Woke up early in my hotel room yesterday, and decided to go for a run in Central Park. I'm not a real runner, but I can usually put a few strides together without falling over or stroking. Started at the bottom, by the statue, did a few quick bends and stretches, and headed off in a counter-clockwise direction. In the small town I call home, the only people up at 7:30 on a Saturday are farmers. Our streets, parks, even our Tim Hortons (both of them) are deserted. But New York is famously alert at all hours (I wonder how much of the population of the city that never sleeps is in reality tourists like me who wake up early in expensive hotel rooms) and I was not alone in the park. Whole lot of puffing going on.
I started off great: crisp pace, smooth stride, passing people left and right. After five minutes or so, I settled into my running rhythm (I usually find myself breathing in time to some pop song or commercial jingle -- yesterday I was doing the ipod ad with that song by the Fratellis).
I was passed for the first time. Well, that's okay, I thought. This isn't a race. And the guy clearly knew what he was doing. Younger than I, leaner, better dressed (you know, more and more of the world is looking like that), and running as if on a cloud. Yawning, not working hard, he was still going twice as fast as I. I smiled to myself and kept going. I was passed again. It took him a while to catch me and I could hear his breathing from a ways off. This was a marine corps guy, wide shoulders, not a classic stride, but his lungs and legs were strong. He slowly pulled past me, arms pumping. I let him go.
I was passed by a woman, almost a girl, who floated over the ground. Then by her companions. All serious runners.
I began to realize it had been a while since I had passed anyone. I picked up my pace. And was passed anyway, this time by a guy who was even older than I. He had a mane of gray hair and those little 70s shorts, and he nodded as he breezed past. Hmm.
Up the big hill and on to the top of the park, and on down home, and I was concentrating on putting my feet down one at a time. I had stopped caring about who passed me, though I remember being mildly upset when a pair of overweight German tourists went lumbering by. Come on, legs, I said, and my legs said, Shut up.
No one had caught me for a bit. I was beginning to feel better. Second wind, I guess. The run was winding down. And then I saw that I was catching up to a pair of real runners. Two women in good shape, running stride for stride. I knew it was silly, but I made it a goal to pass them. I picked up my breathing, and my pace, and tried to imagine that a bear was roaring after me.
The imaging worked. I was so scared, I took off. I ran hard for a minute or so, and caught right up to the women. I didn't grin at them or anything, but I was feeling pretty good about my athletic self. I glanced over, and saw that they were running together for a reason. The one in front was leading her companion, who carried a collapsible white cane. Yes, she was blind.
My face froze in a polite smile (not that she cared). Inside I was laughing so hard I almost came to a halt. My lungs complained. My legs complained. Strawberry Fields appeared on my right. I slowed down out of respect. The blind runner and her companion kept a steady pace ahead of me.