Separated By A Common Body Language

I think I was joking when I said in my last post that kilometres were bigger in the US than at home. Now I’m not so sure. I went out again on Saturday because the weather was cooler at last. There was some cloud cover and Chicago was doing its Windy City thing when Anne and I went out for breakfast so I thought I’d fill my boots – or at least my running shoes – with miles. My new inov8s hadn’t arrived in the hotel so I wore my Green Silence racing flats with their Union Jack design all over them. I didn’t look at all like a tourist. No, I had Union Jack shoes and my Thunder Run t-shirt. I was sorted.

I really wasn’t sorted at all. One of the differences between running in Cambridge and running in Chicago is that other runners do not acknowledge you. There are runners out here, ruining their knees, feet, ankles and the Sweet Baby Jesus alone knows what else on some of the least forgiving concrete pavement I have ever come across. They just don’t seem to notice that there is someone else out there with them. I tried nodding. Nothing. Waving. Nada. Saying “Hello!” or “Good morning!” Pointless. The last one especially because everyone had earphones in. I’d have thought you needed all your senses available to you when running around the city but Chicago’s runners evidently think differently. Anne thinks it’s just life in the Big City. You don’t engage with strangers in case you end up stabbed, shot, robbed of your iPod and Garmin and trying to describe your assailant to cynical cops in the back of an ambulance while a paramedic tries to pour some blood back into your body. I really hope that isn’t true. I prefer to think that it just isn’t part of the running culture over here in the same way as it is at home.

I ran out south again, this time along the path on the lake front. There is a marina with some large boats in it. There were some parties happening on a few of the boats. Northern Illinois were playing Iowa at Soldier Field and you’d have thought it was a home game for Iowa. Maybe it was. There were yellow shirts everywhere while I only saw about a dozen red NI shirts all day. I ran beside the lake down past the Field Museum, the aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. I was slow again. The atmosphere was quite humid. All I could really feel was the sweat in my hair and on my skin. My breathing was fine but I couldn’t get my legs to turn over. I was doing better than most of the others I saw out there. I was continually passing men and women taking walking breaks. There was one young man with cyclist’s calves who was running quite hard with a rucksack for about 500m at a time. He would come past me at a hell of a lick then stop and walk for a bit during which time I would catch and pass him again. He did this three or four times before our paths diverted and he headed away from the lake and into the city. He was wearing headphones and didn’t acknowledge my wave.

It’s my custom to ask runners who are walking or who have stopped if they are okay. Judging from the reactions of those I asked on Saturday, this doesn’t happen often here. I tended to get a look of either mild surprise or complete incredulity followed by a muttered “Yeah, fine” for the most part. One woman who had stopped to stretch out her hamstring by the pavement in Grant Park gave me a big smile and a wave in return. Must have been a tourist.

It started to rain just as I passed Soldier Field. I’d only done a little over three miles and I was bumping along at about 8:30 per mile. It was under marathon pace but well over the 7:45 per mile I’d been aiming at. I didn’t want to get caught out in the open in a thunderstorm so I turned and headed back to the hotel much more quickly. Suddenly, I had speedy legs. I tried to keep Helen’s words in my head as a kind of mantra: light feet, high cadence, counter-rotation, upright stance. I found my feet kissing the concrete as I kicked on for home. I abandoned my usual lean forward and felt myself stand more upright. I relaxed a little more and allowed my shoulders to counter-rotate the way they wanted to. I landed on my mid-step on each stride, allowed the foot to relax into the ground until my heel just touched down then felt the energy my foot had gathered push me back. In spite of the horribly surface, I hardly heard my footsteps. There was a light psh, psh, psh, psh instead of a heavy slap of rubber and plastic on concrete.

When I went to see Helen last week, she said that I could be a speedy runner. Now I know what she meant. I wasn’t suddenly running at 5:00 per mile pace but I was cracking along at less than 6:30 and feeling effortless. I know what it’s about now. I want to have this feeling each and every time I run. I just need more time, more coaching, more practice and the fear of being struck by lightning.

Oh, and the temperature at the end of my run? 27 degrees. No wonder I was sluggish on the way out.

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