Back On the Rock

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 1

My priorities are off. Tuesday and Wednesday I can’t make it out of bed. Thursday morning I go for my last pre-race run with the bankers. We trade in our usual Thursday hill run for an easy five mile course around UWI, out the Hospital Gate, down Hope Road, back along Garden and up Mona Road. Easy stuff, right? On the first loop around UWI I feel haphazard and uncertain. I’m running with Jen-Laden, the trainer and though our pace is slower than usual things just don’t feel right. Up the slight incline at the hospital, my stride improves and I put a little distance between us. As we take the turn back unto the main campus, my legs wake up and the run finally starts to feel good. We pause for water at Assembly Hall, before heading back up to the hospital. Once we’re running out on the street, the adrenaline kicks in. The morning traffic is picking up. There’s something curiously exciting about running down Hope Road wile people are heading for work. It’s tempting to go all out and only the re-ermegence of Saturday’s blister reminds me to rest my legs.

As we make the left turn unto Garden, I start to kick. I’ve driven down Garden Boulevard what, 1,000 times? Who knew it was this long? How long can one road possibly be? I slow down and Jen Laden nearly catches me. I cruise unto Mona Road and make one final run for home. I have very little left for the final sprint to Assembly Hall, but pride forces me to find another gear. Hmm. I don’t bother to look at my watch. It’s race week and I still haven’t clawed my way back to my 8:00 pace. Who knows what Miami will bring?


Drinking and dancing all night at the Jazz Festival is probably not the best pre-race warm up, but that’s how I spend Thursday night. (Thank you, John Legend…It was well worth the trip). On Friday, I’m at Sangster International, tired and groggy, when I realize I’ve brought the wrong passport with me. So I hop a flight to Kingston and change my ticket to fly out from Norman Manley Saturday morning. So do I spend Friday night resting quietly at home? Of course not. RM and I down a cue each at Port Royal and then head off to a birthday party. It’s unusually cold and wind whips us mercilessly as we enter his friend’s house. Five minutes later, I start to itch. This isn’t exactly proper dinner party behaviour. As I struggle to scratch my neck, my arms, my legs discreetly, I realize I’m not the only one doing it.

“Cow itch,” our host proclaims, handing me a bottle of rubbing alcohol. What the hell is cow itch? “It’s not a big deal,” he says. “They’re little seeds with barbs on them that get carried my wind. It’ll wear off in a few days.” A few days? I glare balefully at RM, seized with visions of running 13.1 miles scratching myself silly.

Rubbing alcohol into my skin does nothing for the itching. Drinking alcohol is much more effective. Several vodka tonics (and one very long hot shower later) I’m calm enough to go to sleep. But not for long. A few hours later it’s time to get up and before I know it I’m at Norman Manley, heading for Miami.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 2

On Tuesday when the alarm goes off my body refuses to budge. So I swap a gym day for a run. Wednesday: I’m at UWI at 5 am with RM and his group. Unintentionally, I take the pace out fast. But it feels good so I stay there. RM calls me on it on the first of three hospital loops, but his friend M encourages me to keep going. “Do your thing,” she says. “Push us.” This is the best kind of challenge. Not competition, just a mutual agreement to test our limits.

RM and I fall into a hospital loop strategy. On the campus side of the loop, there is an incline where I am tempted to be slow. He pushes me. On the street side of the loop, he tends to wane. I push him. With M, we leave the rest of the group behind, and forge ahead. I feel strong and happy. Nothing hurts.

Back on Ring Road after the third hospital loop, M puts on a surge. I answer. I try to remind myself that this isn’t the end of the run, but still the urge to go all out is there. I push ahead of her, but it doesn’t feel like a kill. Some saner, more rational part of myself processes it more healthily: I have more today; I give more today.

We regroup at the Assembly Hall water break. On the incline past the Students Union, RM and I open up a gap on M. We slow sporadically to wait for her, but once we cut across the field and turn on to Ring Road, it’s every man for himself. I go all out for a final kick too early. Where the backside is Assembly Hall? I have to slow down and RM catches me. But 200 metres out I start to kick again, stronger than I have felt in months, faster than last week’s sprint. RM doesn’t answer. By now, I don’t need him to.

