At Dawn [September 13, 2019]

Journal entry for September 13th, 2019

Dear Pookie,

My first day on my new schedule, and it was a success. I just wrapped up my longest meditation session ever – a full two hours. Not bad for my first time, but I definitely could’ve done better. I’m glad I’ve decided to prepare and train for my ten day Vipassana meditation retreat, because this won’t be easy. Maybe even harder than the 50 mile race. But I know the benefits will be tremendous, especially when I look at how today went. My run, treading water at the pool – I was able to sustain a level of focus that I have only achieved in fleeting moments.

But there will be plenty of talk about that later on. I mostly wanted to talk about my run from this past Sunday, which was a big reason why I shifted from continuing writing my series “Running to Stand Still” to a more conventional approach of journal entries. Right now, it doesn’t make sense to look into the past – even just a few months ago – when there’s so much going on in the present that I can use.

So on Sunday, I set my alarm for 4:00 AM. I usually wake up early, but not this early. But I needed to get 15 miles in, and Gf had a birthday party she had to go to. And I was going to meet up with a friend to watch the UFC pay-per-view from the night before (since we’re old geezers now, instead of fooling ourselves to stay up late on a Saturday, we avoid spoilers and watch a recorded version the next morning…this has been a tremendous success). I told him I was going to go to BRC, the Russian spa in Fair Lawn, since we haven’t done any full recovery since the Virginia Beach Half Marathon. And I had purchased a few Groupons for super cheap entry months prior. You know, when I was still working and had plenty of extra money.

Anyway, so if we wanted to hit the road by 9 AM, I needed to wake up early. Since I didn’t know how fast I would be able to go since I ran 20 miles the day prior, I woke up at 4 AM. Figure give me about half an hour to an hour to fully wake up, have some tea, get changed and then head out. Plus, it wasn’t so bad; we had woken up at a similar time for the half marathon and watching the sunrise by the beach was probably a highlight of the trip. Having the chance to watch it rise over New York City wouldn’t be too shabby.

I can easily get to 15 miles from our apartment if I head towards Liberty State Park, run just about every path there, and then head back. The only thing I realized was that at 4 AM, it is completely dark. It’s legitimately nighttime. And to get to Liberty State Park from our place, you have to go through some pretty unsavory neighborhoods. And Gf was quick to bring up that the lady who was assaulted and murdered in the park near us was done so on a Sunday. So yeah, not ideal. I decided to take a different route, basically the reverse of what I normally do, which would take me through the sketchier parts of the city once the sun was already out.

I step outside the apartment, and – yep – pitch black. And there is literally nobody outside. There are barely any cars. Even though Gf pleaded for me to take my phone with me just in case something happened, I kinda just wanted to enjoy the moment. Surprisingly, I wasn’t tired and my legs didn’t feel completely dead from the day before. So I gave running a try.

I immediately fell into a rhythm, as my breathing and the sneakers hitting the pavement was the only thing I was able to hear. From the top of the hill, I see the Manhattan skyline completely lit up far in the distance, and I could tell the sky was starting to change color – foreshadowing what’s to come. I knew that at this rate, I was going to be right by the waterfront when the sky was really getting pretty. And in Liberty State Park as it was coming up. At that moment, I was grateful for my decision.

My watch beeped, and I made it to one mile. I was utterly shocked at the pace I was going, because of how effortless I was moving. And the fact that I ran 20 miles just the previous day. At this pace, waking up at 4 AM was completely unnecessary. When I reached the second mile, it was clear that I could afford to slow down. And it was probably advisable.

Reaching mile two coincided nicely with an absolutely breathtaking image that I hope to never forget. A part of me wished I had my phone, so I could take a picture. But deeper down, a larger part of me was thankful I didn’t. So I could just take it all in and be present in that moment. The Katyn Memorial along the Jersey City waterfront, with the still lit up Manhattan skyline behind it, and then streaks of pinks and purples all around it. Because one of the things I love about Jersey City is that when the sun rises, it literally rises over New York. In Jersey City, we have a first row view to a pretty spectacular show. I couldn’t help but tear at the sight of it. It wasn’t any thought or memory or anything. It was just how awesome that moment was, and how great it feels to be alive.

Yeah, this 15 miles was going to be no problem.

I book it through mile 3, because I would be heading away from the sunrise and wouldn’t be able to see it. So I wanted to maximize the time in the park to be able to run with that as my backdrop. As soon as I get near the light rail stop by the medical center on a path that heads into the Liberty State Park, I stop completely in my tracks.

I’m going to walk as much as possible. I’m already ahead on time and I feel great. I have nothing to prove. I want to just enjoy the sunrise for as long as possible. I want to savor it. Later on if I want to run, so be it. But right now, I’m walking. Besides, training for ultras is all about time on my feet. And sometimes, to know when to slow the fuck down.

I don’t remember the last time I was truly in awe of something, but it’s just like riding a bike. You don’t forget how to process this particular emotion. There’s no need to process, because it’s just…whatever it is you’re in awe of. And I just kept shaking my head to no one in particular (especially because…well, there was no one even there). I kept saying to myself, “Everyday, this happens everyday. And most of us completely miss this.”  That’s the crazy thing to me, and I’m guilty of it just as much as everyone else is. Until Virginia Beach, the last time I saw the sunrise would be when I would drive to work in the Bronx. Ironically enough, I would see it rise over New York City. And I would always think to myself, “One day, this is going to seem beautiful to me, and I’ll be able to appreciate it. But right now, it’s taunting me.”

