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Posts Tagged ‘#run31’

Running has brought me, as I keep saying, lots of unexpected gifts – many of which I didn’t even know I needed. Before I became a runner, I would have said I had a healthy relationship with my body, but it’s perhaps more accurate to say I lived in a state of neutrality toward it.

I’ve spent as much time as the average American woman trying to ignore the conflicting messages we get about our bodies: the magazines that scream at us about which kind of bodies are acceptable, the fashionable clothes that don’t seem designed for real women, the airbrushed images of Hollywood stars or elite athletes. I’ve made an effort to eat (mostly) healthy food and get some regular exercise my whole adult life. But I wouldn’t have said, prior to running, that I loved my body.

I grew up in a culture that prized the life of the mind: my early reading skills, spelling prowess and writing skills earned me a lot of acclaim as a child and teenager. I make a living these days by writing and editing, also activities of the mind, and the Christian faith in which I was raised also emphasized the brain and heart over the body. (The particular brand of evangelicalism with which I’m most familiar has often spoken about the human body in mostly negative terms: the need to subdue and control the body, or what the church believes people should do with their bodies. Those messages make an odd contrast to the notion – which I also heard growing up – that God’s creation is good, and that we, along with the rest of creation, are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”)

As I began and then kept on running (and doing boot camps and yoga classes), I started to marvel at what my body could do, how it felt to move through the air with fluidity and grace, the strength in my legs and endurance in my lungs that I hadn’t known existed. Under Erin’s guidance on Monday nights, I learned that I could lift weights and do push-ups and squats and other exercises in a way I’d never done before. I started learning more about my body’s capabilities, feeling more in tune with it. And overwhelmingly, I started to believe: this is good.

We all grow up absorbing some notion of the “ideal” body: through statues or magazines or the messages we hear from media outlets and the people we know and love. I was teased for my curves as they started to develop, and I used to feel inferior because I was short. I didn’t believe my body was the “ideal” body. But I’m starting to revise my definition of “ideal,” and to care less about that altogether.

My body, whether or not she comes up to anyone’s standard, is mine: she’s been supporting and sheltering me for 37 years. She is healthy and freckled, petite and sinewy, curvaceous and stronger than I ever thought she was. She deserves my loving care and attention, and on most days, she wants to run. And it’s a total joy to be out there, in my body, loving my body, moving through the world in this vessel I will always call home.

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As I’ve said many times this month, I started running with low expectations, and even a bit of trepidation. I knew a lot of people who got a kick out of running, and I was no stranger to the joys of a long walk or a sweaty, satisfying yoga class. But I knew that if running proved downright painful or unpleasant, I was unlikely to stick with it. I wasn’t sure how it would feel.

I recently reread Marisa de los Santos’ The Precious One, and one of the characters, 17-year-old Willow, is a runner. She notes, near the beginning of the book, that “when I run, my body stops being a grouping of parts and becomes a single thing. A fluidity. A living, breathing verb.”

I don’t always feel like that when I run: sometimes it’s a slog, heavy sneakers pounding on pavement. Sometimes it gets a bit monotonous. But at its best, running feels the way Willow describes it: “For me, being good was not the point. The point was cutting through the air, using the air, the way I used the ground. Who cared about good when there was joy like that?”

Running is sometimes meditation, sometimes a much-needed dose of solitude, sometimes a way to work off anxiety or tiredness or a plain old case of the blues. But often, it is that kind of joy: the physical pleasure of my body moving in concert with the air and the ground, the music pumping in my earbuds, lungs and legs and heart working together. It’s not always a conscious kind of magic, but it is always a kind of miracle. And that joy is one of the main reasons I keep heading back out there again and again.

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One of my favorite things about running is the way it lets me move through the landscape, whether it’s a new-to-me city (or neighborhood) or my comfortingly regular harborwalk-to-greenway loop. I love the constant nudges to pay attention: to the feel of the road under my sneakers, the air on my skin, the changing leaves and flowers nearby, the dog walkers and rabbits and squirrels on the path.

But this summer, I got seriously lucky: the folks at PangeaSeed partnered with half a dozen local artists (like Imagine876, above) to create new, colorful murals in my part of Eastie. For a couple of weeks, I watched the murals evolve day by day on my morning runs, and I’m loving the gorgeous colors now that they’re finished. This one is in the shipyard, on the building that houses Downeast Cider, and you can see its vibrant colors from all the way across the harbor.