Thursday: I’m infecting RM with my bad behavior. Wednesday night we split a bottle of wine. When we check in with each other at 4:45 neither one of us feels like running. But I have an 8:00 class so I have to get up early anyway. Might as well get a run in.

Besides, I have a date with Long Mountain.

By 5:30 we’re on campus. RM hangs back to talk politics with the CEO. The Flame and I head off down Mona Road. Soon C joins us. But before long, I’m out front by myself. We make the turn unto Karachi and I think about holding back. I need Jen-Laden or RM to drag me up this hill. I can’t punk out again. But something tells me this is my fight. My run. My hill. I have to motivate myself.

Up the first incline, the urge to stop is strong and I beg myself not to give up. C trots past me and lights a spark. Before I know it I’m chasing him, albeit slowly, up the hill. I’m huffing and puffing; rattling like a 35 year old Chevy. C offers me water. I decline. When the incline softens I make my move. Pack leader again. Uphill. This is a new one for me. I push as far as I can. About 2/3 of the way up the hill, I walk. I’m running so slowly it makes no sense. So I walk the last two inclines as fast as I can and keep climbing a couple hundred metres past the Long Mountain gate to cool down. C. runs up behind me. “You’re as fit as a fiddle.” No sign of Jen Laden and the Flame.

RM catches up with me as I make my return to the gate. We run the downhill as fast as we can. I pull away from him on Karachi and manage to hang on to a slim lead down Mona Road. On campus, the will to sprint is there, but the legs are not. I manage a moderate acceleration to the finish. I didn’t exactly conquer the hill, but I did the best I could. There’s always next week.

Saturday: RM insists I run with “real runners”, so at 4:30 am I saddle up to run 10 miles with his group. “I’m not going all out,” I tell him. “I’m supposed to be tapering.” “Right,” he laughs. “That’ll last until the first person passes you.”

We set off down Gloucester Avenue. We are among the last to leave, and the few who start after us thunder past us. This is not good. RM chuckles at my frustration. He lags behind to keep a slow female company and M and I run ahead. Up Charlemont and down Gibson, pride pulls me to the pack. I convince myself that for safety’s sake alone, I need to pull closer. By the first water stop at JTURDC, the gap is less painful. I wait, and wait, and wait for RM. “I can’t leave her,” he says. “It wouldn’t be right.” M and I take off.

Up the incline to Papine, things start to go badly. A blister is forming on my left arch, and my right knee starts to pinch. We pick up the pace slightly coming back down Hope Road and by the turn unto the slip road to Mona, M and I are in full stride. By the four mile water stop we’re in striking distance of a four pack of women. They don’t acknowledge us. There’s a definite divide in this group. It damn sure isn't my happy go lucky company group, nor is it the democratic free-lovin’ spirit of my old New York club. What it is though, is inspiration. The slow plan evaporates.

I run a respectful distance behind them down Mona Road, then pass them on Wellington. But I wait for M at the six mile water stop at Seaview and they catch me. “Ladies,” says their leader. “I’m only doing eight today, so when you don’t see me I’m chipping.” Sounds like a gauntlet to me. M and I take off, and leave them behind. But as we cross Hope Road again on mile 7, things fall apart. The blister is torturous and the pain in my knee suggests that I should cut the run short at 8. But I can’t. Worse yet, I don’t know the route. So I have to tuck in behind a slow runner until I can figure it out. That gives one of the four pack a chance to catch me. And when she blows past me at the 8 mile water stop, my knee refuses to answer.

I leave the water stop a short distance behind another pack of runners and follow them for the remaining two miles. When I finally make it back to Wilshire, I don’t even bother to look at what I’m sure is an abysmal time. Not exactly what I needed before Miami. But oh well, maybe a week of rest will make it better.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 3

RM and I are on again. The break lasted less than a day. So Tuesday, 5:45 am, we’re at UWI. I’ve spent yet another sleepless night coughing and I have a long work day ahead. My legs are fried from two days of lifting at Gymkhana. And I have a 5 mile hill run and a 14 miler ahead of me this week. As we leave Assembly Hall, I decide this is not the day to be competitive. But RM takes the pace out hard. A half mile in I wave the white flag and ask him to slow down. I find my favourite spot just off his left elbow, and settle in for a little mobile napping.

