Suburban Ohio in the summer is not an easy place to re-launch a running habit.
For one thing, it’s a million degrees outside plus humidity. For another, it’s boring as hell. There’s nothing to look at out here on the roads, no distractions. The houses in the neighborhoods are uniform, three or four different models replicated up and down the street. Gigantic all-terrain vehicles are parked in every driveway. This, alone, is interesting because there isn’t much by way of terrain here. It’s just flat, flat, and more flat.
I have this friend in Savannah who says, “Trees are the answer!” when she is confronted with an unanswerable question. How can we achieve world peace? Trees are the answer! I think of her often as I run on these exposed and scorching sidewalks, the intense Midwestern sun beating down on me. “Trees are the answer, ya’ll,” I say to myself, borrowing her southern drawl.
There are trees in these sub-divisions but they are inaccessible. They’re planted in backyards, held back like a rowdy, roped-off crowd. Meanwhile, the houses sit like someone has stolen their clothes, just baking in the sun. Why not plant trees where the community can enjoy them? I wonder as I trudge down the sweltering street. Why not shade the sidewalk so a run through the neighborhood doesn’t feel like a jog through the seven dimensions of hell?
Trees would definitely be the answer here, ya’ll.
Anyway, there are no trees on this sunbaked sidewalk so I spend my time in a constant pep talk of self-motivation, trying to save myself from the negative thoughts that stream out of me with my sweat. I run in endless loops on cul-de-sacs ironically named Forest Run Road and Elm Hill and I say to myself:
“Run the mile you are in.”
“Take it step by step.”
“I know it’s hot but THIS WON’T KILL YOU. Suck it up, get it over with and STOP WHINING YOU BABY.”
Running is such a mental game.
Other times, I trick myself. I bargain. I say: “Just run to that stop sign and then you can take a break.” And then I reach the stop sign and say, “The next one.” Then, “The next one.” I keep myself going that way. I break miles into yards into feet. I tell myself, “You’re strong. You can do this.” I say, “It’s not supposed to be easy.”
In truth, it is hard to stay positive while baking alive on the sidewalk.
But I have a new technique. I find the little things, the beautiful things that hide everywhere, and I point them out to myself. I say: “God, thank you for that beautiful bundle of hydrangeas. Universe, thank you for that rock shaped like a cupcake.” It’s like a scavenger hunt. “Thank you for that striking red cardinal perched on the fence. Thank you for that cool breeze that just swept by.”
I run past a two-story brick house, navy shutters, manicured lawn, with a For Sale sign stuck in the yard. The sign says, “I’m gorgeous inside.” I say, “Thank you for the reminder that I am gorgeous inside.”
Yesterday, Brian and I went to my parent’s house for dinner. They live in a nearby suburb filled with other cul-de-sacs and other SUV’s. We hurdled down the highway past a sprawling mall and an industrial area with big box stores and warehouses. Aside from other humans in other cars, there was not a single living thing in sight.
But then, there amongst the concrete overpasses and faded billboards was one lone tree. A single, waving, leafy tree, as green as the paddies in Asia. It stood alone, a stubborn old holdout refusing to give up his ground. I looked out the window at that beautiful tree. “God,” I whispered, “thank you for that tree.”
Trees are the answer.
But lacking trees, gratitude is also a good answer, ya’ll.