In a recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy, neurosurgeon Amelia Shepherd prepares for a daunting operation by assuming the superhero position: Feet set wide, hands on hips, chest out, head held high. Adopting the posture increases a sense of power and confidence, she tells her puzzled assistant, who then steps up beside her, taking the same stance.
I thought of that scene a few days ago at the high school track, where I was training for a half-marathon. Periodic speed work allows for an intentional focus on form and efficiency, both of which tend to deteriorate with fatigue. But it’s also a kind of superhero position for runners, a chance to experience in a stripped-down, amped-up manner a sense of strength and competence.
Two young men were also at the track, and they, too, were doing speed work. They were dense bone and strong muscle, wrapped in taut skin gleaming with sweat. They ran with power and grace. They were doing 10 half-mile repeats in 2:22 — a sub 5-minute mile pace. They were beautiful.
And they were, inarguably, fast. Reckoned by a stopwatch, speed is an absolute; most of us were never fast by that measure, and none of us gets to keep “fleet” forever. But reckoned over the span of a runner’s life, speed is a relative experience with an enduring beauty of another kind.
In an earlier post, I wrote about training for a marathon during my running prime: On the best of those days, I felt as if I was riding the finest horse from the royal stable: powerful and wild-eyed, yet responsive to the lightest command.
That was more than 20 years ago, but when I saw those young runners, I felt an echo of the same sensation, a quickening. There was something ageless in the feeling, a beckoning to go that moved in me no less than them. I might have been a young horse imagining what it would feel like to run, some day, in the fullness of my power; I might have been an old one remembering what it had felt like, years ago, to do just that. I can’t say which. Maybe both.
But my horse wanted to run. With them. Like that.
This was, of course, patently ridiculous. I am a 56-year-old woman, and my goal for the day was to stack up 8 half-mile repeats at a 4-minute pace, with a recovery lap in between. But in the presence of those fleet-footed runners, my inner equine was eager to go , and I let her have her head, through a 3:38 repeat, then a 3:45. I felt myself slowing as the laps and the lactic acid accumulated, but I never saw that 4-minute mark again.
I’m not sure how many repeats I did before grabbing my water bottle and heading for home: Eight for sure, maybe 9. I lost count; I just knew I didn’t want to quit before the youngsters did. During my last round of the track, a favorite song by Florence and the Machine began playing in my head, and its exuberance saw me all the way back to the paddock:
The horses are coming
So you better run
Run fast ….