Finding Freedom in Motion
Running is a form of freedom.
I run because it’s liberating, it’s empowering, it’s grounding. Just you and the road, legs weightless as you fly through the cold night air, taking in the gritty city, the aroma of dreams, and the words on stranger’s lips.
Sure, running on a treadmill can be efficient, but I prefer my race to take place on the road. Preferably once all is dark and the season is cold and damp.
There’s something electrifying about running outside at night. It’s an adrenaline rush, an exercise of adventure. Not something most do, especially alone, but that’s exactly why I do it. I dare to be different, to stand out, to be my greatest self and not cave into the pressure to conform and contain.
Besides the feeling, there’s the physical and mental game that come with it- when you’re outside, you have to keep going, there’s no ‘off’ button that you can press to make it stop. You have to turn around and go back to really stop, so you’re pushed into the depths of your heart.
Last night, I raced home after an hour of vinyasa flow to take advantage of the rain and cool air that the weather had brought New York on the first Monday in November. While most we’re cursing the rain and retreating into their warm apartments, I was excited to get to the feel the drops of water fall onto my hot skin as I ran through the streets of Bushwick.
When I headed out onto the dark street at 10pm, sneakers on, cropped hoodie covering my ears, I felt the electricity run through my veins. I pushed myself, but stayed mindful, as to not slip on the wet pavement or trip over a crack in the concrete.
I always notice the people around me when I run. I enjoy noticing the reactions of others, because they are always plentiful: some people ignore me, sure, but you’d be surprised in a city filled with so many, just how many stop to take notice.
Most of these people are men. It could be because of the gender divide that occurs sometime after dark, with less women being out, engaging in interaction with strangers, or lack of verbal intent. Frankly, how often do women interact with one another out on the streets? It’s not written into the human ethos.
In any case, most of the men who notice me do so in a way that’s acknowledging, but with a sexual undertone. Some will nod, as if to say “I see you and I like what I see.” Others will comment as I breeze past them, with words I can’t hear over my music, but whose intent is loud and clear. Very few will get close, stop, or try to stop me to converse, but it does happen on occasion. I won’t say I have no fear, but I am fear less and will never cease in my mission because of another’s actions, instead sprinting past them to continue on my path.
Truthfully, I also enjoy flirting with danger, maybe a bit too much for my own good. But as I see it, some like skydiving, others day drinking, and my poison is indulging in solo sprints in gentrifying neighborhoods late-night. At times in the past when I have felt small, physically incapable of self-defense or protection, I craved to hold this type of personal empowerment. Now that it was mine, I was gripping tightly.
Most of the time, I have maybe a handful of these kinds of encounters, maybe two or three men who engage with me at all.
This night, was different.
As soon as I took off and headed south on Broadway, there were several men who either stared, commented, gestured, or gazed at me as I ran past them. I noticed the unusual level of activity coming my way, on otherwise fairly empty streets.
When I turned down Van Buren and ran into the deep roots of Bed Stuy, I quickened my pace down the deserted road lined with brownstones. I felt slightly uneasy as I approached an intersection, stopping for a moment to catch my breath. I saw a police van parked outside of a school, clearly either keeping watch of a sketchy area or targeting someone specific. I looked to my right and noticed a man standing in the middle of the street, crossing over towards where I was heading, he seemed to be looking at me and I couldn’t figure out what exactly he was doing. I didn’t get a good feeling though and sprinted past him three blocks without so much as taking a breath.
I decided to turn back around and head back to Broadway, to head towards home. As I rounded the corner, two men sitting outside of an apartment building smoking cigarettes hailed towards me, saying something with the energy of both hostility and sex. I once again sprinted down the block, blowing straight past them.
I was once again on a deserted, brownstone lined street in Bed Stuy and noticed two guys unloading the trunk of a car as I changed the song on my phone. I heard them talking, looked up, and realized one of them was staring straight at me, with the look of intrigue on his face. I looked down again, putting my phone back into the pocket of my leggings, and saw that he was still staring, waiting for me to engage with him.
He found out one way or another that I was going to run right past him, up the block, towards Broadway, towards the safety of the harsh street lights, numerous cars, and pedestrians exiting the subway. As soon as I crossed onto Broadway and sighed a breath of relief, I noticed a man across the street leering at me. Something inside of me told me to run, and when my gut talks, I listen.
I quickened my pace and sprinted all the way home, not looking back, not stopping, not slowing my pace. I was tired, I was sweaty, I was soaked, but I was alive. There was no feeling like this, lungs burning, adrenaline rushing, limbs vibrating, music blaring, as I raced down Broadway towards home.
Once I rounded the corner of my street, I felt the relief start to flood in, my cortisol levels dropping and my breathing deepen. I was soaked, I could barely see out of my fogged glasses, but I felt free.
Freedom. We all want it, politicians create campaigns around it, entire nations have been founded on its laurels.
But none of us are truly free, unless we decide to free ourselves.
Of fear, of limitation, of anxiety, shame. It’s the binds of our perspectives that keep us enclosed, which makes letting go feel so liberating.
I knew I was holding on to a lot of grief and stress, that my frustration over my circumstances had led me on this run. I wanted to flirt with danger and escape it, to prove to myself that I could really be as free as I desired. To make the imaginary, reality. Running allowed me escape, to live out my fantasy of escaping violence and physical domination, to recreate parts of my childhood and my young adult life that were filled with constrain.
We’re all seeking freedom, but what so many of us miss is that it’s not something that can be found outside. It’s a feeling that comes from within. I didn’t need to run the streets in the rain to find this feeling of empowerment, I could manifest it with my own intention.
As I contemplated the feelings I had when being hollered and catcalled, I realized that this was part of what made the run fun for me. I enjoyed the sexual attention. I wanted these moments of tension and release. I liked the question of danger, the uncertainty of the moment before me, up to me to respond, up to me to escape from.
And these men? It’s easy to demonize them, but they are just as human as I am. They are releasing their own sexual frustrations, their own desires and beliefs. They are seeking connection, validation, and attention, too. They weren’t villains, but just reflections of my own thoughts, echoes of my wants and needs. They were showing me what I wanted to see.
Running is a form of freedom, because it allows me to see what has remained dormant in me. It brings up the shit that’s been festering in my mind and body and forces me to face it, head on.
Freedom in motion, found.