Late into the night of my 28th birthday, I was doing a passable impression of a dancing fool. It was almost four in the morning, I had consumed enough alcohol to administer local anesthetic to a small platoon of foot soldiers, and I was blithely unaware of impending danger. But there it was, in the shape of a hurtling body that belonged to a friend of mine, and which mysteriously, after traversing the length and breadth of the living room in whose corner I was safely dancing, placed itself in a load-bearing position on my right ankle. When bodies had been moved, I found a rather large protuberance where my ankle used to be. Ice, an emergency room visit, crutches, in that order. And the end of my running career.
Before my right ankle suffered that disastrous third-degree sprain, I used to run. Respectably long distances in Central Park, with an eye on completing the New York Marathon someday. My longest run was eleven miles (2 laps of the reservoir, one loop of the park, and then another lap of the reservoir); my usual run was a morning six-miler, the classic loop of Central Park. I ran in summer afternoons and winter mornings alike; I ran in the rain and I ran in the snow. (My late winter evening runs through Central Park in the winters, when I could see the lights come on in the buildings that line Central Park West and the Museum Mile were as enchanting as anything else I have experienced in this great city.) I ran with professors and graduate students; I ran with roommates. Running made my financial insolvency easier to bear; it provided easy entertainment on days and evenings that sought diversion. (One summer, with my impecunious condition making it ever harder to indulge in even the occasional beer or large meal, my running transformed me into a whippet-like creature, with sunken cheeks that enabled a resemblance to a prisoner of war at a not-particularly salubrious holding facility.) I was never a particularly graceful runner but on a good day, I always felt like I glided through Central Park’s beauty, experiencing it in a way that was distinct from my interactions enabled by riding on a bike or by walking. Running was yet another way to discover New York City, a physically and mentally transformative one.
But a busted ankle that made my right side unstable, and which necessitated the wearing of orthotics (to this day), coupled with sloppy execution of a rehabilitation program, meant that this running was first curtailed and then slowly choked off. I injured myself a year later, when I returned to running a few months later, and then again several years later when I tried again. I became nervous and tentative, and grew hesitant about lacing up a pair of running shoes. My running is now restricted to the occasional lap of Prospect Park, to attempts to run fast 5Ks.
Those occasional laps still manage, effortlessly, to transport me, even if only for much shorter periods, to those days when muscle-powered locomotion at eight miles an hour was mysteriously capable of inducing states of physical and meditative bliss.