Sprint Finish

23:30 Tue 22 Feb 2011
[, , ]

I don’t always enjoy running. Sometimes I’m sluggish and leaden. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes I feel agile and fleet. It’s difficult to predict which of those a run will bring.

There are times the latter’s almost guaranteed, if only briefly. At my CrossFit gym, our mile course ends with an uphill on Fern Street, from Polk about three-quarters of the way to Van Ness. I love that uphill segment.

Yesterday we started and finished with a mile run. To finish with that favorite uphill, I run the opposite route from most of my gym-mates, going Fern to Van Ness to Jackson to Polk to Fern again and to the back of the gym.

I felt great starting out. Instead of having trouble getting going, I had to slow myself down, so that I didn’t go too hard over the first—and easiest—third of the workout.

It’s a city course. Traffic, pedestrians, and stop lights are all obstacles. I like this. I hate getting stuck at lights, but having to navigate the environment keeps me focused. I took up a very fast pace to make the light at Bush, slowed when it was clear I wouldn’t also make the light at Pine, and encountered only intermittent slowdowns along the rest of Van Ness.

It was chilly but sunny, fine running weather.

I felt light. I was making reasonable time. I was happy that I felt strong, because I wanted to hit the workout hard, but I was unsure of my pacing and tried to keep my pace slow.

There’s a slight uphill from California to just before Washington. I often have early struggles there. They were quite minor this time, and when I hit the flat I knew the return leg wasn’t far off, and that I was running well.

There’s a downhill to Jackson, and I try to use that to both gain speed and rest. It’s a difficult line to find, because even while it feels easy, going downhill too fast can be very tiring moments later. I found the right balance, running smoothly as I turned onto Jackson.

I was surprised at not seeing any of the rest of my cohort coming the other way. The halfway point, strictly speaking, is on Jackson about three-quarters of the way to Polk, but they had started out with a downhill. I didn’t see anyone until I turned the corner onto Polk, another sign that I was running well.

Polk is much more crowded than Van Ness. Dodging around pedestrians is part of the fun, although it can also be highly frustrating if they’re configured to present no route through. That didn’t happen this time, and I didn’t have to stop for too long at lights on the way back to Fern.

At Fern, I reined in my drive to sprint up the hill. Medium speed, steady and respectable. I was the first back to the gym, an important lead because I’d be one of the slower ones for the middle portion of the workout[*].

Indeed, I wasn’t the first to leave the gym for the final run, and the manner of my leaving was less than impressive. I was barely able to run, slowing to a pace no better than a walk, and struggling to make it to Van Ness. As I staggered, I thought of zombies, the traditional slow kind, whose unwieldy shambling gait I was closely emulating.

I didn’t make the light at Bush, and was very glad of the break.

This time, the uphill to Washington was rough indeed. I got a stitch on my right side. Running any faster than a walk felt impossible. On the downhill towards Jackson, I couldn’t speed up at all, just managing to feel a little relief that the going was easier. On that downhill, one of my gym-mates caught up with me, followed shortly by one who’d started ahead of me but had taken a wrong turn.

At the halfway point I felt better. No more trying to run and recover at the same time. Now I just had to keep pace with the two others—both of whom seemed far fresher—until Fern. And my favorite uphill.

It took a lot of will at first, but I felt stronger as we continued, and soon I was setting the pace, the two of them close behind me.

Until we crossed Bush, when I decided that the final stretch up Fern needed a prelude, and for that half block I opened it up a little, not sprinting but trying a fast run. It felt great. I felt better than I’d felt since the first mile, and I knew then the remainder would be fine.

It’s a blind corner onto Fern, with traffic the wrong way. I had to come to a near stop, cutting inside a streetlight, to turn and to check traffic, before I could hit it.

No traffic. No reasons left to pace myself, nothing to save energy for, just this last section and then done.

I ran as fast as I could. Not merely “as fast as I could at that moment”, but about as fast as I’m capable of running. Maybe not, as perhaps I didn’t reach top speed before it was time to slow down. Maybe not, because it was uphill. But the feeling was of running full tilt and leaving nothing back and not being hampered by fatigue. Or anything else.

It was far too brief. For a few moments, total focus, the flow state, like a moment of fleeting escape from the bounds of this existence. Like purified, concentrated play. The carefree moments of childhood stripped clean to one thing, running, and felt again, in a momentary and almost-unnoticed surge of joy.

Then gone, of course. Washed away by immediate fatigue and by the good feeling of having run hard. But it was there, enough to make me smile through the gasping recovery and beyond.

And that I’m very grateful for.

[*] The middle portion was 21/15/9 of 53-pound kettlebell swings and burpees.

Leave a Reply