Running in New Shoes

When you run every day, you think you’ve seen, heard, smelled, felt and thought it all.

Until you put on a new pair of shoes. The fit around your feet may remind you of the first time you put on a decent pair. That ineffably pliable, bouncy snugness suddenly suggested possibilities. I can GO places. I can DO things.

Then you congratulate yourself that this isn’t the first time, when, shortly after you imagined you could fly effortlessly over asphalt, you found your muscles stiff and cranky on a cold morning. Or you were out in balmy sunlight and just before you reached the halfway mark you felt a drop, and another drop, and then two drops at once.

Less than a minute later you discovered the true meaning of “water resistant.” Icy cold invaded your clothing and shoes that were spotlessly bright and so light on your feet, become cold, squishy, mud-splattered, wet.

And then the daily miracle arrived. You grew accustomed to the splat-splat of your feet on the ground. You stopped caring that water trickled down your spine. As thunder growled above, you realized that, no matter much you had to go before you finish, running in the chilling rain was just as much a gift as the flawless weather that preceded it.

You tie your new shoes tightly because you have had too many moments when you’re zooming along and then everything became loose. Laces flopped around your ankles and the shoe almost falls off before you have to stop and lace them up again.

New shoes take you back to injuries. You survived the heel spur, sprained your ankle, and the occasional spills. But when you needed knee surgery and got thta pair of crutches, the surgeon said maybe you should not run again because your knee is not what it used to be.

A few months later, you got angry with doctors telling you what you can’t do. Life is about what you CAN do, right? You bought a new pair of running shoes and soon you were out running, thinking of anything but not running again.

You insert your feet, stand in the new running shoes and notice your feet aren’t tilting to the sides–what the physical therapists call pronation–because you haven’t worn down the edges yet.

Then you’re off. Your arms, legs and your clothing feel awkward. The music in your ears isn’t quite right. Your breathing rhythm is off.

Someone walks a dog ahead of you. To pass them, you’ll run on the grass between the path and the street. You pray that you don’t step in dog poop because the soles of your shoes have so many molded cuts, grooves and little swirls and you don’t want to pick poop out of them with a twig when you finish.

Like that glossy vehicle your father drove so proudly off the dealer’s lot–with you in the front seat, the window down, your head hanging out like a dog that would never, ever poop near a path that people run upon–you want your shoes to stay new forever.

You pass trees that have scattered blossoms on the path, then leaves in shades of gold and brown. You smell rose blossoms in the spring, honeysuckle in summer, garden mulch in the fall, the scented steam from clothes drier sheets in winter. You go to that part of the path that is so often in shadow that the snow never quites melt and you have to watch out for the ice.

You go to the dip in the path where, after a storm, a puddle sprawls insidiously, waiting for you to put your foot down and make a big splash. When was the last time you made a splash? When you were a child at the local swimming pool? Did it impress anyone? Did it win you friends?

When you were younger you hated repeating anything. When you showed up for your second aikido lesson, and your third, and fourth, you were quietly annoyed that you had to do the same things again and again and again. When you moved away from the aikido school (that you discovered while running in another direction) you began to take karate (which was so different, at first) and that you had to do different things again and again until you became so very, very bored.

And here you are, running the path again, silently pleased that the initial awkwardness has faded. You settle into something like the flow you experienced when you were in a randori, when the entire martial arts school was rushing toward you and you didn’t have time to think that some were black belts who could throw you across the room. Those moves you had practiced over and over came out. You watched from somewhere deep inside yourself as you deflected, parried, slipped out of the way and threw a few black belts across the room.

How many years running this path, has it taken before you understand that instead of getting better at doing some things, you go deeper. You notice more. Your appreciate more. The trees have differing shapes, eccentricities. They bloom at different times. The leaves that flutter down in autumn are of more varied shades than gold and brown.

How often did you have to do the same thing over and over again before you recognized that it was never the same, that there is no such thing as repetition: each movement, each moment, good or bad, correct or mistaken, comforting or painful, is unique, meaningful, of infinite depth and value if only you notice?

Before you answer, you remind yourself that today, you’re running in new shoes and that makes everything new again.

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