Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

year of the dragon

it's funny how if you travel certain routes enough times, you'll start to learn every turn, incline or—in the case of central park—strange animal statues peering over the ledge.

this past weekend I was in new york. having lived in new york three summers ago, subletting in a too-small apartment uncomfortably close to tourist-filled midtown, i like to pretend that i'm a know-it-all-local—even though i don't  think i could ever live there long-term.

but in addition to the efficient side-walkers of new york, the best perk of the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-sorority-sister apartment set-up was just how close it was to central park—53rd and 8th be exact. For those who don't know, the park starts somewhere around 59th St and goes all the way up to 110th with the back hills of harlem. the full loop is 6-miles, with a few smaller loops twisted inside.

the summer i lived there, was also the summer I was training for the new york half-marathon—the last time it was held in the late summer, compared to the march date today. i religiously followed a printed out training program down to the last quarter-mile, running every single morning before work—and probably hitting the full loop at least four or five times a week.

and though i could have wandered off course on one of the smaller loops, i instead usually stuck to the main thoroughfare. reliable, yes. a little predictable, definitely. but running in central park this weekend reminded me why i'm a track runner at heart and exactly how i got  speedier few years ago—with (mostly) one-way loops, there are always people to chase, to keep up with, to pick off. not to mention there are also a ton of crazy people and fabulous people-watching.

this weekend alone, in addition to the crazy cat-like statue at the crest of cat hill that always gives me the heebie-jeebies, i spotted: an elderly racewalker, pushing two dogs in a pricey baby stroller. a girl who couldn't have weighed more than 88 lbs lumbering by so loudly that she sounded more like she was pushing 300. crossfit in the park. yoga in the park. "group training" in the park. a pair of new-age-looking individuals practicing what looked like meditative tai chi. the 70-minutes flew by because I was so busy focusing on the next person to pass or being entertained by the crazies who had taken over the park since the weather was warmer.

while DC does have no shortage of runners to follow or crazies for entertainment, they're far less eccentric and more spread out than the bunch you can find congregating in central park on any given weekend. the towpath, the monument loop and the almost-weekly group runs in DC sometimes offer run-company, but for the most part, DC's a lonely town for the solo runner. and that makes me a little sad. thank heavens for the lululemon and pacers run clubs.

is central park just unique since it's a standard loop in such a big city? do other cities—or even just areas—have their own "distance" tracks? if so, I'd like to move there... someone please let me know! :)  Having people to follow (and essentially pace you) is just such a nice perk that takes some of the mental struggle out of running when it's early in the morning or after a long day at work and you just need that extra bit of motivation to keep on moving forward.

so i don't know how this got so rambly and away from the original topic... but i wanted to add that the coolest part of the visit was heading to downtown for some dim sum and accidentally running into the massive chinese new year's celebration ever in chinatown. crowded streets, post-paratde paper mache dragons walking home, confetti in our hair. So incredibly chaotic and fun. we got the dim sum—fantastic steamed seafood dumplings—and then some bubble tea and made it through just as the streets sweepers were starting to pull through. it felt like a more sober tame version of mardi gras.

they were selling these confetti cannons that would explode the colorful tissue everywhere. even after the parade, there was a canon going off every few seconds. looking back, i really wished i had a grabbed a few to take back home with me.

probably picked a bad day to drop into chinatown for some dim sum—but definitely worth it.

the aftermath. maybe it was just good luck that we stumbled upon it... it is the year of the dragon, after all—supposedly a symbol of good luck.

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