But RM isn’t letting me off that easily. He is in surprising form this morning, pushing me relentlessly. Maybe I’ve been shooting my mouth off too much about running him into the ground. Up the incline past the Students Union, my quads and hamstrings shoot darts into the back of his legs. He slows as we make the brief left back unto Ring Road and I recover slightly, but we’re off again across a field on a short cut to the Hospital Gate. Pride gets me round the first loop of the Hospital, past the greasy cab driver who slows down to get a better look. Sheer competitiveness drives me through the second loop. I move up beside him and each of us takes brief surges ahead. Back down Ring Road to our 3.5 mile water break at Assembly Hall, we stay side by side, in sync again.

I secretly hope that he’ll call it a day but as I fiddle with my shoelaces he looks at me impatiently. “How much more?” I ask, trying to sound casual. “Just 1.5,” he says. It occurs to me that if I’m going to run 14 miles on Saturday, I shouldn’t bristle at the word “just” when it precedes such a small number. So I fall in behind him. Round the corner to the Union, RM and I spot a target. Simultaneously, instinctively, we both speed up to take him down. We run the incline much harder than our first time at it, and pass our grey sweat-shirted prey with ease.

The surge takes a little out of me and as we turn unto Ring Road, RM slows to a gentlemanly pace to let me rest. This is the difference between us. I, the bully, would have left him behind and mocked him for days. But he instead stays with me all the way around Ring Road. About 200 metres from Assembly Hall, the pace quickens. Later we will argue whose call it was. But somehow, we end up in a flat out sprint to the finish. All my pain, fatigue, disclaimers and random bullshit vanish. I’m running as hard as I can, faster than I have in months and it feels fantastic. The bully in me is mad I can’t shake RM. The rest of me likes him just where he is - right beside me.

Thursday: RM decides to join me on a hill run with my new running group. It’s 12:30 before I get to bed. When my wake up call comes at 4:45, I’m exhausted. I slept fitfully, waking every half an hour or so. Last night’s bruschetta is still in my stomach and the two large glasses of wine are still in my bloodstream.

Somehow, we make it to UWI by 5:30. I’m half asleep on the drive over, and the last thing I want to do is run. We start, again, with a prayer. “Bless this group, bless this day, bless this run.” Amen! As we set off down Mona Road, I feel great. This is the first run in ages where nothing hurts. Knees, hips, quads, hamstrings – everything’s fine. As soon as we make the right out of the Post Office Gate unto Mona Road, Jen Laden and the Flame head to the front of the pack. My instinct is to join them, but RM is off to an unusually slow start. He is my guest on this run, and I feel it would be poor form to leave him. Besides, I feel some kind of primal urge to stay close to him; to put my scent on him I guess, like a dog peeing on a tree. So I swallow my pride and let them open up a 50 metre gap. But just before we make the turn unto Karachi, I can’t bear being so far behind. I put some distance between RM and me and shorten the gap between me and the pack leaders. I have them in striking distance half way down Karachi, but I slow down. RM is great at hills and I know he will push me harder than they will and I want to run the hill with him. So I wait for him. Plus my legs are well rested from the slow start so I’m looking forward to a little blood sport on the hill.

RM and I take the turn unto Long Mountain together, head for the first incline and then…nothing. Zero, zip, nada. Suddenly I’ve become a fucking floating torso. My legs are back in bed. What the backside? I am not in pain. I do not feel tired. My legs just simply will not go. “Come on,” I yell at myself. “Wake up.” But nothing happens. So I do the unthinkable: I walk.

This is a first. In seven years of running, I have never ever walked, unless instructed by a trainer. I’m a lazy-ass and a whiner, but not a quitter. I am baffled. Mortified. Furious. RM surges ahead. Even worse, the Flame is up ahead, sprightly skipping up the hill like a toffee coloured mountain goat.

