The Body Electric

When I am running in the dark, in a river of light …

Two days ago, for the first time in a long time, I ran.

*

There’s a little event held every Tuesday in Roanoke called the Pub Run.  It begins at Wasena City Tap Room and loops through the greenway in either a three-mile or five-mile course.

It felt strange, and also comforting, to run in such a large group.  Everyone there wore a glow bracelet, a headlamp or a flashing light, so that as the crowd strung out along the trail in the six o’clock dark — panting and glowing and sparkling — I felt suddenly like I was part of a slow-wheeling galaxy.

A river full of bobbing orbs of light.

*

It had been months since the last time I ran, and many years since I raced competitively, and I’ll tell you:  I felt every one of those lazy days:

Heartbeat throbbing in my skull.

The crash of each footstep reverberating up through fragile tibia and fibula.

After a mile and a half, everything cried out at once:

Pain.

Pain.

Pain.

And I could have silenced all those voices like flipping a switch — could have plunged them into oblivion, and put another mile or two behind me without feeling a thing.

But.

*

Years ago, I learned the art of slipping out of my body when it pained me — a single step sideways into numbness.

Athletes learn this trick in moderation, and save it for important moments.  They need to hear their bodies on a day-to-day basis… need to know which muscles are fraying and ready to snap.  And so for them, the decision to listen to pain or to ignore it is a constant negotiation between the body and the will.  A dance.

But there are other people who ignore their body’s suffering for so long that it ceases to cry out at all.

The body and soul live together, but they don’t speak, like that long-married couple you know who drift past each other in the hallway on their ways to separate bedrooms, exchanging only the most rudimentary words, the briefest glances.

I think you know what I mean.

*

And yet after all this time, I am learning:  if you want to feel the pleasure, you must also feel the pain.

*

As I passed the halfway mark on Tuesday’s run, I felt long bands of pain reach around my torso and clench tight.

I ran slower, trying to keep my spine straight, my head up, but the pain worsened.  It yanked one shoulder downward so that I cringed into a crooked shuffle.

And right then, I could have flipped that old switch:  shaken myself loose from the pain and surged forward into the dark.

But I didn’t.

I decided then and there that if my Body and Soul are going to live together, then they might as well be intimate.  They ought to feel each other’s joys … and also each other’s suffering.

And so I let the pain come.

I slowed.

The river of blinking lights parted and rushed around me.

I let myself be carried along.

*

A little while later, I crossed the finish line at a walk.

There was a hitch in my stride and a slow burn in my calves.  The old stress fractures in my legs ached.  Still — I felt whole and at home in myself, in a way I haven’t in years.

And it was good.

*

Oh, God … It was good.

running2

*

Next week, I begin again. ❀

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44 thoughts on “When I am running in the dark, in a river of light …

    • Indeed.

      I don’t have any aspirations to get into long distances any time soon … I’m not as young as I once was, and I have a lot of badly-healed stress fractures, both from dance and from running.

      (And also: you can tell I trained as a sprinter from a mile away. I run like a miniature prize-fighter, on my toes, fists up. It’s terrible form for distance, and I know it, but I’ve never been able to stop. At least it’s good for a laugh. πŸ˜‰ ).

      For now, think I can handle a few miles once a week on hard surfaces, especially with a better set of shoes, but we’ll see. If not, there are plenty of other things I can do to enjoy myself. πŸ™‚

      I admire your 18 marathons … How are those knees??

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Breathe. Run. Baby. Run. I was thinking… Alpha Whiskey…I love so much your words and that is not a news for you I guess. What is likely you do not know is that I am writing a novel almost finished. It is a tragedy and I would be really really honored if you could write a short poetry (in English of course, I would quote it in my novel which will be in Italian) at your completely discretion about the subject. Then I would include it as a “quote” and you can specify me what I will have to include as reference (your name? Blog? Nickname?). Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another great post. Your imagery was fascinating. I pictured a thousand glow worms running in the night. Then, I adored your comparing the separation of body and soul as a disgruntled husband and wife. I felt your burn and pain at the end of this piece. Sometimes it is better to let the pain consume you and relish in its scorn. Ashley, you never disappoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. katherinejlegry says:

    I don’t know… but I believe you’re running for the “rush” and a “zone” that takes you out of pain rather than facing it. Most women with eating disorders run and exercise beyond what is considered healthy.

    Running is bad for the knees. Walking is better overall for aging women or rather women of all ages.

    And as for those married couples, you think we all know who you mean, well, I don’t know what you mean or how you are using the example in this. Resistance to exercise and not listening to your body is pretty different than ignoring someone you live with.

    What you are seeking is self love. Not love from your partner to validate your love.

    Right?

    I know Tabby. I’m the painter she told you about.

    I hope I’m not sounding or being mean by being honest… as I’ve lifted all filters and veils with you here. but I’ve known anorexic women who run. I know they go for the rush. It’s dangerous to make light of it. And I don’t mean to harm you emotionally. But straight up, don’t kid yourself about running. You’re still skinny as a rod. Don’t get caught up in the sparkly lights. You need balance and sobriety far more than magical thinking.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Katherine … I hear what you’re saying (all important points). And actually? I’m pretty sure we agree on most of what you’re suggesting here, although our ways of describing things are a little different.

