It’s funny how some of my most vivid memories involve running.
In second grade, we had a pen pal from the school across town—mine was a boy named Javier. Our pen pals came to meet us, and he said “I bet you can’t beat me to the fence!” “I bet I can!” I said, and without another word we ran. I ran so fast that my feet almost got tangled up underneath me, and I spent the rest of the day with the smug satisfaction that I had beaten a boy in a race.
By fifth grade, I had gotten used to not being picked in gym class. I knew that no one was going to ask me to play with them at recess, so I usually preferred to sit under a tree with a book. One day during recess, I was reading Beverly Clearly when I was interrupted by, “Hey! Are you going to read that book all day?” It was Darryl, the new boy in our class trying to start a game of tag. Being the new kid, he didn’t know I didn’t play tag.
But I threw down my book and I ran. I joined Darryl and two other boys from my class, and I ran so fast that the wind hit my face and my lungs started burning, and I felt like I was going to topple over when I stretched out my arms in front of me to tag one of the boys before I took off running in the opposite direction again.
I was fast, and I was free.
If you asked me today to list things I’m good at, running would not be one of them. I am not athletic. But one day a couple of years ago, I started running. I still lived in the city, and I used to run along 16th street where all the murals are painted along the train tracks. I started one day, intending to stop after half a mile or so, but by the time I ran from Ashland to Racine, I wasn’t ready to stop. I ran from Ashland to Halsted and back—two miles.
The next day, I did it again. I ran from Ashland to Halsted, and then north to Roosevelt and back—three miles this time. It may be small potatoes for someone who hadn’t spent the past ten years believing they are absolutely not a runner, but for me, I felt like I could do anything. I was strong.
I wasn’t fast, but I was free.
But sometimes running feels like running away. Like running away from a job, like running away from a city, like running back down five flights of stairs after saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore.” Running feels like leaving, like quitting, like forgetting. I am still tethered to self-doubt and disappointment and the nagging feeling that I should have been better.
No matter how fast I run, I can’t run from the blame. I can’t run from the feeling that this is all my fault—it’s my fault that the job didn’t fit, the relationship didn’t work out, everything fell apart again. So I run faster, hoping that no one can see me, no one can touch me, no one can know how small and slimy and broken I really am.
I am fast, but I am not free.
But maybe what we’re running toward is just as as important as what we’re running away from. After the running away, after the leaving and the doubting and the bridge-burning, something else comes into focus. Running is freeing ourselves from the ties that bind us to doubt and fear.
Running is adventuring. Running is moving forward. Running is saying where I am going is better than where I have been. I am typing these words right now because I am running towards a goal. I am no longer what I was, and I am writing about it.
I can feel my lungs burning and the wind on my face, and I feel I am going to topple over as I reach toward a new destination that is completely different and scary and adventurous and uninhibited.
I am fast, and I am free.