Saturday morning, 7am. Overcast skies, blue light filtering through darkness. September. Cropped tights. Cool air. Crunch underfoot.
Normally you would be running, tracing the spike of your heart rate before it stabilizes as you settle into a pace. You would go for miles, for hours, in a training cycle like the one you’re in now. But you wait, because today you are walking.
Same friends, smiles, laughs, morning energy. But today your breath is not labored. You walk to get lattes, and hold them with both hands as you continue around the gray-green lake. Sipping slowly. Coffee club, mall walkers. Rest day. Relief.
You realize, as if it is new information, that you can run marathons and ramble three miles with the same people. It’s exhilarating, this new embrace of slow. The distinct lack of sweat, shining on faces and dripping in eyes, staining shirts. The feeling that today, this is enough.
You have been navigating – flailing, really – through the dark and twisty territory of injury for so long. You grasp desperately at the memory of what it used to feel like to run: the freedom, painlessness, nothing but fatigue to hold you back. Something, you think, that was so easily dealt with as to seem laughable now. You are in the middle of a crash course in all the ways your body can fail you, and you fear you are nowhere near done. That you will fail this course and be doomed to repeat it forever.
A group of teenage boys sprints past, just like the high school cross-country runners in the movie Juno, which you think of now with affection for both Ellen Page and your younger, invincible self. The boys are impossibly light on their feet, but you are not jealous of them. Of others – those people you know who are seemingly never hurt, who run hundreds or thousands of miles a year, able to race in every season at any distance – you are jealous. More than you’d like, more than you know is healthy. But not of the teenage boys. They don’t seem real to you.
You look instead to the smiling faces of your friends, the matching clothes you all accidentally wear, all shades of purple and blue. Their bright voices and chorus of laughter make you smile. Today you’re all taking it slow on purpose.
You hang back to snap a photo of these people that you love, surrounded by thick tree trunks and still-green leaves. The light this morning really is perfect. You run three steps to catch up, then slow and sip your coffee.