The mural at the top of this post is on the greenway, where I often run; it’s a celebration of the salt marsh sparrow, which is in danger of extinction due to rising sea levels. I’ve seen more of Sophy Tuttle’s work around Boston, and I love the bold colors and detailed depictions of the natural world. There are several more murals in the series, and they’re a welcome splash of color on grey days.

I love public art, especially when it combines beauty with purpose, and these murals definitely fit the bill (like this one, above, by Artists for Humanity Boston). They are all done by women and/or artists of color, and they call us insistently to treasure and protect the natural world. They make my runs more enjoyable, certainly, but I hope they also keep inspiring me – and others – to pay attention to, and care for, the world in which we live.

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I know running is good for me physically in a lot of ways: our bodies were made to move, and sweating may help clear toxins out of our systems (as well as improving circulation). I’ve enjoyed building up my endurance and strength by running, too. But I’ve wondered for years about that elusive “runner’s high,” or the feel-good rush from endorphins released by exercise. When I started running, I wondered if I’d ever feel it – though that wasn’t why I kept heading back out to the trail.

Like a lot of things about running, the endorphins don’t usually arrive with high drama: I don’t round the final bend or crest one last hill and get a sudden rush of joy or euphoria. Sometimes, if it’s a particularly tough run, I arrive back home being simply grateful I’ve made it. But I do often feel better than I did when I set out. I feel accomplished, and (usually) satisfied with my efforts. These days, it’s an excellent way to start the day, and when I was mostly running after work, it was a gratifying way to cap off the workday. And – lest we all forget – let Elle Woods remind us that endorphins may help prevent murder. (“Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!”)

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Months ago, my friend Hannah made a comment along these lines: we were talking about the meditative qualities of running, and the fact that we both (mostly) like to do it alone. It got me thinking about the ways running is and is not like traditional meditation. I haven’t tried Headspace or any of the other meditation apps floating around the internet, but I can see how running bears some similarities to them.

When I run, I listen to music, but it’s usually stuff I know really well, or music that can fade comfortably into the background. Unless I’m actively singing along to Hamilton or other music, I want space for my thoughts to tumble and churn and slide as I go along. I don’t often go out on a run with the intent of solving a particular problem, but I naturally think about whatever’s taking up my attention that week, as well as the weather and the light and the signs of seasonal change (right now, all the gorgeous leaves) that I see.

Running is movement-based, of course, while many forms of meditation involve sitting still. I find it easier to let my attention relax when I’m moving through a landscape, easier to let my thoughts pinwheel around without having to move in a linear fashion. Sometimes I’ll get stuck on one thing for a bit, but more often the physical motion helps keep my thoughts in motion, too. A lot of yoga teachers talk about noticing your thoughts rather than getting attached to them – sometimes tough to do when lying on a yoga mat, but I find it a bit easier on a run.

Especially when I’m working – when my days involve emails, meetings, writing projects, chats with coworkers – I also relish the chance to step back from all that on a run. As I move through physical space, sometimes my thoughts come unstuck and drift away, creating space inside my head for new thoughts or simply a bit of breathing room. It’s physically challenging and mentally restorative. Not quite the same effect as a yoga class – and I need both – but a way to create and enjoy headspace, all the same.

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Katie ww run selfie trail

Over the last three years, I’ve been astonished at the effect running has had on my body and mind. I am stronger, somewhat faster, definitely tougher than I used to be (and than I thought I was). But there’s another, more subtle shift in my mindset for which running deserves a lot of credit. It’s the change from That’s too hard or I don’t think I can – or even That sounds uncomfortable – to Let’s try it.

My friend Anne calls this the shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset). The funny thing is: I wasn’t thinking about growth when I decided to start running. I was thinking about wanting to stay out on the river trail as the days grew colder and darker, and figuring out a way to make that happen. I was searching for something I needed – light and space and fresh air – and stumbled onto a sport and a discipline that has become part of who I am.

I may not have been actively seeking growth as a new runner, or in starting the boot camps I tried around the same time. But the growth happened, in both cases, because I said to myself, Let’s try it.

