A Breath of Fresh Air


I spent half of this year unintentionally living in Oregon. That story is for another time. For now, let’s recall the high point of daily life then: the 30 to 45 minutes I ran in the morning. These runs happened just as the sun peeked over the gorgeous geological centerpiece of nearby Smith Rock State Park. More than once, they took place hours after I’d failed to fall asleep. 

Sometimes I’d turn a corner and be gobsmacked by an incredible sunrise. More often, though, it was a gust of wintry wind. When I first tried to run, my legs and lungs rebelled. I barely made it 15 minutes before I was spent. I thought I was out of shape, but a nurse later told me I just hadn’t acclimated to the harsh temps and high desert elevation. 

Even in late May and June, the outdoor thermometer registered in the mid-30s at dawn. It had been many years since I was forced to wear ear warmers and long sleeves beyond Memorial Day. I noticed snow covering a trio of volcanoes known as The Three Sisters had thinned, signaling warmer mornings were on their way. Full moons made me giddy.

Until summer, I had the roads to myself—unless you count a family of resident deer that I often tailed through the streets. Once everyone’s irrigation channels were filled, I met plenty of water fowl too—especially cranky Canadian geese. 

On Sundays I ventured into town or ran alongside train tracks and sometimes stopped to greet the goats, ram, horses, chickens, cows and alpaca having breakfast al fresco. When I ran out of road, I just backtracked to add miles and minutes. The grid streets of my immediate neighborhood reminded me of my running days in eastern North Carolina, where I could go for hours up and down parallel streets and never be more than a half-mile from my front porch.

There was another runner, a guy who ran with a Boxer, that I usually saw as I was finishing up. We'd wave to each other. Later I began seeing a younger woman with an unleashed dog in a torn reflective vest. She always nodded and looked to see if her dog was close by when we passed.  That was it in terms of human interactions. And that was what made those morning runs so nice.

For a good 30 to 45 minutes, maybe an hour or so on weekends, I could let my mind wander and savor my surroundings. I didn’t give one iota what I wore, how it fit or if I repeatedly blew my nose with my sleeve. I didn’t worry about my form, my pace or if I needed to pee. I didn’t care if I was thirsty, or if I forgot to eat carbs the night before. I wore a watch, but mainly so I got back in time to take the dog out before breakfast and work. 

After years and years of running to race, or running to stay in shape, or running to keep up with everyone else, I was back to running for me, and only me. I ran to soak up some vitamin D and maybe blow through my limited data listening to sad songs on my iPhone. There was no strategy, no training plan, no end game. 

To anyone watching from their windows or a passing car, I was just another woman trying to stay fit. No one had any idea what I really was, which was a woman trying to stay sane. 

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