I was 18 the only time I ever snuck out of my parents’ house. I didn’t sneak out to drink or smoke; I snuck out to run with a friend. I don’t know who thought to do it—I’m guessing it was both of us and last-minute, a plan hatched at midnight when we were supposed to be asleep but were tethered instead to each other by phone, as we often were late at night the summer after high school graduation when we were no longer at play rehearsal together or swimming in her pool. We lived about a mile apart, blocks that felt at once like too many and at the same time easily traversed. So it was dark? If we ran toward each other, we could meet quickly. I don’t remember how far we jogged that night, or if we were scared. My guess is not far and that we had no fear. We were young and lived in a safe village where, at least most of the time, the biggest risk was getting your bike stolen, and we didn’t have bikes, so we had nothing to lose. We simply ran.
I started running when I was around 16 or 17. Not far. Not fast. Up Dayton Street and over Enon and down the College Streets and toward town. I had always walked up until then, had never known how good it felt to breathe harder, to feel my legs burn, to push myself physically.
I have been running, on and off, for years now. I have taken time off—sometimes because I am doing other kinds of exercise, sometimes because I have sustained an injury—but always I return to it. I am reminded of the kind of freedom it affords me.
Don't get me wrong. It isn’t for everyone. One of my friends once told me the only time you’d ever catch him running was if the police were chasing him. And I have to be extra careful when I run, especially alone. One time when I lived in a small and safe college town, I was running in the winter before sunrise, in a neighborhood where the houses were still unlit and quiet, and I heard a man shout in my direction. I could see him under the streetlamp up ahead, suddenly darting toward me, yelling some more, and what did I do? I screamed. Loudly. Really, really loudly. I sprinted in the opposite direction. Only in glancing back did I realize the man’s dog had come loose and was bounding toward me, and the man had been yelling for his dog, not at me. But I never regretted screaming anyway.
I have run to shake off nerves, to rid myself of anger, to burn off energy when I was excited, to rev up energy when I was depressed. Running is my trick, my way of feeling better and stronger even when life’s circumstances have not provided evidence that I should feel any differently. I have run in the rain, the cold, the snow, in the blackness of night and early morning. I have run when what I really wanted to do was scream—not because of someone I saw up ahead but because of someone I could still see left behind. I have run when I did not feel like running because it’s one of the few things I never regret doing after it’s done.
This morning, I ran. Not far. Not fast. But for the first time in two months. This might not seem like a big deal, but I had been counting the days until I could run again because I didn’t stop by choice. A health issue had prevented me from going. The morning air was cool on my bare arms, and my lungs filled with June and the promise of summer’s long and easy days up ahead. The pavement seemed to move beneath me.
I could have looked back and measured the distance by length of fence lines and number of stop signs and broken sidewalks and all the things that might have stopped me, but I kept doing what I have always done: I took a deep breath, and I simply ran.