November 26, 2012 § 3 Comments
In John Parker’s book, Once a Runner, the narrator shares many training secrets with his readers, many of which seem counter-intuitive at first. One of them is that familiarity reduces perceived effort in running. The relevant corollary is that although you would think that when running hundreds of miles a month it would help to mix new and different routes and terrain, few do because running unfamiliar territory feels longer than the same old, well-worn track. For distance runners anyway, familiarity compresses time and space.
In this sense, I would say that after 3 years, running my 10k “Hami Loop” is now worth around 9k of effort for me. I think I mapped it out on Google Earth soon after moving to my current apartment complex. It runs clockwise first north and west, then, east and south. It doesn’t have any extraordinarily beautiful or quiet or fast or tough spots. It’s just pretty circular, avoids busy intersections and starts and finishes at my apartment. I know it by the inches, to borrow another phrase from Parker.
I almost always run it first thing after I wake up. I push open the door and look up at the sky for a hint at the weather. Even when it’s still dark, a star or two let me know it’s going to be a nice day. Then I turn on my Garmin and walk to the fountain to lace up.
As I take my first few jogging steps, I pass through the incense wafting from the Tibetan guy’s apartment, then check the clock at the gate (consistently a few minutes fast), then turn onto the street, either inside or outside the waiting taxis. Up the street there’s always a few people finishing off the night, squatting on plastic stools drinking beers and eating noodles and meat-on-a-stick off folding tables. I always expect them to heckle, but they never do. We just trade glances as if separated by a more literal partition of morning and night.
After crossing under the elevated highway, I round through a residential area and pass a worn down wedding venue we rented for a “Yukilympics” party a few years ago. Then I pop back out onto a main street. Usually I see a couple joggers here, sometimes a cycling group across from the hotel. When I turn north again, it’s almost exactly a mile, the exact point where I start to feel a prickle of sweat in the winter.
I ease across the street to make a left at the wet market, which smells sweet and fishy with rot, then by some Korean restaurants that used to stay open until morning. I make a right onto Hami Road, past the steamed dumpling place, shuttered bakery, and then the hotel with hourly rates where I’m just as likely to see a tour group boarding a bus as a taxi dropping off made-up girls and shifty guys.
I keep easing north, east, north and east with each turn. There’s little to see on this stretch and I try to think about something useful, but usually just end up daydreaming about races, PRs, training schedules, workouts, running friends, track news and so on.
At halfway, I make my first turn west onto a busy street where the day is clearly in motion. Aproned cooks are dumping pots of soapy water in the gutter. People are eating fried bread and steamed buns out of plastic bags at the bus stops. The pavement is slick where the garbage is piled for collection. Some people are squatting on the curb brushing their teeth. There’s still one spot where sometimes people are still eating and drinking beer in broad daylight and right after that I make my first turn south, towards home.
The feeling of turning south (which always feels downhill even though it’s not really) and facing home makes the running much easier from there on. There’s a narrow street where I forget about running completely because I have to concentrate simply on not getting run over. Then the loop doubles back to Hami Rd (the fact that the loop covers these two sections of the same road is the reason for the route title), where there’s a fish market and then a public toilet, an intersection that has too many traffic signals so is easy to cross without waiting, then the only hint of hill on the whole course, then back onto the busy street, running with the bicycles in the bike lane. Finally, there’s a gas station with a filthy bathroom that reeks of urine and tobacco and where only half the stalls are ever in operation at one time, but which has been like a desert oasis (in reverse, I suppose) for me many times.
After turning south at the gas station, the streets are quiet and I have a spot for stretching. It is always the same spot, just after the first intersection, marked by a sewer drain. I stop and use the railing to stretch for a few minutes, let the busses rumble by, let my sweat puddle on the pavement, watch the old guys chatting and stretching. The green paint on the railing bleeds and has left a reminder of itself on many pairs of my running shoes and gloves.
When I get moving again I do some dynamic exercises, called “drills” by runners (which must get a wry smile from anyone who has ever done hockey or golf drills). These, (admittedly ridiculous, especially when half naked in the summer) hopping and lunging and skipping “drills” start and stop at certain intersections and gates and I always wonder what people driving by think when they see me, then remind myself no one is interested. I usually do strides on the “home stretch,” a kilometer long, uninterrupted length of road abutting a park, which is the finish of all my runs. Each stride has a fire hydrant or trash can to mark the beginning and end and after I did it the first time, I’ve never done it any differently. The home stretch ends at a major road crossing where I’ll either do a final sprint to catch the light or else catch my breath while waiting hands-on-hips for a break in the traffic.
The run finishes at a convenience store outside my apartment complex. Since they got a coffee machine a couple years ago, I stop for a coffee at the end of every run as a ritual present to myself. Sometimes in the winter, I start dreaming of that cup of coffee as soon as halfway through the run and just like the Hami Loop, I always look forward to it.