      You’re right… Ignoring pain — really ignoring it — is a terrible habit for me, and one that definitely contributed to my eating disorder, years ago. While I’m not sure I experience it as a “rush” — I think for me it feels more like numbness, but we are probably describing the same adrenaline-driven phenomenon — that phenomenon is, as you point out, not a healthy thing.

      This post is about *not* indulging in those old unhealthy ways of thinking any more.

      It’s about listening to my body when it’s hurting.

      It’s about being okay with walking, not running, even when all the other runners around me are passing me by.

      Which is what I did last week — listened to the pain. Slowed down and walked. And actually enjoyed it! πŸ™‚ I think the quiet slow walk at the end is what allowed me to enjoy those sparkly lights the most.

      As for that old married couple you’re wondering about — they’re both me. Not my partner. Just me. It’s an unfortunate product of my disordered thinking that I still see my body and soul as two separate entities, like people who live together but ignore each other. Practicing self love, for me, means letting the body and soul speak to each other. It means hearing my body’s hurts and making deliberate choices not to ignore them. Being gentle with myself. Going easy.

      And it’s funny, but I’m learning that being gentle with myself and going slowly just opens my eyes to *more* magic, which IS good for me — and I won’t apologize for that part. My magical thinking is the best part of who I am, and the part that brings me the most balance, health and joy… ❀

      I'm glad you're here. πŸ™‚ Writing is a slippery business, and sometimes it's hard to say what I mean. Encountering questions and concerns helps me know when there's a little more slipperiness and misunderstanding than usual, and it gives me a chance to clarify my thoughts.

      I think I may have misrepresented my experience a bit here, which is probably where your concerns are coming from. So, thank you… Good opportunity to go back and think about how to say it better. πŸ™‚

      Happy painting!

      Like

      • katherinejlegry says:

        When you say you won’t apologize for that, I want to be clear you don’t need apologize for anything in my opinion either.

        You didn’t owe me clarification, so this was a sort of a “make sure you’re really okay even though it’s none of my business” kind of thing as I have had too many real “red flags” from friends and co-workers to be comfortable ignoring them, but I don’t mean to rope you to your past as you have written about it… and lump the couple of posts I’ve read into one with any assumptions or projections.

        Being gentle with yourself is good and I’m all for the magic. I would never want to take away the magic!!! πŸ™‚

        Joy to you always and thank you for putting to rest my worries. The healing work of my sisterhood is important beyond my words. I’m honored to meet you.

        Liked by 1 person

          • katherinejlegry says:

            I don’t have my work in one place on line. It’s all spread out and in private collections or in other people’s books… as well as I didn’t enjoy blogging when I tried it and got some of my images stolen and used by porn sites, so I’ve just contributed to Tabby’s blogs as she experimented. She’s finally figuring out how she wants to separate and organize her different ideas. So…Currently there are two tiny illustrations you could see here: https://girlpoweracademy.wordpress.com/classroom-monitor-tabby-ren-elle/
            (I did the logo and also the portrait of Tabby drumming… and they are “cartoonier” than my oil paintings)
            and then there is the show I mixed colors for and this painting cake I painted on for the conceptual artist Jeff Koons years ago: http://www.jeffkoons.com/artwork/celebration/cake
            but that was his vision and design and basically my steady handed-“paint by numbers” even though it looks like it has layers, and depth, it’s painted entirely flat, with colors creating the illusion more like how a silk screen places colors next to one another and not piled on top or textured.
            Thanks for asking and for your receptivity and kindness in this back and forth with me. I like this about your strengths.

            Enjoy the new day, you too. πŸ™‚

            Liked by 1 person

            • I love this! Thank you for sharing — I’m sorry to hear about your stolen images. :(. That’s so discouraging.

              I can’t tell you how fascinated I am by the process your describing about your “paint by number” cake. Truly incredible. I always wished I’d taken more time to indulge my painting (I loved it when I was young).

              And I admire your opportunities for collaboration– I haven’t always had as many as I’d like, so I’m jealous (in a good way).

              Thanks again for sharing! πŸ™‚

              Like

              • katherinejlegry says:

                Thank you.

                You are collaborating now… tho.

                Did you know that Kandinksy the painter did not begin until he was 40? Now his works are show cased in museums all over the world.

                It is rarely ever too late to try anything.

                Plus You have a face that should be painted… I’d love to see you try painting self portraits.

                I like painting because when I get into my “zone” I can hear it sing.

                peace on to you on your walk a bout today, sister woman. πŸ™‚

                Liked by 1 person

              • katherinejlegry says:

                Aw, you too.

                You won’t be painting badly. Kids art is the best and they don’t know what they are doing. They capture essence. Spirit. And adult “pros” seem to all try to get back to that place in their work. So, you just play with the materials and do lots of looking which you are already good at…
                Don’t be afraid to paint the shadows really dark. You like light and dark in your work… so follow your natural inclinations… See where the shapes sit next to each other to make lines rather than drawing the lines and coloring them in… if that makes sense. Make tons of mistakes. You’re supposed to.
                There is NO badly. Just learning and ultimately it should make you feel happy. The process should trump the product. I say this “should” stuff for myself and not to rope you into anything at all.

                I hope you do embark on painting again soon and often. πŸ™‚

                “Why not?” is the best reason of all.

                Liked by 1 person

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