My mind is in a thick haze as I tighten my shoelaces, the back of my heel stinging as a reminder of my poor choice of shoe brand earlier this year. My new ones are better, and thoroughly broken in, but my body seems to get some sort of pleasure out of reminding me of my failures. I strap my phone to my upper arm and slip one earphone around the back of my head and into my ear—the over-ear guard of the other one fell out at the gym, so it no longer stays in when I run. I toss a treat at my dog so she doesn’t bark when I leave. After starting the GPS trackers on my running apps, I am out on the sidewalk, exposed to the world.
Today is Saturday, and though I meant to wake up early and take this run in the morning, life got in the way. Greasy, sloppy life, not thrilling, carpe diem life. Life that makes you wish you’d gone for your run, makes you wish you’d felt the solid, consistent pace of your feet on the pavement, makes you yearn for the victorious feeling of scaling a Pittsburgh hill without breaking pace, makes you actually miss the endorphins you barely knew you had. It’s life that viscous that made me start running in the first place.
It’s nearly nine at night now, and the sun is still out, though barely. My neighborhood is much more alive at this time of day than it ever is at 7:00 a.m., when I am normally out in my compression capris and tank tops. Over the past few weeks, as I’ve spent my mornings running, I’ve forgotten how self-conscious I usually am about clothes that don’t hide me. Within the first five minutes of my run, I pass three separate groups of social strollers and dog walkers, and I have to thank my little ear phone and my Bitchy Resting Face that allow me to not try to even make eye contact with those people. I am suddenly aware of how neon my shoes are, how tight my pants are, how visible my sports bra is.
But I’m running now. I’m about to start up the first and longest hill of my route, and I’m almost in that completely self-centered state of mind where no one matters, except maybe when I have to cross a busy street or avoid a cyclist. I think to myself, “Just keep running,” a mantra that comes to the rescue and heroically silences the thoughts about neon and cellulite. “Just keep running,” I think, and that thought consumes what little piece of me is not consumed by the sheer act of running itself.
My regular route takes me down a street littered with popular restaurants, and I pass dozens of people dining outside.
“Just keep running.” So I do.
I have to stop and wait for a walk sign at a busy intersection. I’m full of nervous energy, of anxiety and thoughts I can’t control, and in the moments of down time, they all come rushing to the fore.
“It doesn’t matter how slow you go; just don’t stop.” So I run in place and try to lose my breath.
The music I’m listening to is a playlist of the same ten songs I’ve listened to on every run for the past two months because every time I think about adding more songs, I forget before I get around to it. The song that comes on now is actually terrible for running; the beat is just a hair too slow for my natural pace, and it messes me up. But I’ve never figured out how to skip a song while running.
“You were strong enough to get this far, you are strong enough to keep going.” So I do, while trying to undo years of marching band practices.
Some construction workers take a moment to embrace stereotypes, and I once again thank my ear phone that I don’t catch all of the words that would only cut deeper into my insecurities.
“Just keep running.” So I do.
A great, Sisyphean hill looms before me, as so often happens here. I’ve been going for thirty-five minutes now, and I’m feeling the proverbial burn. But the only other way home, besides up this hill, is to just turn around and go back the way I came.
“Do or do not. There is no try.” So I do, cursing geology all the way.
I run for more than four miles, having improved my pace from my last run by nearly thirty seconds per mile. I can feel my shin-splints coming back. My throat is scratchy, my socks are drenched, and I can feel the beginnings of the soreness that will haunt me through tomorrow. And as I walk up to my front door, my dog begins to bark at me, as if to remind me that that slimy, sodden life is waiting for me on the other side of that door. Maybe she’s warning me to stay away.
But I know I ran four miles today. I know I’ve conquered knee pains, unoriginal construction workers, subpar playlists, and the unknown of an evening run. Now I know how to keep running, and more than that, I know that I can. So I do.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.