comes back.

7:30pm – 7:59pm we talk about races coming up, PRs, food, trips..whatever. Stretch a bit, warm up a bit.

8:00pm..I look around. I see if people are waiting for me to start this thing..I check down the street to see if any last minute attendees are running up to meet us. “You guys ready, lets go”.

This is how I have started each run since day 1. When I turn and take my first step, I don’t look back. I don’t look to see if the group heard me call out the start, or if they are all following behind me. At that particular moment it’s no longer my problem. I am selfish as fuck when it comes to running. My run is mine, and it has nothing to do with anyone else once that first step is taken at 8:00pm. I did my part, I got you here didn’t I? I don’t owe anyone shit once 8:00pm has rolled around. Don’t ask me the route, don’t ask me where to turn, don’t even say ‘hi’ to me..I need to conserve every breath for what I am about to do. So should you or you’re doing it wrong.

The first hundred meters are relatively easy to get through. I usually have a tight pack of very fit, fast runners behind me keeping me from wanting to look weak..so I kick strong out of the gate. I don’t start out so fast when I run solo, typically I ease in for the first couple of miles, not on Tuesdays. I’ll lead the group up or down Orchard St., depending on the route that night. Sometimes we cut west on Broome, sometimes east, sometimes we take Canal to the Manhattan Bridge into Dumbo. Most people will stay behind me for the first mile or so, or at least until we reach a bridge or a bike path. Maybe its out of respect that people won’t pass me, or maybe its because they don’t know exactly where to go, either way, individuals will start to fall into their own pace and begin their individual journey for the night.

One by one the faster runners pass by me, offering a fist bump or calling out my name as they do. They’re off..like a pack of wild dogs on a nocturnal hunt, staring forward into nothing, chasing nothing. The lead group sculpts itself, the pace will shave off those too unfit to hang. One by one they get dropped by the pack as intensity settles in and individuals streamline repetitive motion for efficiency. Sometimes they are at sub 6min/mi..sometimes as low as 5min/mi. They don’t even want to do it, it just happens. The second group will be just behind them for part of the run, the distance between them will continuously grow as time passes. The balance of energy being used over time and distance is a speed game you quickly learn the first time you try to keep up with those more fit than you. You think you can do it. You are caught in the momentum and the current of the group, but your breathing quickly becomes heavy as do your legs..you hold on. Instead of it being effortless and brainless like when you run alone, the act of lifting your feet off the ground and placing one in front of the other becomes a very conscience act. You are aware of, and feel every step, every inch of movement. Your shoulders drop, you begin to lean forward as the pain makes time slow down, visual markers become further than they seemed. Cramping in the abdomen starts, a sign of fatigue that leads to other muscles compensating then failing..the domino effect is the body’s desperate attempt at finding a new balance, but it isn’t sustainable. The will to continue leaves you as your body panics, you take deep breaths rushing air into your lungs to keep up with the demand of your muscles and cells. Snot and spit are ejecting from your body as you begin to reach your absolute limit. Finally, against your own will you have no choice but to drop pace and allow your weakened body to recover..somehow. Once you’ve made this mistake, you can only hope that you didn’t fuck yourself for the rest of the 7 miles you have to go.

I know better now. Yea, I start off hot, but then I will dial it back to make sure my energy distribution over the route allows for some level of comfort until the half way point. Once I get there I turn it up a notch. I wait for my body to adjust to the stress of a faster-than-usual pace for the first half, this lets me know where I am at. Threshold is the goal, but that pace changes on a daily basis. It isn’t just about going out there and blowing yourself up, its about learning how to orchestrate the body over the symphony of a 9 mile run. Max speed over distance is better than just max speed. You have to know where to take advantage of slight declines so that you recover in time for the next bridge crossing, or how to use breathing techniques and stutter steps during ascents to conserve for the final push near the end. To each his own of course, I am sure everyone has their ways of getting through it.

A lot of the time I will find myself alone on these runs, having separated from those in front of me and behind me. Our midtown route, our Red Hook route and a few others, really lend themselves to blazing your own path through the grid. The goal always being to stay in motion and not stop for the lights, traffic and pedestrians that get in our way. The route I post is suggested in order to reach the required distance for the night. You’ll need to go as far N, S, E & W as the route calls for to do so, but you can fill in the in-betweens as you please. When I do end up alone, I find myself spending that time in my own head. Wondering around my thoughts, inspecting them with a kind of clarity only a long, strenuous run can provide. I conceptualize races and events this way, or how to solve daily problems, like dinner. There is a moment on each run when the body achieves balance in motion, and numbs itself. Your head becomes a floating orb, hovering directly above your hips, you’re body and mind have detached from one another. It is a state of enlightenment that provides an awareness of the immediate environment around you, such that you can almost feel instead of see or hear. Only in motion can you truly engage the world around you, by passing through it and becoming a part of it.

Nearing the end of the run my mind snaps back into reality. Things began to seem familiar now that my eyes and ears have been reconnected to my conscience mind. Once again I begin to hear the sound of my own breathing, my own footsteps, my heart pounding, traffic & trains passing by. I ascent the Manhattan Bridge focussing on consistent, powerful strides driving forward and up with my hips and clenching with my glutes. Each stride designed with efficiency in mind. I spy a spot off in the distance on top of the bridge where the grade flattens, marked by one specific spot light illuminating the bridge’s midpoint. This is my marker, identifying the exact spot where I will switch from conservation to speed, from pain to recovery.

As I approach the apex of the bridge the ground begins to level off, I can feel my body regaining strength as gravity releases its pull on me. I attack the approaching descent cautiously, gauging how much I got left in me for this downhill stretch. As the decline increases and gravity starts to pull me down the bridge, I lean slightly forward. As I do I feel my velocity increase, I focus on each step pushing off with intent and dominance. I swing my arms forward and back to help build secondary momentum to push further, faster. My pace quickens and I hold on to it, keeping in mind the faster I go, the faster its done…I repeat this in my mind over and over. As I reach the base of the bridge and the ground starts to level off I feel like an F-14 coming in for a landing. Landing gear is down upon my approach, flaps are out, the engines are quieting, thrusters reversed to slow the momentum..I shake out my arms and rotate my head around to lose up as I peacock approaching the intersection at Canal and the exit ramp of the bridge.

I enter Canal street traffic and set my path through the obstacles, cones, cars, people, bikes. Chinatown won’t see you, so I use that to my advantage. Planning moves ahead as if using precognition. I pick the double yellow line in the middle of Canal as I head towards Allen St, usually the safest place to run considering the pedestrian congestion. I push myself to keep my speed up as much as I can, I don’t stop for anything. Finally I am back in the neighborhood, back on the street we started..almost there. Avoiding cars, waving to friends outside the bars smoking cigarettes or walking their dogs, I give it every single ounce of energy I have left in me. I push with my calves, then my quads, I twist my hips as I stride, I pull with my hamstrings and hammer my fists and arms. I turn off the warning signs and alarms going off in my body as I can see the finish just ahead of me..I push HARDER until I finally get there…then it is over.

Image by Jayne Lies, 2012