Saturday, I was determined to run in my favorite sanctuary, Central Park. The streets have been filled with ice, slush, and snow for over a month, but I knew the road around the park would probably be plowed and fairly clear. 30-degree weather had been keeping me on the treadmill, but it was 34 degrees, and I needed a break. No matter what, I thought, I am going to run outside.
I bundled up and headed out, immediately regretting my decision. It was nasty out, but not raining hard enough for me to give up and return to treadmill monotony. It was just a steady, unrelenting drizzle (almost mist) of ice-cold rain. But I knew it would beat another day on the treadmill.
I felt better the moment my feet hit the familiar, tree-lined black pavement. There were plenty of other runners out torturing themselves in the ice-rain, and I felt very comfortable and confident that I had made the right decision by sticking with my plan. Pretty soon, I was well into my running groove, maintaining my pace, my breathing, thinking about nothing but the park and how familiar this route is to me. Soon I was rounding the road at what long ago, I named the Northwest Corner of Death.
The first time I came across the Northwest Corner of Death was about four years ago when I decided I was going to skip running around the reservoir in the center of the park and just start running around the entire park. There is a shortcut you can take in this corner of the park that cuts off about a mile of the distance you would run if you ran on the road all the way around the park. My first time not taking the shortcut is when I understood why the shortcut is there.
There is no gentle way of putting it; this corner--flanked by two giant hills--sucks even if you are expecting the pain that lies ahead. There have been several races I've done in Central Park, and usually I only glance at where the start is. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a race, and suddenly, instead of taking the shortcut, I am climbing a hill--a big, bad, wolf of a hill. If you run around the park counterclockwise, you are already on top of the second hill when you begin the corner (due to elevation variances around the park). You enjoy a nice, downhill curve overlooking the ice rink (which is a pool during the summer), then you climb the other hill and enjoy very lovely, LONG downhill until the tennis courts. If you are running clockwise around the park, you climb twice. The downhill on the first hill is a tease when you know your second climb is literally around the corner. Clockwise is definitely harder.
I was running counterclockwise. Though I was running in the easier direction, the climb on that hill is no small dice; it looks even more looming with cliff-like sandstone overhanging in the road.
Noting the beauty of the snow-covered rocks on my left, and being mindful of a few, small stubborn patches of ice in the road, I climbed the second hill, and thought about how hard it used to be for me. The Northwest Corner of Death, for the first time, held no power over me, even though I am far from being in race-shape for the spring season.
I have progressed in my years of running, and this realization left me feeling elated! No more, is this corner my own personal journey through hilly Hades, but an opportunity to reach the top and enjoy my downhill stride grandeur.
Whatever you've accomplished over the years, recognize it and enjoy your own downhill stride grandeur. There's nothing like giving yourself a pat on the back.