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I carry my sneakers.

Their color is nearly un-faded, purple-mountains’-majesty blue with orange accents to make them pop against the winter-dead ground as I run. The flashes of orange come in blips like Morse Code – one, two, one, two – as I lift my knees and pass another huffer-puffer on the hill.

I carry my sneakers unceremoniously. For all they are worth, in materials and in miles, I still put them in a reused, plastic bag from Bethel Food, every morning.
And every afternoon, I slip them on, wiggling the heel until the foot is encased. The mesh bits on the toes breathe, and the arch support bolsters the sole/soul of my foot, giving it strength. They are my home. I tie the blue-and-orange-speckled laces using a special knot, bringing the loop through twice. I swear by that knot; my shoes have never come untied on me yet.

But more than all this, I carry the places I’ve run. There’s the brown loam from the forest trails, the stone dust from the gravel paths, the sticky, crushed grass from the hills, and the red pigment from my home track, painted in the crevices from that time we had practice in the rain.

I carry my sweat. I carry the time I’ve spent. I carry the knowledge that I am strong.

There’s the memory of the girl I beat in the last 10 meters of a race, sprinting to burst my lungs, moving legs like pistons, ignoring the burn to come out ahead, just in front of the foreign-colored jersey.

There’s the memory of the girl who beat me in the last 100 meters, pulling ahead when I had no energy left to hurry.

But more than this, I carry a method of escape. When I run, my life is put on pause. The stress that muffles my mind from minute to minute takes a lunch break as I chant: it doesn’t matter. When I’m running, I cannot write an essay. When I’m running, I cannot work out math problems. The impossibility of completing assignments while I’m on my feet, on the road, on the run, renders them meaningless.

It’s all about conservation of movement. Feet in a straight line. Hands from chin to hip and back again. Ponytail swinging from side to side with each step. Loose shoulders, loose hands. Thinking of nothing but the run. Nothing but the next step. Nothing but getting to the finish.

It’s all about absolutes. Either you’ve trained, or you’ve sat on your butt all day, muscles atrophying. Either your body is strong enough, or your mind is strong enough, or you are not strong enough. Either you will finish, or you will, in some way, come up short. Either you are injured, or you are well enough to go at it another day. Either you run, or you don’t.

It’s a constant pounding on the joints. The body is a beautiful conglomerate of intermeshing parts: the foot hits at the heel, rolls to the toe. The impact is absorbed by a bent knee at the same time that the opposite arm is crooked forward. But this machine will not run unless it has a pilot. For this reason, you must be mentally ready – ready to motivate yourself when you can’t go any further. This is the mark of an athlete.

I carry my sneakers. I carry my escape.




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