The First Run

It was a shade before four in the morning, still dark and as I walked down the street I saw a crowd along Morato blocking traffic. Underage girls were pouring out of a club, their dresses glimmer and glitz and their faces smeared with lipstick and drunkenness, and on their arms their boys, drunk too and unsteady flagging cabs. The crowd collapsed into itself as a scuffle began and I made me way further down the street to the meeting spot. It was not too long ago that I might have been stumbling out of a club myself, drunk and unsteady and grasping for something, anything, to make sense of the night. But this morning I was up at three and I was dressed in a runner’s singlet of white and orange and it became clear to me that I was a different person. The fight broke out behind me and I strode away, met up with friends from the gym, and we rode off to BGC together.

We waited for the race to start and for other friends from the gym to arrive. As we stood in the parking lot someone yelled my name and I turned in answer. I did not know anyone else who had joined the run, apart from the gym dudes who had invited me. I whipped my head around, looking for a familiar face among the crowd of white and orange jerseys. Instead it was two girls, with high heels and shrill laughs, stumbling to a car with their boys. I recognized them quickly as former students from when I was teaching high school, but the surroundings and circumstances made it difficult for me to process the situation.

“Are you running, sir?” the one I was more familiar with asked.

“Yes. Are you drunk?”

“No,” she lied and laughed as a boy took her and led her away and I watched them all walk away, their path serpentine as if they were trying to dodge bullets in slow motion. The thoughts returned of how, it felt just like yesterday, that at four, five in the morning I would have been heading home from partying and being drunk. I was supposed to have been partying hard on Saturday night and welcoming the Sunday morning sun with a shot of whiskey in my hand. But no, things had to change. And though I missed the partying hard (and I believe I might still be able to do it every once in a while) that time had passed and I had lived that up, being wild enough for many lifetimes over.

Then my group watched as the first set of runners, who would be going 21K and who would still be running by the time we left the venue, were sent off. Then came the 10K runners, then 5, and finally us. In the group I was with, I was the most physically unfit, as most of them had been hitting the gym for at least a few months, some had been doing it near daily for two years, and we were also with one of our gym instructors. We made jokes to assuage the embarrassment of running the shortest available distance. We noticed that for a few moments we were surrounded by the elderly and children who were also part of the 3K run.

As we were called to the starting line the group became more heterogenous, and we went through stretches and looked at the people we would be running with. It was a mix of young and old and middle-aged and those, like me trying to keep a grasp on youth while slipping into their 30s. The gun went off and so did we.

Our group broke apart as the better runners among us sprinted forward to leave the crowd behind. I chose to pace, allowing the first wave of strong runners to pull far ahead but staying ahead of the next wave. I figured that I could stay somewhere in the middle of the pack and acquit myself respectably with a good first run.

I maintained pace for a few blocks, skipped the first two water stations. At the third, which was near the halfway mark, I was wheezing but I managed to keep pushing until I was in the direction headed back. I took the water station stop as a chance to catch my breath and walk for about thirty seconds, then I was off and jogging again. I kept near the front of the middle pack until, after about five more minutes of jogging, I could not maintain pace and I fell back, hands on the top of my head as I tried to take in more air. Another turned revealed a long street, and this street had a garbage truck smack dab in the middle of it so I gulped down, sprinted past the garbage truck, then slowed when I had passed it and its fumes.

While in my head I had rationalized 3K as a short distance, and in fact had that morning been contemplating making it a 5K run instead (it’s only about one and a quarter acad ovals right? I walk that in a cinch!), I found my feet feeling leaden and my knee starting to groan.

I knew that I could not just walk the rest of it. I had to push myself to find a way to keep running. Also, walking was boring and I was liable to just quit if I got bored.

I realized the best way to get through the run. Do what comes naturally. And so I found a pretty girl, and I ran behind her and tried to keep pace. She would run and so would I. And when she slowed, I did too. For about a half a klick I followed the pretty girl’s pace, her long strong legs leading me on. And then with a sprint she was gone and I was left alone chugging along. While maintaining a jog I turned a familiar corner and saw the condos of Serendra. Then I was pushing past the Fully Booked building and turning another corner and  there was the big digital clock, screaming red and I did not even bother to check the time and I put my head down and plunged forward and past the finish line.

Some of the guys from the gym came in the top 20. I came in the middle of the pack. I caught my breath and kept walking. The sun had come up and it was warm and glowing and I felt a burning, through my jersey and through my skin and it went through my chest and became a yelp and an exhalation. And I ended my run.