Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Valhalla, I am coming!"

Claire W:

Earlier this evening, while Claire B. was sweating out half her body's water content doing bikram yoga, I decided to strap on my iPod and my water belt—why am I the only dorky runner in New York who seems to have one?—and take a jog around Prospect Park. (Alas, I'm too stingy for $7 yoga.)

I've run the inside loop so many times it's become routine. So, I decided to run on the sidewalk around the park, a path that begins with an uphill climb...

Now, I'm not good with hills, but I've become accustomed to the gradient on this route. What I'm not accustomed to, however, are urban obstacles. Ironic, right? But New York parks accommodate runners; they insulate them from the perils of city life by giving them their own lanes: white lines painted on the concrete to delineate exactly where you can and can't go. Bikers have their own lanes, too, and pedestrians (in addition to the giant field in the middle of the park and the numerous surrounding hillsides) have their own paved walkways, which snake through the foliage.

On the sidewalk, all rules are off.

As I started my ascent, I not only kept a good eye out for cracks in the sidewalk (I've tripped and fallen way too many times in my life, now, to ever claim another dignified downfall), but I kept my eye out for—yes—stupid people. Of course, said stupid people predictably materialize when you're walking down any given sidewalk in New York City, but when you're running up one, their stupidity seems to increase exponentially.

For example, here's a taste of what I encountered:

1. A man (presumably drunk) walking aimlessly on the sidewalk. You'd think, given his stunted motor reflex skills, that I would be able to judge his position on the sidewalk and sidestep him accordingly... unbelievably not so. As he wandered slowly right, I made my way left, only to find myself gradually nearing the curb as he suddenly decided he needed to go left, too.

2. Strollers. To clarify, I have no problem with the actual device—it's the person behind the wheel that can become very irksome. Listen, if you're pushing around a relatively large contraption in addition to your person, you might as well just think of the two as one... do not push the stroller to one side or the other without first looking behind you to make sure no one's coming. (For god's sake, there's a baby in there!)

3. Groups. People have a natural tendency to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, which I can understand because who wants to talk to the back of someone's head. But it should go without saying that this configuration is not ok on narrow sidewalks, especially when you're standing five people abreast. No one—not your fellow walkers, not even the ladies with strollers—wants to deal with having to bypass a human barricade.

So there I was, breathing heavily and sweating profusely, as if exposed to the 100+ degree heat of a bikram yoga class—except that I was just working extra hard to make it past all the stupid people that stood in between me and the top of the hill. I had been listening to Led Zeppelin, and as I approached the top, the stupid people dissipated and I finally looked up: there was the dominating presence of Grand Army Plaza, an 80 ft. high arch, topped with the sculptures of men, horses, eagles and flags all designed to be waving in the wind for dramatic effect. Then, as if on cue, "Immigrant Song" came on.

"We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow. Hammer of the Gods will drive our ship to new lands, to fight the hordes, singing and crying: Valhalla I am coming!"

And with that, I suddenly felt pretty badass for running against all those stupid obstacles.

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