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Run 45: Bronx Babies

June 16, 2012

Miles: 8

Other Runners: 2

There are times of the day when it’s important to get psyched up for a run, to recognize that it might not be great, that it might just be an hour to sweat rather than to find beauty or slow one’s thoughts.  Running at 5 am on a Monday? Peaceful. Uneventful, save the occasional raccoon. Running on weekend afternoons, however, is a veritable shit-show: drivers don’t pay attention; people whip weed-whackers beside the sidewalk; kids who can barely ride bikes careen toward you, laughing. These things are pretty much universal, I’ve learned. There is therefore nothing so sacred as running early on a Sunday morning, or very late at night. Beside the weekend, the absolute worst time to run is the hot slot between 2pm and 5 on a Friday afternoon in June before school lets out for the summer. I thought about this yesterday, as I arrived home after a full morning of research interviews and subway transfers and considered a run. Unlike every- every– other day I’ve spent in beautiful New York, my calendar for the afternoon was blank. Nothing! It was also 1:30, and there wasn’t much time before the neighborhood’s schools loosed so many lovely, loud little ones onto the Bronx’s shady lanes.

Of course, I didn’t actually leave the house until about 3. Having used up my life’s allotment of urgency and careful planning, it felt, I laid on my stomach on the bed and read for an hour. I finally stood up and, too tired to feel any sort of trepidation, slouched into my running clothes, jammed on my shoes, and took the elevator downstairs. The sun was white-hot when I walked outside, the air humid. The undersides of the leaves above me were grey. I ran the first three or so miles in a daze, convinced that if I slowed to a walk I might slow further to be still, to lay down and, wherever I was, to sleep and sleep and sleep.

This changed, probably unsurprisingly, as I reached the first middle school on my route. There was a flood of children before me, and as I passed two tiny girls with stick-straight hair, white blouses, and navy skirts, they lifted their arms in the air, thumbs up, and one called out, “Nice job! Nice job running!” Sorry kids: I did not expect you to be so great. I ran on, skirting around women slowly pushing strollers and a dad bent over, explaining something to two little boys. Everyone smiled at me, and to be very honest, I can’t imagine I was much to look at- sweaty, frizzy hair, day-glo running clothes. I reached Van Cortland Park and ran through the lush woods. On John Muir Trail, two teenage girls jogging down a steep hill called out hello’s as I moved my body up it.

Back to the sunny fields, where soccer and cricket matches are played on the weekend, I slowed to a walk and watched a man and a very little boy play at the water fountain. The dad wore shorts and a t-shirt and a heavy gold chain around his neck, and each time his son toddled closer to the fountain, he gently splashed the water with his hand flat, sending a sparkling spray onto the boy. There were shrieks of laughter from the little one, and the man laughed, too. He stepped aside so I could get a drink, and as I bent over, I saw from the corner of my eye the boy’s damp black curls move closer. Suddenly almost below me, he stretched his head forward, hoping I might splash him as well. I laughed, a true, almost awe-filled laugh at the sweetness of the moment, and ran on. Before me, a teenage girl with long dark hair in a flowery dress chased a too-cool-for-school young man below a big white oak. They stopped running and stood apart, breathing heavily and teasing each other. As I reached the street and train station on the west side of the park, I looked up and saw a lanky 6- or 7- year old perched on the bottom rung of the railing above me. She was examining a camera with a man I presume was her dad, and when she noticed me I waved at her. She waved back shyly. I passed below, then turned to look back. She smiled and pointed the camera at me, a little shakily.

I ran up toward the apartment where I’m staying, hot and awake. The flagstone sidewalks were all but covered by bowing day-lillies, and the streets were quiet.

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