A Runner’s Heart

Gail - Glen Allen, Virginia
Entered on July 6, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: hope, sports

It’s a chilly, misty morning as I start my run. Autumn is sliding into winter like a swimmer easing himself into an icy pool, and I breathe in the air cleansed by the filtration of night. My thigh muscles are balky and stiff, despite warm-up stretches, and the discomfort makes me wonder for the thousandth time why I run. To keep my weight under control and to strengthen my body are obvious reasons, but there’s a less tangible and equally important benefit: Running allows me time to think, to ruminate, to prepare for the day ahead, or to reminisce about days past. Maybe it’s the solitude or perhaps the endorphins, but I often reach a level of introspection during my run that I can’t seem to find in any other part of the day.

My legs, warmed up, are feeling better now. My hands are tingling with increased flow of blood to my fingers. The rigidity of brain waves relaxes, and conscious thought drifts, almost dreamlike.

I know where my thoughts are going today. As I celebrate another birthday, and the wondrous news that I will soon be a grandmother, my heart — a veteran of the range of emotions from love, children, divorce and sorrow —begins to throb. Recent events have stirred my heart and soul. Dreams of finding that special someone have been dangled in front of me, tantalizing me, but I realize that once again the situation is not right, and now the dreams are only wishes, a fantasy out of reach. My mind floods with a sad yearning. Existing alone is a dull ache that I keep controlled behind a smile that is tempered with hope. I’m thankful for family and friends, but I yearn for a partner, a lover, someone who accepts the bounty of the love I have to offer and will readily give it back. Someone to hold my hand and to hold my heart. My heart — those four beating chambers that are privy to my deepest secrets.

That heart is really pumping now as I run my second mile, dispatching blood to my body in a most efficient manner. A runner’s heart is a magnificent thing — large and powerful, superior in function, able to rebound from illness or injury much quicker than our sedentary counterparts. But for all its strengths and abilities, emotional vulnerability remains. It can swell with love, or be pierced by hurt, or worse, by indifference. We have no say in what it feels, even when it conflicts with the brain’s logic. It has no special talisman against spiritual wounds or loneliness. For all its reinforced fibers and sinewy vascular networks, it bleeds when it longs for something — or someone — it doesn’t have.

It’s not a trainable organ, never seeming to learn from past hurts, willing to open itself to whatever the world offers. It can be walked on, trounced on and broken, but it bounces back with amazing resiliency, ready to face the intricacies of human life and love all over again. If there is such a thing as a spirit, it must reside here, bolstered by the regular beat, empowered by its strength, renewed by the promise of hope.

I’m running towards home now, sweat-soaked and glowing with the flush of surging blood. I pass a neighbor’s house, where their tow-headed tots wave to me and if I’m lucky, will reach out for a hug. And there’s old man Turner, standing in his yard, who has never once answered my “good morning” or my smile. One of these days, I think impishly, I’m going to moon him and see if that draws a reaction. But my heart pings at the thought. Perhaps he is lonely too, and in defense, his heart has shut out all possibilities. I offer a fruitless wave anyway, and I pity him.

My thoughts are winding down with my legs, the reality of daily chores awaiting me chase away the musings.

Why do I run? So I can be healthy and live longer? I’m afraid I’ll never find my soulmate, so why do I want to exist another thirty or so years alone? But as my feet slow to a light jog, and then to a walk, I reconsider. A runner’s heart is a wellspring of hope, as optimistic about the future as it is low cholesterol counts. Maybe tomorrow I’ll run a mile farther, maybe I’ll enter a marathon, maybe Mr. Turner will wave back, maybe this void in my soul will be filled by one who is also searching.

Until then, I’ll keep lacing up my running shoes and sprinting into the day, not to chase wishes, but to keep my heart primed and warm, because I’ll never find my dreams sitting still