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Is there sand in Manhattan?

The English economist John Kay has written quite a lot of a concept called obliquity. In a 2004 Financial Times article he wrote that “Strange as it may seem, overcoming geographic obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting global business targets are the type of goals often best achieved when pursued indirectly. This is the idea of Obliquity.” Inspired by it I decided to spend the last month of training for the desert marathon in what can be considered the most urban place on the planet: Manhattan. With almost 27 000 people per square kilometer its really urbanized. Gothenburg has 250 people per square kilometer.

It may come as a surprise that this tiny island with a population of 1.6 million is the most runner friendly place I have ever lived in. The people we should  thank for this is Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux who in 1857 won the contest to design what is currently known as Central Park. The foundation was placed 150 years ago, but it is the effort put in during the last 30 years that has made it into a beautiful, useful and safe public park. You can run on a driveway near the streets, on soft surface around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir or on any of the small paths connected to the driveway. Being surrounded by the beauty of a park with its trees, greenery and water with the marvels of the Manhattan skyline rising behind the tree-line is an astonishing combination.

On my premier run and first lap around the 9.82 km long Central Park Driveway I must have passed at least 200 runners. No joke! There were people form all ages and fitness levels, running everywhere. This combination of all the runners, the park atmosphere and the magnificent skyline towering up when running south on the park’s west side, made the run absolutely fabulous and made me energized. I felt like I was running at the speed of light!

On my second lap, around 18km into the run when the feeling of fatigue is starting to come, I hear a horde of runners approaching me. It’s an unnerving sound. No one has passed me so far and I plan to keep it that way, I’m thinking to myself. They approach rather quickly and I can hear them just behind me, so I increase the speed. I’m getting indecisive if I can increase my speed enough for the remaining 2km. What is even more bothersome than their speed is the fact that they seem to be chit chatting as if on a Sunday stroll! My pulse on the other hand is probably at 175 and even though my form is fantastic I do find the run exhausting. They are running at 04:20 minutes per kilometer without any obvious effort?! Who are these athletic champions attempting to ruine my fantastic run and degrade my self-esteem?

Suddenly something happens. I can hear a fragment of a sentence from their conversation: “Did you guys notice how the winner of the Boston Marathon…”  I dont need to hear anyting else. The panic and annoyance that has slowly been creaping up, vanishes in an instance. My morale is up and energy levels are back. Someone discussing the intricacies of the winner of one of the most prestigious Marathons in the world, to which you need to qualify to even enter, is a an athlete worthy of  passing me, I though. Surprisingly, that thought boosts my energy levels even more. I increase the speed and leave the horde behind me. Thanks to them I finish my 20k run in 1h and 30 minutes. The road to achieving a good time is obviously oblique.

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