Running for Your Life: When Training Itself Isn't the Goal

What are we but an aggregation of our habits? We have destinies, sure. A son goes to war. A girl is born into poverty in Africa. A child is born to two Democratic-voting lawyers in Park Slope.

Change doesn’t figure in the human story quite the way we’ve been led to believe from our founding myths and fables. We mourn the warrior dead, but yet that path honors sacrifice, often, sadly, at a far too early age. In return there’s color guard burial, Arlington Cemetery in the center of our nation’s capital, still the most powerful nexus of our known universe.

So if change is hard to come by, good habits, for those of us with modest means, are not: eat well, sleep soundly, sing lullabies to babies, drink responsibly, compete hard in a sport, run for your life.

Thankfully, that’s what I’ve been able to do. Run for my life. In 2016, that will be the case for forty years, every other day, at the least, or during marathon training, of course, much more than that. Today (August 31) I ran hard, five miles in forty-five minutes, a pace I can manage these days. It was hot and humid, but I did not stop except to drink a little at a public fountain.

How do you keep at it? You don’t stop. Each day I run is different. For some, I’m itching to go, others I can’t seem to drag myself up and out of a chair. Habit, though, becomes ingrained: like eating well, doing good deeds, as simple as collecting plastic bags that blow in great numbers on the paths that I run; in five miles I’ll gather, two, three, four as they dance on the ground in the wind, and bring them home to be used as pick-up bags for Thurber, our redbone coonhound. You do what you do because you have to. Because it is what you do.

What role does passion play? It’s different. It’s different every day.

Next: Running for Your Life: Runners and Bikers: What’s to Be Done? 

Running for Your Life: Important Correction

If Oak Park, Illinois, is America’s Tree City then Park Slope, Brooklyn, is America’s Discarded  Plastic Bag City; in Park Slope, Black, is, decidedly, a minority plastic.

Next: Running for Your Life: When Training Isn’t the Goal

Running for Your Life: So You Want to Live in Park Slope Dept.

If Oak Park, Illinois, is America’s Tree City then Park Slope, Brooklyn, is America’s Discarded Black Plastic Bag City.

Overheard while walking home with two black plastic bags filled with fresh fruit, a “mother” reading in a singsong voice to a rapt toddler from what looks like either a fussy greeting card, the ones with multiple hard-board pages, or a pocket children’s book, the kind that flies out the door from the cash counter at independent bookstores, “His favorite place was Starbucks . . .”

Next: Running for Your Life: When Training Isn’t the Goal

Running for Your Life: So You Want to Live in Park Slope Dept.

Overheard near the entrance to Fourth Avenue, Union Street subway entrance, man dressed in beachwear, flip flops, fanny pack! cargo shorts, casual-est T, “Tell me, what are we going to do with the outlets in Switzerland.”

Overheard during run in Prospect Park, “state-of-the-art barn …” (Somehow I don’t think the woman was talking about cow milking machines or the latest in latrine technology.)

Overheard at Fifth Avenue, Eighth Street Citibank branch, Caucasian man in oversized bike helmet, frumpy athletic clothes, in a loud, angry voice to an African-American bank clerk, “Fix it today or I’ll be handing over my Citi gold card!”  

Next: Running for Your Life: When Training Isn’t the Goal

Running for Your Life: Nova Scotia Mood, Part Four or Whirligig Wonder

Only racers go to motel breakfasts at 6 a.m. Sundays; it has to be funny to see us all come in, skinny legs and all

It was a good thing K and I had been to the Barrington Rec Center the day before. No way in hell we could’ve found it before race time at 8 a.m. Sunday

Oh yes, the car’s dipstick is still showing full, not a sliver lower than at the auto show at Woodstock  

Ten minutes before the 8 a.m. start no one is standing under the banner; we are among the first to line up, the fulls, the halfs, and the 10Ks –  eventually the 10Ks are told to split up and go about a football field away where at one point the starter asks through the public address system if anyone in the 10K group can hear her. No one says a word in reply. She asks the question again, slightly louder, and a man in front (there are more than one hundred of them in the group) gingerly raises his hand

After On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! we trundle off; eighty-four marathoners, double that for halfs. K urges me to run ahead and I do, Go Dado! she says with a “Boston” look in her eye

It’s quite cool at the start but not at the finish, which is still as the Bayou. Along the way, few signs are out, not a lot of roadside cheers. “Half-Marathoners Are Only Half-Crazy,” and in front of a church beyond the twenty-mile mark, “Remember Why You’re Out Here!” (I couldn’t and stopped and walked for a spell)

The best bit: Under the burning sun at the 16-mile mark, with a hard-to-fathom 10.2 miles to go, I see along the roadside a row of handmade wooden signlets with first names printed in black block letters. There’s a slew of them and when I see the name LARRY I tell myself that they have been placed there by the Nova Scotia Marathon organizers to honor the runners, which certainly helps salve the sting of the motorist who flipped me the bird at the 9-mile mark in response to my smiling wave to him

At the 12 miles I’m making good time and begin to pace ahead of a guy I’d been running with when the fella cries to me, “See you at the hills!” “What hills?” I reply       

Finally the finish line is in sight. More than four hours, twenty-five minutes since that 8 a.m. start. I’ll have finished six of eight marathons, but this will be my slowest. K is there, though, as I manage a final kick. During the last 400 meters I make my best time of the race. There’s a medal, chocolate mile and a sweaty hug from K

She’d done OK in the half! Ran all the way, that’s my girl!

Before heading on to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and the ferry to Portland (an 11-hour trip with 5,000 Muzakian versions of “Farewell to Nova Scotia.” Word of caution: Bring earplugs!) K and I head back for an afternoon in Shelburne, our new favorite place, where on a fence-top I see it. The steely-eyed lobsterman, his wooden arms wheeling a mile a minute in the never-let-up breeze, where ten years ago the ultimately unwatchable “Scarlett Letter” starring Demi Moore was being filmed, the locals never tire of telling us, there are two lobster pots in the back of my hero’s whirligig skiff, and K and I are hooked, we later learn there is a whirligig festival in Shelburne every year and standing before the work-obsessed face of the lobsterdude we make our pledge to come back to this place, not to run a marathon, but to conceive, design and build our own whirligigs and fly them in the 16th annual festival in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in September 2015!

Next: Running for Your Life: When Training Isn’t the Goal