Once an athlete, always an athlete, right? Hmm…unfortunately, this isn’t really the case.
Oh, those muscles, the flexibility, and that cardiovascular strength I took for granted, until they were long gone.
One of the crazy things about growing up as a skater, or perhaps as an athlete of any kind, is that “working out” and being “in shape” were basically byproducts of the larger pursuit. We trained for all those hours and of course did all that off-ice cross-training – weights, stretching, and dance classes – but this focus had very little to do with appearance or even health. It was about getting stronger, faster, better, improving skills in order to maximize our programs (and scores).
When all that is over and done, it’s strange to exercise for exercise’s sake. You want to maintain some semblance of that former shape, yet how to muster the motivation?
Many non-skaters and non-coaches in my life often proclaim, “You’re so lucky to be on the ice, working-out all day!” Granted, it’s true that we coaches probably expend more physical energy than those who are hunched over their computers 40 or more hours per week (exactly what I’m doing at this minute, by the way). Really, though, aside from an occasional (and highly risky) demonstration and some gliding around with students, we’re not “working out” at all. It’s kind of like the jobs I’ve had in retail: you’re on your feet just enough to exhaust you but not quite enough to qualify as exercise.
So, over the years, I’ve dabbled with yoga, pilates, power walking, and ice hockey (more on the latter some other time – the tales on that topic are numerous and entertaining, indeed.) For the last few years, I’ve belonged to that dreaded thing called a GYM: the local YMCA. I visit this gym exactly once per week, no more, no less – once is all I can tolerate.
It’s pretty much drudgery. While there, I lift some barbells so tiny you need a microscope to see them; I fold myself in half on the crunch machine certain I’m contracting lice even through the towel I put under my head; I stretch on the mats trying not to think about germs; I ride o’er hill and vale on the stationery bike; and then I force myself to…drumroll, please… run on the treadmill.
I detest the treadmill. The only way I get through it is thanks to the distracting power of People Magazine. If there isn’t a new edition on the magazine rack, I throw a silent yet violent inner tantrum. All I can do, instead, is watch good ol’ Rachel Ray and The View, in closed captioning on the TV looming above, the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen a few annoying seconds after they’re spoken.
I have to be careful: despite all the skating and the balance you’d think would go along with this sport, I am kind of…well, klutzy. I drop things, spill drinks, and trip over invisible seams in sidewalks. For example, during my latest adventure in homemade soup, I managed to overturn a burning-hot portion of it so that it sizzled its way through my hand. Point is, I’ve had a few mishaps on the treadmill. Think about Lucille Ball, if she were going to visit the gym. That would make a great episode of I Love Lucy, but in real life it’s a source of vague terror and potential embarrassment.
Yet, I force myself. What has made it slightly easier in the last few months (even when People Magazine didn’t come through for me) is that I’ve had a distinct goal: I signed up for the Midnight Run in Central Park, a 4-miler that starts at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve. I did this wacky run five years ago and it was one of the more memorable New Years of my life. It was time to try it again.
I enlisted four friends to run with me and started “training”. Ha! What I mean is that I started running on the treadmill for 15 minutes then increased that by either one or two minutes every week so that for my last run of 2008 I was up to 29 minutes. In other words, an absolute eternity.
I’m not sure if skaters should run. I tend to think it’s a little too jarring on the knees. It certainly makes mine feel somewhat creaky and this bothers me since one of the main things I coach (and demonstrate) on ice is kneebend. But I was yearning for a goal and a New Year’s plan apart from the usual debauchery.
It’s hard to say what’s more challenging about the Midnight Run: staying awake and pumped for it (thanks Beyoncé) or weathering the cold. Our pre-party at my apartment was like a festival of layering interspersed with uncontrollable bouts of dancing (again, thanks Beyoncé). The temperature this year was 17 degrees and with wind chill the radio said it was going to feel like 5 below – I would have said more like 50 below, but who am I to niggle? The winds were gusting at 25 miles per hour. Eek – it was even colder than the rink! The funny thing is that, once we started running, we discovered that there was lots of ice underfoot. Of course, this caused me to think, I should have brought my skates, har har, a notion I would have shared with the group if I hadn’t been panting so hard.
A particularly tall and handsome member of our running group runs this loop in the park all the time so he was preparing us for what was ahead. “We’re going to go up again, then back down, then flat, then up, then down, then that same thing about three more times, and then we’re done!” He made those next 2,000 miles sound so simple. One member of our group was like a lightening bolt out ahead. I tried to line myself up right behind her to see if I could get any benefits from drafting, like cyclists do. One of us had to stop “to re-tie her sneakers” twice, but everyone saw right through that as a resting ploy (and appreciated it). The fifth member of our group boldly took off his mittens mid-race in defiance of the cold. I was certain his fingers were going to freeze then fall off but they apparently stayed attached.
I guess what I’m getting at here is that it was fun. It was kind of like skating with all those other teams back at the University of Delaware when I was a teenager. It was difficult and sometimes painful, but it felt like we were all in it together. Besides, the long-dormant athlete in me enjoyed having that goal: the finish line. Okay, and also the all-night diner we planned to visit afterwards where they would be serving French fries for as far as the eye could see (or that’s how I was envisioning it, anyway, during that tough patch around mile 3.5).
Will I do the Midnight Run again? Yes. After all, I really like fries…
Happy New Year! Hope you also had an excellent one. What did you do? Leave a comment below.
Thanks to my fellow runners and thanks to everyone for your extremely kind comments in my last installment.
To see some impressive photojournalism and read more scintillating details about the Midnight Run in the words of The Informer (me), click here.