When I step out my door to take a run three to four times a week, it's not that I have the time, I make the time. And whether I physically feel like it or not, I strap on my running shoes and head to the bench by the trail where I stretch, loosening my muscles which are sore from sitting at my laptop.
Out in the temperate winter air of Austin, I also start loosening my mind, trying to pull up out of myself, high above the burden of my to-do list. On the downtown river path I find myself winding down the hill, bracing my knees, following the familiar curvature.
Conversely, I climb high in my mind and dwell on my family, uttering many small prayers for them, starting with my husband. For my teens, I pray about their tests and papers and then wade into the deeper waters of friendships and character. Who my kids choose to hang out with while at school profoundly impacts them. Even as I put one foot in front of the other on the dusty path, striving for an even, methodical pace, I’m at a standstill in my mind and linger over the idea of how little influence parents have at this point in their kids’ lives. I whisper prayers that they would be honest, young people of integrity and that their communities will stir up what is good.
I stop briefly near a play area where children are running wildly with moms nearby, grimacing as I stretch my tight left calf. It seems a million years ago that I was that mom on the playground with my preschoolers. Then, safety simply amounted to keeping them upright while they played. Now, safety is much more complicated. Largely out of my hands, I have to trust that the training my teens received when they were little will guide their decision-making.
I resume my pace and focus on my posture, running with my back straight, my shoulders square so I can breathe deeply. I’m grateful for the sights and sounds of my surroundings because it’s easy for me to get lost in my mind and miss the magic of this amazing world at my feet. I keep my distance from a group of hissing geese on the banks of the river. Grackles loudly fuss nearby. The homeless man faithfully holding court on the same bench every day is often deep in conversation with regulars on the path who have stopped to catch up. I nod his way as I pass. A rowing team plows their way down the river and I spy a brave paddle boarder precariously trying to stay upright. Defying the time of year, sun worshippers perch on a rotting boat dock. The professional dog-walker who walks six or so dogs at once never ceases to amaze me. If any of his charges get out of hand, he stops, makes them all sit and proceeds to use hand motions to discipline the offender. Exceptional as this dog-whisperer is, my dog would give him the challenge of his life.
My mind rushes to my work as a writer and I pray for each essay using their nick-names:
Bless Dirty Laundry!
Bless Beauty Mark!
I open my palms as if I’m releasing them, my babies, into the big world. I hope they’ll find the right home, a place where they will thrive and encourage those they meet. Running blesses me with the mental “free-time” needed as a writer, helping me mull over works-in-progress and review the themes and big ideas that anchor them. In the outdoors where every sense is stimulated, my essay-idea “file” is repopulated to the bursting point.
I think of my personal rule during the last leg of my run. I give myself permission to slow down, but not to stop. Out here with the sun, fresh air and my thoughts, I’m not inclined to push my pace. Instead, I value the regularity of my runs more than my speed and don’t mind that other runners often pass me.
My runs are often hard, every step of the way, but I’m always glad I went. It refreshes me as a whole person—mind, body and soul—and helps me in my role as mother, wife and writer.
Really, it’s simple: I run to be a better me.
Kathryn Streeter’s writing has appeared in publications including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and Brain, Child Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.