Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Running Jam

Running with other people is neither as complicated nor as simple as you might think. It's like absolutely anything else you do with other people. I wouldn't play chess with Bobby Fischer, for example, even if he were still alive, because it would be an utter waste of time for both of us. Nor would there be a whole lot of Kenyans out there who would run with me for obvious reasons if you've seen my Dailymile log.

Finding someone whose pace, endurance, current health, etc. matches yours is no mean feat. Consider the distance between two runners of similar (but not identical) pace times; a couple of minutes over 30 kilometres translates into hundreds of metres. Therefore running with someone who is roughly the same speed and endurance level as yourself will always involve some give-and-take. It's almost as much about personality as it is about skill level. Both parties have to be quite willing to take it as it comes or change things up along the way. Doing training runs with other people is like jazz.

Which is why I've been really lucky to have had such great running partners in the past couple of months. The Run For Life gang are faster and younger than I am. However, we have had some great long runs, great conversation, great exchanges of advice and motivation. The great thing is that, when there are three of us running together, we have become totally cool with each other's specific styles after only a handful of runs. And it's great to have the company to make the miles melt away behind us.

I ran 32 kilometres with Runnrgrl last Saturday, and that was incredible because neither of us had done a training run of that length with another person before. That's 3 plus hours, quite a long time to pass in a trying physical endeavour with someone whom you really barely knew previously. It went amazingly well; conversation never flagged, and we made it in a quite commendable time. The real test came near the end when I started to seriously fall apart from the heat and from what I think can be attributed to aging shoes. Runnrgrl was incredibly patient, allowing me to walk for a couple of minutes while masterfully dragging me along. In fact, I would go so far as to say that she demonstrated coaching skills that I have never encountered personally before. Her diplomatic manner was truly impeccable, because I know I was starting to get a bit whiny. At least I felt whiny; really I was dizzy and staggering, but I know that I had something left in the tank and she refused to let me finish on a less than heroic note. On top of that, it was actually her who had had physical challenges recently so we fully expected that she would be the one limping to the finish. Her pace actually increased as we went, and she seemed to get stronger. Always surprises when you run with other people.

I still like running alone since that's what I'm most accustomed to doing. And it's highly unlikely that I'll find anyone to run with me at 4 am in the near future. But running with other people unquestionably adds a dimension to the exercise that is crucial, because in the end life is infinitely more interesting when you do things with other people, and running is no different.

Friday, August 5, 2011

New York: Runs Like a Charm

It's been a week since I returned from my first visit to New York in almost 30 years. I've started this blog entry many times and deleted it almost immediately each time. I guess my problem is in trying to articulate how much my perception of the city has changed since I looked over it from atop the World Trade Centre in 1982.

I say 'my perception' because the city is still the densely populated, muscular centre of action that it was then. It's just that it makes infinitely more sense now to me than it ever did. The embodiment of what America projects to the world through the city of New York is extremely contemporary, extremely sensible, and extremely positive.

Some of us get stressed about overpopulation, myself included. But the way that this thickly populated metropolis actually functions in what seems to be an extremely efficient and creative manner is awe inspiring. The runners in Central Park are totally synchronized almost by magic; the Park itself is perfectly manicured Nature adorned by historic landmarks and statues, a buffer against the claustrophobia of the concrete jungle surrounding it. Importantly, there is no feeling of intimidation or force in this synchronization; old, young, fat, thin, fast slow... the running groups embody more of a celebration than a competition.

The taxis are plentiful and affordable. The subway is clean and reliable. Space is at a premium, but it doesn't feel tight. This is how space should be designed; none of the sprawl that generates territorial disputes on  tracts of suburban land nearly the size of this city. You want open space? Go to one of the many parks. You want to meet up with friends without the angst of figuring out who has to be the Designated Driver? No problem. New Yorkers are free to concentrate on what matters in this ultimate urban world.

Thanks to the generosity and skill of a good friend and resident New Yorker, I came to New York already armed with perfectly drawn running routes. Following these routes allowed me to see and experience the city as only runners can. For such a densely populated city, New York has some incredible running routes within very close proximity to the core of the city. In fact, the broad swath of bike path right down Broadway was beyond impressive for someone more acclimatized to the bike- and runner-hostile civic administration of Toronto... (if you're reading this, Rob Ford, I am indeed talking to you).

We encountered many other amazing people besides my friend. There was the couple we met on the subway who showed us a better route and engaged us in great conversation on the way. The hotel staff were edgy, hilarious, and capable. No wonder Letterman set up in this town; the town feels like his show.

New York has moved beyond 9/11. This city has triumphed over countless challenges many times in the past couple of centuries with a toughness and intelligence that deserves more than simple accolades. Tour Ellis Island and you'll begin to understand how the character of New York evolved. Go visit New York yourself. It really doesn't matter what you're interested in seeing or experiencing, because New York really and truly has it all. I guarantee you will be impressed.