It’s an excellent day for the race. The human race. At a contemplative tempo.
We had been knee-deep in quarantine and the tv was on. “Andrew Cuomo is talking about running!” I shrieked excitedly to my husband.
“Running for president?”
No. Known for his enjoyment of pickup basketball games and water-skiing, the governor was announcing the relatively safe form of outdoor exercise he planned to take up during the pandemic. I felt a wave of smug solidarity —#NewYorkStrong! — mulling my own regular circumgyrations around Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. Then came a twinge of conscience, worse than whatever’s going on in my lower back.
For what I have done daily since this whole calamity began cannot fairly be described as “running.” Even “jogging” is, in truth, a bit of a stretch. With palpable scorn, my 12-year-old son calls it: “like, stylish walking” — which, if he were reading the Great Books instead of machine-gunning his pals on multiple screens every waking moment he’s not in a Zoom class, he might synonymize as a “prance” or a “trot.”
Though we’re not talking about racewalking, that oft-mocked Olympic sport and favorite of suburban mallgoers in tracksuits wielding Heavy Hands dumbbells. My feet do leave the ground, and so according to any accredited referee I am jogging. Just very slowly.
How slowly? Like, maybe … 2.7 miles in 45 minutes? Sometimes less if I stop to turn down the music or check my heart rate, which tends to stay now in the soothing blue or green zone of my Polar Beat chest-strap monitor, not the more urgent yellow or red elicited by spin class, R.I.P.
In so many other realms, slow is good. Slow food, like at the farmers’ markets where we these days line up at a careful six-foot distance. Slow love (per the Prince song, “so much better when we take it easy … so much better when we take our time”). Slow clothes, a.k.a. couture, or vintage caftans, as opposed to cheap, evil fast fashion and sweatshop active wear.
But in athletics, slow is generally not a plus. Slow and steady, in fact, do not win the race. I will win no races, certainly not any middle-aged amateur division of the city’s 2020 marathon, which I had planned to finish training for on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 (theater cruise, possibly R.I.P. but still hoping).
As I huff and puff with a repurposed sleeping mask dutifully adjusted over mouth and nostrils, I am often passed by other women of all ages and builds. And by men. So many men. Just as on the highway, where I prefer to respect the speed limit in the lanes closest to the exits, a.k.a. “hugging the shoulder,” scores of men on the trail seem to enjoy speeding up heart-poundingly close behind and then screeching past, perhaps with the “Rocky” or “Chariots of Fire” theme blaring in their heads.
I may not be Atalanta, the fleet Greek maiden played by Marlo Thomas in “Free to Be You and Me,” but they are most definitely not the gallant Young John as played by Alan Alda. Indeed they are brutes, but my chances of surviving the coronavirus are statistically better. Let them have this.
To achieve its widely touted benefits, many fitness advisers suggest imagining you’re being chased by a bear. No one has explained the contradiction that when you encounter a bear in real life, you’re supposed to “speak in a calm appeasing tone,” according to the Get Bear Smart Society in Whistler, British Columbia, “back away slowly” and “walk, don’t run.”
So why not just walk, with Heavy Hands? Well, like Governor Cuomo, I’m a native New Yorker, and think of walking as something you do to get from Point A to Point B, or to savor a sunset on the beach, not legitimate exertion. And while the daffodils and glinting shards of broken glass in the park are beautiful, hiking in the country is dangerous; after all, you may encounter a bear.
And so I jog. Slowly. Because, remember, it’s not a sprint. It may not be a marathon either. And that’s OK.
Alexandra Jacobs is a deputy editor in the Styles department and the author of “Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch.” @AlexandraJacobs
Doodles by Alexandra Eaton and Kaisha Murzamadiyeva. Alexandra is a video producer and director for The Times who doodled most prolifically in the 4th grade. Kaisha is a staff artist at The Times.