On Sundays I run. I run two or three (or on a really good week, four) other days a week, but those long Sunday runs are sacred – every time out is another extended attempt at peace, a slow, sweaty slog until I hit mile three or four or six when finally all of the energy, all of the motion creates quiet in my mind. Until then, until that moment, there is chatter and anxiety and frustration and sometimes even rage, but all of it, every last voice in my head just vanishes the moment that I fall into my pace.
Since running my half-marathon a few months ago I’ve cut back on my long runs (and by cutting back I mean chopping them in half). I got lazy. I realized that I didn’t actually need twelve miles all at once to clear those clogs from my mental pipes. Lately I’ve settled on a nice 10k to keep me sane, thanks to a new route with topography perfectly geared toward hitting my runner’s repose at exactly the halfway point – meaning I have a good twenty to thirty minutes of clean, quiet, ecstatic running. Just enough to reach elation. Not so much that I ever really have to suffer. Heaven.
Last Sunday I sprinted down my rest-before-the-hard-stuff hill, then fancy footworked a sharp right turn off of the asphalt and up the dirt and rock trail that is the first signal to my brain that peace is just around the bend. With the first smear of dirt on my shin, my punk rock playlist gave way to an old bassy Sven Vath single and my descent into running joy started to take hold.
And then I heard it. A guy, down on the street, out walking, looking not for peace but for nuisance. Nuisance too loud for even my big techno beat to drown it out. Nuisance so loud I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t directed at me. “Oh damn, am I really even seeing this? Damn, girl, oh my god, do you even know? I mean, look at that ass! Oh my god, look at her, look at that ass!” I could go on, of course. He certainly did.
I was four miles in, just hitting my first serious ascent. Do I ignore him? Do I try to outrun him? Do I pick up one of the rocks I usually worry about tripping on and throw it at his head?
I tried for some combination of the first two options. I pretended not to notice him and tried to run faster without ruining my chances of an enjoyable last few miles. But the chance was already ruined. I hit the end of the trail and started chugging up a long steep hill, the moment when that peace was scheduled like clockwork to take hold, but now instead of ecstasy there was anger. I half hoped and half feared that he would catch up, that he would follow me up the hill – hoped for a chance to confront him, to give him choice words before bashing his face in with a branch, feared that I would be too wiped out from running too fast uphill to enact any of the violence I was fantasizing about.
I have always, for as long as I can remember, felt bad about my butt. When I was in high school I used to joke with other Greek girls about Hellenic Hip Disorder, used to stare at the cellulite on the cheerleaders’ thighs, used to find all sorts of ways to try to make myself feel better, but no matter what, I always, always felt bad about my butt.
In college, when I’d gotten the whole anorexia thing down, I still felt bad about my butt. I learned that I could lose weight in every last crevice of my body, that I could shrivel down to near nothingness in my arms, my belly, my face, even learned the specific order in which each part of me would disappear. But no matter what, that butt would not budge.
During my dating days, my lesbian roommates dubbed me the understated hot girl, while my straight male (oh so temporal) partners always seemed to favor the term skinny girl with an ass. Guess which nickname I preferred? Supposedly my ass was an asset, but no matter how many guys told me otherwise, I never could get beyond what our popular culture told me beauty was supposed to be – thin. Top to bottom thin.
Running has changed this for me, as has age, as has mommyhood. Now I don’t just feel bad about my butt, I feel bad about my belly, I feel bad about the triceps that dangle just every so slightly no matter how perfectly my biceps bulge. I feel bad about my wrinkles, feel bad about the graying of my hair and that strange new soreness in my back. But after a good run, I don’t feel bad about any of this. In fact, I’ve discovered that I really don’t feel bad about any of this ever anymore, and I have that silly nuisance of a man to thank for it.
I’m 35. I have a child. I have a job that matters to me. I have a life that demands I don’t do the things I used to do to keep skinny (as in, I don’t do drugs and I eat when I’m hungry). I generally have accepted that the body I have is the body I have, and I’m pretty much okay with it.
That guy. That crazy, lonely guy, out for a walk on his sad, lonely Sunday, doesn’t have the power to make me feel bad. Because despite my complaints, despite the drudgery of past demons that he may have dredged up, he actually didn’t make me feel bad. If anything, that that rage that resulted from his rudeness just made me run faster, challenged me and my laziness and made me realize I’m stronger than I think, and in more ways than I think.
This Sunday was different. This Sunday there was no quest for peace, no measured pace, no leisurely lap around my pretty new route. This Sunday was painful and sweaty and so suffocatingly hot that all insecurities were made obsolete the moment my body began to move. I bared my belly, bared my back, and let my big, strong bottom propel me up an even bigger hill, along an even longer run, and at an even faster pace.
So this one’s for you, weird, lonely nuisance of a man. Thanks for lighting a fire under my ass.
But if you mention it again, I’m going to kick you right in yours.