I started running again this week. Well, run-walking. It’s been years since I was able to run for a mile without stopping to walk, and I keep remembering the exhilaration I felt at the end of that mile. I also remember that I didn’t run much more than the one mile that one time. Baby steps, you know?
My own baby hasn’t been taking steps yet, but he’s been on the move. Gone are the days where I can watch him just wiggle around on his back while I write or read. It’s a constant one-eye-out enterprise. I’d already begun to miss the times I had on my own before, but every day I long for just thirty minutes solo to myself that doesn’t involve me being asleep or racing to clean something up while Graham naps. I long for focused time to collect my bearings.
Exercise used to be such a drag. It had a horrible goal at the end. I didn’t want to be able to run a marathon, not really. I wanted to lose fifty pounds. I wanted to be some imaginary skinny version of myself that, back when I was only wearing single digit dress sizes, still didn’t feel like it was good enough. I was chasing an ugly dream fed to me by a society that values thinness, fitness, wholeness that comes from being able to plaster oval stickers on the back of your car and pull on a pair of jeans without fat spilling over the top. I defiantly put a 0.0 sticker on my own car, but even that felt disingenuous. Why the extreme? Why do I have to be all in or all out? Where’s the sticker that says “I’m just trying my best to feel good?”
I’ve been a bit more accepting of just trying my best these days. I’m not out to be a size eight again, or run a marathon, though those would be nice bonuses. I’d just like to have some time to myself to remember that my body is capable of doing something impressive that isn’t based entirely on sustaining the life of another. So I took the baby step of lacing up my shoes, plopping the actual baby beside his dad, and opening the MapMyRun app for the first time in three years.
I walk more than I run. Some of it is physical limitation. Some of it is wanting to slow down and take in the sights along the trail. I’ve always been a fan of Raleigh’s greenway system. It’s like trail running without stumbling along uneven ground. I see shining creeks, a rippling lake, the graceful bend of trees over the path like something out of a storybook. Years ago on one of my first runs I saw a heron in the brush by Lake Johnson. These days I see moss-covered rocks, twisted tree trunks, functional yet lovely wooden bridges, and the crest of a hillside cemetery that rises out of seemingly nowhere. I take a detour to jog by the Bain Waterworks plant, full of mystery in its Art Deco decay. I see in my mind stories and characters, full to the brim with fairy creatures that live just out of the corners of our eyes. I want to write, I want to paint, I want to plink out little melodies on a keyboard.
I’m feeding a physical need, yes, but I’m also fulfilling something deeply and spiritually artistic. It’s not so much of a drag these days. I’m not pounding the pavement out of self-loathing. I’m taking steps in my self-care. I come back refreshed and wanting to take my son and husband on little adventures to show them the magic I found, or perhaps find a magic of our own. It’s affirming to see how taking care of myself makes me a better person in general.