Last summer, I wrote this post about body image and exercise and multi-level discomfort. Ever since then I’ve been hoping to write the post I’m writing now.
This summer, I ran in the cemetery in my hometown most mornings with my dad. We talked and sweated and kept each other going, and some mornings it was hot and sticky and other mornings it was cool and misty but we were always there together, and that was awesome. He joked withe everyone that he and I ran in a field of hundreds and were always the fastest (y’know, ’cause everyone else was dead). I’m going to miss my dad something fierce this year, when I’m stuck walking alone because I have nobody to run with and I’m scared of being eaten by wolves if I go alone. We ran only about two miles, but it was hilly and the shade under the centuries-old trees sparkled on the moss. It was just right for us, and the company included a Dr. Nahum Monroe and someone named Zeruviah, both of which are pretty weird cool names. I got stronger, and I got to hang out with my pops. It meant a lot to me.
The other night, my last night in Maine, I was alone at Sean’s place on North Haven, waiting for him to finish working dinner and come home. I looked out the kitchen window and the sky was electric, so I pulled on my shoes and started running. It’s about a mile to Ames Point, where there’s this rocky knoll with a 360 degree view of the island and the water. A storm was just passing over the Camden Hills, and the rain curtains were swooping across the sunset. It felt good to be up there alone, saying goodbye to the salt water glitter and the craggy coast. It’s home and it’s okay to run away from it for a while: I know that I am made of granite bones and that my blood smells like the tide. My lungs are furred with sea lavender and if you press your ears to mine you’ll hear waves. I can no more leave the coast behind than I can leave my spine to bleach in the sun on the shore.
Later that night, we walked until we came away from the streetlights and watched the meteor shower, lying on our backs in the middle of a deserted road. I tried not to think that I wouldn’t see my friend or that deep and true night sky again for a while, but the thought drifted in and I wished it away, again and again.
I’m in Fairbanks now, getting ready to spend a small fortune on groceries for the next few months. I ran a while this morning, exploring the park and the trail by the Chena River. I don’t know how far or how fast or how long I went, but I don’t much care. I guess the point is that I’ve gotten to a place where I run because it’s a good way to see the world, and it makes my body feel good. It’s chilly here, and I relished the shiver when I stepped out this morning and the slow warming as my legs pounded heat out of the ground.
Did I ever resolve my discomfort with my motives? No, but the motives have changed and refocused. Now I run because it makes me feel good in the moment: I always start grinning like a fool after about a mile when the endorphins kick in, and I have to work to keep mosquitoes out of my teeth. I run because I’m proud of my strength of body and mind and I want to keep it. I run because it ties me to my dad or my friend or my place on the planet and splats me squarely wherever I am. Has my body changed? No, thanks to the raspberry turnovers and donut muffins from all the wonderful midcoast bakeries that I get to feel good about eating after a morning run with Dad. Has my body image changed? Yes. I feel like a badass.
I feel like I have more to say about this, but maybe this isn’t the time. There’s a lot to do, and it’s only 11:00 am, here, but my body is saying it’s midafternoon and I should probably get down to business.