Sunday, June 30, 2013

Running, 5k, Title 1X, and Happiness...

Today, Sunday June 30th, I ran my first 5k... It was named "Take the Lake" and took place at Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield MA.

I ran this race with a running club (Title 1X) which I have been participating in for 8 weeks... This, as Stacey (our main coach) told us, "is our race. It is the race we have been working towards. Now, lets take the lake!" 

We (me and the rest of Title 1X) walked to the start... We had warmed up already and we were ready to start to run... But it was a big race; there must have been over 1,000 people; and we were near the back. So we count down "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" and we do not take off... We stand in place. Then we start a slow jog. Or, we started a slow jog and then we remembered that children are small, adults aren't crammed together that much, and we can dart between them, just to go ahead. 

Then we started to run. Not a jog, a run, because we were there to run, right? That was when we started...

Ahh, I love running. The freedom, the way of escaping the world, and the thrill of it. It certainly is exciting to weave through people, to overtake runners slower then you, and also to know that you have a pace and they will fall behind you... So we wove in and out. Then we found our pace. My pace was just over 6 mph. That's good. That's steady...

A coach caught up to me. She is called Jesse... We started up a conversation. I kept my pace and she ran along with me. Once in a while we would stop talking. Each time we did I would check my breathing was steady and I would "listen" to my body as we had been taught. I was running well. I was enjoying it, sorry, no, I was loving it.

I would just like to tell you a bit about what we saw as we were running. I look ahead when running, I don't look behind. Wakefield seems like a quaint little town, stuck in two different times. First of you have the rows of bungalows and curving roads... Those seem pretty modern. Then you have old, brick churches, and lush greenery around the lake. This has not purposely been preserved, it was the people who don't litter, and are respectful of the environment. It seemed a very modest town.

The town was missing one thing, music. I love music! I want music to always play. I wanted music on that run. I wouldn't have cared how it was played, but I wanted music! My longing for a bit of music meant I overtook even more people. I wanted to hear what they were playing.

Then I was half way... Water and walking break... Only half of the water I ended up drinking, the rest I threw on myself. Then (surprisingly enough) we littered!!! We got to throw are cups on the ground and keep walking/running. So that was the end of our ten-second water and walking break. Lets keep running!

Then we were lead onto a dirt path... It was a bit downhill, more chance of overtaking! I slowed down a bit but kept on running.

After around 5 mins we came to the 2 mile marker. More water, no walking. I then realized that drinking water while running doesn't quite work out... So I poured the rest on me and threw the cup down. 

"I am ti-red, I am ti-red" was what my legs were telling me. Instead of listening to them I asked Jesse to talk. Jesse talked and I kept moving. "I can do this, I can do this." I knew I could so I slowed down and kept moving.

200 yards to go. We do double that for warm up so I sprint. When I say sprint I don't mean "go a bit faster", I mean "how many people can you overtake." Jesse said "lets overtake her, nice and slowly..." I zoomed ahead.

Then I remembered I was tired and 200 yards isn't as short as it sounds. Then I saw mummy. She was cheering and I sprinted again. I didn't care how tired I was, I was happy...

So I did it, I completed my first 5k under 30 mins with a little help from my friends (and mummy)!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Destination 3: Gifford Woods State Park

We arrived in America carrying the usual stereotypes, including the well worn assumption that everything in the United States is BIGGER. Generally, I'm wary of stereotypes: in my experience, stereotypes tend to humiliate the person who holds them by revealing how little they actually know about the world. In Cambridge, MA, the notion that things are 'bigger' in the US isn't very accurate:  the average person is no bigger than anywhere else (although I have seen some sizeable biceps being flexed at my gym); the houses are generally smaller because land is so expensive; and the amount of SUVs and gas guzzling people carriers is balanced by an equivalent amount of Toyota Prius and little city toy cars. So, if you had asked me on Friday whether I felt that things tended to be bigger in the US, I would have put my head onto one side and thought for a few moments.... maybe the muffins? But no, not generally.

Then we went camping.

We've camped a fair bit in the UK. Pre-children we toured Scotland with a dog who looked liked the Truff, a small tent, a couple of sleeping bags, and rucksacks which jangled with the pots and pans hanging on the outside. The overall effect was more hobo than boy scout, but we were fairly self-sufficient, carrying what we needed on our backs. Our only moment of true envy was when two German bikers turned up on huge Harleys and unpacked a tiny gas stove and an espresso maker. The smell of their coffee mixed with the spray coming off Thurso Bay still haunts me, and I wish that I had had the courage to speak to them (and then cadge a coffee). After children, we camped a lot in our little red VW van and, when we'd grown too big to all fit into the van, we migrated to an awning fastened to its side. I love camping: the setting up a temporary home, the connection with the night when you are somewhere without electricity, the early morning first-light coffee when the birds are practicing the opening bars of their dawn chorus. I also love the people watching because camping in the UK (unless you are wild camping) tends to pack you cheek to jowl with other campers.

This weekend we went camping in Gifford Woods State Park. We have a new tent (which is enormous), and new sleeping bags (which are huge - for the first time in his life, long tall Nathan has a sleeping bag which covers him from his chin to his toes). The campsite we chose seemed typical of most campsites in the State Parks - about 30 pitches, a couple of toilet blocks, and signposted walking trails. This was camping on a whole new scale and our jaws dropped when we were given an entire corner of the forest to ourselves. Everything seemed super-sized to our English eyes: the trees, the amount of firewood we were give to burn in our enormous campfire (an unexpected boon when we realized that the tiny camping stove we had bought didn't work), the warning signs about hiding our food from the forest's black bears.

The next morning we followed one of the signposted trails. Vermont is skiing country and the route was also part of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. The gradient took us almost vertically up a mountainside. The views were stunning (but if you look closely at Maya's face, you'll see that her vertigo is alive and well!)

The girls and the dog proved themselves to be brilliant hikers. The girls were rewarded by suitably American-sized ice-creams on the drive home, the dog slept for fifteen hours straight.

Meanwhile, I needed a bit of time to process the enormity of it all and attended a Quaker meeting that evening. I arrived at the Friends' meeting house with only a few minutes to spare. There was only one other person in the meeting house. This is unusual for a meeting, but the only criteria for a Quaker meeting is where two or more people come together for prayer and worship. The thing I love about Quakers is the absence of ceremony: the meeting starts when people arrive and sit down, and the hour might pass without anyone saying anything or might be interspersed by someone feeling moved to say something. Normally these words are quite spiritual, and are referred to as a 'ministry'. After about fifteen minutes, the only other person in the meeting house spoke.
"Do you think we're in the right place?" he asked. "I'm Mike. I've not been here before."
It took me a few minutes to process his words - my mind was elsewhere, and I wondered for a moment of two whether he was speaking metaphysically, offering a ministry reflecting upon our place in the world perhaps, or literally. He kept looking at me as though expecting me to say something, so I decided he probably wasn't speaking to God.
"I've not been to this meeting either," I said.
"I think we should be somewhere else."
I often have that feeling, but felt that now wasn't a good time to tell him this. I offered a non-committal 'oh' and avoided the temptation to say 'let's stay here, this silence feels good.' Now that we had spoken to one another, it would have felt uncomfortably intimate to sit alone for the rest of the hour in a Meeting Hall where we shouldn't have been.

We found the other meeting together - it was in a different room within the Meeting Hall. About twenty people looked up from their meditations as we apologetically entered the room. There was a lot of fidgeting after we took our seats: we had disturbed the silence. Afterwards, I was invited to stay for tea but, seeking solitude, I cycled slowly home. I've left a little bit of my heart on a mountain side in Vermont and I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to collect it.