Running is a privilege
It was the morning before the Baltimore Running Festival and Justin and I headed out of our hotel downtown for a pre-race run. It was just to be a short jog to loosen our muscles from the nine-hour car ride the day before and to get our heart pumping.
We set out on foot toward Camden Yards and found ourselves winding through old city streets that were as full of character as they were of debris. It was trash day, and mounds of garbage were piled in front of each row home. Windows were broken in some of the homes and on this crisp autumn day I thought about the residents inside, how they must be feeling anxious about the impending winter chill.
After about two miles, we turned around and decided to run back to the hotel. As we made our way down one particularly isolated street, we were suddenly stopped by a woman carrying two large, tattered bags on her slumped shoulders. She was also pulling a rolling suitcase behind her, fumbling to keep it from toppling over as she looked behind her for her young son. She eyed him and then approached us.
“Excuse me,” she called, and we came to a halt before her. “I’m sorry to bother you, but do you know where the Greyhound station is?”
Justin and I looked at each other with sympathy on our faces, knowing that as tourists we barely knew how to get back to where we started, much less where the woman could find the bus station. We told her we were sorry, we didn’t know, and the look of desperation on her face seemed to reach inside my heart and twist it. I bit my lip.
Her young son, no more than eight years old, sidled up to me and said excitedly, “Look at my Santa Claus! He makes noise!” I listened as the strained refrain of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” came from speakers in Santa’s feet. I told the boy in an equally excited voice that how amazing I thought his worn doll, covered in dark yellow stains, was. I was secretly grateful that he seemed blissfully unaware of his mother’s stress.
But then, as his mother looked around, searching for a landmark, he said, “Mommy, I’m so tired of walking.” And then I knew that this child wasn’t oblivious to the struggle at all. He was living it.
His mother replied, “I know, baby. We’ll be there soon.” At that moment I suddenly remembered that I had carried my cell phone with me, in case of such an emergency. I pulled out my “smart phone” and searched and found directions to the Greyhound station, which was just under a mile away. The woman smiled with palpable relief.
As mother and child departed down the street, the boy looked at me and said, “Are you running?!”
When I replied that yes, I was running, he looked up at me with large, glowing eyes, and said, “That’s really cool.”
And in that moment, it hit me, like a proverbial ton of bricks. Running is a privilege.
I have spent past five months in training, each early morning bemoaning that the sun has not risen before me or that my muscles ache from the day before. I have spent countless hours calculating routes on my laptop, reading blogs to learn about optimal training schedules, and taking yoga to cross-train and build strength. I have run through beautiful forests, along rivers full of crew teams practicing, and along crowded city streets with windows full of expensive bikes and designer handbags.
What I have not done is carried everything I owned along dirty city streets, desperate to find the bus station and trying to care for my young son.
Running is a privilege.
I have been able to afford nutritious meals to fuel my body, a watch to monitor my time, and even a pair of fancy new running shoes along the way. These are luxuries. So is the physical energy I have to wake in the early morning hours to get out on the road, because I have not been up working the night shift or caring for a sick parent. And so is the mental energy I have to focus on goals and times and my next route because I have not been worried I might be fired if I take more time off to care for my spouse or about how I will feed my child.
Running is a privilege.
Perhaps it was all the build-up of gratitude inspired recently or perhaps it was a cosmic shift that was meant to happen for me, but I will never take my ability to run for granted again.
Do you see running (or other exercise) as a privilege?