During this week of July 4th, we thought we'd take a little time to reflect on runs that are distinctly American, including Running in Suburbia.
If you're like me, you didn't run as a child or through most of your teenage years. The idea of willingly going for a run ranked far below getting my braces tightened, being unprepared for my period to randomly show up in biology class, sitting through my older sister's (clarinet) or younger sister's (drums) band concerts.
I knew one marathoner—the dad of young girls for whom I babysat. I liked the had a leaf-centric poster of the Twin Cities marathon that was in their basement, where I spent a lot of time, but that was about the extent of my marathon knowledge.
In college, I became a runner through cross-training for rowing. So when I returned home to suburban Minnesota for holiday and summer breaks, I ran on the roads on which I learned to drive. I had a few routes I liked, but my favorite was The Big Block: a series of seven left turns—and about three miles, although I'm not sure I ever tracked it on the my mom's Dodge Caravan odometer.
When I wanted to slow to a walk on humid, summer mornings, I pretended that former high school classmates were driving by and thinking to themselves, "Oh my gosh, when did Dimity start running?" (Never mind that nobody ever honked at me to acknowledge me, and even if a classmate would have, they would maybe wave...and not get all inquisitive about what I was doing. The things you tell yourself to keep going, right?)
Wanting to urgently escape from everything Midwestern, I went to college on the east coast. Why was I so anxious to flee? My then reasons feel trite and superficial now: I wanted to start fresh and I wanted to be where the action was. (Um, in upstate New York? Where, exactly, did you do your research, Dimity?).
What I didn't know at that time: Four years on the east coast would turn into never living in Minnesota again.
As I unpacked boxes and assembled IKEA furniture around the country, my runs at home, when I got there for breaks and birthday celebrations, weren't just workouts. They were soothing salves I needed while living Chattanooga, New York City, Santa Fe. All amazing places, but also places where I didn't immediately—or sometimes ever—connect with the local mindset, customs, pace.
You don't realize how much physical and mental energy you put into integrating into an unfamiliar setting until you return to a familiar one: Home.
On The Big Block, I noticed everything. I loved the Land of 10,000 Lakes license plates, especially when one was on a trailer hauling a fishing boat. I loved the wide, wide shoulders, and the drivers that still nearly gave me a full lane's worth of space. I loved the "no, no, you go" waves that make stop signs take longer than necessary. I loved the ample shade, especially on one rolling road, the longest of the Big Block. I loved crossing the train tracks—and smelling creosote in the summer— and crossing paths with dogs and their owners, even though I didn't know them any more.
I didn't even mind the mosquitoes when I had to stop to tie my shoe.
When I wasn't looking outward, I was flooded with memories. Running past a restaurant where I had lunch with a boy friend I so wished would be my boyfriend. (He never was.) Being so obsessed with the size of my thighs one summer, I did the Big Block after going out to dinner with my grandmother, who convince me to have a hot fudge sundae—and finish her's too. Watching my shadow loping by in the window of the salon where I got my hair done before my wedding day. Seeing the last name of a friend from camp on her parent's mailbox and remembering us laughing in our bunks until we were in tears. Remembering a drive my sisters and I took one night on Christmas Eve to see holiday lights and collect ourselves after a particularly rough Eve at our Dad's house. Driving home on the same road with another boy friend after a Timberwolves game. (I wanted him to be my boyfriend too, but he never was either.)
My Minnesota license plates could be your red barn on a country road or your turnaround point at the Burger King. My Big Block could be a bike path you can't believe you actually run now.
My memories, of course, are mine—but I'm willing to bet you get flooded with your own if you loop around your childhood neighborhood and, simultaneously, revisit past friendships, highlights, heartbreaks, moments in life that have shaped you into the person you are today. It's a route that's worth revisiting as often as possible.
I haven't run the Big Block in at least five years; my mom and stepdad live in Colorado now. I'm not sure when I'll get there again, but it is still as vivid in my mind as the route I ran this morning—a fact that's almost as comforting as the miles themselves.