Ah, the fresh smell of filth only semi-recognizable. We arrived in NYC Saturday afternoon and hauled our luggage 6 blocks to the Pod Hotel. A pod hotel offers you a bed that fills the whole room with some storage underneath and a box bathroom. But you can’t complain about being right at 39th and Lexington, right?
We spent the weekend wandering around Art Museums and eating ramen and bao buns that one cannot find in Boston. Every day we walked over 30,000 steps. Our feet ached. We munched on sweets from Milk Bar and Levain Bakery until my throat scratched from sugar overload. I obnoxiously posted pictures of sunsets atop tall buildings on my Instagram. #NYCshortweekend.
On Sunday we hiked all the way from our hotel to the Guggenheim, a museum I had never visited before, and then through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History. As we trudged through Central Park with dampened t-shirts (it was about 97 F without humidity), I watched the runners on the road as they headed south. Some of them had flashy neon shorts and tank tops, while others donned old grey shirts with track shorts and mid-calf white socks. I marveled at every single person brave enough to sweat it out in that heat.
I have been a runner for almost 14 years now. As a freshman in high school, I joined the cross country team because my dad said it would help me get in shape for basketball. Funnily enough, I ended up not even playing basketball my senior year. But I ran every year, and constantly felt inadequate. My body was larger than my teammates’ and it took more time for me to carry it, mile by mile. 3 miles always felt horrendously long. I remember secretly rejoicing when my IT band became inflamed and I had to take a month off running. Every summer I promised to train and be more prepared for the season, but my times never improved. Yet every year, I ran in my little red shorts and tank top and counted down the number of races left to complete.
The funny thing is, I’ve never stopped running, even though there are times I really hate it. Every few months since high school, my body would get a strange craving to stretch my legs and pound the pavement. I would always feel so sore after running when I hadn’t in so long. The next day, I’d hit my legs until the lactic acid started to move, and I’d be off. The music in my earbuds has ranged from Incubus to Turkish pop stars.
When my friend Taylor asked me (ok, challenged me) to run a half marathon almost a year ago, I scoffed. The longest I had ever ran without stopping was about seven miles, and that was torture. I figured I would start training, have a good few weeks, and then like many initially titillating hobbies, I would find something better to do like bake low-carb cheesecake. But November became December and then the New Year came, and I ran a mile longer every week. The last few weeks in February I ran 11 or 12 miles on Saturdays. I couldn’t believe it- the chubby last-to-finish high schooler was actually doing this! Just as the cherry blossoms bloomed, I finished the half marathon in Washington, D.C. with my friends Taylor, Areeba and Audrey. We ate a big, much deserved brunch after crossing the finish line.
When I see anyone running (on purpose), my respect for the person skyrockets. Perhaps it’s because I have learned how much practice running takes. “It’s just one foot in front of the other,” our coach at the treadmill studio shouts as we sprint for 30 seconds. Sometimes the simplest action takes the most practice. When we meditate, we simply sit on a cushion and stay still. The practice is letting ourselves stay purely in this moment. It can be easy to rush through life with distractions at every turn, but being alone with ourselves can feel excruciating.
Spending the weekend in New York was a blessing, a much-needed distraction from the ever-approaching school year mayhem. I felt a little sad on the bus back home because we our fun had ended so soon. I thought about the runners in the park. If we, runners, ran for the finish, we would quickly give up and find something more enjoyable to do like barre or hip hop yoga. We run because we enjoy the challenge, we thrive on finding presence in the pain. As Haruki Murakami wrote in his memoir about training for the New York City Marathon, “pain is inevitable…but suffering if optional.” Arriving back in our humble Boston studio, I collapsed on the bed and massaged my feet.