The crisp New York morning was bitingly cold. 28 degree - said the temperature billboard at one brownstone corner in Midtown East. Random patches of sunshine scattered on Fifth Avenue, polished shinny store banners perching on top of the impeccable glass windows of Abercrombie, Gucci, Apple, Tiffany. Few passerbys wandered happily along the cobblestones surrounding Central Park, alongside tourists in decorative carriages, whose eyes opened wide with excitement like those of children. Unlike the passengers whom they carried, the horses decked up with bright red pompom meekly clucked their steel shoes at the driver's nudge, their heads hanging low, their jaws sluggishly grinding some leftover straws. It was a normal lazy New York sunday.
The cold refreshing air stung my bare lower calf as I jogged hurriedly towards the park. "Hitch" playing on TNT, and Mug's warm embrace, had - like always - kept me at the cozy apartment longer than expected. The timing however worked out perfectly. Just like me, Yuko was often running late. As an implied code, we had learnt to show up 15 minutes later than the agreed time.
As I reached the park entrance, Yuko emerged from the nearby subway station, shivering slightly. We had layered up with long-sleeved thermal shirts and fleece jackets, but none were wind-proof. Since our muscles were already stiff, we decided to skip the traditional stretching warm-up at a park bench to prevent muscle tearing. Instead, we jogged slowly for the first mile and exchanged small talks. As I now spent three to four days a week at Muggy's, I didn't get to see Yuko as often, and was glad to catch up on our weekly long run. Her boss had warned all employees of the company's unstable financial situation; a mutual friend had just been laid off; another mutual friend was eight-month pregnant. We agreed to call the first friend to express consolation, and wondered if the second was planning to get married to her long-term boyfriend. Soon, the talk trailed off as we needed to concentrate on our own breathing. While the cool air swept off sweat quickly and prevented us from steaming, its dryness made breathing quite difficult. Not many runners or bikers ventured out today, allowing us ample room to pace ourselves. I counted the usual marks - a sign East 90th street, an entrance to the Jackie Kennedy trail that circumnavigated the Reservoir, the steep curve leading to the west side. After two miles, I started to feel the tightening of my inner thighs, the mild ache in my left rib, the soothing numbness of my toes. I could feel my calf muscles quenching at each landing, and the balls of my feet striking the hard cement in monotone beats - one... two... one... two - like the counting of a ballet exercise. The endorphin instantly kicked in. My mind suddenly went blank, focusing on nothing but the faint smoke of my breath and the winding miles ahead.
At the fifth mile, I reached for the ipod shuffle and turned on "Atlas Shrugged". Beating my expectation, audio books had turned out to be a great blessing. Much better than music, they distracted me with the narrator's warm voice and the novel's intriguing plot. I had picked "Atlas Shrugged", partly thanks to Mugg's enthusiastic recommendation, partly due to its 60-hour length, which I figured would last me till marathon day. As I was engrossed in the Taggart's railroad empire, Columbus Circle soon appeared, marking the final curve toward Sixth Avenue where we closed the six-mile circumference of Central Park for just under an hour. Though the time was short of spectacular, I felt a sense of relief that we could still run six miles with relative ease even after a two-month hiatus. I made a mental note of my 12-mile inventory this week, and projected a 15-mile goal next week.
We walked slowly to our favorite Egg Benedict restaurant (whose real name Mugg and I never bothered to learn) on Second Ave for a much-deserved hearty brunch. Amid good food and lively conversation, Mugg reached for my hand under the table and gave it a slight squeeze. Today was the first day of our second year together. My heart felt warm. It was a peaceful New York sunday.
(picture courtesy of www.beckermanphoto.com)