Yesterday was the first evening of fall that was cool enough to opt for a tech long sleeve for the run. The breeze and small speckling of yellow and orangey-brown leaves making their first appearance of the season had me feeling giddy and grateful as I walked across the street to my neighborhood park.
There was an elderly couple sitting on a bench holding hands, helmets still on, their bikes resting on kickstands to their side. They were watching the four or so children play. A few on the little kid side, a few on the big kid play structure. A young dad sat at the picnic table near the little kid side, two moms were near the structure.
I kept my head down and imagined that I could just blend in with the surroundings, not wanting to draw any attention to myself. The park is of course for everyone, but sometimes I make up that as a twenty-seven year old without children, I am somehow less deserving of utilizing the space. Like I don’t quite belong. I don’t feel that way when I’m walking through with my husband and or my dog, but as a solo woman it is a story I find turning over in my head, however untrue.
I touched my tree signaling the commencement of the run. I clicked the GPS on my watch on and began to trot slowly on the diagonal from the tree, across the field where I feel exposed for the runner freak that I am, down the mini hill to the trails in the back of the park. Only once I’m safely hidden by the trees did I come into my stride. I picked up the tiniest bit of speed as I crossed over the little bridge, which hovers above the creek. I exhaled deeply. It felt like I’d been holding my breath all day until that moment.
The run was a beloved and usual route that I hadn’t consciously chosen. I let my feet and muscles lead the way, as I let my mind just zone out and my ears listen to the music.
Twenty minutes later I turned the bend back into the back end of the park for the last quarter mile of the recovery run. When my foot transitioned from the pavement to park trail I picked up speed. Wanting to end the run on a high note, I emerged from the woods up the mini hill and allowed myself a full dead sprint across the field, eyes locked on my tree and not caring if I was drawing attention to myself. I was.
I tagged the tree, clicked off the watch, and tried to catch my breath as sweat finally broke across my forehead from that last final spurt of effort. One of the moms standing in the bark chips by the play structure yelled “Safe!” and did the classic ump’s signal.
It brought the biggest smile to my face. I laughed, taking out my headphones. She said she saw me tag that tree, I said something in my delirious post-run state along the lines of “anything to make it fun” and walked back into the field, hands on my hips as I tried to get my heartrate down and breath to slow.
For the first time at the park I felt comfortable and confident enough to stick around post run and do some strides towards the back of the field. It still felt too silly to do some drills (why is she vigorously grape-vining?), but I did some butt kickers and high knees.
I don’t think that woman knows how much her simple comment “safe” meant to me. It felt like a school playground and she was acknowledging that this was my turf, as much as it is her turf, as much as it is the elder couple’s turf (who happen to still be on the bench in their helmets-adorable.)
To end the workout with some minimal stretching and meditation, I made my way in the field to stand facing a different prominent tree in the park, my back to the playground, over near the creek. Balancing on my left foot, I slipped my right foot out of my shoe and used my hands to guide my right foot to rest on the inside of my left thigh. I put my hands in prayer. Vriksasana. Tree Pose.
As I let my mind empty, I could hear the other mother on the phone, bickering with her spouse about some sort of errand. She hung up angrily. It’s so easy to think the grass is greener. That other people have it better than you have it. The truth is we all have pain and suffering. I’d love to have a little kiddo playing on the playground. She’d love to have a few minutes to herself for quiet contemplation. I envisioned my peaceful energy from that meditative state pouring out of my heart, floating above my head, and drifting over to her. I hope she felt it.
Compassion. Safety. Belonging. Being.