That mindset has spilled over into many other aspects of running: going farther and faster down the trail, running my first 5K, trying out new paths at home or on vacation, even running a 10K last year. I’m not expecting myself to nail a certain pace or time (usually), and I know I can always try it again, or get better, so it’s a little easier to say Let’s try it. (And the list of things I’d like to try – races I’d like to run, places I’d like to run in – keeps getting longer.)

I’ve noticed that I struggle to apply the growth mindset to other parts of my life. I tend to think of my skills and personality in fairly fixed terms: I’m a good cook, a reasonably accomplished knitter, a tidy-but-not-neurotic housekeeper, a voracious reader. I’m pretty happy with that last one, but I wonder if I’m missing out on some growth by accepting whatever “limits” I imagine my skills have. I may never be a gourmet chef or knit a perfect sweater, but I can work to build some skills in those areas. I can say to myself what I say when I encounter a new hill or an enticing race or a new way to stretch after a run. Let’s try it. Who knows what might happen?

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I’ve been a runner for about three years now. But I was a yogi long before I was a runner. And these days, the two disciplines inform and bolster each other.

I discovered yoga back in Abilene, when a friend told me about some classes downtown at the Center for Contemporary Art. I showed up on a weeknight with my green Target yoga mat, unsure about where to put my feet or how to breathe or really, all of it. But I fell in love with wise, kind-eyed, practical McKay and her classes, and when I moved to Boston, one of the first things I did was find Healing Tree, the local studio. I took classes there for nearly nine years, until I moved to Eastie (and The Point, my current neighborhood studio) last summer.

When I started running in 2017, I kept on doing yoga: one or two vinyasa flow classes a week, the way I’d always done. I love yoga for the strength and flexibility it’s helped me hone, and the way a good class can clear my head, make me feel calmer, more settled, more at home in my body. Although running is a very different workout, I love it for many of the same reasons. So it makes sense that at least for me, they complement one another.

In normal, non-pandemic times, I go running most nights after work and squeeze in a yoga class once or twice a week. Since mid-March, I’ve been running (almost) every morning and going to yoga (in the park, when possible) once or twice a week, either at lunchtime or early evening.

Both disciplines help me pay attention to my body, help me grow stronger and more flexible, more attuned to my bones and muscles and how they interact with my mind. When I’m running, I pay more attention to my hips and shoulders because of yoga, and I’m sure the deep breathing practice doesn’t hurt, either. And my warrior poses and balance poses – tree, eagle, dancer – are stronger because I’m a runner. Both disciplines, too, remind me of the joy of effort and rest: working up a sweat and then a lovely cool-down walk when running, a series of challenging poses and then a peaceful savasana in a yoga class.

I didn’t really think about whether my running would affect my yoga, or vice versa, when I became a runner. But they balance one another quite well, and I’m glad for that. (Bonus: I can wear the same gear to do both, and – at least for now – practice both of them outside.)

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Before I became a runner, I would have told you I was not a selfie person. My Instagram feed was mostly photos of flowers and sunsets, with an occasional book or cup of tea. (Some things have not changed entirely; all those joys still make regular appearances.) But I surprised myself by starting to snap – and even post – running selfies on the regular.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media: I enjoy sharing bits of beauty or great books or other people’s interesting posts, and seeing what others share, too. But I’m all too aware of the corollary that we often edit out the messy bits, to show only the highlights. And while I’m definitely not going to air my dirty laundry in public, I’m always wondering how honest/unfiltered to be online.

trail morning selfie sea water

While most of my running selfies involve me smiling, they are still a way to push back against the “highlight reel” a bit. For one thing: I’m always sweating, my hair is usually blowing around and I’m often not wearing any makeup. This is me, in the literal middle of a workout, and sometimes it’s glorious and I feel strong and confident. But sometimes my feet hurt or it’s cold or I just don’t want to run three miles in the morning (or evening). Sometimes I’m upset or frustrated, lonely or sad. Sometimes I am just not feeling it, for whatever reason.

On those days, I sometimes skip the selfies altogether, but sometimes I go ahead and take them. Snapping a selfie can be a small reset, a bit of a grounding ritual: I am here. In this moment, on this path, with this water or these trees or buildings in the background. I am here, sweat and crow’s-feet and whirling thoughts and all.

Katie trail blue gray water

In three years of running, I have not magically become a marathoner or a record-setter or a runner who runs with total ease. But I am a runner because I run, and my selfies are tangible proof: me, running, or at least pausing in the middle of a run.

