I run because I can’t dance

A light bulb went on in my head the other day while running. Suddenly it all made sense, how someone like me could come to love running…

I am a naturally inward and sedentary person. I could pass entire days sitting in a room, thinking, daydreaming, writing. As far back as I can remember, I never instinctively felt the need to get up and run around. My childhood memories are largely filled with stillness and silent spaces, despite apparently being a chatterbox as a kid. I just remember my surroundings being very quiet to the point of dull. But every now and then, there would be a song. I don’t remember anything specific but I remember me either singing or hearing a song I liked, and how that song would have me springing to my feet, shaking my hips, bopping my head, and waving my arms. Music could always move me. In my teens I used to go into a state of near-trance dancing away to songs that electrified my soul. I couldn’t help it.

In keeping with my sedentary nature, for years I hated exercise. I never felt the urge to exert myself physically unless there was no risk of pain, or there was some ulterior motive (like seeing if I could beat my older brother or male cousins at tennis to prove that girls were not athletically inferior like they claimed we were). Otherwise, I just didn’t see the value of pushing myself to the point of discomfort when I could be home listening to music, munching on a bag of potato chips, or dancing my heart out to Bow Wow Wow’s “Do You Wanna Hold Me.” That was as close as I got to physical exertion.

I began exercising voluntarily in my twenties. I joined a gym. My boyfriend at the time figured it could be a pastime we enjoyed together. Except it turned out that we never worked out together. We would enter the building together, but once inside he mostly hung out in the weight room while I went to a class. One place where we overlapped was the treadmill. I ran on it, just like everybody else who worked out at a gym. But I found it painfully boring and a bit physically disorienting. After about ten minutes I would feel dizzy and out of balance. Meanwhile I would look around and see everyone else plodding away unfazed. These people were listening to their Walkmans. I concluded that music was the key to erasing the monotony. From that point on, I never ran without a Walkman. And that was more or less what phase one of my running career looked like.

Phase two came when my husband and I began dating. By then I had let my gym membership lapse and gravitated more towards rollerblading. I don’t know if it was the speed or the outdoor setting, but rollerblading seemed far more fun than being holed up in a stinky gym banging out miles on a treadmill. My husband in his infinite wisdom suggested that I try running outside. We ran in Central Park on the same routes where I would typically rollerblade, and along the Charles River whenever it was my turn to visit him in Boston. When we moved to San Francisco, our runs continued in Golden Gate Park and culminated in yearly 10K races from bay to breakers or bridge to bridge. I came to love running for the chance to breathe fresh air. My Walkman broke, my Discman became unwieldy, so I ran gadget-free. Then two rambunctious boys came into my life. Running was left behind.

Phase three, where I am now, was borne out of a perfect storm of age-defiance and rebellion from everyday responsibility. My fortieth birthday loomed large and I felt compelled to do something epic to mark the occasion. At the same time I needed a solitary outlet from being a mom, a wife, a person needed by someone else to do something urgently every minute of the day. I resolved to run a half-marathon. The training was my escape. Running became a form of meditation. The longer I ran, the more I could blur out the chaos back at home, the fight last night, the anxieties and frustrations making loopty-loops in my head, the cold air, the deluge of rain, the unforgiving road beneath my feet, the tweaky pain in my knee…everything. And at some point I acquired an iPod and rediscovered music’s transformational effect on running despair. When my favorite tunes are streaming into my ears, I feel joyful and light and invincible. I can’t help but move. My heart can’t help but sing. Having uninterrupted interludes with my music became the ultimate reason to sneak off with my running shoes.

If there is one type of athlete that I wish I could be, it is a dancer. I envy the dancer’s ability to let music ripple through her body and make it look so beautiful and raw it brings tears to the onlooker’s eyes. The fact that a dancer can conduct music the way a lightning rod conducts electricity gives me hope that there is a god. I can’t dance like that, but I’m decent now at running. So when a song sends power surges through my veins, I get out and run and I keep running. No matter how bleak the weather. No matter how sweaty the brow. No matter how achy the feet.