The first droplets of sweat materialize in the wisps of hair that slip from my pony tail at the start of my jog, when my shoulders are still stiff and my feet haven’t picked out a rhythm yet. All the other runners float past me, their dangling legs and tiny waists ebbing and flowing like an effortless tide. Next to these guys, I look like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. And I suppose it isn’t just my rusty physique that makes me say that; between my soaring pulse and unpredictable emotions, maybe I’m after a heart, too. On days like today, when I hit the snooze well into the hot part of the morning, my entire, face, neck, and chest are soaked and salty within minutes. If I look down at my shadow or watch my shoes beat out their reluctant death march along the asphalt, droplets seep into my eyes and burn like tears.
Last week I followed a path between two old factory buildings. The sun was setting as I trod along, smiling at the way the windows had fallen apart so gently from time or storms or kids with rocks. I’ve always wondered what goes on inside those buildings. A simple Google search or a talk with my grandparents would answer that quickly. But I like imagining these buildings somehow frozen in time. That if I looked in the window, I might see men in greasy overalls squatting to prepare dented metal machinery, or congregating in the doorway for a smoke after a long shift. Maybe the buildings are less alive than that today, but I occasionally hear them exhale, coughing hot steam out of vents in the brick walls. The factories are behind me after a few minutes, my path intersecting a quiet neighborhood street. A thin girl and her dog pass me as I slow to a walk, each of them turning back to smile at me. I dab at the sweat dripping from my chin, and my brain joined my sore legs again in 2014 as the other runner slipped away with the sunlight.
For me, running is characterized by a crazy, unending pursuit of balance. Just as my heart rate dips and soars, finally beating its way into stability in the middle of my jogging interval, my brain, too, tries to place itself within the constraints of geography and time. The result is disjointed thoughts and a flurry of emotions. Thinking about the past. My dad doesn’t like me. Feeling sad. Thinking about the future. Maybe I won’t have to walk all of my 10k. Feeling hopeful. Cramp in my side and emergency rest room break as I pass the bridge in the park. Back to the present obstacles of my path like… Damn. What did that bird eat? Wheezing through the last thirty seconds of my interval. Telling myself I made it. Then looking into the mysterious old buildings and paths of mind, and finding the courage to start over.