It’s just the first incline. Did we walk this one last week? I’ll get the next one. My brain churns out words of encouragement, but nothing works. RM spells his surges with gentlemanly trots to give me a chance to catch up, but eventually he gives up and runs ahead. I walk the whole way up the hill, sweating shame with every step. When I get to the top, RM is on his way back down to look for me. Fuck the search party. Fuck the group. Fuck the view. I’m so mad at myself I can barely make eye contact. To add insult to injury, the Flame notes my late arrival with a concerned, “You ok?”

“Nope,” I say flatly. “I have nothing today.”

“You’re just having an off day,” RM says, unhelpfully. “It happens.”

The group assembles at the top, slowly. Impatient with the dillydallying, RM decides we’re running the descent. This is my chance at redemption. I’ll chalk this one up as a 2.5 miler. Forget hillwork. I’ll make today a speedwork day. All I have to do is get off the hill reasonably fast, go all out back down Mona Road, rest between the Aqueduct and the Main Gate and sprint through the Main Gate to Assembly Hall. The plan starts well. RM and I share the lead down the hill and I open up some distance on Karachi. But down Mona Road my legs disappear again and he catches me. We make the turn unto campus together and he says, “Come on. Let’s run it in.” Oh the shame, the shame. “I can’t,” I reply. “I have nothing.” So he leaves me and his gentlemanly ways behind and sprints ahead to the finish. Spanked, twice in one day.

I spend the rest of the day in a protracted brain fart. What the fuck happened? I must be overtraining. I have to get more rest. No more drinking. At 5:00 I’m tempted to go back to Long Mountain for a do-over. I’m dissuaded only by the prospect of donning sweaty clothes that have spent eight hours in the trunk of my car. Oh yeah, and the small matter of having to run 14 miles on Saturday. I can pick a fight with the hill some other day. Right now I need to focus on my rematch: me vs Jen Laden and the Flame. Round 3. Maybe I need to be nicer to my legs. []

Saturday: In a rare show of discipline I stay home Friday night. I pick up a bottle of wine on the way home, but instead I pour myself into the new Joan Didion book and make it to bed by eleven. RM wakes me at 12:30 for a long phone chat, so when my wake up call comes at 4:30 I barely know my name. Before I can even swing my legs off the bed, I feel the pain: a pair of darts on each side of each knee. Not today, please not today. I take 3 Advil Liquigels on the way to the airport and hope for the best. In the car, the Flame and I trade disclaimers.

“My knees are killing me.”

“My stomach is doing somersaults.”

After the prayer, the group heads off, but I decide for once to listen to my body. My lower back is in knots from yesterday’s lifting and my hamstrings are sore. It kills me to let Jen-Laden and the Flame get ahead, but I stay behind and stretch and stretch and stretch.

A half mile in I’ve had enough of the group’s walking start and I begin to trot, all the while giving myself a stern lecture: Do not take it out hard. No heroics today. Take it easy till Morgan’s Harbour. Down the airport road, around the roundabout and back up to the Air Jamaica wing, it irritates me that I’m so far behind I can’t even see the pack leaders. Through the second airport loop, I spy the back of the running pack. I want to stay slow, I really do, but suddenly I have a Prep School flashback:

A dozen children standing around my grandmother’s desk. She, the teacher, calling out words for us to spell in turn. We start from the child closest to her on the left, all the way around the desk. When one child spells a word wrong, the word goes ‘round the desk until someone spells it correctly. The child who gets it right, moves up in place, closer to my grandmother’s left side, passing those who faltered. I can hear my grandmother’s voice telling the victor:

“Take them down.”

Only my grandmother could make spelling bloodsport.

Do not take it out hard, I tell myself. Just pick up the pace slightly. Be patient You will pass them. “Be patient. Take a breath,” my grandmother would say. Think it through one letter at a time.” The word of the day: A.S.S.A.S.S.I.N.A.T.E. I take them down in 30 metres. Patiently. One step at a time.

