by Alison Conway
I took up running after a hiatus of almost thirty years when I turned 50 in 2015. In my early twenties I suffered bad knees and the physio who treated them directed me to the pool. Three decades later I thought I’d try a 5 km running clinic and see how the knees held up. Two years later, I’m logging and loving the miles.
Since Nov. 8th, running has taken on a different significance. Now I start my runs full of rage and despair over what’s happening in America, full of fear that the same will happen here if either Kevin O’Leary or Kellie Leitch (two of the top three Conservative Party leadership contenders, according to the National Post 2/3/17) gains ascendency in Canadian politics. Guilt plagues me. I am running when I should be volunteering or protesting. I spend money on race registrations that would be better spent on larger monthly contributions to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Clearly I have been living with my head in the sand since I didn’t see Trump coming. Now I must atone.
But self-laceration is too easy and familiar. I couId spend the next four years in my head, spinning. Instead, I must sit down and make some hard choices. And one of my choices is to set a limit to how much time I spend running. I’ve been encouraged by friends to take on a marathon. I admire those in my running group who have overcome serious obstacles in their lives to achieve this goal, as well as those who use marathons to raise money for charity. I admire our coach, who is an advocate for at-risk youth and mental health services. But at this moment, whatever benefits I could list under “self care” when thinking about a marathon take a back seat to those I list under “other care.”
The challenge we face now is that each day asks us to make decisions about how much news we will consume, what contribution we will make, what action we will take. The marathon we are all running is the one that involves making these choices deliberately and mindfully, day in, day out, week in, week out, for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, panicked, frozen. We all have to pace ourselves. It seems like a good time to ask hard questions of “self care,” to see how far it extends itself to helping those more at risk than ourselves.
We can be more deliberate about yoking our fitness goals to our political commitments. I volunteer for Start2Finish, a reading and running group for at-risk children, and I practice the power pose with little girls every week. “Sweat is great!” is a common refrain; “Just keep running!” is another. There are other programs aimed directly at fostering confidence in girls through running and we can all help to nurture young women by giving them our full attention as volunteers.
In our exercise communities, we can find ways to build relationships and trust with those who do not belong to our particular constituency—in my case, academia—in the hopes of enabling dialogue when so much divisiveness characterizes public speech. I talk too much, but lately I’ve been trying to listen better, to choose my words more carefully when I respond to ideas I consider ill-informed. I am finding out about the community work others are involved in, their sense of local politics and what’s at stake in mapping the future of the city we live in. Now it’s time to take what I’ve learned to city hall, to become an engaged citizen rather than a passive observer. The old chestnut, “Act local, think global,” has taken on new, concrete significance since I decided to focus my attention on doing the next right thing.
What I can’t do is try to run away from the whole sorry mess we’re in, or turn my back on those who need my help and support right now. We need to run toward resistance, not away from it. Maybe one day, for me, resistance will involve training for a marathon. But right now I have more urgent tasks requiring my attention.
Alison Conway is an English professor at Western University. Her favorite workout is running the roads and trails of London, ON.