How Running Helps Me Find My Bearings

I spent last weekend in Springfield, Missouri, teaching a couple of theatre workshops and seeing a staged reading of one of my plays. Of course, I prepared for the workshops. But I also prepared for a Saturday morning run. Whenever I’m going somewhere new, even if only for a couple of days, I love to get out for a run. That sliver taste of a place helps me get my bearings, not only geographically, but psychologically.

Building tops in downtown Springfield, Missouri against a blue sky, with sunlit reflections

My Google search history would give away a lot of running in [fill in the blank] searches. Online I found a disconnected, but extensive-looking, greenway and bike path system sprouting out from the downtown. I visualized the left turn out the door of my hotel, taking a right onto the bike path noted on the map and taking a left onto a paved path that ultimately led through a couple of parks.

Running in a new place on a surgically-short trip, like this one, meant that I couldn’t bring any significant outfit change. The running shoes take up a lot of space, never mind the layers of winter gear. And I don’t like wearing my runners for anything but running, so they don’t double as workshop wear. To economize on space, I decided to wear socks the first day that I could run in the next morning and wash my underwear by hand at night. Yup, that’s not a lot of physical space saving. Still, I felt lighter. I was happy to bring fewer clothes, too, because I know I need a run more than I need a second pair of pants. I run to explore. Also, to clear, reset and focus my day. To feel at home, away from home.

I was out on my run by 7 a.m. on Saturday. At -3 Celsius, the morning was a colder than I packed for, after all my planning. I asked the hotel’s morning clerk which way to The Link, that was the name the map gave for the nearby bike path. My research showed that it was two blocks away. He had no idea. So, I asked for my North-South bearings instead and headed out the front door with great confidence … and never found any sign of the bike path. I didn’t want to stop and pull out my phone to cross-check and consult maps, it was too cold and I didn’t have a lot of time (that’s why I did advance research!). Undaunted I headed south toward the greenway I was aiming for. The distance turned out to be longer than expected and the cold started to cling. I switched from aiming for a particular destination to enjoying the neighbourhoods; the soft and frosty poofs of grass I could run on alongside the sidewalk and the glimpses of life on porches—a cat grooming, a woman in her seventies wearing pink plaid pajamas leading her frail fully-dressed husband on his walker out for some fresh air.

I didn’t have the run I expected, but it didn’t matter. I moved. I improvised. And I set the stage for the day.

The workshop was an intense, fun improvisational playtime with the students and one of the theatre profs. Over lunch we talked about theatre making. A thin sheath of the morning run’s chill stayed with me. Every time I became aware of it, I got a little shot of extra energy.

Afterward, I retreated to my hotel room to lie like a cat on my bed in the sun and read a novel. I spent the afternoon with Madeline Miller’s Circe, so many lifetimes exiled and alone on her island of Aiaia (I highly recommend it!). By the time I roused myself to go out and forage for an afternoon snack, I’d caught a case of maroon-ment from her retelling of the story; a delicious alone feeling. I sat in a charming coffee shop (The Coffee Ethic), having a macchiato, one of my fave decadent pleasures (there’s something about drinking from a tiny little cup, not to mention the rare caffeine, since I’m not a coffee drinker); eating a soft little ball of cocoa powder, chocolate chips, peanut butter and coconut; watching the pale stone Heers building across the downtown square turn pink as Circe’s father, Helios, the sun god, rode his chariot home. I sank into the contented surprise of being in this place.

A 1987 drawing of Circe, by Erte

One side note from my time in Springfield, Missouri. The women students I worked with happened to mention that the university gym does not allow women to workout in sports bras only. Men can be shirtless. This little factoid injected some fresh radicalism into the sports-bra-only costumed physicist characters in the play reading.

Our strength continues to challenge!

2 thoughts on “How Running Helps Me Find My Bearings

  1. I stopped traveling for work in June 2019 and the number one thing I miss about it is exploring new places by going for runs there and trying local restaurants. Loved this piece!

  2. I love this post, Mina — I feel such a sense of kinship with what you describe. The improvisational run! The reading in the sun! The pure joy in a “foreign” coffeeshop. Thank you for sharing your deep sense of place. And you inspired me to go for a cold sunny run in my own neighbourhood 😉

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