The first stretch of my run is the hardest. It is full sun, hot and harsh on my pale skin. I sweat more in the heat, run harder in the light, pushing towards the shade where I feel more protected, more comfortable. I do it week after week despite the discomfort, because exercising makes me a better person and equips me to be a better wife and mother.
It’s hard to step out that first time, exposing my heart and my words and starting a journey I know won’t just benefit me, but those around me. Push the envelope I created for myself and live in comfortably. I can’t stay in push mode forever, I don’t have enough to say, enough change to cultivate. But it’s a start.
I’ve never been a good runner. I wish I was. I love the endorphins and the result, both short term and long term, but I’ve always enjoyed other forms of exercise more. But circumstances (oh hey there Covid-19) forced me to change my habits, my thought process, my willingness to step out of my comfort zone to reap the benefits of running. I wasn’t reluctant, just unprepared. So I prepared myself the best I could: I bought new shoes, AirPods, new running pants to hold my phone. Things to not only motivate me, but make the process easier.
I was woefully unprepared to have a voice. Not only unqualified, but uneducated and flat out ignorant to so many aspects of inequality, injustice and historical significance. So I didn’t move or speak for days. I took time to gather my thoughts and organize my heart before putting my words out there. How bold was I ready to be? Was I prepared to land words that would make people I love uncomfortable?
The first time I ran four miles without stopping I felt a burst of pride and basked in a sense of accomplishment. My muscles were screaming, my lungs desperate for air – but those feelings were fleeting. Long term my body was happy, satiated and honestly, ready to push even further the next time.
I finally put words out there. Words that expressed my heart, my deepest feelings of inadequacy and reluctance to enter into a conversation I was unprepared for. But just saying those words, expressing my desire to change, to support, to learn and to lift up the cause, I felt that same burst of pride. My heart was screaming at me: “Why has it taken you so long? You need to do more, say more, learn more!”
After the first mile and a quarter, I finally reach the point in my run route that is mostly shaded. The cooler air and break from the sun washes over me and rejuvenates me for the next stretch of my run. It is the refuel I need to run back through the next stretch of sunlight, knowing this time I am more tired, already hot and sweating, muscles starting to fatigue. But I am also more motivated. It is about the two mile mark I start to discuss with myself how far I am going today. There are two paths I can take – one will shorten my run and take me back home – to air conditioning, water and a shower. The other takes me the opposite direction, more sunlight, small bouts of shade – but in order to make it home I’ll have to cover more ground. I know I should always take the second path. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It is easy to find 100 reasons to talk myself out of what I know I’ll eventually reap the most benefit from.
A few days later, after re-arraigning more feelings and thoughts in my heart, I pushed my envelope a little bit further. I sat and looked at my screen, much like my two running path options and weighed the pros and cons of each direction. That day, I chose the longer, harder path. I said words that not only challenged myself, but threw down a bit of a gauntlet to every white woman. That was really, really uncomfortable for me. Yet somehow, after it was done, I knew I was better for it.
No matter how long or short my run is, it ends at my house. A safe place with everything I need to recuperate, recharge and erase the strain of my movements. In a few hours, while my muscles still remember, I have virtually forgotten how hard I worked, what a mental struggle it was to push through. I can decide when to run again, how long of a break I want to take until I push myself again. I look at my back – clearly marked with the hours of sunlight that outline my shirt. Day after day my skin takes a beating by that sunlight. Maybe tomorrow I should rest – both my muscles and my skin.
It is a privilege to have a choice when to speak and when to stay silent. Not everyone has that choice when they are fighting for their livelihood – or their life itself. The fatigue of the marathon must be overwhelming. As someone that struggles just to put words on a page – a safe and useless act of change – I am secretly in awe of those that tirelessly put their words into action; in marches and petitions and challenges to lawmakers and people in a position of power. They don’t have the luxury of taking a day off if they ever want a better life. They must be so tired. And frustrated.
Before I run I make sure everything is just how I want it so that I can go the distance: my hair has to be tightly pulled away from my face, headband on, earbuds in place, shoes double knotted, phone securely in my pocket with my music playing, sunglasses on. I cue up my watch and run tracker so that I know my progress, my pace and can log my exercise effort. I need those reminders every half mile of my distance and pace. I need to see at the end of my run how far I went, how many calories I burned. I need to see at the end of the month the progress I’ve made. I need the accountability and motivation.
I don’t yet have the tools I need to forage out with everything in place, my comfort a top priority and all my accountability tools working hard for me. But I can’t wait until the time is right for me. People are dying. People are being persecuted. People are tired of fighting this fight on their own, for centuries with little to no progress. Where are the tracking tools to hold us accountable – what motivation do we need to push to make our world a better place?
Slowly I have seen the benefit of running in the sunlight in short bursts. My skin is tanning, starting to create a base of protection and comfort. It has taken a long time, but every day I am more equipped for longer bouts in the sun. Emboldened.
It is just in time, because the marathon of a lifetime is in full sunlight and waiting for us to lace up.