Back On the Rock

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.


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