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American Runs: The Hometown Run

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.

15 responses to “American Runs: The Hometown Run

  1. Nailed this! I was visiting the great PNW and went for a run at Pt Defiance park (5 mile drive) and haven’t felt so peaceful in a long time. Parts of the road are completely canopied that despite the rain, none fell on me, just felt soothingly cool.

  2. My childhood home is now occupied by my sister and I love running while I visit. I remember how I struggled to run around the “block” (0.3 miles) with my (then) next door neighbor in our floppy Keds sneakers. Those runs sparked a (going on) 40+ year running journey, and one of my favorite places to run remains those neighborhood streets. Thank you for your memories – they are all of our memories in some shape or form!

  3. I relate to everything about this post.Thank you, thank you, thank you Dimity! I too am a Midwestern (Iowa) girl who is now an East Coster (NY). I so cherish every run I get to do in my hometown. I just booked my summer travel and can’t wait to run on those familiar streets!

  4. Such wonderful details in the memories you shared about your Big Block runs. I have those from all the miles I have logged here in San Antonio the past seven years, but your post is a reminder about how precious they are! Thanks for this!

  5. Absolutely relateable. I much prefer circling my hometown block, wondering which old friends may also be runners now. The sights, smells, and the blessed cool mornings are greatly missed in my current desert life.

  6. I ran past a friends old house about a month ago and noticed that they chopped the large trees in the front yard down. I promptly proceeded to take a picture and message it to said old friend who now lives 5 States away. She was blown away that I remembered the trees and we laughed about her mom running out of the house and yelling at us to get out of them for fear we’d fall and break our necks. It’s nice to run past places like that an think about how your biggest worries were if you were gong to ace the English test or not. Going back to the places on my runs always puts a smile on my face.

  7. I’m an East Coast girl (central Pennsylvania) that became a Minnesota girl 6 years ago when my husband, two daughters and I moved to Duluth. I didn’t become a runner until I joined the Army, and I’ve definitely run way more miles here in the Northland than I did at home…but I still enjoy running the old familiar back roads, seeing mist rising over a farm field, or passing the house where I got chased by a chicken (!) Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  8. You are such a gifted and beautiful writer! I grew up in a small town in New Jersey and started running at 13 and anytime I go back home to visit – my parents and one of 3 sisters still live there – I am flooded with thousands of memories – high school and college, friendships that came and went, the excitement and heartbreak, the crushes, the doubt, the depression, the fluctuating weight and everything in between. Running past old classmate’s houses, knowing their parents have moved but still remembering walking there on a hot summers night, drinking beer in that ones basement, walking by those railroad tracks to go to a party, racing by that firehouse on the way home from movies downtown at midnight. So many memories, all linked by the run. Thanks Dimity!

  9. I head back, with or without my family in tow, to my hometown of Dubuque, just to run or bike on select paths, like Heritage Trail and the flood wall, at least once a year. (Then we get pizza at Shot Tower!) Even though my parents no longer live there, it is still a homecoming.

  10. Ah, I had the same thoughts when running around the lake near my parents’ house. It is so comforting, especially in times of strife. As my mother went through Alzheimers I’d run through their neighborhood thinking about being a kid, and all the gorgeous summer days (and COLD winter days), and having the idyllic childhood I did because I had the parents I did. Made getting through that disease just a tiny bit easier. Thanks for writing this. Felt like a hug today.

  11. I love this! I’ve been living away from home for 10 years now and I still miss it so much. I look forward to my next Big Block run when I get to visit.

  12. I, too, feel this when running the familiar path around my parents’ neighborhood. The thought often enters my mind, “How many times have my feet been down this sidewalk?” Between walks with my mom, with my kids, and solo runs- it feels like a million. Loved this.

  13. Love this! And it is so true! I live in metro Atlanta now, so when I go home to my used-to-be-small suburb of Charleston, SC, I find myself having the same types of thoughts when I run through the neighborhood of my childhood home. Just reading this post made me think about some of those memories.

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