by Holly Mohr
I brood when I run.
I almost said I like to brood when I run, but that’s not quite right.
Honestly, yoga’s my real jam. (All right, let’s just lay it out there: reading is my actual sport of choice. Yoga is my favorite one that involves moving my body beyond turning pages). Yoga holds a beloved space in my heart. I love any movement practice that asks me to notice what’s in my mind and to honor what my body is actually asking for. Yoga gives me the space to honor myself and to celebrate this hybrid bodymind of mine. It allows me to move quickly and powerfully when that’s called for, and to go slowly, meditatively, when that’s what’s right.
Calling myself a “runner,” on the other hand, feels suspect. The image I have of a “runner,” that Spartan, perpetually nimble, flat-abbed go-getter, does not necessarily accord with my personality, and I maintain a nagging suspicion that the “real” runners would hardly accept me as part of their posse.
On the other hand, who in fuck gets to decide what a “real” runner is, and where did I get the idea that I need someone’s permission?
I’m sure I’m feeling the pressure of the “real runners” as I make my way through the trails in Schenley park, or down the sidewalk past Phipps. I even feel the pressure of the saunterers, those out for a leisurely stroll, smelling the proverbial roses. They seem to look over at me in confusion, the looks on their faces asking me, “Why would you be trying to do that? Obviously you’re not a runner.”
Yes, much of this could be in my head. I may well be projecting in a big way. But the fact that I almost never see anyone running at my speed indicates to me that I may be onto something.
We police ourselves and each other regarding so much that pertains to our bodies. Exercise is just one of the many ways. Running, that hyper-public practice, seems ripe for a special kind of vulnerability.
I find myself having to consciously hold myself back from justifying being out there. The other day I literally bit my tongue in order to keep from apologizing to the man walking ahead of me. He kept looking back, seemingly hearing me coming, but unsure as to why I hadn’t passed him yet. Now listen, I was running very unobtrusively on a generously wide sidewalk. It’s not as though there wasn’t room for the both of us. I was not blocking anyone’s way or holding anyone back. Yet in these cases, where I’m conscious that others are aware of me (and seemingly confused by my “moderate” pace), I get a sense that I’m breaking some rule. People like me (whatever that means) are apparently not “allowed” to run, at least not in public. I’m breaking the social contract.
Then again, what else is new. Breaking the social contract seems very likely to be part of my raison d’etre. I keep getting this sense that maybe my being out there on the trails, moving at my some-may-say glacial pace, is an act of service, even an act of resistance. I entertain the idea that my showing up might create space for other would-be runners who don’t feel “allowed” to be out there.
Contemporary psychologists are telling us it’s important to maintain a “growth mindset” and that to be intrinsically motivated is that which sustainably propels us forward. I buy it. I’m convinced that starting from the place of acknowledging what I can do now, affirming the value of what I can do, and setting reasonable goals that bring me joy and challenge are the very things that move me from a place of anxiety to exploration. We increasingly implement these ideas in our schools; blessedly, many of us teach them to our children, right? We try to instill a love of learning, a love of challenge, and a belief that where I am now doesn’t have to be where I stay. Yet as adults, we still place so many restrictions on what we encourage ourselves (and each other) to explore.
Listen, I love Strengths Finder as much as the next gal, the personality inventory that locates your top strengths and encourages you to focus on those (rather than constantly expending energy on your weaknesses). It’s been mentally revolutionary for me to allow myself to celebrate my own strengths and delight in the strengths of others rather than beating my head against a wall about all the things I’m bad at. At the same time, I want to preserve a space to get curious, maybe even a space where I’m not always concerned about “excellence.” Maybe I’ll never be a “good” runner, whatever that means. Who knows, maybe I will. But I’d like to give myself the space to find out what can happen in my body and my mind when I do let myself risk exploration beyond my pre-assigned “strengths.”
I ran 4.5 miles today, ya’ll, and the only sweat I broke was due to the exertion, not to panic or shame! When I got home, my similarly bookish 11 year-old told me she was proud of me and that she wants to run with me when the weather gets better. I’ll call that a win.