SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — My alarm goes off shortly after 6 a.m. I’m usually up before then, lit by the glow of my iPhone, rifling through my inboxes, mindlessly scrolling feeds that don’t matter.
As I pad out of bed, the house is quiet and I try to be too. I’ve laid out all my gear the night before in the kitchen: top, running tights, socks and the gizmos that will monitor the concrete route I’ve pattered down for years. My water bottle is full but my stomach is empty, so I scarf down one of my kids’ fig bars.
My runs in the past have offered me freedom of head space, a churning meditation that declutters the mind to make room for problem-solving. Now, in the coronavirus era, they take on added importance.
They are frequently my only time outside of a house brimming with responsibility: work calls and obligations, two demanding children, one who just turned 5. (Her party was to be held at a playground I regularly run past, now swaddled in yellow tape.)
Sometimes, before I hit the pavement, I’ll risk peering in to see whether my 3-year-old needs his blankets rearranged. He almost always does.
I run through a greenbelt consisting of a stretch of golf courses, parks, ponds and playgrounds that runs for miles.
In this new normal, my runs are more of a calculation. Does this narrow path provide me six feet of social distance? Does wiping away a bead of sweat count as touching my face? If I cough, could I unknowingly leave a cloud of contaminants behind me? I only use my elbows to touch water fountains or crosswalk buttons.
With every footfall, I realize how lucky I am to still have this piece of my routine. Parks around the world are shuttered. I often find myself thinking what I would do if outdoor activity was more strictly limited. How many laps up and down my driveway would I have to run to make up my miles? Am I so dependent on my runs that I’d do that? Probably.
On the greenbelt, I still nod to familiar faces whose names I don’t know. The elderly man with a U.S. Air Force veterans baseball cap and a cane he carries instead of using, who always smiles and says, “Morning.” The spandex-encased runners who are slightly faster than I am (not that I care). The woman with a baby carrier-like contraption for her dog, which is almost always empty while the furball prances ahead.
The pandemic has brought out new faces as well, many evicted from gyms shuttered by the virus. A man and woman have staked a claim on a scrap of grass near the pond and do exercises I don’t understand, which involve kicking and jump ropes. Dog walkers eager for fresh air crowd the path more than before.
The mornings are crisp and fresh now, but that’ll change. The Phoenix area’s stifling heat is descending and will eventually snuff out much outdoor activity. I dread the idea of sheltering in place when that place is so hellishly hot. But I also look forward to a time when the desert sun chases away all these greenbelt interlopers who bring unwelcome risk to my runs.
When the run is over I trade the fresh morning air for the stuffy chaos of our home.
“Smelly mommy!” the youngest cries gleefully. He’s not wrong.
I immediately wash my hands and wipe down my equipment. Then I wait for endorphins to rush over me to help me face another day of mounting work, guilt and bone-rattling anxiety.