City runs are stop-and-go. Run a block, wait for the walk sign, run another. City runs are what it means to be feel alone in a crowded room. I love the city streets but the best runs are the ones that take me down gravel and dirt paths. Weather through overgrown greenery or bare skeleton branches the woods are welcoming to me. The trees do not stare or catcall. They do not get in my way. While a run downtown brings a frantic energy to my steps the woods brings me peace and focus. There is no one to measure myself against in the woods.
Running on the street is a competition against every person that I pass: a competition not of speed but of stature. Me at my peak versus everyone else at his or hers. Am I faster than she is beautiful? Am I stronger than he is smart? As I weave in and out of the throng I wonder where and how I fit into it. I wonder if the others wonder to themselves the same things.
There is opportunity cost in the city. There are people to my left, right, front and back doing things that may not be better or worse but are inherently ‘other.’ With every turn I come face-to-face with a different path. Something else I could have chosen to do when I woke that morning. A different set of clothes I could have put on, a different fight to fight that day.
Road runs spark thoughts of doubt. I ask if I’m enough, I wonder how I can be better. These thoughts creep up from time to time but never as often as while I’m out running. There’s a vulnerability to letting hundreds of strangers see you panting and sweating with no redeeming features, no semblances of importance like a destination or companion, to arm yourself against their passing judgment. Just a set of beat-of Saucony trainers and a sloppy ponytail wagging behind you.
The trails are not like that; they present no hasty appraisal and no missed opportunities. There is no competition to be had with the boulders and trees, who stand unaffected through changing seasons. They are not watching me or perceiving me. Here I am truly alone and free to run fast or slow, gracefully or clumsily, without fear of judgment. It is here where, in truth, I have no idea how fast or slow am I going and no clue how large my spot of back sweat has grown. I loose the GPS signal and meander down the trail, oblivious to my pace and to anyone else’s. There is nothing to see but the trail in front of my and nothing to do but follow it back home.