By Gretchen Zelek
Isolating with my husband in our summer home on Cape Cod, after taking what we thought was a short visit back east to see our newborn grandchild, I have a new respect for the joy of running on the back country roads of the Cape.
A few months ago, in Santa Monica, where the weather was gorgeous and the trails and beaches were kind to runners, I, instead, did a majority of my running indoors with 20 other runners. I ran on a treadmill in a studio complete with pulsating lights, high tempo music, and a lively coach who danced back and forth, high fiving and providing eucalyptus chilled towels at the end of class as we cooled down.
A Circuit of Memories
Now it’s just me running and, if I am lucky, it’s not colder than 35 degrees in the spring morning. My breath is visible and I am layered up until I throw my jacket into the bushes, to retrieve when I loop around. I run by the house my parents lived in, I turn the corner by the house of a dear friend who has tragically passed, by the house of a friend who has become a grandmother for the 4th time, by the house of a friend whose son, a surprise who arrived well into her 40s, will finally be graduating from high school. I see new houses built, and I am comforted by old familiar ones still standing. While I know the road like the back of my hand, every day is different. Sandy road, flat stretches, and rolling hills alternate throughout the run. I don’t wear a mask and I like to run as far as I can for about 45 minutes, hoping I have no human interaction on the way.
Running and Social Distancing
It was different running pre-pandemic on the Cape, where I looked forward to seeing other runners, walkers, moms out with their babies, and neighbors out with their dogs. Now, I make sure to be far away from others and there is no stopping to talk. That had been easy to do, especially because the neighborhoods of summer homes had been vacant. However, as the pandemic continues, I see more and more people walking in the morning. It’s clear the summer people have come early to escape the confines of the city and suburbia.
Yesterday, I saw in the distance the farmer of Not Enough Acres Farm carry out a basket of eggs to his roadside stand. I crossed to the other side of the road to avoid his summer neighbor, coffee in hand, as he ambled down the road to buy some of those eggs. The backroads are narrow but cars always courteously drive close to the edge and passengers wave when they see a runner. Walkers coming at me can make distancing difficult and I find myself exhaustingly zigzagging across the road to avoid them. I wonder what the etiquette is these days when approaching walkers, but because my cadence is much faster I am happy to make the move.
Today, in an effort to distance myself from the growing number of people on the road, I left my house when the sun rose, just before 6 am. The sky was painted in streaks of red and orange and it was a glorious way to start the day. I did not see a soul.
A Way of Coping
Running these days helps me reset my brain. Vivid dreams, sadness, anxiety and stress, all as a result of COVID-19, make me feel unsettled. But, when I am running I am fresh and happy and looking forward to what is around the next bend; be it a familiar site or something to remember to tell my husband about when I come into the house. I try to hold on to that euphoric feeling throughout the day. After a run, I can think more clearly, I am more creative and I feel more at peace. I am grateful that my body is strong and my mind encourages me. Running on a Cape Cod country road in the middle of a pandemic is giving me the tools to cope. I can’t wait to see what is around the next bend on tomorrow’s run.
Gretchen Zelek AFAA certified group fitness instructor, Functional Aging Specialist, Ageless Grace Educator, Donuts & Pie Fitness
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