One of the best things about being home is getting back into my running routine. A short run and a long run on the weekends, the just long enough 4.5-mile dark of the morning once or twice during the week.
I started running when I was twelve or thirteen, plodding along next to my marathoner dad on the view-laden roads of the neighborhoods up around the Rose Bowl as he tried to instill discipline and good form. In high school I ran for two years on the cross-country team and I ran the high hurdles for half a season, and I placed in the last five at every meet I attended. I wheezed from the cigarettes I was already smoking and wore knee and ankle braces.
I am not a good runner. I am slow and not particularly strong. I smoked for a long time and have been plagued by injuries. But still I run. I took a few months off here and there thanks to a faulty right foot that’s been giving me grief since I was sixteen, and I took a few years off in my twenties because the European cities I was living in were not conducive to running, and neither, of course, was art school. But no matter how long I stay away, I always come back to it.
Before I got pregnant and before my husband and I moved to South Pasadena, we moved from LA’s more urban Echo Park to Eagle Rock, a neighborhood right on the edge of Pasadena, just a couple of miles west from the Rose Bowl. All of a sudden I was back into running in a whole new way. No matter how late I had been out the night before, no matter how many cigarettes I had smoked, I got up at 6am each morning, loaded my giant Doberman into the passenger seat of my Celica and drove with the sunroof open to the Rose Bowl for a run. But we didn’t run around the Rose Bowl like everyone else, we went up the eastern hill to the route where I had learned to run – along the backyard fence of the house I grew up in, behind the house of the girl I used to babysit for, along the rim of the hill overlooking the Rose Bowl and the arroyo, watching the sky change color with my dog trotting at my hip.
Running didn’t sit well with pregnancy for me, so I stopped running again not long after that glorious year of arroyo loops with my dog. I meditated a lot when I was pregnant, at least as often as I used to run, and this helped relieve my brain of the lack of running, but once I got through the first couple of months of 24-hour a day bonding with Koukla I needed to get back on the street. It turned out to be awful, huffing and plodding along, trying to get my stamina back. And not only was I totally out of shape, I was alone – I no longer had my dog running with me (we had to give her away when the baby was born, which is a longer story than I have room for here but check back next week for more).
But something surfaced in my new lonely struggles. I began to improve. I felt stronger, and I became stronger. And slowly my runs began to feel good, and began to evolve into what they are now, which is my solitude, my meditative space – even with my techno/punk rock playlist blaring in the background. I was so frustrated by how hard it had been to get to this point that I set out to be a real runner, to pay attention to it in a way I never had in the past. I didn’t want to run that same old three-mile route forever.
I found a new route by my new house, have worked my up to a 10k along the more wooded southern tip of the Arroyo Seco, above the stables underneath the Colorado Street Bridge and back, then up a couple of hills into the neighborhood above my house, and this run has become my salvation. A fight with my husband, trouble at work, a baby that won’t sleep, this run cures me of all of it, it makes everything right again.
I have started running now even when I leave town. I never used to do this, but I am trying so hard this time to be a real runner that I worry about losing my form and losing strength. But the problem with travel running is that I run to be alone, and when I’m running in an unknown place, I can never feel alone. I am fully engaged in my surroundings, absorbing the feeling of the new place and finding my way through it.
The routes I run at home are near empty, and the few people I do pass I essentially tune out. I’m so familiar with these roads, some days it’s as though I am running with my eyes closed, and in the pitch black of the predawn streets (because now that I have a baby I need to get up a lot earlier than six if I want to get a run in) it is as though I am blindfolded.
So I am back now, recovering from too many packings and unpackings of suitcases and a baby who has still not recovered at all, and more than anything I am craving my pitch black morning run along Orange Grove to see the sunrise from the tip of the Colorado Street Bridge, but when I was finally able to get out there this week I found that something had changed in my weeks away. The days have stretched into my mornings, and by the time I get outside there are already streaks of light in the sky. I pass two other runners who are just as startled by me as I am by them. When I pass the corner of California, the freshly powdered ladies of the Valley Hunt Club glow beneath the street lamps and the smudges of day that I am trying to outrun. I pass old men gray as ash shuffling along through their daily constitutionals, and young professionals walking their poor little dogs in circles around what seems to be every single lamppost. By the time I hit my turnaround point on the bridge I am in the plain light of day.
There is no solitude, there is no meditation. There is total awareness, and there is struggle. But at the end there is still that little bit of salvation, just enough of a reprieve to get me through the day. And all that’s left to do is set my alarm and try again tomorrow.