Run With It

In this case “it” being me

Different starting times, same lovely trees

No matter when I get up, it feels like it’s too early. If I had it my way, I’d be up at 5 am everyday — no, 4:30 am — and I’d take my time to guzzle some water, play some light music and stretch and groan my sleepy body into action. The reality is I wake up around 7:30 — 7 at the earliest — and hold my phone in front of my face for 30 minutes, hoping that the news of the day or an interesting message from a friend will jerk me into the day.

I wake up, because I know I need to run before the day really starts. This is a sentence that I could never have imagined writing just over a year ago.

I try to finish the full bottle of the water on my side table before getting out of bed. I’d say it’s between 400 and 600 mL, depending on which bottle my hands find while my eyes are still struggling to adjust to the dim light of the room.

Often, my chest feels the most locked up. There’s something deeply annoying about this feeling. It reminds me of getting up for school when it was still dark out, and early morning flights. Every moment that I’ve felt this feeling before comes back to me, poking at the sides of my brain (which is also achey and stiff), whispering to me “just a few more minutes of sleep, and you’ll feel more awake.”

Perhaps I’ll never wake up feeling fully awake, but at least I know that now. I know that I have to use every ounce of willpower in my body to just stand up. This, arguably, is the hardest part of my morning, followed by the act of pretending that my body is not whining like a petulant toddler for me to crawl back into bed.

Once I’m up, I’m able to jump into what one day could be a rhythm. I take my full bladder to the restroom and relieve myself. I resist the temptation to take my phone to accompany me, but often end up giving in anyway. Blue backlights and flashy headlines keep me awake; a fun youtube video here and there brings the first pangs of joy into the daylight.

I then brush my teeth. Just like Sampath in Kiran Desai’s Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, I too ponder whether a “good brushing of (my) teeth” will ward off the morning’s demons.

Once I’ve wriggled into my sports bra and hopped from one foot to another to pull my tights up to my unusually high waistline, I put on a pair of often mismatched, colorful socks. I love my socks. They’re like a little doofy secret I get to carry around with me, and a lovely sight for sore eyes once I’ve completed my run — but I haven’t gotten there yet, I still have to get out the door.

Some very important unicorn socks that aided in my run the other day

I choose between my two pairs of shoes which I’ve named “Nyoom” and “Harry and Sally”, pop in my headphones, and put on a mask. I’m not sure if I like running with a mask or not. On one hand it conceals part of my very red and sweaty face and gaping mouth, and invites fewer conversations. On the other, I miss the taste of fresh air, and when I pull my mask slightly to let some in, it feels like a cool drink of water. I guess the mask makes me appreciate air a little more. It also gives me an excuse for getting tired so quickly.

I try to stretch before I run, mostly warming up my weak knees and ankles, but often end up warming up with a walk. During this walk I’ll pause to rotate my wrists and ankles, and throw my arms around in large, slightly-threatening airplane propeller circles. I’ll also use this time to pick a playlist: a truly arduous task.

I make a new playlist almost every week, and my running mood changes with every run. Sometimes I want to listen to angsty ballads from the late 90s and early 2000s, and sometimes I need a healthy mix of genres, languages, voices, and beats. There are times when the soundtracks of musicals keep me going, and times when deeply melancholic music transports me into the mind of a character that is running away from some undefined problem. Rarely, I listen to upbeat pop — I’m not sure why. It tires me out when I run. I guess the emotions of the songs I hear fuel me more than the beats.

A glimpse at some of my specially-crafted playlists (a post on playlists — coming soon)

I’m usually on my way uphill when I decide to start. During the course of a run, I find myself setting a LOT of mental checkpoints. Yes, I’ll use the guided run option of my running app often, but in the gaps between my digital coach’s pep talks I find pedestrians and palm trees, intersections and lampposts to guide me.

I get into little competitions with the older women who are strolling in their saris, telling myself to keep jogging until I’m out of their field of vision, and also aspiring to be able to stroll in a sari one day. I see fellow runners and slow down my pace until we cross paths. For every dog I see, I run a little faster for 10 seconds. For every street corner I pass, I check to see if I can catch my dad or my grandfather on their morning walks.

My favorite time to run is actually at daybreak. The way the sunrise breathes color into the sky energizes me. It’s cool outside, so the warmth I experience feels earned. That, and there aren’t too many people out and about. It feels like an exclusive club.

If I start running too late, there are cars on the road, and I can’t listen to my music as loudly (not trying to get hit out here). If I start a little earlier, there are children on bikes, people with strollers and canes, and fresh puppies bounding about on leashes (with their walkers, of course). This isn’t a problem, but it’s just not as peaceful. Starting even earlier, at the aforementioned daybreak, I see only the dedicated few up and about. I suspect some of these people are seasoned runners, because they always seem to be going at the same pace when I pass them by. They’ve also got on athletic gear that looks almost natural on them, and their legs are strong and steadfast. I also see people in the wee hours of the morning, who like the quiet. I am one of these people. I also like the chilliness, but I’ve said that already.

It’s usually about 1 km in that I find myself panting. This is a big deal to me, because it used to be about 100 m in. It’s about 1.5 km in that I feel slight pressure in my right knee and worry that it is going to start hurting again. Recently, it hasn’t *knock on wood*, but the months of pain are hard to shake from memory. I start lifting my legs more mindfully at this point, relaxing my shoulders and leaning ever-so-slightly forward. Periodically, I will remember that I need to land on my toes, and then give myself a mental pat on the back for already doing so. I also try to alternate sides of the road, to even out the pressure on my knees. I wind back and forth in a way that would be annoying to someone driving a car behind me. I check every now and then to make sure this isn’t the case.

If I’m lucky enough to have the energy to go longer, I will. I’ve found that I only ever have the energy to go either 2 or 4–5 km at a time. It’s strange. I don’t think I’ve ever run 3. If I’m in a rhythm, I’ll know by that point. I’ve got my walk:run ratio balanced out and I’m ready to keep thumping about the familiar roads of my neighbourhood. I use the streets like a track, but like one that changes with every lap. I create paths in my mind, and try to avoid repetition.

The landmarks evolve to represent new things: pace, breathing depth, focus on my toes, focus on my shoulders. When the landmarks don’t work, I use the songs. The end of one song may mark a change in pace, or perhaps a key change will. Sometimes I will run for every chorus, and sometimes I will start walking every time a certain word is said. You have to get creative, you see, otherwise it all gets a little trippy.

I suspect one day I’ll be able to get into that truly meditative state where my brain is just hovering as my feet take the lead, but I also think I enter it in my own way. The music is like a floatation device, the landmarks like buoys. I’m still floating, just a little inorganically.

I walk the last stretch home with my arms above my head. It is for this reason that I try to wear longer tops, so as not to scandalize the neighbors with my mid-riff. I stretch a little here and there, and arrive home to two very wiggly dogs, eager to lap up my sweat. It’s gross, but endearing. I, of course, take off my shoes before entering the house.

I’ll stretch a little further, touching my forehead to my knees and extending this way and that. I’ll guzzle some water and feel the warmth that has developed around my knees. Sometimes I’ll just lay down on the cool floor and stare at the ceiling, pretending that I won’t have to endure the torture of pulling off my sports bra before hopping into the shower. “I’ll get a better one” I think for the 43rd time, knowing that I will perhaps never do so.

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