In 2007, I was reborn a runner.

At the time, running was not the fad it is today, so I ran in my pajama shorts and t-shirt. How easy it was to wake up at 5:30 a.m., simply lace up, and go out the door. After decades of gyms and whatnot, my running philosophy changed to keeping it simple: no membership fees, no parking, no gadgets, no fuss. Running appealed to the aesthete that I am. All the other things to think about always waylaid me and gave me reasons to not work out. Running? This seemed simple enough.

I’ve always been the kind of a gal with an exercise regimen. Yes, I don’t look it and “there’s the rub,” but I do always exercise. But I am not size 6 thin and never will be, and I’ve accepted that about me. Age, surgery, hormones, children, and the wear and tear of dis-ease have done things to my body. Like most people, I bemoan the shape I have taken. But on most days, I pat my mommy tummy and thank it for all that it has done.

So I came to running, confident. I was a treadmill expert. Who knew a treadmill was very different from a road? Of course, at first, I could only run for three minutes, and boy was that hilarious. I also thought running could be as instinctive as walking. Apparently not. There’s a way to land the feet on the ground to make sure the knees are protected. I eventually learned, over time, that the quieter the run meant less friction on the ground, and that meant I was moving more efficiently. Those first three minutes are stuck in my mind. How effortful it was to find that correct breathing to sustain the labor. How intrinsic to moving are breath and posture. One learns about breath and posture in different ways, but for me, I learned it the most in running.

Exercise manuals talk a lot about power moves and all that jazz. Now that I’m older, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about the numbers. It’s simple math, specifically addition, subtraction, and maybe a bit of division? How much do you eat versus how much do you move, for example. Or, how much time you spend moving versus how much time you spend on the couch. Sometimes the math gets trickier when you realize not all fats are the same and those calories are tricky. The simple mathematician in me just lives with this philosophy: the body doesn’t know the difference between badminton and running. As long as I spend an hour a day moving, the body is happy.

I am not a quiet runner. My mind literally races with my feet. I am very aware of the world when I run. I anticipate the tightening of my chest as I go uphill. More than anything, I am convinced I should just stop and give it up. I use music to time myself. I know when I get to J. Lo’s ridiculous song about “killing it on the floor” that I will survive this run. That’s around my two-kilometer area, when my body finally gets the message that I am not giving up on it and I want it to burn.

I can’t help but turn philosophical when I run. First, it’s all those trees around me. I have not exhausted all that there is to learn from trees. They rise massively from the ground, tear up these little pathetic pedestrian lanes made by man, mocking us all with their strength. I am reminded, all the time, of my Grade-5 Science class, learning about nature, trying out new words in my tongue like photosynthesis, chlorophyll, roots; such mysterious words for my young soul! I find such utter beauty in counting the rings in a tree. “Oh my goodness!” my young self uttered! One could count the age of a tree?

Then I begin to become more aware of time and pattern as I run. I am now aware of other’s schedules: the school bus that plies the route of Miriam and Ateneo, girls holding up school books as the bus trudges along, always in a rush. The sound of laughter from the boys (whom I surmise are making fun of the girls studying at such an hour!), wafting as the bus passes by me, the driver waving, used to seeing me in my pink headband. There is a young boy in his pedicab selling fresh bread from the next neighborhood, the honk honk certain to bring out all the house help. I can smell the sweet sugar of the ensaymada, and it is quite an effort to just wave at bread boy rather than spend the emergency P20 in my pocket that I always keep.

If I am up even earlier, the dog walkers accompany me, for they are most eager to be up and about most mornings. You know we’ve been at this for quite some time because even the most ferocious dogs no longer bark as I pass them by. Their tails wag when they pass, sniffing at my legs, their tongues all pink. There are others who walk and run beside me, many of them with sticks for protection. This always makes me sad. I know they are much wiser than I am, of course.

There is a group of old men and women who are up with me as well and it is this group that keeps me running. There is joy in their walks, as if they know that their exercise serves a different purpose from the runners who are training for a marathon. I philosophize about them as I run past them, saluting my greeting. They walk in packs, their socks just below their knees (almost as if I can still see them in the grade school versions of themselves), their backs stooped, some of them walking at a snail’s pace. There is camaraderie in their cadence, friendship obviously. Their walks are punctuated by breakfasts at each other’s homes. Yes, I know this, as my route circles around their movements. It feels like something to look forward to: exercising for friendship.

As I write this, I have just finished another run. No school bus roars on our street. All I hear are the beginnings of another day in the neighborhood, and the old men and women’s laughter at breakfast.

(Photo of runner by wYnand! via Flickr Creative Commons; photo of jogger on the beach by Naama ym via Flickr Creative Commons. Photos used for illustrative purposes only.)

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