Here I am without makeup, in workout clothes, not even close to perfectly coiffed. Here I am in an ordinary moment, which is worth celebrating as much as any day I get all dolled up. Here I am doing something I love, which brings me joy and strength and peace on the best days, and at least lets me work up a sweat and get out of my head for a while. Here I am, running, and sharing at least a slice of that joy with the world.

If you run, or work out, do you post selfies? (Or is this a totally frivolous topic? Even if it is, I think it’s worth exploring.)

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I mentioned last week that I love running on vacation: it’s fun to lace up my sneakers and head out to explore a new neighborhood on foot. (I seriously can’t wait to run in NYC again.) But today’s post is about something a little different: running a new route that I know I can come back to.

For nearly two years, I ran almost exclusively on the Neponset River trail: past the marshes and reeds, across Granite Street to the parks on the other side. I went as far as I dared until the path ended, and ran my first 5K there. As long as I lived in the neighborhood, I was entirely satisfied: my daily runs didn’t need to be anywhere else.

When I started dog– and house-sitting for friends in Eastie last spring, the days were still short: I didn’t want to venture out on unfamiliar streets in the dark. So I brought my running gear to work and began doing lunchtime runs on the Esplanade. That route – close to my office, and a favorite haunt of Boston runners – has become one of “my” places to run. And as the days lengthened, I began exploring new running routes in Eastie. Those loops along the harborwalk and the greenway are now, of course, where I run all the time.

Last week, I tried out another new-to-me route: the forest path along the river in the Brighton-Watertown area, close to where my guy lives. We’d been for a bike ride or two in that area, but I’d never run that path before. I set off on a stunning morning, the Highwomen in my earbuds, savoring the light and the way it filtered through the leaves.

Running that new-to-me loop felt both normal and refreshingly new. I kept up my usual pace, mostly, but I had to pay attention to my feet (so many tree roots!). Plus, it was kind of fun not knowing exactly where the path would go. I adore my normal route and all its variations, but I didn’t know how much I needed that dose of novelty. I ran all the way to Watertown Square, where there’s another bridge over the river, and came back down the other side. By the time I reached my starting point again, I was sweaty and smiling.

If you run, or exercise regularly, do you like to switch it up sometimes?

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heart neponset trail

Here’s one way I knew I was becoming a runner: I started buying Runner’s World occasionally at the airport.

I’m not much of a magazine buyer, except when I travel. But it’s fun to browse the airport newsstand and pick up something to flip through on the plane. (Man, I miss flying. Anyone else?) I remember buying the issue of Runner’s World with Shalane Flanagan on the cover. Inside those pages was a whole Technicolor world of performance running gear, advice for running in all seasons and weathers, odd terms like “splits” and “intervals” and “taper” and “shakeout run.” And most of the folks in those pages looked like me – but also they didn’t.

As a white woman who’s always been healthy and thin (genes + decent eating habits + a love of walking), you might think I’d see myself in runners like Flanagan or Deena Kastor or Amelia Boone. But I looked at those chiseled bodies and read about their workouts and thought, That’s not me. I saw myself far more easily in the stories about amateur runners: folks who run for fun and fitness and to push themselves, who haven’t made it a career.

A few months ago, I stumbled on the Instagram account @diversewerun, which features runners of all races, genders and body types, and highlights why they run. It’s joyful and fun, and it regularly reminds me of the huge variety of people who are runners.

I knew that running culture – like so many “elite” spaces in the U.S. – often looks very white, but that people of all ethnicities run, and they deserve to be seen. But the particular stories shared on that account (founded by Carolyn Su) are teaching me new things all the time. And it reminds me that this is one more place where we all need to do better.

If I felt intimidated by running culture – and I’m white and healthy and I can afford new running shoes – how much more intimidating might it be for people of color, folks with disabilities, those who see the price tags on running gear and think I can’t possibly afford that? Representation matters, as always, and I love seeing Carolyn and others highlight all kinds of running stories.

Running has the potential to be so democratic: anyone who can lace up their shoes and run can become a runner, no matter your age, weight, size, gender, ethnicity or fitness level. I am grateful to have found a home in this sport, and grateful to others who keep sharing their stories and reminding us that there’s room here for everyone.

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