Sometimes the best runs are the ones you don’t want to go on.
It’s 10 at night and I am rummaging through my laundry basket and my drawers looking for clothes. I find multi-colored capri compression tights, a white sports bra, and the brightest neon shirt I can lay my hands on. My mind is telling me I have to complete my Run Streak mile, but at the same time, it’s telling me no. Just about every part of me is protesting. My legs are sore and tired, my eyes ready to close for the night. But I dress anyway.
I step out the door, almost dreading the first few strides. My watch beeps to indicate it found the satellites way up in the sky. I know I need to do this. I still am thinking about just curling up in bed. I have to get up early tomorrow, after all.
At the very least, it’s the prefect temperature. There’s a beautiful cool breeze. The night sky is covered by clouds. The first few steps are rough. There’s not much pavement outside my little house right now, as they’ve been tearing up roads left and right. I’m finding that running in the dark is exhilarating and scary.
I turn left, finding the familiar sidewalk that I travel almost every time I go out alone. Soon I will outrun the street lights. Past the condos, there’s nothing but darkness. Without a moon, or the stars in the sky, I’m enveloped by the night. I almost get hit by a cyclist, followed by a runner. It’s weird to see people out this late at night.
I hit the indiglo button on my watch. Just over half a mile, time to turn around. The idea of Run Streak is to run at least a mile per day. I have dedicated myself to it this time around. I can’t believe I almost talked myself out of it tonight. I would have hated myself for breaking the streak.
Running is when I do some of my best thinking. The day has been messy. Full of frustrating situations and people. Not every day is like that. This one was. There has been some good, though. The huddle this morning inspired this. This stream of consciousness. I keep thinking that I should have brought a tape recorder, or my phone. I read somewhere that the human memory can only retain thoughts for about three minutes. I guess we have memories like gold fish. Short.
I’ve reached the corner again. I decide to turn left and head down toward the high way. I guess I need more than a mile to organize my mind sometimes.
I don’t always have such clear thoughts when I run. Sometimes I’m completely blank. Sometimes my mind is a void. Much like one of my favorite comics, sometimes I run to seek that void.
I almost get hit by another biker despite my bright clothing, flashing arm band, and his bike light. What’s with that tonight? Am I really that unnoticeable? I mean honestly, do you really need to swerve to miss me when I’m bright and flashy?
I keep going. One foot after the other.
I saw the first firefly of the summer last night. I was hoping for more tonight. I kept catching reflections from my watch out of the corner of my eye, thinking it was a firefly lighting my way. It must be too cold for them yet. I used to love being surrounded by the glow of their bioluminescent butts. My cousins and I used to catch them by the dozens in my Grandpa’s spacious back yard. I remember clearly one of my California cousins, whom we didn’t see very often, sitting on the back patio having caught one and watching it crawl across her finger as she proclaimed, “Aww, look how cute! Its little butt lights up!” We’d keep them in mason jars with holes poked in the lid so they could breathe. There were always hundreds of them in the field lighting up the blades of grass and sky on warm Indiana nights. We tried to use the jars as nightlights, which never worked exactly like we wanted it to. In the morning, we’d release them back into the yard. Sometimes, all I want is to go back to those nights.
Thoughts and memories like this, things that make me smile like the thought of fireflies, that’s why I run. That’s why I dragged myself out the door.
I’ve almost reached the high way now. I have to hit the point at the end of the sidewalk before the highway, the little red patch of cement is always my turn around. My mind is funny like that, driven to that point. I didn’t accomplish all that I wanted to today, everything I should have. I didn’t have dinner planned, I didn’t get the baking done that I wanted to. The house is not clean. Nothing is in it’s right place. Everything feels out of order. But running is simple – simple rules, simple pleasures, hit the red part of the sidewalk – turn around. It’s as easy as that.
I’m headed home now. I hear the patter of water hitting the sidewalk before I see it. There are sprinklers across my path. For a moment I think that running through them would be freeing, refreshing. But then I also think it would be cold. I avoid them for the evening. Maybe next time.
Running alone in the dark is a liberating feeling, but at this point it’s also a tiny bit frightening. The cars are passing slowly. They have to, there’s only one lane of traffic, and the road is very beat up and full of holes. Do they see me? I’m on a sidewalk. I should be fine, but even the slow cars passing can make me nervous. Luckily at this time of night, there aren’t many. I live in a safe community. There are houses and condos surrounding me. It’s reassuring.
I’m approaching the hill that leads to home. I feel like I’m flying. Usually I don’t feel this good coming up this hill. I can see the reflective orange and white, and the flashing orange light of the barriers ahead signifying that I’m almost there. These barriers have been an annoyance for almost two months now. They have either meant the road is gone, or dangerous. I’ve occasionally been kicked out of my driveway as the construction workers dig trenches in the road. The end of my driveway is still just dirt and rocks at the moment. It’s a minor annoyance, and most definitely a first world problem.
I crest the hill and find the barriers, the lip of the cut in the road. I make sure not to trip as I find the small step down. I have to avoid a car to stay on the pavement. Otherwise this turns into a rocky, muddy trail-like run.
Just a few more strides and I’m home. Breathing heavy, mind clearer, feeling lighter.
I know as soon as I walk in the house I will be greeted by noises and bright lights. The dog will be at the top step, tail wagging. My husband will be on the couch, waiting to start the episode of “Orange is the New Black” that I made him pause so I could get my run in. For just 20 minutes I was free of the hum and buzz of daily life. For just 20 minutes I was untamed, I was limitless.
This is why I run.