Here's the truth:
When I was in middle and high school I couldn't run the mile. I walked vast portions of it, and was frequently last. My Brearley PE class would go out onto the Johnny Walker promenade or meander over to the Asphalt Green (you had a field to go play on? we had fenced in astroturph on 92nd and York Avenue), and I would despise every moment of it, convinced that I couldn't run and was a total athletic failure. Which, let's be honest, in terms of running I most definitely was.
Meanwhile, every morning of my entire life, my mother rose at 6am, drank her coffee, put on her running clothes, and went out to the reservoir. She would meet her "running buddies" or go alone, in heat and in freezing cold, in the morning dark or the streaky dawn. She was home before we went to school. This established two things:
1) mornings were mine and my brother's time with my dad
2) my mother was a better runner than I was
Just to be clear - my mother is a runner. She ran the marathon. There was a point when she was running six miles a day. Six! And I couldn't run one. I tried to run with her once in high school, in upstate New York, and ended up crying. And I never tried to run with her on the Rez. I wouldn't even go near the Rez. That beautiful area of the park remained always my mother's personal domain (although I know she would have more than welcomed the opportunity to run with me) - and I think, in some ways, when I think of my mother I will always think of Central Park and its runners.
Then, last summer, in the month after I graduated from college, my friends and I went to a house in upstate New York in order to do theater. We ended up talking to the trees, making noises in the woods, making dinner together, and running every evening. That last was approached with great apprehension by yours truly, but once I established the rules (we stop when I want to stop. No questions. No judgements), and began to approach it as the bonding exercise that it was, I found myself able to run further and further. Without the pressure of trying to run for a set distance, or timing myself, running like my mother does - with friends and for fun - became extremely natural.
So natural that, upon my return to New York that summer, I summoned up all my courage, put on my running clothes, and jogged over to the Rez.
From my apartment to the reservoir and once around is two miles. I went running every day that summer, and into the fall once I found myself in a meaningless job that hurt my back from hours of sitting. When I went to San Francisco, I tried to keep running but it just wasn't the same - running down Bryant Street to Cesar Chavez, all the way to Mission, down around the bend to Valencia, back up to 24th Street and down the crowded street I loved the most back home, may have been the same distance, but it just didn't compare to the very very East coast beauty of the Jackie O. Reservoir. And as soon as I came back, I immediately got back on the track.
The Reservoir is a beautiful lake in the middle of Central Park. It has a running track around the top and a horse path around the outside, with all these bridges crossing back and forth to where the runners are. People walk and run all day, morning to evening. It doesn't feel like a nature haven - none of Central Park does. Buildings peek out over trees on all sides, and you never forget for a moment that you're simply in a more verdant area of one of the most powerful cities in the world. And that's part of the appeal. It doesn't seem out of place or inconsistent - it feels like a natural aquatic extension of the city itself. When the city was more dangerous and gritty, the water was surrounded by a high ugly chain link fence. Now that the city is gentrified, it is encircled in a pretty black iron gate which peaks at chest height.
And here's the second truth of this article:
I have stopped running. For the time being. Because I am not, ultimately, my mother (as much as I look like her, running from the same apartment she ran from for 25 years). It is too damn cold for me, and I love having my mornings to sit and write. I've been going to yoga and walking to work. I'm packing my running shoes away for the winter.
But you better believe I'll be back out there come spring. The cherry blossom trees will be in bloom - I missed them last year, but there's not a chance I won't be jogging under their beautiful white and pink flowers in April.