Well, this was that moment where I could appreciate it. And that’s exactly what I was doing. Completely free, by choice, I was enjoying the sunrise. And it was awesome. When you’re presented with it, it’s completely mind-boggling that we all choose to miss it when we have these tickets to see this amazing show. And it happens everyday. It’s just one of those everyday miracles that we are witnesses to.

My mind then drifted to thinking about ancient times, like caveman days. How crazy would it be when you’re living in this completely hostile world, with no guarantee that you will make it through the night and then when the sun begins to rise, all those predators and darkness and fear just recedes. No wonder ancient people worshipped the freaking sun. And I mean, farmers wake up when the sun rises and go to sleep when it sets. And I’m sure the cavemen did. Nature has set a biological clock for us. Maybe it’s human nature to keep these hours. And maybe we’re the unnatural ones, with all our technology and gizmos that trick us into staying awake. The duality of the sunrise and the skyscrapers along the skyline did not escape me.

And then I thought, “Damnit, this moment would be perfect to go really into and would fit in nicely into one of the sixteen chapters I have on “Running to Stand Still”, this one going by the description “Light Vs. Dark.” But that’s when the kernel was planted into my head, that maybe I would be better served not writing that tale just yet. Because after all, my tale is not yet written either. I’m still living it. So this is me just briefly describing and documenting that event to then maybe delve more into at a much later date, once this is all over and fit it into the larger narrative. Or not, we’ll see what happens. Regardless, it was a moment that really stuck out to me and set the tone of my day.

Once I get to Liberty State Park, once I realize I am one of the few people there (the other people were photographers taking photos of the sunrise) I keep walking. Along the water, then my only company is the many species of birds. If you’ve ever been to the park, you know that there are identification charts throughout the park with drawings of all the different birds you might come across – with descriptions of what they look like…and what sound they make! Normally when I go into the park, there are so many people it’s hard for me to discern and recognize the different birds.

Not the case today. I was completely baffled by the assortment of colorful birds in the park. Maybe they only come out when it’s not crowded or maybe they’re just morning people, but it was really cool. I’ve never been a big bird guy and never understood the whole birdwatching thing, but I understood it now.

Towards the end of the walkway, I still had roughly five miles to go in the park before setting out for the final two one the way home. The sun was completely up, so I decided to run the rest. Walking around Port Liberte, I completely scared the crap out of a mom who was walking her kid in a stroller. I was running up behind here and trying to awkwardly cough so that she could hear I was coming. It didn’t seem like she did so when I was like fifteen feet behind her, I calmly say, “Hey, just so you don’t get scared, I’m coming up behind you on your left.” As is customary. I mean usually I say, “Behind you on your left or something”, but it was the morning and I wanted to be friendly.

Well, just the sound of another person’s voice was enough to make her jump. I couldn’t help but laugh a little and I couldn’t hold it back, but as I passed I said, “Yeah, that’s why I always like to warn people.” We both had a laugh, and she was appreciative that I announced my presence rather than just fly by her.

Random thought: I like running near Port Liberte because it reminds me of Disney World.

With plenty of time to spare, I start my way back to the apartment. As I run by the aforementioned sketchy areas, there are still not many people out since I’m a little ahead of schedule and Sunday morning is probably the day of the week that most people choose to sleep in. As I run through the neighborhood, I see people’s eyes just fixed on me and with their mouths open. It’s not so much that I looked impressive (I kept my shirt on during this run for once – it was on the chilly side), it was just that it was pretty apparent that this wasn’t just a quick five mile jaunt. You can tell I had been out there for awhile, so I’m sure it was a little confusing to see, especially in that neighborhood.

I make it back home. 35 miles in two days. And the last two miles were faster than any of the previous 33. And my body feels amazing. If it wasn’t for the spa day that we had planned and paid for beforehand, I could have easily skipped it. But it was time to enjoy and relax for a second. I look up at the sky, the sun now completely up. This felt like it was a day just for me, like I worked for earned the sunlight today. The rest of the day had a beautiful glow to it – that I of course spent the rest of in saunas and cold tubs in a windowless basement in Fair Lawn and watching various bloodbaths that had taken place the night prior in a UFC octagon.

But I earned it. And that is why I run. So I could enjoy those moments to disconnect. But also to explore. Myself and the world around me. This particular run opened up my eyes to things that I usually don’t pay any attention to. It helps me see things in a different light. A really memorable run that I want to be sure doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

I have to do 18 miles tomorrow and then 15 the next day. Tomorrow for my post, I might put up a short story that I wrote when I was in college. I kinda just want a reason so I can create my short story page on the site rather than just finishing the one that I am working on currently. From here on out, it’ll be journal entires for the most part, the pre-race poems when they come up, short stories also as they come up, maybe if I’m feeling up to it chapters from “Running to Stand Still”, and what I call ‘post-mortem’ blogs of recent races that I’ve run. As long as I’m putting out something just about everyday.

I’m excited for what’s ahead, and this new beginning.

– Coach

Running

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