By mile 3, down the Port Royal road, I start gaining on the leaders. By the lighthouse they’re in striking distance. Jen-Laden, the Flame, and two people I hadn’t noticed before: Blue Bandana and 2nd Bandana. No heroics. Just stay close. But somehow the gap narrows and I find myself passing the Bandanas, then the Flame. This is a pretty great spot. I have the pull of Jen Laden from the front and the threat of footsteps from behind. I don’t plan to make any big surges, but Blue Bandana comes flying down on my right, passes me and then slows to sit in front of me. This irritates me profoundly, but I let it slide. At the next water stop, I get in and out efficiently and leave them behind.

And then I notice her. Wait a minute, there was another leader all along? A woman with runner’s legs that seem to grow out of her armpits, wearing an oversize white t-shirt. She gains my respect by skipping the water spot, chugging from a water bottle in her right hand. No heroics. Wait till Morgan’s Harbour. But courtesy requires that I introduce myself. I lengthen my stride. Death to Big Shirt. Grandma would be proud.

At mile 6 I have my view just the way I like it – unobstructed. The pinching in my right knee causes me to slow down and Jen Laden and the pack gain on me. By Morgan’s Harbour, one of the guy runners has caught me. “I’m going in to the bathroom,” he tells me. Nope, not falling for that twice. “I’m good,” I shout, making the fastest U-turn possible.

As I pass Jen Laden and the Flame I report that the guy runner has gone to the bathroom. “We are too,” says Jen Laden. I’m tempted to wait, to run back in with them and beat them fair and square. But the pinching in my knee says keep your lead. Let them chase you.

At the 10 mile mark I feel great. The wretchedness and the haphazard stride of last week’s miles 9 and 10 are nowhere to be seen. I try to accelerate, but the pain in my knees holds me back, so I settle for maintaining a moderate stride and concentrate on quick turnovers. There’s no one near to me so it’s a little lonely. I’m digging for motivation to run faster, so I’m grateful for an old man sitting by the side of the road, filling a bucket from a hose that, incongruously, snakes back into the bushes. “Come on, Baby G. Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up.” I oblige.

I spend the next two miles silently screaming. “Where the backside is the lighthouse?” All I want to do is make it to the little white lighthouse, my marker that I’m almost home. Then suddenly, blessedly, it appears. I put the hammer down as much as my aching knees will bear, and run it in. Jen-Laden comes in a good six minutes later. The Flame walks it in, having given up at mile 10. The rematch goes to me.

My victory is soured only by Big Shirt who commits a flagrant foul. As the runners who finished the full 13.5 miles compare times, she announces, “I did it in under two hours.” Really, Big Shirt? I forgot to clock my start time, but one of the guys who started before I did pegged his at 5:56 am. My 8:00 am return puts me under 2:04. Big Shirt started ahead of me and returned after me so, ah, come again? Come to think of it, where the hell was Big Shirt on the way back? I can’t remember seeing her after the mile 6 water stop. Did she turn back early? Is she claiming under 2 hours for a shorter distance? I realize that my level of irritation is unquestionably irrational. But mentally, I draw a big red bullseye on the back of her shirt. I hear my grandmother’s voice whispering in my ear.

“Take her down.”

Next time, Grandma. Next time. (13.5 miles. 2:04).

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Scenes From a Rum Bar I

Bill's Bar. Papine, Kingston

The Sign:

Imagine yu, Mr. White Rum
Yu mek me an me wife part
You get I drunk everyday
And we are enemies
But...the Bible sey
Love yu enemy
So a going to drink yu

Friday, January 13, 2006

Why (On Loan from Joan)

...long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought I believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become...

Joan Didion
The Year of Magical Thinking

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Falling Giant

Strength fades
Grace, wit, wisdom remain
I see you better with my eyes closed

Monday, January 09, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 4

Tuesday: I’m at the Dam at 5:45 pm with the RM. We’ve been flirting with the idea of being more than running mates - the NYE run highlighted a week of off-road time together. In the middle of a tiff later that night, I mock him that I ran slowly to save his ego. Granted, this was only true of the first two laps, but I figured anger entitled me to a little exaggeration. He took my dig in stride, but now that we’re meeting to run again, I’m nervous. Turns out RM isn’t a 10-minute miler after all. His last half marathon was 1:42:00. And his usual easy-going demeanor hides a seriously competitive streak. Considering I haven’t run under 8 minutes in five months, I’m concerned I’m about to get spanked.

