Sunday, January 17, 2010

At The Park

"Ah ... it's a good day to run."

That reminds me of Flatliners - Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, life, near-death, death, near-life, life, and Julia Roberts. Although I'm not here to deal with such weighty issues, there's no more appropriate statement than that at the moment.

NOTE: This is not a repeat of my previous post - Running. This post is actually my intended finished article. When I reached the part at the end of the previous post, I thought it would be fun to stop there and then with "I stop." I call it the Joker's Version. My thought to myself then with that abrupt ending is "What a Joker!" If you enjoy my last post, I hope you would like this full version too.

I'm standing on the running track that circles the big green land of grass. The sun is trudging westwards and drizzling what's left in his bag of tropical elements through the openings of the evening clouds. And the wind is casually laying its cosy warmth across the park. On any other Sunday afternoon, I would probably be enjoying a nap in the comfort of my bed under the cooling fan. But not today.

Sans of the tiring colours of any concrete-greys, the lushness of the greens reflecting under the cloudy sky off the trees and the grass is therapeutic, to the mind and to the sight; a splash of liveliness is added by the vivid colours displayed at the corner of the field, where a playground stands. I take a deep breath, trying to draw in the scene of serenity in front. I smell grass, trees, tropics, laziness in the air, and life.

Running was never my choice of exercise, but it's preferred over swimming. When I run, I don't feel the fear of sinking if I stop. Since the time I promised myself I have to run regularly when I hit the big 4-0 until now, two years and less than ten runs in between, another run is way past overdue. Okay then.

I start to walk around the field, slowly immerse myself into the buzzes of the place - joggers running past me, walkers walking in front of me, chatting if they are in pairs; in the middle of the field there are youngsters playing football, families flying kites, kids yelling at the playground; friends having a chat on the benches situated around the park, food lovers having a bowl of local delicacies at the mobile stalls. Ahh ... such vibrancy. Loving it. For a sport as lonely as running, I very much prefer to do it in a crowded place like this, much like how I enjoy a meal in a crowded eatery, alone. Part of being a human being, I guess - we need space, yet we need companionship.

After completing one cycle around the field, I pick up the pace from walking to jogging, or running, at the slowest possible pace; any slower, I would look like dancing in a forward motion non-stop, feet hardly lifting off the ground. I straighten my back, pump up my chest and the music of Rocky starts to play in my mind.

Running being a solitude sport would eliminate all distractions from excitement in trying to outdo any opponents and let you get to know your body better. Three minutes into the exercise, and half way around the park later, I find out that if I am to die naturally, my lungs would probably be the first to go. Barely over a century of steps run, it suddenly dawns on me that I'm breathing. The subconscious mechanism now appears possible only with great conscious efforts, and my rib cage seems too small for my lungs to expand and draw in bigger breath for my dire needs of oxygen. As my breathing changes gear, I start to time it with my steps. Two steps in, two steps out, two steps in, two steps out ...

As my breathing gets into the heavier and louder rhythm, I realise another thing about another part of my body, and my life expectancy if ever I found myself stranded in the great plains of Africa and saw a hungry lion hundred feet away from me. Yeah, I wouldn't be able to outrun the guy for more than 20 seconds, 21.3 seconds top, even if it's senile, and crippled. The muscles of my thigh and legs start to harden. And a pull in my abdomen is a clear sign of lack of exercises over the past years.

By this time, the uplifting beats of Rocky have long gone. In its place is the more desperate "I think I can, I think I can, I think ..." I'm not giving up just yet. I read somewhere that there's a pain barrier that if our body is able to surpass, we can continue for a lot longer. But that's best left to be found out later in another run at another time.

After another three minutes pushing myself against the pain barrier in futility, I slow to a quick walk. This is the part I enjoy most about running - the satisfaction from having conquered another barrier (although in this case the "conqueree" is rather insignificant, compensated only by the fact that this is my first run after a long time) and the feeling of being alive - the thumping of my heart, and the sweat oozing out of my body so fast, so thick that I can feel them crawling down my body like worms sliding down me. Not a pretty description, but I think it's eerily apt. Sweating under the evening tropical sun outdoor is an enjoyable experience.

As I slow my walk slowly from a quick walk to a normal walk, I begin to enjoy the scene at the park again. Now that my mind is not busy pushing my body to perform the mechanism of running for an extended period of time, it has more space and time to appreciate the surrounding. Coming back from the lone battle against self-inflicted pains, I feel my presence within the crowd again.

By this time, the evening breeze has picked up slightly, giving hints of the nightly coolness that awaits us. As the crowd slowly dwindles, it is joined by a few evening strollers out to enjoy the sunset. With my wife and kids away on a mini-vacation and my work tied me back at home, I continue my walk around the park, until I notice the shadow my body is casting on the running track. I find a bench and sit down for a rest.

The middle of the park is slowly disappearing into the darkness of the night, surrounded by a band of light formed by the street lamps that stand guarding by the running track. The white noise from the crowd has subsided, leaving the yelling from the kids lingering at the playground ringing in the air. The place is slowly coming to a still, pierced occasionally by the shrieks of a few rusty swings. Suddenly a sense of loneliness rises within me, which reminds me of the days working in a big city with nothing but furniture waiting for me at home. In a way, I miss that.

Sitting on a bench swallowing the feeling of solitude with a bottle of water, I find myself deep into thoughts of this, that and everything, reminiscing of the younger days. When I realise the park has fallen completely into the night and I am surrounded by its accompanying stillness, I pick myself up from the bench. The occasional shrieks of the rusty swings continue as I leave the park.


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