85. A New Road

85. A New Road

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

A New Road

There are clubs you can’t belong to, neighborhoods you can’t live in, schools you can’t get into, but the roads are always open.
 ~Nike Corporation

Fifty-one days after my natural-childbirth-turned-induction-turned-Caesarean section, I started running again. I didn’t get far — maybe a quarter of a mile — before I had to slow myself and the second-hand EZ Strider containing my sleeping son to a walk. And while a quarter of a mile is nothing to brag about for most runners, something in that moment made me feel like I was coming back: becoming myself again after seven weeks of feeling my old self — teacher, writer, runner — slip away, leaving behind nothing but a Baby-Feeding Machine.

I loved my son, of course, but during those seven weeks I felt heavy. With extra fat, yes, but also with sleep deprivation, with the nightmarish transformation of my beautiful non-medicated birth into a thirty-hour induction culminating in surgery and a painful recovery, and with the certainty that I would never be able to leave my house or cook my own meals again due to the seven-and-a-half pounds of humanity that had taken over my life. That’s a lot to carry around, and with all of it weighing me down, it seemed unlikely that I would be running any time soon.

And yet, two days after my midwife gave me the all-clear to start exercising again, I placed Isaiah in the jogging stroller and went for a walk. We walked the next day, too, and the day after that. On that third walk, when Isaiah had nodded off on a quiet sunlit street, I started to run. I wasn’t wearing the right shoes or the right clothes; the off-kilter stroller tugged me to the right with every step, and my lungs had no idea what had just hit them, but man, did I feel good. Lighter. Freer. A little more at home inside my own life than I had felt for a while.

It reminded me of Kansas. And Kraków. A year before Isaiah was born, my husband Matt and I had celebrated our wedding in Matt’s birthplace of Lawrence, Kansas. I had been the one to suggest moving the wedding from my family’s native New York to the less pricey, more laid-back Midwest, but I’ll admit it was strange getting married away from home. I didn’t know where to get my hair done or what the wedding traditions were; I had to depend on Matt and his family for all of that. The whole experience, though wonderful, gave me a fish-out-of-water feeling that I had never imagined as part of my wedding.

But while I couldn’t give any of my guests driving directions, and I couldn’t do more than imagine what a wedding reception in a barn would be like, most days I could run. I ran with Matt’s brother Paul and sister Lisa near their parents’ farmhouse, past wheat fields and old cemeteries. And I discovered something: running in a place makes it yours.

Away from home, when I put on those clothes christened with my sweat and pull on those grungy socks and shoes that countless miles have molded to my feet, it’s like putting on my pajamas in a hotel room and plunking my slippered feet up on the furniture, like blasting the stereo and slipping into the bubble bath in a guesthouse. I’m telling everyone, “Yeah, I belong here. I’m comfy and I’m going to get comfier.” When I hit my stride on a foreign footpath, I’m saying to that place, “Let’s get to know each other, but let’s not do it at arm’s length. Let’s take our hair down and forget the formalities. I’m going to act like I’m at home with you, and you’ll treat me like an old friend. How about it?”

Fresh from our honeymoon, Matt and I boarded a plane to Kraków for my brother’s wedding with maybe three Polish phrases under our belts. When we got there, we stayed at a hostel where we easily raised the average age by ten years. We couldn’t have left our room without maps and phrasebooks any more than without our clothes. But I could still run.

My feet slapped cobblestones and made the side streets of Kraków mine. I wove around the grounds of Wawel Castle and made the castle mine. I circled the city center while shopkeepers opened their doors and waiters set up tables on the sidewalks, and I made that square mine. And yes, I got lost. But that was okay, too. Fumbling goes with the territory sometimes, and when I calmly turned to retrace my steps, I was telling Kraków, “No big deal. I belong here, and I’m going to keep acting like it. Thanks for the cool detour.”

A few months later, back in New York, my brother-in-law Paul and I went for an eight-mile run along the Bronx River — my turf — on World Run Day. Soon thereafter I learned I was pregnant; then came the nausea, exhaustion, and weight gain that made running at first uncomfortable and eventually impossible. Almost a year later, while Paul completed his training for the New York City Marathon, I gripped the handle of that EZ Strider and spurted into my quarter-mile comeback. “Yes, I belong here,” I was telling motherhood. “Good to know you.”

~Marian Tascio Friedrichs

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