So last Wednesday, I didn't go for a run.
Perhaps this doesn't sound like news. I understand. For most people of varying fitness levels, it's probably not too unusual. We all have off days: days when the sky is too gray or it's raining too hard or the thermostat hovers around stupidly cold, or days after the nights we had a little too much to drink and got not-quite-enough sleep, and dragging ourselves from the warm, deep nest of our beds is just too damn hard. These are the days we don't make it to the gym, don't go for that run, skip that spin class.
Well, I say 'we', but it's not quite accurate. I have these days, but I go anyway.
This is not always a good thing. I am not an exercise saint. What I am is anxious. I lost a large amount of weight six years ago and while I've kept it off, I'm haunted by the fear that if I stop exercising for even one day it will all come rushing back, every last pound. The recognition that this fear is absurd, that skipping one day of exercise will not cause me to gain half a person's worth of weight, does nothing to lessen the brutal strength of it. So when I wake up on a Wednesday, which is my day off from my day job and therefore a day to both write and run, and I feel sluggish or lazy or just plain tired, I ignore my body's signals, shove my protesting feet into my sneakers, and head out. Every single time.
Yes. I have a tendency towards extremes. Moderation is something I'm working on.
But last week, I didn't go. I don't know why; some quiet, still instinct held me back. The fact that I could even hear this instinct, whispering like wind-blown leaves in my ear, is an achievement. Two years ago, the fear would have drowned it out. But not anymore. I listened, and I stayed in my pajamas and drank my coffee and worked, and when the sun became so bright around noon that I felt its presence like a physical hook around my spine, I went outside. But not for a run. For a walk.
It was one of those perfect, priceless September days, the sort the universe drops in our laps every now and then as if in apology for the coming New England winter. A warm, crisp day, a day washed clean, burning bright blue, with the kind of light, gentle breeze that lifts even the lowest spirits.
It was so beautiful and so precious that even though I intended to walk, I found myself running. Sprinting down narrow paths in the woods inside the park, kicking up fallen leaves; racing up small hills with the browning grass crackling beneath my feet. I ran like I haven't run since childhood, for the pure, simple joy of it. I ran because I could, because my body was strong and my legs could bend and spring and my lungs could take in great big gulps of that perfect, crisp air.
When I reached the top of a higher hill, I found I was laughing out loud. The sun kissed my cheeks and the wind caressed my hair and I laughed harder, not from the joy of running this time, but for recognition of what I'd been missing, all of those days and weeks and months and years when I forced myself to run out of fear. This. This is what I'd forgotten.
I stayed outside for a long, long time, returning home only when the sentences forming in my mind became too urgent, too pressing to ignore, and I had to go inside and put them onto paper. They came out of joy, out of space; they came because I didn't force them, and that is such a rare and precious thing that I knew I'd received two gifts that day.
All because I didn't run.