I hook my headphones behind my ears and tug on my Nike head warmer. Fishing through what I have dubbed as my “running basket,” a hodgepodge of running gear including gloves, a foot roller, the Stick, chafing lotion and other essentials, I pull out a pink sweatband hat. It already has seen hundreds of miles, thousands of people. It’s trekked out with me in the hot summer sun. It has withstood the beating of hard, downpouring rain. Today, it helps me to conquer the chilled New York City air.
I hoped to beat the snow.
As I jog down my apartment stairs, my headphones automatically sync with my Spotify playlist. Welcome to New York, croons Taylor. No one can hear the guilty pleasure against my ears and my jog turns into a bouncy dance down each stair.
Pushing the door open onto Lexington Avenue, an immediate rush of activity hits me. It’s Sunday and everyone is on the easy move. Strollers with toddlers bundled in cottonball poof jackets, heads sacredly hidden from view and chill with tasseled winter caps. Chattering mothers, side-by-side, gossip above their children’s clasped gloved hands. A taxi pulls over to the avenue’s side, vacant. The driver violently swings the door open, steps out to light a cigarette, yelling out to a fellow-driver in another language.
I begin to run north, toward Central Park. Each block is a new crowd of people to weave around. As I clip through Kips Bay, my legs moving in time to the beats of my music, I am greeted with shop and restaurant owners standing just inside their front doors, eyeballing each potential customer walking past. Couples grasp arms, smokey breath escaping their mouths, laughter and stories floating amidst them. I only run, my arms guiding my body forward, my pace light and low due to the miles ahead.
As I near the park, more and more runners enter the avenue, moving with me. Across the street, a middle-aged woman with a fluorescent pink Brooks jacket and a matching headband stops only to look left and right, swiftly crossing to my side. We smile at each other, acknowledging many things: the beautiful day, the thrill of the run, the solidarity of all the runners heading into the park, the sacred bond of the Sunday Long Run.
Running in Central Park is my Church. Sunday arrives and the Long Run calls my name and hundreds of others. We gather together in the same holy space, experiencing very similar, yet extravagantly different experiences. We all see the wonder of each turn, the passion in each one’s eyes, the pumping of arms, the sweeping away of sweat from foreheads. We all sense pain, yet we all sense triumph and the beauty of exertion.
Each hill, each landmark is another part of the sacred service. I grew up a Catholic, attending mass with my family every Sunday. The rituals, the rites, the songs— they have all lost meaning over time. But here, here in the run, I am renewed. My spirit is lifted, connecting me with the absolute truth of physical exertion and, ultimately, achievement. My community surrounds me, slapping their brand-of-choice shoes against the gritty pavement, exhaling raggedly, gasping for more and more air as they climb Harlem Hill.
I finish my run at Columbus Circle, a meaningful landmark for me. I take a moment to pause, breath in deeply. I lift my face up toward the sky, wet snow making itself at home on my eyelashes and cheeks. It was here in Columbus Circle on a Sunday that I gathered over a hundred NYC runners in 2013 in a huge circle, arms around each other, a 10k run awaiting us. The Monday before, the Boston Marathon finishline was devastatingly wrecked with two planted bombs, shaking the running community. Shaking us, but not frightening us or stopping us. On that Sunday, we gathered together at Columbus Circle to share laughter and hugs, high fives and chatter. In running together as one community, we overcame the wreckage of that fateful Monday and showed Boston and the running community that we were all one, from NYC to all.
So yes, Sunday in Central Park is my church. I gather my thoughts, warming my insides with thoughtful reflection, and head back out into the heart of Manhattan.
I have a run to complete.
Thanks for the love. Run with your heart, xo Babs