Sunday, June 11, 2006

Multi-tasking: Spectating runner

Today was the Commerce Bank 156-mile bike race, along with the Liberty Classic, the women's 57.6 mile version, same route, fewer laps.

I had a two-hour run scheduled for yesterday but switched it to today--Saturday master's swim practice makes it hard to fit in a two-hour run. My original plan was to run with Delco Road Runners, the running club in my area. I hadn't run with this group for a while and enjoy challenging the uphill Foulke Lane--but then I remembered the bike race and wanted to see it, so why not see it on the run?

And as it turned out, what a wonderful time! Not by way of speed or pace per mile. After having run a few 5k races in the past couple of weeks, I was ready for long and easy, an "enjoy the experience" kind of a run. The cool, breezy weather made it a perfect day for such a run.

And perfect was exactly the kind of run that I had!

Started out along the new section of the Schuylkill River bike trail, sparsely populated early in the day.... that wouldn't last long. When I reached Lloyd Hall, the crowds had gathered, some in motion, as I was, either on foot or riding bikes, others settled in those collapsible canvas chairs that have become popular for events like this. Hearing horns and a commotion coming from Lemon Hill--the fanfare that preceded riders throughout the day, like trumpets announcing the coming of royalty (and the men and women out there today were the kings and queens of the cycling world)--I waited a moment, and flying by me was the pelloton, a rainbow of rapid motion, blur of colors, wheels, riders--and then gone... and I set off as well.

It wouldn't be long before the rainbow passed me again, and repassed as I made my way along Kelly Drive. I'd stop to cheer and applaud, not thinking that the riders would hear or that my encouragement would change anything about the race, but simply in awe of these well-built people on well-built machines flying around the city at car-like speeds.

That and seeing members of my Tuesday evening group made for a pleasant Kelly Drive side of my run. I paused a moment near the Falls Bridge for one more glimpse of the whirl of wheels and colors before I started across the Falls Bridge.

Initially, I thought I'd run until I saw 1:14 on my watch (to account for the time it had taken to go from Chestnut Street to Lloyd Hall). But then it seemed somehow right to have a more private running experience, leave the public spectacle behind for a bit, live inside myself for a time.

West River/Martin Luther King Drive offered another kind of spectacle: a flash of red as a cardinal flew by... baby geese and their mellow parents who didn't pay me the slightest heed as I stopped to look at the fluffy youngsters. A chipmunk or two scurrying off at my approach... seeing a running friend, Mary, and stopping a moment to chat... and getting the unmistakable whiff of a horse stable... Curious, I decided this time, having passed the stable so many times on the run, to go take a look. I was greeted by a gray-haired African American man who gladly accommodated my request to come in and see the horses.

"I used to ride as a kid," I told him. He said the horses were his--and were part of a program to teach city kids how to ride and care for them. "They might never get a chance to see a horse, let alone ride without this program," he told me. As it was, he conducted camps as well as after-school and weekend programs for the kids. It was clear he loved both the kids and the horses. And in fact they were very beautiful... bays, chestnuts, a roan named Mercedes. The horses were as friendly and accommodating to me as their owner, pushing their noses into my chest, although I had no food I could offer them (having in my possession only a chocolate cherry Carboom gel still in its wrapper). However, they seemed satisfied to be petted and told how handsome they were. A tabby cat with a tattered ear wandered in and stayed at my side, meowing the whole time. The cat reminded me of a cat my aunt Florence (rest her soul!), nurturer of Fire Island's abandoned cats, used to call Pretty, a battle-scarred male, a wounded prize fighter of a cat. I wondered if one of Pretty's descendents had found its way to Philadelphia....

The cat, while willing to accept some petting, kept my advances in check with a quick but not unkind bite.

After a walk to the end of the stalls and back, I was off again to finish my run. Puffy, purple-headed flowers and small white ones lined the way, as I drew closer to the waterfall and then the Art Museum. Soon I'd be back to the race--running through crowds, clapping for cyclists when I saw them. I rounded the Art Museum and back to Kelly Drive, out to the half mile mark and back, surpassing two hours and finally stopping at 2 hours and 8 minutes and one second. It was time to spectate at an even more leisurely pace than I'd already done (my running was far from Kenyan in its speed).

After grabbing a quick lunch at the Lloyd Hall cafe--despite a decent selection of sandwiches, I was really in the mood for a hot dog. They taste so good after a long run for some reason--I headed for the Art Museum, then strolled along the Parkway, finding a spot near the finish line, close to the action. It would be a long time before the finish, however, so I watched as the riders whooshed by a few times, chatted with people I met along the way... a man who had seen bike racing in Europe and explained the strategies. He was a five-year cancer survivor... "the doctor gave me only three months to live." But he was clearly healthy and fit looking, wanting his son to see "just how fast these bikes go"... Admired Lance Armstrong but not his book... "Max Lerner has a much better book." ... Further on, saw a familiar Delco RRC sweatshirt worn by a college kid who was eager to talk running. Somehow running brings people together across generations. We've all had injuries and races that the injuries derailed, so we both know how that was. As we parted, we wished each other good luck.

And after one more pass of the racers, I was near the el station and ready to call it a day. A good day... a very good day... public and private spectacle in balance.