Thankfully, RM shows up with a slow-running friend. The earth at the Dam is soaked from afternoon showers. The friend, the puddle-jumping and the darkness slow us down. About 400 metres in we leave the friend behind and RM and I slip and slide along, occasionally testing each other. I try to shake him but he stays on my tail. When he pushes ahead I hang on as best I can. With 400 metres left in the first lap I find a kick. RM eats my mud to the finish. The second lap is darker, and I’m afraid of falling. So I stay with him for the company (and to rest my aching legs). But with 200 to go I find a kick again and leave him in the mud. We still end up with relatively slow 15 minute laps, but at least I hold on to my footing – and my pride. 3.23 – 30 minutes.

Thursday: RM and I have called it quits. Time to get serious. A hacking cough kept me up all night, but at 5:30 am I’m at UWI to run hills with a local company’s running group. The run starts with a prayer. “God, show me the way You see me. Show me who I am in Your eyes.” The words stay with me.

As we head out walking, we cross paths with RM. Running with a girl. That’s all the inspiration I need to pick up the pace down Mona Road. We’re going slower than my usual pace, but it’s my first time with the group and, like a dumb high-schooler, I feel the need to fit in. Thankfully, the trainer, whose nickname is Jen-Laden, runs by. I decide to tuck in behind her. Down Mona Road and along Karachi I’m enjoying the rare pleasure of being able to run in the streets. Kingston is peaceful at this time of day. It’s almost worth it to be up this early.

My reverie ends as we start the mile and a half climb up Long Mountain. My calves and hamstrings yell at me for too many days and nights in four inch heels. But I stay with Jen who prompts me to walk up the steepest inclines to save my knees. I suddenly remember why I used to love running hills. Every incline is delicious. Your body asks and your spirit answers. We run and walk our way to the top, to a view that merits the climb. City lights twinkle under a periwinkle sky. God, showing me Kingston the way He sees it.

We walk back down the hill pass a man doing sprints. I make a mental note. I’ll be back to do the same. Back on Karachi, I pick up the pace and put a little distance between me and the group. We run hard back to the Undercroft. I’ve had many great days at UWI, but never as much fun as sprinting down the main artery. 5 miles. 60 minutes. I’ll be back to do better.

Saturday: Two more sleepless nights. A coughing fit rouses me before my alarm has a chance. It’s 4 a.m. Cancel, my brain whispers. You’re sick. You haven’t slept in days. But something tells me I need this run, so I pop an Advil Cold & Sinus and head out the door to the Palisadoes Strip. We park at the Willow Tree. A run down to the Air Jamaica wing, left to the roundabout in the airport, out again and straight down to Morgan’s Harbour and back to the Willow Tree. I’ve missed two weeks worth of long runs and it occurs to me I’m jumping from 8 miles to 12. This might not be pretty.

In mile 1, motivation comes from a surprising source. In a tribute to the one degree of separation that obtains in Jamaica, the current flame of an old ex is part of this morning’s running group. As we set off, The Flame trots her way to the front of the pack. Now I’m sure she’s a perfectly wonderful person. And I have no drama with the ex. But this is Blood in the Water: Bonus Round. I’m not going out like that.

Common sense tells me to leave it alone. Her turnovers are pretty quick. I am still coughing up a lung. And I’m exhausted. She’s only running 8 miles today and I have to finish 12. But as she heads off down the airport road, I find myself tucking in behind her. I stay in position around the airport roundabout, back up the airport road and until we make the wide right turn unto the Port Royal road. She takes the turn more narrowly and we end up neck and neck.

I don’t do side by side. (Well, except with the RM, of course.) So at the start of mile 2 I take the lead. The Flame stays 10 metres behind me. We run past the little white lighthouse and the absurdity of the situation sinks in. It’s a favourite haunt of the ex’s. Years ago, we used to come out here for walks. I find myself wondering if he has taken her here, what memories come to her as we run by. I open up another 10 metres. At mile 4, the thrill of running freely down the middle of the street wakes up my tired brain and legs. We’re running around a long, blind corner and I pick up the pace eager to get around the bend and back to a clear view. The acceleration feels good so I hold the pace. The Flame doesn’t answer. One more scalp.

