“1-2, 1-2”, I found myself pounding along the concrete road. I breezed through Mile 1, shedding the jitters of trying to make it to the start line on time, the wait, the starter horn. I looked around my surrounding, people wearing all sorts of attire abound: Mickey Mouse ears, tutu skirts, compression socks, wireless earbuds. Wow, things have really changed over the last eleven years in the world of running.
I should be at my dojo right now, executing my jump up outside circle kick to its precise height and angle; or practicing my defense against palm up lapel grab where I can quickly throw a downward thumb press break and take down the opponent. I should be on the blue mat, moving gracefully and efficiently, with light glinting through the large floor-to-ceiling window. Instead I was pounding the streets among a sea of runners.
I used to run, a lot, in my twenties when I lived in New York. It started as an idiotic dare during grad school, as I threw my name in the New York City Marathon lottery with my friends. With my never-winning-anything-in-a-lottery streak, I believed that I’d be guaranteed a spot in the NY marathon in three years, according to their official rule. Three years to transform from a high school track-and-field sprinter to a long distance runner sounded about right.
Somehow luck struck and I got a spot at the marathon that very first year. NY Road Runners membership, 5k’s, mini marathon (which was basically a women’s 10k), then lots of 10k’s on the weekends. The rocks and the moss in Central Park began to etch themselves in my memory. I could tell, as I came along the bend around a particular boulder, that I’d see the Metropolitan Museum of Art peeking over the treetop. I started to love the monotony, the repetition, the clearing of the mind. Back then we did not have smart phones, and carrying my shell cell phone did not yet become a habit. I listened to my own breathing, the children playing on the grass, the ice cream truck cow-belling.
My first half marathon was the Bronx Half. I remember it was a rainy gloomy day. I stood at the start line, not really believing that THEY would make us run in the rain. Then ran as drops of rain became sheets, pouring down the beak of my baseball cap. Sweat mixed with rain meant your body did not become overheated nor dehydrated. Running in the rain turned out to be a blessing, as I later learned during the scorching August Manhattan Half. NYC Marathon turned me into an addict. I started to crave the high as I sprinted toward the finish line. I started to strategize and visualize how I wanted to complete my runs. I kept and collected my race bibs, chips, T-shirts. I wore ski pants running along the Hudson river in the snow in preparation for a spring marathon. On my wedding day, some ingenious makeup had to be deployed to cover my marathon burn/tan while wearing a strapless off-shoulder wedding gown. Who would have thought to slather on sunscreen on a cloudy spring day to complete a marathon? Apparently not I.
After our move to Los Angeles, residency training, baby, parenthood, running fell by the wayside. Martial art became the new religion: the mastering of techniques, the timing of partner work. I loved the nuance, the precision, the execution. Then came a bad hand injury during grappling, surgery, bionic woman status, radial nerve damage, rehab, pain specialist, martial art no more.
“1-2, 1-2”, I repeated the monotonous foot-strikes. Checked my posture, pulled back the shoulders, gentle landing with the feet to protect the knees. Heel-ball-lift, heel-ball-lift. Water station, gulp, spit. Remembering how we pulled each other through on the bridges during the NY marathon as there were no crowds to cheer us on; just steep hills and our will. At the last miles, coming down fifth avenue then along 59th street, crowds roaring. The bodies that made up of this body of moving mass in 2016: younger, more muscled, clad with armbands, smart phones, wireless headphones, dri-fit tops, high fashion attire. I turned down Ocean Avenue, eyes narrowed in on the finish line, and picked up my pace. Pick your target, pass; pick another one, pass. I spotted Monkey King and little munchkin. Slowed down, waved, back to business. Up-down, up-down, I pounded the street. All these years later, eleven to be exact, these legs remembered their routine. My throat caught and I felt grateful. The last mile was meant for sprinting, for the rush of adrenaline, for the high.
At the end, I ran an average 11:43 minute-mile 10k race, cold. The quads, the lungs, the arms awakening. I felt truly grateful, for the hobby I accidentally picked up in my 20’s, which now became a lifeline while I wrestle with the depression ensued following my grappling accident. I may never step on the blue mat again. But while I hit the road to recovery, I now know that the road is about to be concrete, with sneakers.