January 15, 2016 by Caroline Leland
Running In/Running Out
I run to acquaint myself with new places, and I run to say goodbye to the same places.
One of my favorite activities during my summer in New Orleans was to run up and down the Mardi Gras parade route, in the grassy strip at the center of St. Charles Avenue. As I ran, I admired the Garden District’s elegant antebellum mansions reclining behind the street’s long line of ancient live oaks. I wondered absently about the city’s history, asking those stoic houses what they had lived through. I reveled in the brilliant, roasting sunshine and fought, undeterred, through the humidity that dragged at my lungs and feet. I ran in 90-degree weather at 7am and I ran in 100-degree weather at 4pm. My runs in New Orleans were challenging, but I endured with enthusiasm tinged with wonder.
I distinctly remember my last run that summer. As I fought the hot, heavy air that I loved, I reflected on my experiences over those eight weeks: the frustrations of living with scholars who didn’t share my excitement for exploring the city; the vaguely uncomfortable challenge of navigating my first internship; the thrill of learning and applying new skills; the fondness I felt for my energetic, selfless, passionate, and entertaining coworkers; the unbridled enthusiasm (obsession?) I developed for New Orleans food and food culture. More had happened — to me and inside of me — than I ever could have predicted during those eight weeks. On my last long, sweaty run on St. Charles, I was able to process those experiences, and to say goodbye to the city in my own way. I followed the same route I always had, listening to the same music, and whispering goodbye to the graceful, ivied houses and to the bead necklaces caught in the streetcar wires. The realization of my own indelible growth since I first started running that route was exciting to me, and yet I was comforted by the path’s familiarity as well as the reassuring thought that the same street would always be there upon my future visits.
My runs in Argentina carried an entirely different flavor. In Buenos Aires, I left my iPod at home for fear of theft — instead, running to the tune of lustful whistles and catcalls from men on the street. I ran to stay sane, because physical activity is key to my mental health. But the runs drove me crazy, as I ran in dread and terror past construction workers and doormen who probably never gave a thought to the impact of their piropos. They were just normal Argentinian men following normal Argentinian customs. And I was a paranoid white young woman, unable to ignore memories of the mugging that shook me so deeply on my first weekend there.
Just like in New Orleans, I became acquainted with Buenos Aires by running — whether or not my impressions of the city were balanced. I don’t remember a goodbye run in Buenos Aires. I left without looking back. It took me months to gain perspective on my experiences there, because my time in Argentina was much darker and more complex than my NOLA summer.
The following summer was the best of my life thus far. I spent my afternoons running in Central Park, wide-eyed and thrilled by every detail that I could deem “New York”: the skyscraper reflections in the ponds, the interracial families playing catch in the grass, the horse-drawn carriages filled and fueled by tourists. I ran to the beat of Jay Z, Lady Gaga, and CHVRCHES — the same music that pounded through my headphones to amp me up on my subway commute. In New York I felt whole, and I dwelled on that feeling as I ran. Over those 10 weeks, I balanced two food-justice-oriented, communications-intensive internships with an online class on media ethics, and I alternated my Central Park runs with blissful hours reclining on a blanket reading Spanish Harry Potter. My goodbye run in NYC was wistful, tinged with a craving to return to what distinctly felt like the center of the universe.
My goodbye run in Austin was 10 miles long. I ran the entire Town Lake loop — an endeavor that turned out much less grueling than I expected. I’ve developed stamina, I realized, and in more ways than one. I used to go cross-eyed after 8 hours of working on my laptop, but by now I can do 10 without taking breaks. I used to get frustrated by inter-team communication failures, but now I operate automatically in taking the necessary steps to mitigate the consequences. I used to wallow in self-pity during the endless evenings spent alone in my room, but now I’m more at peace with the loneliness of these post-graduation months (years?). All of those struggles were way worse than I could have imagined — which is maybe why the 10-mile loop was so much easier than I expected.
I enjoyed my goodbye run in Austin much more than I had enjoyed my six months there. Really only three months in total, since I traveled as often as I could. I used to cry while I ran in Austin, because running gave me space to think, and thinking made me cry. More than anything, it was the crushing loneliness that I couldn’t stand. It’s fitting, then, that my iPhone died during my goodbye run in Austin, and I ran 7 of the 10 miles in complete silence, alone with my thoughts — as I was for far too much of the time in Austin overall.
I don’t know where I’ll live next. But at the very least, I know now more than ever what I want and don’t want. I want to run in the heat of a sun like New Orleans’ — and I want to feel the same burn for whatever it is I’m doing with my days there. I never again want to run in fear; instead, I want to run in freedom and joy. I want to delight in the details of the scenes I see while I run, and I want those details to carry as much variety as NYC. I want to run with friends. Wherever I move next, I want my thoughts to carry me forward and not down. But no matter what, I’ll keep running.