At mile 6, when I know she’s already turned back for home, I slow down. The sun comes out. Cyclists pass by. Groups of men, women, teenagers. I make a mental note to bring my bike out here. Suddenly, I feel utterly and completely at home.

At the 7 mile turnaround at Morgan’s Harbour, I stop for water, an apple and a stretch. Jen-Laden catches up with me. I realize with a little guilt that I’ve taken over her role as Pack Leader. As we chit-chat, I debate going inside to use the bathroom. “You should go,” says Jen. “No, I think I’ll be fine.” “No, really, you should go.” She’s insistent. I wander into Morgan’s Harbour and when I’m nearly out of earshot, she yells to me, “I’m going ahead. Slowly.”

Yeah, right. It was bait and I took it. As I scramble to find the bathroom, get in and get out quickly, I realize I’ve just been punked. There’s no way for me to make up a 5 minute gap with someone who runs my pace. I try to make the best of mile 8, but it’s no use. Mile 9 and 10 my sore hip flexors force me to give up the hunt. Score one for Jen-Laden. I make it through miles 11 and 12 realizing that I have a lot of work to do. I don’t want to survive Miami. I want to run it. 12 miles. 12 miles. 1:58.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Running Haiku

A minute holds more footsteps
An hour holds more miles
Time bends to my will

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Miami Miles: Week 5

Wednesday: I haven’t run in 5 days and I’m determined to break the streak. I’ve registered for the race. I’ve bought the plane ticket. Bailing is not an option. Plus even with stomach flu I’ve managed to strap on another 5 lbs. Or at least that’s what I estimate this big belly weighs. So at 3:30 sharp I’m at Mona Dam, trying to fit in a run before a hair appointment and a get together. The first lap is awful. Everything south of my hips hurts. My ankles have been replaced by two nubs of pain. Odd, since I haven’t been running. But I have a vague memory of walking up and down flights of stairs in four inch heels. Ah, Blue Mountain Inn. Utopia. Six hours of dancing and hiking up steep steps to the bathroom – no wonder my hamstrings and calves are shot. (And yes, stomach flu has stopped my running but not my partying; though I am mad at myself for paying $4500 and only eating pita bread).

Luckily, the 14:40 isn’t as bad as I feared. But lap 2 gets worse. Both IT bands pipe up and a side stitch kicks in. My watch glares back at me with a dismal 16:38 (in my defense that time included a very long stop to retie both shoe laces.) By the third lap I’m starting to feel there’s nothing wrong with being a 10 minute miler. But the sight of a slow-moving red shirt on the other side of the Dam rekindles my pride, and suddenly I’m chasing around the eastern curve channeling DQ in Montreal. I catch Red Shirt halfway down the straight on the north side and hold on to the pace for the rest of the lap. The 15:02 brings me to 4.8 miles in 46:20. The last ditch effort doesn’t help my time much, but it gets approval from an old man and a Dread who ride up the hill on the western end astride a rickety bike.

“Backside,” the old man drawls slowly as they pull up behind me.

The Dread replies: “And thunder.”

Saturday. It’s New Year’s Eve. In a last ditch effort to salvage the week, I’m at the Dam at 5 am. I’m with the Running Mate. It meant giving up a night out, but as we set off in the darkness I decide it’s worth it. With him, the darkness of the Dam is peaceful, not scary. The first lap is a slow and conversational 19 minutes, but I don’t care. I’m tired and sluggish from a week of too much work, too much wine, too little food and too little sleep. Besides, there’s a comfort in letting him pace me. I’m surprised that I don’t feel my usual competitive urge to test him or to prove myself. Instead, I tuck myself into a little pocket behind his left elbow and follow his lead. Slower than my usual pace on the straights, faster than usual up the little hill on the south side. We’re running with each other, not against each other. And it surprises me that staying in sync is so effortless. The sun rises. Birds dive for breakfast. Our times improve gradually: 16, 15, 14. Not the best times I’ve run all year, but a great way to close a year of running.