Last summer, I began running. Honestly, I don’t feel as though my life is lacking at all if I never run a marathon – I am perfectly content with avoiding that craziness. But although I regularly went to the gym and spent an astonishing amount of time with Jillian Michaels via DVD, running is a different beast, one that I actually hate. I keep up with running not because I necessarily enjoy it, but so that I could say that I don’t run because "I don’t like it and choose not to do it," not because "I can’t do it."
Also, since I have yet to join a gym (lack of funds and all that jazz) and my room barely has room enough for me, let alone Jillian, it has proven a very convenient form of exercise in the city.
I’ve mostly been running in parks relatively close by – Fort Greene Park (a literary landmark in its own right (Whitman’s favorite!); more on that later) was smaller than I expected and honestly confused me – the path winds in and out of the park, abruptly ends, encourages runners to get in the grass? Prospect Park is great and features a useful three-mile loop, and my nearest subway stop is the end of the Shuttle service that ends directly at the park. Extra convenient. I’ll have to say more about the parks and take more photos when the seasons change; right now, despite how nice it is to be surrounded by trees, the trees are bare, the grass is sparse, and the overwhelming impression of the atmosphere is a color: gray. I’ve opted for park running because of the scenery, because of the marked distances and continuous trails, because of the singularity of purpose: especially when it’s cold, with the zoo and Audubon center closed and the baseball fields empty, everyone is there to exercise. I usually run in the same direction as other joggers and runners and baby stroller-pushers, so all I see are bodies in motion, Lycra pants and windbreakers in place, headphone chords swaying to the exerciser’s pace like lazy jump ropes.
Today, I ran on the sidewalks for the first time; I needed to complete my run quickly because of the impending rain. There’s definitely more to look at: parents and grandparents were leading bundled children to school, working professionals were walking toward the subway stop, presumably headed to Manhattan. I definitely felt more self-conscious, more of a spectacle as I passed people moving in the opposite direction who clearly had different agendas. I also gave them a bit of theater as I wildly flung my arms to keep from completely wiping out on the sidewalk as I slipped on hidden patches of ice. Twice.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the neighborhood running more than I expected. I ran past coffee shops and restaurants that looked appealing, mentally logging them for future exploration. Also, in order to continue running, I had to avoid the annoying red hand at the crosswalk. In the search for the white walk signal, I found myself led across streets that I normally wouldn’t have crossed and staying on roads that I normally would have left sooner. It gave me a surprising path, an opportunity to explore the neighborhood by chance (or, at least the fate determined by streetlight timers). I’ll have to try it again soon, just to see where else I end up.
On a supplementary, more anecdotal note, because of the heavy use I’ve given my headphones during urban transit and the continuous stuffing in and out of bags and pockets, I had three pairs of earbuds (including my favorite over-ear pair for exercising) break last week. I’m left with a pair that gently “rest” in (read: constantly fall out of) my ears, and they play more music for my environment than my ears. Often, I listen to sermons or podcasts like This American Life, but the headphones’ failure to block out the ambient noise of the traffic made me resort to my workout mix for the distinct beat. My workout mix consists of Sassy Ann’s memories, hip-hop tracks, and cheesy inspiration-types like “Eye of the Tiger.” Today, as my iPod played “California Love” for all those within a 20-yard radius of me to hear, I became aware that I was running through BedStuy, home of Biggie Smalls, and for a brief second, I feared that I, in my ignorance and careless exercising, was going to instigate the East/West feud again. Upon relaying this to my friend Chase, he replied, “You’re such a little white girl.” Owned.