by Abbie Goldberg-Zaret
In the early days of the pandemic, running was not an escape. I ran, but my body and brain were not connected. My brain was on overdrive, worry and fear and panic spinning around and around, like a washing machine filled with heavy comforters. I felt like thoughts were literally banging around in my brain. I ran, going through the motions. I worried, worried, worried as I ran. I couldn’t focus on anything in my (single) earbud—podcasts, books, music. Anything I turned on might as well have been white noise. I couldn’t pay attention to anything during those early days. My brain was like that of a flea.
But, when I got home from a run, I felt a smidge calmer. If my anxiety was an 8 when I headed out the door, I could bring it down to a 5 or 6. Running wasn’t a solution, but it was a salve. I could smooth away the sharp edges, just a bit. I could be in nature and escape the gray, stifling monotony of quarantine life. I could eject myself from my daily efforts to navigate the ongoing (unrealistic, confusing, maddening) expectation that I was to work and parent while imagining and fearing an uncertain future.
Now, 9 months into a daily running streak, I’m so grateful that I stuck with running in those early days. It was an unplanned streak. Like the pandemic, nothing was certain regarding its future. How could I really know how long I would or could run? How would I know if my body would or would not give out, if I would be too depressed to get out of bed one day, if I would one day just … stop? During those early days, I slowly and blindly carved out some running grooves that I kept stepping in to, day after day. Around mid-April, a month into our pandemic life, I remember a run where I realized I was less panicked, less in my head, able to look around myself and notice the signs of spring. I was a bit jolted as I realized that I had gradually begun to feel more in my body, more connected to what was around me. I saw the clouds slowly passing by. I felt the breeze on my skin. Everything seemed a little more spacious.
I ran long many of these days, especially in April and May, when we had little going on and my college teaching schedule was dully asynchronous (i.e., I created uplifting lecture videos with pictures of my cats and nature that preceded content about human sexuality). Some days, that running long felt like water or oxygen or breath. I needed it to function. Many days, though, I did not want to run, especially when it was cold and gray and far too still. The world, during March and April, felt like it went to sleep—a dark sleep, people huddled in their homes. I watched houses as I ran by, imagining the people inside, wondering about their jobs and their fears and how they were managing remote schooling.
With each passing week and then month of this running streak, I felt certain things subtly shift. I was learning things about myself, and growing, through this daily practice. I felt deep gratitude for running and for my body, and what running every day was allowing me to work through (or work with). I had a lot of “feelings,” include range, despair, fear, horror, and gratitude, and running allowed me to sift through them—or just watch them, and let them come and go, or at least come and sit a while and then dissipate slowly, reducing down to more of a sauce than a thick gravy in my brain. I tried to listen to my body, backing off (but always running at least a mile) when I felt a twinge of “something.” I kept the vast majority of my runs slow, especially when running more than 10 miles. I cross-trained. I continued to live and breathe and run with uncertainty, amidst the ups and downs and sideways of the past nine months.
Besides my personal commitment to keep getting up and getting out, day after day, during the pandemic, “Ten-Mile Tuesdays” have also played an important motivational role in this streak. As many of us began cautiously emerging from total lockdown in May and June to enjoy safe, outdoor, distanced time with friends and family, I began running again with my two good friends—and fellow streakers— Rachel and Patti. Our weekly “Ten-Mile Tuesdays” have helped to bind my commitment to this streak. Not only are Ten-Mile Tuesdays a time of shared stories, reflection, and group therapy, but they serve as a weekly reminder of and recommitment to the practice of running.
My gratitude to and for my running pod goes beyond the shared commitment we have to this streak; it encompasses the ongoing support we offer each other—to keep going, going, going, in every sense of the word.
And here we are, 9 months into the pandemic, and 2,500 miles closer to… what exactly? We have hope and yet we have fear. We have been through so much, and yet we have a long way to go. We are headed into winter. As runners, some of us may find it especially hard to get out there during these colder days. I never look forward to really cold runs, but I’m almost always glad I got out there (except when it’s wet and cold; that just sucks). Running in the winter is a test of our true New Englander spirit. It wins us automatic badass points. During a pandemic, I think we get points-and-a-half.
Someone told me recently that I am her daily inspiration to exercise, because she drives past me running on her way to work. This made me smile, because I don’t run to inspire. I run because I can, and because it is helping me to survive. As an abled-bodied person and a psychologist, I know how lucky I am to have this tool at my disposal (or really any exercise). As long as I can, I will use it. And if I get injured, I get injured. We are all vulnerable and fallible and tomorrow is not promised. But I’m taking in the sunrise today because I can.
Abbie is a SMAC member from Easthampton. (e-mail)
Check out her member profile in the Jan/Feb 2018 Sun!
Originally published as an article in the January/February 2021 issue of The Sugarloaf Sun.
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