The strangest thing about returning to running this time (as opposed to this past January, or the June before that) has been how simultaneously familiar and foreign the act feels. The moment my feet fell into stride last Wednesday evening I felt like myself for the first time in months; it was as though I'd caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror after weeks of not seeing my reflection. There must be something about the way I move through the world while running, the way that I process sight and sound and smell, that has profoundly affected my self-consciousness, and which I can't recognize until it had been both taken away and then returned to me. Running has constituted the ebb and flow of my life since I was fourteen--it's been the cross-training for crew and cycling that anchored my practice sessions, the escape I needed during my undergraduate days, the medium through which I taught outdoor education in graduate school and the means by which I explored the hidden corners of the six towns where I've lived in the last ten years. I've run before job interviews and after big exams, at dawn in California and in the pitch black of night in England, in rain, hail, lightening, snow, and brilliant sunshine.
The environmental circumstances surrounding last week's venture, however, were fairly commonplace: an early summer evening in Central Park, packed to the brim with runners, dog walkers, and cyclists. Still, the Bridle Path was surprisingly empty during the half hour I spent kicking up sand and running around the puddles from the previous day's rain. My body as a whole seemed cumbersome and finicky--I felt a bit as though I were running through water--yet my legs and feet, despite their total lack of speed, felt utterly natural. I was running!!! I wanted to wave my hands to the sky and run around in circles; I couldn't stop beaming. Not smiling--beaming. My slow (very slow) footfall matched W.S. Merwin's lines, which, in thirty minutes, ran through my head over and over again: "we are saying thank you faster and faster / with nobody listening we are saying thank you / we are saying thank you and waving / dark though it is".
Each run since has been an improvement on the last, and I hope that this trend continues. But even this evening, as rain pummeled the blossoms off the Park's dogwood trees, I realized that all I really care about is the chance to run, period. If my only option is to run at this same, slow, cumbersome pace for the next year, so be it. I'll wave and say thank you faster and faster to the summer thunderstorms and dark autumn evenings, to the bare dogwoods and the first snowfalls as 2009 rolls into 2010. I just want to run.