August 26, 2010

Media Challenge #3 - ah, bliss

I swear I run for bliss, mostly. These days I don't do tempo runs, speedwork or runs with quantified targets. Instead, because of a hurt hip, I look for a pace that makes my body feel good. So that's a bliss run and it's very pleasant. On the other hand, friends, sometimes I just want to crush the competition.

I've been travelling every week this summer, so I never had the energy for a focused workout. In the last 3 weeks I got to practice the bliss run along the river in Chicago, in a wood in Columbus OH, the hills of northern PA, with the seals in Monterey, at altitude in Denver, along the beach in East Hampton, and in my home trails of Brooklyn. Since I had to be away from my family so much, these runs were the consolation of my summer.

Each time I arrive at the Central Park loop where we have our Media Challenge series, I feel the full weight of Nietzsche's eternal return: love every second of your life as if you'll have to repeat it forever. Seriously, I gotta love this loop again? The route mobbed with slow joggers tweeting on iPhones? The agonizing hills? The part that smells like horse shit? If I can find bliss here I'll find it anywhere I guess.

I do a nice long warm-up to try to get the stiff hip to relax and then hit the start line just in time. The horn goes off and suddenly the issue isn't so much my hip as the elbows of a bunch of guys in front of me. Getting out of the scrum is always my first priority, and even though it means I go out too fast I have to get past this pack. I quickly find myself in the lead and for the first time realize that the guy who usually wins this race isn't here tonight. I know I'm not in strong shape, so the idea of leading the whole way wigs a little. Still, speed is busting out of me and I have to work hard to hold back. First mile gone in 5:34.

Soon enough a guy pulled up next to me. I pushed ahead of him for a while, but I was already feeling all those hours sitting in planes, trains, and rental cars, and let him pull out a few yards. In the last race this same guy had paced me for the first 7 minutes until I pulled away forever. Maybe I could do that again.

I kept him in my sights, but I was feeling pretty bad. My legs produced visions of breaking down, my lungs felt tense and cramped. I concentrated on form, light and straight, and that helped a little. But somehow this race seemed to be all about work rather than, say, bliss.

Late in the second mile my pace was beginning to feel a little more manageable, but I knew I was slowing. Thing is, so was the leader. We kept a steady 15-yard gap as I grasped for rags of energy I could assemble into a kick. The last half mile was starting to feel good again (this is why I don't like short races - just when you're warmed up you hit the finish), and at the usual place I started my kick. Last race of the season, mine to lose, and so on. I gave him a good run, but he had hit about the same stride and started a little earlier. So I followed him in by about 10 seconds, and as I collapsed on a bench I reconciled myself to second place. Final, 20:31.

I was exactly a minute slower than the first of the series in May, but it was a lot more painful. I pulled out as much as I could find, did as much damage as I could. Somehow this was kind of blissful too, in the sense that I left nothing undone. I wasn't left with a pile of "what-ifs". I had crushed the only competition that mattered. You know. Me.

So that's the summer season. Two second places and one third place in the media series. Our company team got 5th at Corporate Challenge, and won the Media Challenge series. It's been a brutally hot summer for training, and for me, one filled with too many hip aches, family setbacks, and plane rides. Everything began to feel uphill. But just now it feels good to have thrown some really good punches.


  1. Well put. I tend to embrace the scrum, lining up the scrum bums as adrenaline pellets. Each one passed is a little turbo boost. But I see your logic in outpacing it from the start.

  2. everybody has the "what ifs" at the end of a race. sure, its easy to say what if i did this or that instead, but what you did is what you had for that race. save and try to answer the what ifs in the next race. :)

  3. "Seriously, I gotta love this loop again? The route mobbed with slow joggers tweeting on iPhones? The agonizing hills? The part that smells like horse shit? If I can find bliss here I'll find it anywhere I guess."

    Ah. The part that smells like horse shit. Who would ever imagine that New Yorkers have to contend with such adversity.

    Can't wait to race behind you again next summer. In the meantime.... PLEASE keep blogging. About Nietsche, Kierkegaard, Prefontaine, et al.