Minutely observed, the smallest poem is an epic. I always figured the mile for a unit, not a race distance. But it turns out every distance has a beginning, a bunch of chapters and plot twists, and an end. Any distance can seem infinite. Zeno probably was a miler.
Teammate Brenn convinced me to run the Fifth Avenue Mile on Saturday, even though I hadn't trained or tapered for it, and had no idea about running such a short distance. It's not that I thought it would be easy - in fact I was intimidated by the idea of spending so much of myself in so short a time.
The start was brutally crowded, and I met more elbows than usual at the starting horn. I spent the first quarter mile threading my way through, determined as always to get away from the flurried mass. This naturally meant that I went out far, far too fast.
As I embarked on the second quarter I began to understand I couldn't keep up that pace, but I reasserted my form and my focus and concentrated on the hill that reared up to attack me.
The 3rd quarter was a vast dispiriting desert. Despite having crested the hill, I thought the race would never end. I wanted to pull off the course, buy a water, slink home. My lungs had no interest in this pace, and my mind lost perspective entirely. Other men were passing me at an alarming rate and I was sure I was dead last.
But by the fourth quarter I was starting to settle into my pace even as my legs urgently questioned my sanity. As the finish line came into view I considered whether I could kick. Some guy started to pass me and I decided to beat him. The kick wasn't intense but it shaved a few seconds. A New York accomplishment: getting from East 80th Street to 60th in just over 5 minutes on foot. Good thing the race wasn't run crosstown.
I surprised myself with my time, about 7 seconds faster than I expected (especially since I had been up all night with a fever). I met up with Teammates Gregg and Chris to watch a few of the next heats. We witnessed runners of 55, 65, 75 years hitting blazing times. One grinning fellow ran by juggling 3 balls. When the 90 year old man ran by (11:36) we were all floored.
We watched Shannon Rowbury warming up (she won the pro women's heat at 4:23.3), and Bernard Lagat jogged by with a shoe in each hand (couldn't figure that one out).
Each distance I've raced this year has been a novel to me. Or a heist movie. An opera, or a ship in a bottle. Twenty blocks or 20 miles are a concentrated chunk of your life, the whole long struggle in a drop of salty water. And watching so many others do the same thing brings it all back to the swooning infinite tides.
Image by Dustin Humphrey