When it comes to choosing a running route, you’ve got to take a lot of things into consideration: traffic patterns, hills, terrain, distance. But for a couple of my less traveled routes, I also have taken stark reality into account.
My most recent run was through the hilly confines that surround Dekalb Medical Center. The sidewalks of Winn Way are populated with driveways that lead to every kind of medical entity imaginable. There are mental health facilities, obesity centers, cancer specialists, rehabs, and even the sleep apnea lab I spent a night or two in back in 2008.
This may seem like quite an antiseptic environment for a run when I have parks, green space, and the quaint shops of downtown Decatur so close by. But, this run isn’t about blissing out. This run reminds me of how grateful I need to be for my health. I’m one of those very fortunate people who gets to fill out a health form and check ‘no’ on all the boxes that ask about existing conditions, allergies, and health problems. Diabetes and cancer have visited my parents, but so far, I’ve been able to dodge those swords of Damocles. It’s my job to keep that streak going and even pay it forward.
The run through this district not only reminds me to be grateful for my health, but also to do what I can to gently raise the bar on how I care for myself once I get back to my front door. Celery and hummus for a snack instead of M&Ms, 15 minutes of meditation in the AM instead of 30 minutes of Facebook. I often fall short of these propositions, but if there’s an awareness around them, I’m at least on the right road.
My other favorite spot for a ‘Reality Run’ is the cemetery in downtown Decatur. I know I’m veering eerily close to the macabre here, a thought creepier than my Vibram shoes, but the notion is the same as the Winn Way trek. I’m 43 now and realize that 65 is just a little closer than 21. No matter what your belief system is, each day is a gift, be it from God, the Universe, or a day pass from your own iffy karma. Sometimes the best reminder of that is the most somber one.
The graveyard is a contemplative place, and my run through there is not a brisk one. I stop, I look around at dates, names, the thoughtful configuration of generations. I make up stories about who these people may have been, and wonder what it takes to live a life without regret.
Then, I’m on my way again, back into the land of the living, and hopefully more keenly aware of how important each moment is and how responsible I am for those moments.
It may sound strange, even a tad foreboding, but while I always hope to run, I also hope to never be one who runs away. And so, I run through the places that scare me a bit, just to summon the courage to keep them at bay a little longer.