I’ve recently rediscovered running and finished my first 10K. I say “rediscovered” because I did a brief cross-country stint my sophomore year in high school. (I admit now that 20 years ago I was motivated only by cute boys and the cool preppy windbreaker that came with being on the team.)
Running is boring and had been a last resort when low funds or scheduling kept me from other forms of exercise. For a long time I preferred dancing, work-out videos, exercise classes, and watching TV while climbing steps in place for timed intervals. Although I’ve been a dancer my whole life, I don’t have nervous physical energy or even a natural inclination to move. Exercise, even the most enjoyable of activities, has always been a chore. For most of my life I needed to do something to preoccupy myself while moving my body like following someone else’s instructions or watching Seinfeld re-runs.
Now I love running. I want to wake up at dawn and run through my neighborhood to the nearby forested park trails. It’s not only the endorphin release – that “runner’s high”. It’s the fact that there is nothing else to do while moving my body. I welcome the quiet monotony – the very thing I used to dread.
The rhythm of the run clears my head and fuels my writing. It brings me to an introspective place where I can listen. It was while running through an old Pittsburgh mill neighborhood, feeling the topography under my sneakers and looking at the remnants of a 20th century immigrant community, that TyukTyuk, the sassy female boarding house character in my book Circle of the Silver Birch Trees, started. It was by watching hawks circle above me that I remembered my grandmother’s holy fear and reverence of owls, a theme I also incorporated into this novel. I am certain that in my daily routine I never would have seen the dilapidated, forgotten houses and the birds of prey in the same way. It was only during that quiet place of the run that I could see TyukTyuk standing at the back door of a boarding house and recall the long-forgotten memory of one of my grandmother’s sacred Old World beliefs.