Sunday, July 18, 2010

Three Gifts

Yesterday, I experienced the best morning of my life.

Afflicted by a sinus infection, I hadn't run since the Aquathlon the previous Saturday so arriving at the race I wasn't expecting very much from myself. But as I stood at the start line warming up to Lupe Fiasco and Lady Gaga, words Liz had spoken last night echoed in my head. "You've got to say that 'I did this.' even before you begin the project. No maybe's. No 'I'll try'."

"I'll race under an 8-minute mile pace today."

What? I've done that once in my life. A year ago. That was when I ran regularly. I've yet to develop a real training schedule for this year and stick to it. My race times fall within the mid 8's this year and now I'm looking to hack half a minute from my time? Absurdity. I'm setting myself up for disappointment.

But too late to think anymore for the race horn started. Most of the time, the first ten minutes or so of these New York Road Runner races are about jostling for position and elbowing people out of your way. Not today. From the start, every runner around me took off at a pace I thought bewildering. No one's saving their energy?

Fine with me!

I pushed through the first mile.
9:08 on the race clock. Drop a minute for the time to the start line and I'm on schedule.
I picked up my pace for the second mile.
16:32 on the race clock. 7:24 mile! The blood surged through my veins. My goal in my hands!
I labored through the third mile.
24:59 on the race clock. 8:27 pace. The hills and the dehydration were getting to me. The benchmarks, the other runners around me, these rungs on the ladder were pulling away from me. Runners were overtaking me.

I summoned what fire I could to push me over the next half mile. And then a quarter mile. The finish line in sight, I shouted to the sky "C'mon let's do this!" As if answering my call, a large runner, at least 3 inches taller than my 6 feet darted past me, ebon skin glistening in the sun. I took off after him and matched him stride for stride, quadriceps churning, hamstrings grunting. His strides though, fell a half-step ahead of mine and the gap would not close.

"Your body can do just about anything you tell it for another 3 steps."

I had heard those words said somewhere in the depths of time. Rally! One final surge of strength, one more painful breath and my foot fell in front of his. Victory.

Or so I thought. Too soon. I had only stared, only worked for the first sensor mat on the ground. Looking up, 20 strides distant stood the pillars, the bright blue banner with the word "Finish" writ across it. Stumbling, I chased after my marker. But to no avail. I had lost my focus. Momentum carried me across the finish line. Coughing and dry heaving, the accumulation of 4 miles fell upon me all at once. I kept walking. I never liked people asking me if I was OK. I lost sight of my marker. Where had he gone to in the frenzy of the finish? He may have never noticed the shadow he picked up along those last 300 meters but I wanted to thank him. Without his effort, I do not think I could have drawn out the best within me.

Apples and Gatorade for breakfast. I gathered my belongings and made my way out of the park. I didn't
feel bad at all. I wish I could've beat him but that's the past. I left my guts out on the course today. Filled with so many endorphins, there's no space left for regret.

Walking, a welcome respite from the rough running a few moments ago, I heard a violin cut the air. At the end of the literary walk a woman stood her bow drawn over those strings, that music danced through the air.

I sat.
I listened.
I had the best morning of my life.

Gracefully, elegantly, she called out the names of the pieces she played. Some pieces immediately recognizable, Vivaldi, Brahms, Bach, Handel, those I knew, and many others I didn't. The sunlight drifted through the leaves and the breeze wafted through the shade.

I sat.
I listened.
I had the best morning of my life.

I received two gifts that day. I'm not sure the givers were aware of what they had presented me.


I haven't lived very long but from the little I've learned, I've come to believe that happiness surprises you.   My nemesis appearing 300 meters from the finish, spurring me on, challenging me, asking me if the effort I had given was all the effort I had to give; my valkyrie, violin in hand, ferrying my soul from battle to repose; their heart was their gift to me.

They did what they loved.
And they blessed me.

I can't pay them back. Paying them back would be an insult.
So I will honor them by paying it forward.

My love. Out in the open.
My heart. Bared for all.
My soul. My gift.

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