Woman and the City: Running To to Running From

New York City has made me a better runner.

It’s not from trying to outrun all the shuffling shoes scuffing the sidewalks, nor from hurdling over the asphalt before that cab from down the block screeches and reaches toward me during a red hand no-walk sign.

Maneuvering the bodies and buildings sprouting from the curved concrete is another art of its own, but even its mastery hasn’t translated into any remarkable refinement in how fast my feet peck the path below.

Hi, beautiful.

Smile, sweetheart.

Are you cold? I can help.

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Running for something: to see the city, to be active, to clear my mind, to be with myself, to observe humanity. That’s why I love it and why I’ve stuck with it even if I started out far from any good. In a sense, moving to New York last fall rekindled my hobby of running.

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There is a sprawling spread of isosceles hexagons etched into the black concrete that lines the stretch of Central Park all the way down its west side. From 110th all the way down to 59th, few material – besides the evident asphalt of the vehicle roads at each block and the cement lining here and there – interrupts the continuous canvas.

At some points, it is smoother than others. Some parts are cracked or crooked or protruding from the Earth, lifting the wedges into a third dimension. And it is that very wobbly wedge that interrupts the lift of my violet and orange Nike, yanking the rest of me to the ground.

Hands barely, first, or so I recall, but then a sudden skid onto my left then right knee: I roll quickly onto my side, scooting myself off the ground in a quick shoot up to my feet, with the momentum just my bottom and thighs because my hands and arms are too sore and cut and shocked.

And bloody.

A hobble and wobble toward the cement ledge just of 96th street later, I inspect my elbows, palms, and knees. From afar, perhaps I’ve been splashed with ketchup or marinara or melted raspberry sorbet. But up close the liquid oozes from the scrapes and scars in my skin, and it is six AM, and I don’t know where to go.

I live almost twenty blocks and three avenues over, and there aren’t many people around. Most anyway are minding their business, or so I think. The majority, hopefully, might not notice me as I try to remain subtle and rummage through the September piles of foliage for dried leaves to wipe the blood.

Some wipes and minutes later, shoving my generic Apple buds back into my ears, I pick back up my pace for a stride or two, but then I stop. My limbs ache, and I haven’t stopped bleeding. Every time I unhinge my knee to take a step even walking now, it burns. I can’t keep running even though it’s only been two of the five miles I planned to go.

I need to clean up. The closest coffee chain store is about two blocks and an avenue away. It feels so far. I haven’t even made it back to the edge of 96th.

Every other step, my left knee still burns. Every one in between, my right one does. The morning breeze stings my palms and elbows, and even though every couple steps, I wipe every cut with a dried leaf, I’m seeing the blood starting to tickle and trickle down my knee.

I don’t want people to notice. I don’t want people to ask to help. I just want to get to a restroom and then get home.

“Nice legs.”

For a split second, I know this is the exact manifestation of my momentary dread: mockery of my bloody state.

I turn around, still taken aback even thought I am so paranoid and on my toes, and an old man of about fifty or sixty repeats, “Nice legs.”

He continues, “You work out here often, sweetheart?”

I am visibly around my age of nineteen. I am panting, sweaty, huffing and puffing. My baby hairs and more are fraying from under the headband attempting to keep my braid in further control. I am panting, sweaty, huffing and puffing–and I am bleeding, visibly. But that’s not what he and “nice legs” are getting at.

At first, I can’t walk that quickly because it burns, but the shame of him talking about how “sleek and sexy” my legs look burns more. I almost jog again. It stings so much, and moving the cuts on my joints only makes them bleed more.

A block of jogging and near-dripping later secures me space and time and solace to stop and grab another leaf. And another. And another. Because I have bled even more now, and I spit onto each of my calves, too, to rehydrate the already dried, quickly crackling blood stains from the leaks on my knee. My purple and orange Nikes have greeted dots of red.

New York City has made me a better runner.

As I’m reminded, I don’t like to stop mid-run. I have gained stamina and strength not gunnging to achieve better times or records, but to get in my love for running the outdoors and exploring whichever city I live while still fabricating, at best, a sense of safety. Because through the music or podcasts I am blasting, even when I’m in full stride at full speed, I must avoid the eyes and gaze and traps of reading the lips of men who yell, scream, wave, holler, nod, wink, diver deliberately into my way.

This bloody episode was the first time after one mistake in the middle of freshman year last fall when I stopped in the middle of my run and only grew frozen in the Labor Day heat from the comments of two men who started to walk with me down the hexagonal sprawl.

Fast forward a year and three months from the initial scare and three months from the bloody one, I went out this week, dressed instead for the December chill: full leggings, heftier socks, thick headband around my ears, long fleece.

But, as we know, it’s not about what you wear. Let there be no confusion. Let this not be left to be simply implied.

At 2.37 miles, my expired-contract-overdue-for-a-new-one phone suddenly died, and my podcast stopped. As I yanked the white wires and wrapped the strands around over my feeble Apple brick, some random man again of fifty or sixty nodded his head in a singular upward-fashion, yelling, “Ow, ow! What’s up?”

On my only run since then just a couple days ago, I couldn’t help but wander off into a mental abyss as I wandered the Upper West Side, blasting my music to combat the psychological clutter, barely doing an effective job.

It’s so demoralizing to even run by him or him or him, locking accidental eye contact, swallowing their winks and gazes and gapes. I run a little faster every time–every time, that is, that I am reminded more and more that this world was not made for me, which is truly every time. I am encouraged more and more to surrender the streets–the outside, the activity, my energy. To curl up or maybe adapt to a treadmill or soften my spirit to the ways the world wants women to wash ours away.

This is far from the first time I have been attacked or demoralized for my gender, for my girlhood, for my womanhood; but it is simply a harsh reminder that even the most public premises or seemingly seen situations are unsafe and uncomfortable for us. It is item number infinity on the list “Remember, the world is not safe and not made for you.”

Running from something: from someone, from some people, from some discomfort, from some danger.

New York City has made me a better runner, and as much as I wish to refuse and deny and overcome, it has churned me from one to to one from.

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