Yesterday afternoon I managed to work in a 7.3 mile run, doing a figure-eight, with the first loop down the long hill parallel to the converted taxiway to the west from my lodging, around past the junkyard and the secret city’s front gate, then back up along 2nd Street between the lodging and the refectory, and around to the east along my usual route, past the giant white hangar where they keep the UFO and down to 12th Street, where I turned around and then back past the car wash, the firehouse, and the stadium.
By the time I got to that last mile, from the firehouse back to the lodging, I was nicely warmed up and I had that long stride going, the kind of stride where you feel as if the ground trembles a little bit at each step from the sheer exhilaration of being such an important part of such a good run for you. Where you feel as if the entire earth is canted about five degrees downhill in your direction of travel, that all that’s necessary is to just cast yourself onto that azimuth and gravity will take you along, like being in orbit, where you keep falling toward the earth as is natural, but unlike ordinary running, the earth keeps moving away and a little bit back from you.
This was the second time in a month that I’d done the same route, and I was a little faster on it the first time (although on 12/22 I didn’t have the lovely gazelle stride down pat like yesterday). That day I was all excited because I had managed at the very end to get my heart rate up to what the monitor told me was 100% of maximum heart-rate (but which was actually one measly beat-per-minute short.
Yesterday I had that in mind, and as I was coasting along the earth’s surface there on my last mile, I kept on trying to push myself hard enough to finish strong, without wearing myself down prematurely. There’s some kind of balance there between the kinetic memory of moving your muscles at a certain cadence, the rhythmic impact of the feet on the pavement and the angle of attack of each footstep as determined by the alignment of the pelvis, the memory of how to align the spinal column on that moving platform of the pelvis and how to use the hip flexors and abdominal muscles to keep it steadily upright, the memory of moving breath in and out of the chest cavity using the diaphragm muscle to squeeze and release from the bottom up, pressing for leverage against that awesomely gliding platform of the pelvis, the cadence again of breathing and feeling the air move in and out of the pharynx (with its little skull mounted on top, like a plastic baseball stuck on a car antenna) which is being kept open and inline by the spinal column.
All those kinesthetic memories are flooding back, like a seven-minute-mile madeline, at the same time that today’s energy is flooding out, and an entirely different nervous system is busy checking on that, feeling how hard the heart is beating in its little cozy cavity nestled between the lungs and the ribcage, feeling the deoxygenated air being forced out of the lungs and newly oxygenated air being drawn in through the alveoli, feeling the lactic acid build up in the muscles of the lower extremities and being carried away by the bloodstream: all that is entirely new every time I run and entirely dependent on circumstances; how much I ate for lunch, how cold is it outside, how much water I’ve drunk in the last couple hours, et alia.
And somewhere in the middle is that barely conscious nervous plexus that’s adjusting the kinetic configuration according to the autonomic nervous system’s feedback about how much energy there is in the tank and how much energy it will take to maintain the kinetic configuration. This part changes, of course, also depending on the present fitness level, or to put it in simple one-dimensional terms, how fast the heart can pump the used blood back from the muscles and into the lungs, where the wastes can be expelled into breath.
Maybe yesterday’s answer happened to be “no, not today.” I turned up 2nd Street for the final sprint to the stop sign on top of the hill and despite a hasty cycle through several different kinetic configurations (made different and new because now I was climbing and had to keep lifting the pelvis, using my leg muscles as levers, as well as maintaining that inexorable forward motion of the pelvis and the spinal column), I couldn’t do either one of two things: neither bust that previous HR record, the 99-and-a-half percent one from December, nor shatter my time from the stadium back home; it took another 25 seconds more than it had earlier in the week.
But in the end I can declare victory: I ran further than I did on Wednesday, and I finished feeling stronger than I had on the 22nd, with that gazelle stride and, as I got to 25 meters out from the stop sign, an extra measure of zip drawn from somewhere in my kinetic consciousness: somehow some sense memory declaring, in the haste of the instant, while seeing the finish line, while seeing safety from the saber-tooth in pursuit, while seeing the imminence of rest, “Yes, I have a little faster left.”
(P.S. Picture is the secret city, heading along yesterday’s route from the scrap yard to the front gate. Some forgotten well-wisher sent along the nicely wrapped sanitary roll that’s ornamenting the dashboard.)