I should be totally honest here; I’m not exactly a couch potato. I didn’t spend all of last year sitting around watching reality shows and beating a path to the fridge. I’ve been running pretty regularly for the last four years. In fact, I’m actually kind of addicted to exercise. I feel guilty if I don’t go to the gym and tend to be pretty regimented about it. And this from somebody who resented those Sunday afternoon forced-march walks led by my mother around the local park. What a difference a decade or two makes.
But I had allowed myself relax a bit over the holidays and after what seemed like an endless round of Christmas drinks with friends and obligatory midweek parties, I was exhausted even before New Year came round. So by the time I was on my way back from spending what can only be described as a life-shortening New Year’s Eve in Ireland I was definitely ready to detox and take my training up a notch, and maybe even begin training for the New York City Marathon.
Reaching that decision 37,000 feet above the Atlantic on a packed flight from Dublin to JFK complete with the usual post-Christmas quota of screaming kids was remarkably easy. Resolving to venture outside the heated climes of the gym, well that was a little harder.
Not that I am particularly fond of the monotonous act of running in place on a treadmill. A) It’s tedious. B) It’s tedious. Did I mention that it’s tedious?
Of course, at the average tricked-out gym there are many distractions. You can watch other people sweat bullets, or that guy — because there’s always one — bench press himself toward a hernia. You can, of course, block everything else out and listen to music or the radio. I personally favor NPR. You get the news and you burn a few calories at the same time and in my book that’s pretty efficient.
But after putting in a full eight hours at the office, sometimes going to the gym and getting on one of those machines only serves as a mirror to all that is abhorrent about New York City and its rat race. There we all are, slogging our guts out and getting absolutely nowhere. And if there is a mirror there reflecting every bead of sweat and jiggle of flesh, it’s even worse.
So on a Tuesday last month I decided to take the plunge and start running outdoors again. I was undeterred by the view from my office window in downtown Manhattan, which presented a cityscape reminiscent of mid-winter Russia, with snow blanketing Battery Park and passenger ferries nosing their way delicately past large chunks of ice in the harbor.
My friends called me “crazy” and one even used the word “hardcore.” I flinched at what was meant by that one. I thought in fact I was being rather sensible. I had invested in the right clothes and, after all, I wasn’t going to venture into the park at night on my own. I managed to find people who were just as crazy and determined as me, in the form of the Brooklyn Road Runners Club.
These guys are old hands and train in all weather. And when I showed up on a particularly cold Tuesday night, they were pretty welcoming and commended me for venturing out on such a frigid evening. Admittedly it was a small group, six of us, and I was the only woman, and as it turned out the only smoker and non-marathon runner. Maybe they were being kind that night, but I was able to keep up with the pack, running, what seemed to me like a brisk, yet relatively easy pace.
I got home that night feeling good about myself, and though it took 20 minutes in the shower before I could feel certain parts of my anatomy again, I vowed to return a couple of days later.
The next group run was on a Thursday, which as it happened was even colder than the Tuesday night. In fact, as I got ready to go out the meteorologist on New York 1 was issuing all sorts of dire warnings. But I was pretty determined despite being exhausted from a long workout at the gym on Wednesday followed by a poor night’s sleep.
When I got to the park some of the guys had already done a couple of loops, meaning they had already run 7 miles, so I figured they would want to take it slowly. I was wrong.
After about a mile, all the good feelings I had nurtured a couple of nights previously were gone. I was tired from a poor night’s sleep the night before and ached in newly rediscovered muscles. It was so cold every mouthful of air seemed to freeze before my lungs could properly ingest it making it hard to breathe. Was I really doing this for fun? Somewhere on the long, sly gradient at the top of the park as you approach Grand Army Plaza my dream of running the marathon began to fall apart. At this stage the guys were a good 50 yards in front, but I finally caught up with them and again one of them commended me for coming out again, and pooh-poohed my apologies for being slow.
As I ran the mile or so home alone, all, thankfully, downhill, I wondered if I should trade in my marathon-running ambitions for something more modest.
Maybe I should consider joining the Hash House Harriers, the running club that describes itself as a group of drinkers with a running problem. They organize hare and hound runs, where a couple of people play the hare, leaving clues for the pack, or the hounds, to follow. They don’t run too fast, and the destination is always a bar.
But I don’t give up quite that easily. And although haven’t been back to run with the Brooklyn Road Runner’s since, I am still running, and I plan to run with the group again. And, yes that Hash House thing, well, that sounds like a fine idea, too.
The opinions expressed represent those of the writer, not necessarily those of the Irish Echo.