My steps always feel heaviest in the winter. Confined to a treadmill and no wind or road variation to keep my gait a-guessing, I make do with what I have and fall into a sense of comfort doing three miles on a glorified conveyor belt…just enough work to make it work for me. It’s fine. I’m fine. My body is satisfied but my heart works hard to suppress its longing for open air and a pace that’s not made of buttons.
Running has been the only “sport” I ever really excelled in. Too independent for team sports and too scared for risky business, running was what it felt like my body was built to do. Unbridled enthusiasm harnessed, unending determination streamlined. Running long distances as a kid was NOT my jam, but the 100-yard dash? Start the timer and I’m zipping ahead of the crowd.
Each year the running opportunities got harder to find. First I moved to a school that mostly ran as punishment, then I got scared of the treadmill when my cousin was horsing around on my uncle’s NordicTrac and crashed through the wall. Then P.E. became a time you talked to friends instead of letting out your inner competitive streak, then I went to high school and opted for Dance instead of P.E. because that’s what you did if you were a theatre kid. I’ll never forget playing a cast-bonding game of Not It / It (ok, so it was Duck Duck Goose) and chasing one of the senior boys around the circle and him gasping for breath, “Katie Horwitch, you are FAST!!!” Yes, I am. I just don’t have a chance to use it.
And then I went to college and I discovered the escape that was The Gym. How liberating it was, so many people with so many shapes using their bodies in so many ways! The perfect respite from the image-obsessed world of Being Eighteen juxtaposed with the image-obsessed world of taking ballet and jazz every day and having to scrutinize your form in the mirror at 8AM. There was an indoor track and I quickly became enamoured. But dancers can’t run, I was told. Bad for the knees. I learned to use the elliptical and not only stay stationary, but never lift my feet. It’s fine. I’m fine.
Winter reminds me of those years that running felt all but forbidden. I technically have the freedom to move as I choose, but the oppressive gloom and dipping temps cajole me like an assertive mother figure to turn away; you don’t want that, it’s just better that way.
And so I finally come back to it months later, on a day where the weather feels…well, less like inviting, more like permissive. My legs feel heavy under my body as I force them forward beyond the comfort of the treadmills and taxi cabs that December through March make more readily available.
I get where I want to go in the winter…but do I get there the WAY I want to?
Seasonal depression is a thing, for sure, but I also think much of the rut we find ourselves in during the winter has to do with the lifestyle we succomb to regardless of the Earth’s placement on its axis. It’s not that we outright choose to live differently, it’s just that it feels…easier. We bother ourselves with the wrong types of stimuli, we stay on high alert for the stuff that feels trite. It’s not until we step outside the box we’ve built for ourselves, thinking we can so easily bounce from one lifestyle to the next, that we’re repulsed by the way we’ve adapted to our space.
It never felt this hard before.
I’ve been wasting time.
I’m so far behind.
It’s not just during the seasonal shifts when I need to relearn how to run. It’s when I’ve been giving so much of myself to everyone else that I forget what it’s like to have QT with my musings on a daily basis. It’s when over and over I say Yes when I’d prefer No, No when I’d prefer Yes, and one or the other when I convince myself that “Let me think about this and get back to you” isn’t a valid response. It’s when I tell myself too many times, it’s when I tell everyone else too many times: I’m fine. It’s fine. I’m fine.
As I ran along the river this morning, way slower than I would have preferred, way shorter a distance than I would have liked, frustrated by the struggle but committed to the act, I passed by a small girl kneeling down to tie her shoes by her scooter. Her tiny pink helmet punctured the grey of the sidewalk-horizon meeting the grey of the water-horizon meeting the grey of the cloudy-horizon, like a little flower-bud-blip of brightness poking out from the ground promising sweeter weather right around the corner. I noticed she was watching me.
Who would I have been if I had not had women to watch as they relearned how to run? Maybe I couldn’t see their struggle out loud but I could feel it, because feely people always know. I don’t know that I ever thought I was the only one with dark days and hard times, I just sensed that some of us felt it darker and harder than others. Even if they weren’t talking about it, I knew. They said It’s fine; I’m fine. I knew. Their secrets were safe with me. And they kept putting one foot in front of the other.
And now I know, a rough patch or tough spot or even a drawn-out season of stagnation is not my fault. It’s not a failure, and it’s def not a sign I’m falling behind. It happens to everyone, because life happens to everyone. What matters is the relearning, the way I not only get reacquainted with my abilities but I expand on them. Each time a little more learning, each time a tiny smidgebit fresh and new. First the walk, then the jog, then the run. My steps feel heavy and uncomfortable now, but I know they won’t soon. And I know that if I can get out of my own way and accept that it’s NOT fine and I’m NOT fine, that itself means I’m about to bloom and grow. Because little flower buds either wither in their pod or expand so uncomfortably hard that they burst into the epitome of springtime.
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