When I was much younger, I used to run a bit. Since I was commuting by bike and working out at a gym, the running was more for sightseeing than anything. It was San Francisco, it was the early ’90s, and the City was still in its pre-internet Bohemian glory. My run, which I often shared with a good friend, usually took me up to the Presidio where I could run above the ocean, through the woods, along winding roads, and then back home. As I’d climb the hill to the gate into the (then) army base, the first sensation was the smell of fallen, crushed eucalyptus leaves. The grove inside the gate would collect the fog and drip it down with the sweat, medicinal scent. Sometimes a foot would land on the star-inscribed seed pods littering the road, nearly turning an ankle, but who cared? It was beautiful. Further on Monterey pines huddled against the wind giving way to tree-lined streets shading 19th century officers’ houses. This wasn’t a workout; this was a tour, one that I appreciate more and more through the lens of years.
When I moved to Chicago, I would imagine that the fog bank on Lake Michigan was the marine layer over the Bay, hiding the brown-sloped hills of the Marin Headlands. The fog would clear, leaving the icy blue lake to reflect sunlight from wave-tops and ice floes. Beautiful, but not the same.
Here in Michigan, I’ve found beauty through running again. My neighborhood is hilly (not San Francisco hilly, but pretty respectable). In the early morning, the moon reflecting from the snow lights the streets in silver, silhouetting startled deer browsing on frozen lawns. They hold remarkably still, allowing me to pass within a meter or two.
Running isn’t nearly physically unpleasant as I’d remembered, and even the Midwestern winter has its charms. In the past when I’d tried running I never had a specific goal, nor did I have some of the awesome technology now available (in fact, there was no internet, no email, no cell phones to speak of). Now, I have an app on my phone that uses GPS to track my route and help me challenge myself. When I check online, I see the distances racking up and want to beat them.
I feel a bit less hypocritical recommending exercise to my patients, but more important, I feel good. Running is allowing me to maintain my health, and a connection to the natural environment that I thought I’d lost in the Rust Belt.