Today I have a guest blogger—my daughter, Jane. Enjoy!
My favorite mornings in Brooklyn are the ones when I go for a run in Prospect Park. I wake up – leap out of bed, actually – when my alarm goes off. (To be honest, I always leap out of bed when my alarm goes off. Why someone would want to prolong their relationship with an alarm clock by employing the snooze button is completely beyond me.) I just as quickly make the bed, brush my teeth, slip into shorts, a tank top (it’s hot out there), and my shoes. I jam my headphones into my ears and put my iPhone, now happily playing Morning Edition from my Public Radio App, into its fraying carrying case. I duck out of my apartment, lock my door, and I’m on my way.
On the street the people are employed in a plethora of activities: some are heading to work or school – there surely is some sort of medical facility nearby as I see a lot of people in scrubs – some are setting up their chairs for socializing in front of the laundromat. Dominoes must be a hot weather activity since it wasn’t until the thermometer registered 90 degrees that the domino tables sprouted on my corner. Kids race each other on skateboards. A construction crew digs a trench down Franklin Avenue. I run, blissful in my public radio bubble, past the train station, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Botanical Gardens, to the park.
Being a fitness enthusiast, I have experienced quite a few different fitness scenes in New York City. (Bikram Yoga Park Slope. Broadway Dance Center. The beautiful pool at Manhattan Plaza Health Club. Crunch gym. New York Sports Club. Shala Yoga Center.) By far my favorite collection of people taking care of their bodies are, by various means, some involving wheels and some involving nothing but their own hard-working joints, hoofing it around the 3.25 mile loop in Prospect Park. It’s an eclectic mix – young and old, rich and poor, folks who clearly have been in tip-top shape for years and folks who likely just bought their first pair of good walking shoes. Bikers in spandex splattered with advertisements clip their shoes into their pedals and zoom past the middle-aged man in sweatpants who lazily kicks a large ball ahead of him as he meanders his way down the path. A group of new mothers decked out in Lululemon push fancy running strollers with extra large wheels – ensuring a bump-free experience for their sleeping offspring. And weaving through it all there’s me, learning about the unfolding situation in Egypt, trying to follow my physical therapist’s instructions about improving my stride and soak up as much green as I can as I negotiate the well-worn path that circles the park.
I love Prospect Park, and it is definitely the closest I ever come to feeling like I’m outside when I’m in this concrete jungle. But the trees and the grass, while a definite benefit, are not the object of my runs. When I’m visiting the farm I grew up on in southwest Wisconsin and I go for a run on the ridge, that’s experiencing nature. Prospect Park can’t even come close. But though the farm has the views, the green, the sky; it doesn’t have the people. I can run 10 miles and not see another living soul, except maybe a lone farmer plowing his field who watches my progress down the road and shakes his head. (Why someone would expel such a large amount of energy with seemingly no purpose is a foreign concept to this hard-working, salt-of-the-earth fellow.) And while I started running here to feel some movement in this claustrophobic city, to burn some calories and hopefully turn my mind off for an hour or so, what keeps me from feeling the need to buy a gym membership ever again is the community I get to be a part of every time my shoes hit the pavement.
Last Wednesday, as I waited on the corner of Washington Avenue and Eastern Parkway for the light to change in my favor, a man ran up and came to a stop beside me. He stretched his neck from side to side, looking at the light. A young, hip black man – he wore chunky glasses and, despite the heat, a gray stocking cap. He had the determined look of the newly initiated runner about him as he jogged lightly in place, keeping his heart rate up as we waited.
As soon as the light assured our relative safety, he shot across. Not paying him too much attention (as yet) I followed at a slight distance. In the next quarter mile or so he must have slowed down, because without realizing it I came abreast of him again. As soon as he felt my presence beside him he increased his speed and pulled ahead – an act that both infuriated me and caused me to smile. “Oh yeah? OK, it’s on,” I thought as I lightly picked up my pace, confident I had years of running on him and would wear him out in time. We raced down the hill past the library, paused momentarily at Flatbush Avenue for a few cars to pass and sprinted into the park.
I was ahead of him as we rounded onto the path and he must have gone another way because I didn’t see him again until I had completed the loop and circled back into Grand Army Plaza. I had a fleeting moment of curiosity about where he’d gone – thinking if he had run the same loop but in the opposite direction we might be finishing at the same time. “Unlikely,” I thought, slowing to a stop as the hand at Flatbush ceased its rapid blinking and held steady.
Unlikely or not, I glanced to my left just in time to see him sprinting up beside me. I waved, a mischievous grin touching my lips. We pulled our headphones out of our ears.
“How far’d you go?” he asked, breathing hard.
“Just around the loop,” I said.
“Whoa!” He said. “That’s five, right?”
Yep, novice, I was right.
“Once I get home, yes.” I said.
He briefly, and proudly, detailed where he had gone, a meandering loop I couldn’t quite follow. The light changed, and we re-secured our headphones.
“Have a good rest of your run!” I shouted to him as we moved off.
“Oh, I’m done!” he called.
“Oh! A good rest of your day then!”
And I was back in the world of the Zimmerman trial headlines and Obama’s stealthy environmental plan.
When I began to write about my favorite mornings of the week, I didn’t intend to actually write about the running itself. What I was thinking about, initially, is how much I love the combination of yogurt, honey, raisins, walnuts, cashews and almonds that make up my post-run breakfast. But lately I have been searching for the things I like about this city (hard to remember as the concrete gets more oppressive and the people get less patient with each tick up on the thermometer), and those Prospect Park runs are definitely up there. Yogurt I can have anywhere. Those spontaneous and fleeting moments of community, of competition and connection, are specific to this dense, urban environment. And though I don’t always welcome them and they’re not always pleasant, they’re one of the things I appreciate about this city that (for now) I call home.