The Year of the Dog is upon us—and no, that’s not a reference to the state of my fitness. Although my times may be lagging and my tongue may be wagging, I’ve actually returned to a fairly normal training regimen with fairly normal mileage. This particular Dog headlines the Lunar New Year in China, and that means it was time for the 40th Annual Chinatown Firecracker Run, which I’d somehow managed to avoid over the years. But when your times become embarrassing, it’s only natural to disguise them by running arduous hill courses that absolutely no one runs fast. And this one, at least in its first half, was pretty brutal.
I prepared for the race by watching a lot of Winter Olympics and soaking up all that awesome fitness in skintight suits. I’ve always thought that if I’d grown up in the upper Midwest, I could have been a decent biathlete. Mrs. AB made it through the Iteva-Edeva figure skating showdown (I fell asleep), but decided that she hates curling (I, on the other hand, found it weirdly fascinating). And after careful consideration, I decided that the most entertaining Winter Olympics sport is that one in which snowboarders race four at a time down a crazy series of hills and do death-defying leaps while trying not to crash into one another. The Winter Olympics are truly comfort food on a cold February night, and the only real downside is seeing the same commercials over and over again. I mean, why was Mikaela Shiffrin in such a rush to get out of that ice bath? Did she suddenly realize it was cold? Was her Visa card about to expire?
But I digress.
I also prepared for the Chinatown race on my job. I’m currently doing a long-term assignment as a middle school P.E. sub, and once a week the kids run Cardio Day. For approximately 25 minutes, they circle the school track, running as many laps as possible until whistled in (7 laps is a C, 10 is an A+). Since there are other P.E. teachers and teaching assistants around to supervise and count laps, I was able to join in and
show off get a short workout while encouraging the kids. (For the record, I’ve been able to do as many as 14 laps.) Then, after work, I would pick up my wife at her school, where I helped her hang an art project of Chinese lanterns from her ceiling. Our school district is majority Asian, so the Lunar New Year is a fairly big deal. And it was all coming to a climax in Chinatown on a cold (for L.A., anyway) but sunny Sunday morning.
Where there’s smoke, there are fireworks—100,000 of them. There was also a dragon, although you could barely see him from the back of the 5K pack. As Mrs. AB took off with the crowd of 5K walkers, I found a quiet spot in which to warm up for the 10K run.
We’d taken the Metro to Chinatown, checked our post-race gear, and I gradually shed layers as the 8:30 start approached. The 10K route starts and ends in Chinatown, and basically makes a big looping orbit of Dodger Stadium in the hills of Elysian Park. It’s almost all uphill for the first 2.5 miles, and just seems to go on and on. Whenever I was tempted to look down at Igor and check my pace, I refrained, hearing in my head the famous last line in the movie Chinatown. This course was no place to worry about speed; it was a test of quads and resolve, and above all, a really great workout. Later, I found out that my first three splits were 9:23, 10:19, and 9:37. But right when you reach a clearing and look down at Dodger Stadium, you crest those hills and get your payoff. It’s ironic: when I was young, I was an assassin on the uphills, but too cautious to make good use of the downhills. Now, at 64, I often get passed on the uphills, but turn into Lindsey Vonn on the way down, passing many of those same people.
Meanwhile, Mrs. AB was trading photo ops with other walkers in front of the Dodger Stadium. Is it baseball yet? Almost!
I was gassed almost to a standstill at the course’s apex, but my splits took a major turn for the better in the second half: 7:54, 8:12, 8:20, with a 7:20 pace on the final, flat .2. It all came out to 55:13, which is bad for me even when you take the hills into consideration. But I got the workout I needed. And then—this being Chinatown—there was food.
Flaky-crust delicacies gave way to Vietnamese noodle soup after a quick search of local restaurants.
No, I wasn’t hungry again an hour later. But I was ready for a nap…and more Olympics. There were skating pandas in the Closing Ceremonies—a fitting end to our New Year’s adventure.