Thursday, August 16, 2012


The brilliant teacher of writing, Ann Lamott, writes in the book of the same name about the importance of writing “bird by bird.” She uses the example of the blank page being so daunting for the writer, and therefore, the key is to just start by describing some birds. Start by doing something.

For the aspiring dunker and recovering Achilles tendon-er, the advice rings so true. After watching (and watching, and watching) the pitiful first leaps towards the rim since my injury, hope does not seem to be easy to find. With so much room to make up—I barely touched net—it is easy to convince myself that dunking is as likely as Lil’Wayne being named “Best Rapper Alive.” Wait, bad example…

So what to do? Lamott has her birds, and I have my seconds. Though I would eschew running long-distance in a second for sprints and basketball running, I know that all I have at this point is my stopwatch and my word—sorry, Tony Montana.

My stopwatch usually runs to 15 or 20 minutes before I stop, but two nights ago, I ran for 22:18. Do not forget the 18 seconds.

And last night? I had to show some improvement, some Northeast movement on the graph, so I decided that I would, come hell or high temperatures, run at least 22:19.

It’s one of those nights. You know the type. There is no reason that I should already be tired after (what!) four minutes. 18 minutes, 19 seconds to go, and I’ve already approximated that slouchy, head and shoulders not above the knees, posture of the struggling long-distance runner.

I slept well last night, though I maybe lost 15 minutes here and there with that early morning text—stupid Eastern Standard Time. I have been eating well, and not too heavily, for the last few days. Yes, it’s a few degrees hotter than usual, but still, enough to make me want to quit after four minutes?

I take my usual trek across the street and down the level cement to the park that is as close to my “usual” as exists. Running the bike path, I make sure to not look behind me after I pass up walkers—it’s a little embarrassing to see people who should have been left in the dust still shuffling along, not too far behind, in my rearview.

My breathing is fairly regular, and I get a bit of that fabled “second wind.”

At just before 11 minutes, I decide to double back, as the stairs I’m about to climb will delay me enough to break my run into almost-perfect halves.

Oh, man, the stairs. There are three sections, each with about ten steps, and there are times on the stairs that I feel like a stalled car, wondering if I’m making any forward momentum even though my legs are moving. The stairs are my toughest test, even tougher than the last minute of my runs.

Except for today. Today, I feel good, despite the heat, despite the shoulder/upper chest cramps, and sweat that makes me squint like I’m continually winking. I feel good because I have taken myself to my limit, and I even lose track of the stopwatch for a minute.

I see the gate to my apartment that signals the end of my run. I look hopefully at my stopwatch, hoping I have crossed the 22:18 threshold.

22:38. Yep, now I guess the bar has been raised. So much for going at least a second more each successive run. So, tomorrow?

22:58, it is.

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