By Rose Heredia
I don’t remember the first time I laced up my sneakers, strapped on my iPod and hit the pavement.
I only remember the sweat dripping from my forehead and bridge of my nose. The power in my legs as I sprinted the last block to my Williamsburg, Brooklyn apartment.
The thirst after and being sated by water and oranges.
Each time I ran to McCarren Park track, I pushed myself harder and harder. Running around the clay colored track, I focused on my form and breathing.
Ultimately, what I learned was how I started to crave getting on the road. The mental acuity I obtained from moving my body would eclipse anything else. I trained for 5Ks, 10Ks and eventually a half-marathon. I accomplished more tasks, concentrated better and felt invincible.
But running a half-marathon without sufficient training would sideline me for years. Injuring my left foot was a huge blow to my physical activity. Even joining a gym would scare my body into thinking I might hurt myself again.
Then I moved to San Francisco a year after completing physical therapy. In the Bay, I ran a Turkey Trot and thought I’d train for another half-marathon. Moving to Oakland from San Francisco and constantly switching jobs would derail my exercise regimen.
Currently, I’m training for a half-marathon. When my feet hit the ground again, they led me to Lake Merritt. I connected with my breath and eagerly traversed the newly paved sidewalks and pathways around the lake. My body exhaled and focused on my motor functions.
I remembered, my body remembered how much we liked this and how strong I felt upon completion. It wasn’t until this moment we are living in – the social distancing – I realized how much body movement is literally saving my life.
This time, I’m not running for weight loss, I’m running to get back to the place where it was meditation for me. My mind doesn’t completely empty those niggling thoughts about chores and more but I am able to focus all my energy on making sure I don’t trip or get run over.
Running keeps me grounded and concentrated on my strength. I’m checking in with my foot (hasn’t been the same since I sprained it) to see if it hurts or if I can go for longer. Am I breathing enough? How are my footfalls affecting my stride? Am I running far enough? These questions are fun for me because they keep me on track.
As a social person, not spending time with my friends has me wanting to recline inward every day. I crave sugar as a comfort daily for a sense of normalcy. Recently, while talking on the phone with my parents, I stifled a tear at the possibility of losing them over a virus – the most common “illness” anyone can get. I wasn’t ready to be in that space, just like I won’t be ready to turn a year older when my parents will no longer call me to wish me a happy birthday when they pass away.
After talking to my parents, I vowed to get on the road. I’ll be boosting my immunity, I won’t be sulking at home wondering when we can do things again and I’ll be happy to see them and hug them when possible.
If I let myself give in to the underlying anxiety festering, I’d be sobbing once a day and not get any work done.
I know I’d be able to take time off at work but I’d still be the same. Instead, I’ve turned to a comfort which is conveniently an activity I am participating in for an event – that quells my anxiety, helps me sleep, and makes me productive as hell. The high at the end of a satisfying run is unmatched. Even though it feels good after, I still crave sugar. I still want ice cream every day and bake decadent goods.
This year I am learning to be quiet and listen to my body the way I used to. It’s funny the skills and awareness gained when you’re silent and pay attention to your body. I lost that when I stopped running. Now, I just love the way my leg muscles flex and I look forward to the day I no longer have pain in my hips and lower back.
Rose Heredia is Dominican-American and from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, currently living in Oakland. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco. She is a VONA alumna, served as a fiction and non-fiction editor for the UC Berkeley Extension literary magazine, Ursa Minor, and received a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing. She is a Culture writer for Epifania Magazine, Assistant Non-fiction Editor for VIDA Review and has been published by the Dominican Writers Association.