Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Citified Jogging

While I didn't yet cross off barefoot running on my mental list of things to try/do, I did accomplish another must-do, while simultaneously conquering one of my tenacious fears. Today, I took a run in the city by myself. I have always had this irrational fear of getting mugged, sexually harassed, held-up, you know, all that frightening felony jazz. This fear has gotten in the way numerous times to prevent me from being fully comfortable while by myself at school. So while I would frequently go running by myself back home, I'd never dare to do such a thing at my college in North Philly.

Coming from a small town home tucked back in the countryside, college was one of the first times where I was really immersed in city life. That's not to say I never visited the city. My parents were some of the few in my rural town who thought it important to familiarize their kids with diverse environments and introduce us to cultural settings. We would frequently visit Baltimore, which was about an hours drive. Though it was never for more than a day or night, and I was almost always accompanied by someone who knew what they were doing.

So while I was more culturally adept than a lot of my grade school peers, I never really got the chance to become comfortable in the city. That, added with the fact that I already have this inordinate preexisting fear, has made it so running on my own time at school has been quite difficult. Unlike at home, I haven't felt like I can just lace up my shoes and go for a run whenever my body/mind tells me it wants to. Instead, I spend numerous text messages and minutes of my time coordinating schedules and compliances with my own limited free time. Meaning, I don't always get to run in the best weather (for me, when it's sunny), or at optimal times. This has been quite frustrating for me considering the fact that back home I'd run anytime, day or night, whenever I felt like it. Since pretty much week one of my freshman year, I had already been missing running admist greenery, wildlife, fresh smells, and peaceful, quite atmospheres. Not being able to run on my own time made it so I even further longed for my previous welcoming outdoorsy environment, at least when it came to exercise.

But I just kept on adhering to the fact that I'd never be able to run by myself and decided it was just one of the sacrifices I'd have to make if I wanted to live in the city. So today when I felt like taking a run, I shot one of my running partners a text asking him if he could join me. He replied that he was swamped with work. I looked out the window: Sun shining, cool, fall breeze, about 70 degree perfect running weather. That was it, I made a quick decision to put down my phone, stop wasting my time looking for other available running partners and threw on some running clothes. This was a big step for me, considering that even when I run with partners and get a few feet ahead of them, I get scared witless. But this time, I was determined to take a run in the city, by myself, without getting robbed, raped, or murdered.

I decided I'd stick to the main streets, and in broad daylight I convinced myself I'd be fine. However, the whole way down the stairs leading out of my apartment, I was thinking to myself how nerve-racking my run was going to be and how I would never be able to get into a relaxing rhythm. But still, I needed to do this, for myself.

So I hit the pavement and started running. Turned down the first street to start racing through the first, and some of the worst, blocks of my run. The streets were crowded, and immediately I felt pretty safe. In fact, there were so many people on the streets, that instead of finding them comforting, I wanted them to get out of my way so I wouldn't have to keep dodging them!

Except for a couple cat calls, I made it past the "ghetto" blocks and into Center City. And even while striding through the impoverished North Philly blocks, I didn't really feel scared. There were numerous other bikers out on the street and a lot of other people doing what I was doing: Simply enjoying the nice day outside.

It's amazing how much you notice when you run solo. Not being engaged in conversation or concentrating on speaking while breathing at the same time, I was able to notice so many details of my surroundings. Like how beautiful the architecture and landsacape of the historically renovated Eastern State Penitentiary is. Or the somewhat inviting shopping strip I had never noticed before, in a place that I had previously deemed nothing but dirty, desolate "ghetto". Welcoming shopkeepers stood at their doors, and smiling kids and adults chatted on their stoops. While I was stopped at traffic lights, a few cars even hit their brakes to let me J-walk (J-run) across the road. This is something that's never happened to me before while running with a partner.

On one street, I witnessed someone (surprisingly not me) who stumbled on the sidewalk and fell flat on their stomach. However, within less than a few seconds, several strangers gathered around to help the man up. These types of little interactions prove that the city truly can be a beautiful place.

While you wouldn't have found me looking straight into the eyes of everyone I passed, I did manage to squeeze out a few hellos, especially to those amiable-in-an-unpedophile-way passerbyers. I felt at ease and was completely happy with my decision to spend an hour of my afternoon outdoors, alone. Time to think, time to be, time to enjoy myself.

So after running through several blocks of the ghetto, weaving through countless people, passing the 90 flags on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, impersonating Rocky and running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, and swinging by the cutesy town of Fairmount, I made it back to Temple University, 5 miles later, safe and sound.

For now on, if I want to take a run, I'm taking a run. Since I've grown accustomed to running with a friend and have even taught myself how to run and talk (all at the same time haha), I'll probably still see what my running buddies are up to. But a "no" won't prevent me from running on my own and enjoying the great outdoors. And who knows, I had such a great time today, maybe I'll be taking more planned solo runs in the future. The outdoors is what keeps my sanity in tact.

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