Home Sweet Home: Running in Ann Arbor

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There’s been a slight delay in my ability to write (re: do anything fun or exciting) thanks to a wild week at work. As I recall, I didn’t look up from my computer for about 14 days thanks to a 30-person presentation I had to give. I had literally never presented prior to Thursday (uhm, I’m a writer), and so when I did look up during the month of October, it was to practice my lines in the mirror or to run around Central Park. So, that happened — and it wasn’t very fun.

During those two weeks, I spent my morning runs reciting facts and statistics about gaming (yes, you know, like Nintendo and Zelda) — sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud. I am nearly positive that, somewhere between New York and my trip to Michigan (more on that to come), several hundred people must have thought of me as a total crazy person, mouthing weird things and gesturing my hands everywhere I went, from Central Park to my morning commute to my Detroit-bound flight. Don’t even try to hide it people. I saw your eyes. I read your mind. You thought I was a psychopath.

Anywho, that’s over now, and so while I have to give you a fair warning that this is my final week of stories before I leave for Africa (on Friday!) for nine days, I do have lots to say.

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Let’s start with last weekend, when I traveled to Ann Arbor to visit a couple of my best girlfriends from my time spent at the school. The important thing to note here is that The University of Michigan is where I learned to run. More notably, it’s where I learned to use running to quell my fears and anxieties — whatever they may be at any given moment.

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Naturally, going back there, I anticipated that I would run, but I also knew that there would be a lot of emotions beneath each excursion. As it turned out, that was entirely true.

Sunday morning in Ann Arbor would be “the day” for me. I woke up on my friend’s couch more excited than ever and immediately got dressed for a run. Only eight years ago, when I’d do the same as a student, I’d throw on an old pair of shorts or sweats, an uncomfortable sports bra and a raggedy old t-shirt. I certainly didn’t own running sneakers at the time. How far I’ve come though. Today, I am the proud owner of an overflowing draw of runner’s shorts and an abundant basket of running sneakers. As for the t-shirts, well, I still prefer raggedy and old.

I had a basic running route in mind before I started out. I knew I wanted to check out the Arb (the Ann Arbor Arboretum) as well as the river where I finished my first five-miler back at the age of 20. At the time, five miles was practically a marathon, and I immediately got a fever after. In time, I’d learn how to fuel and recover — basic lessons to be learned.

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Running around campus felt surprisingly natural even though I hadn’t been back in two years and I hadn’t run there in longer. Like a kid in a candy store, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I soaked in the collegiate air around me — the dorms, the coffee shops, the general undergrad spirit. Though it was only early October, in Michigan the leaves were already changing — a stark difference from mid-October in Central Park.

The first landmark I encountered that sent shivers down my spine was the University of Michigan hospital, a massive structure near the freshman dorms that, as a student, would mark the end of my run. Last Sunday, it was just the beginning, but I gave it a nod of recognition anyway.

From there, I came upon the Arboretum, which offers an incredible and interwoven set of dirty pathways, all of which lead straight downhill. While there, I came across a series of stories that ended in a marriage proposal. Only in Ann Arbor can you find something that’s so heart-warming and innocent without cynicism or pretense. Sometimes, I think I’ve lived in Manhattan for way too long.

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At the bottom-most part of the Arb is where you reach the river, and of course, I stopped for a moment (or minutes) to breathe it all in. This is also where I image that the aforementioned groom proposed to his wife-to-be; I could tell from the rose petals lining the river — evidence of what had taken place perhaps only moments before. In college, this very same spot is where I’d stop to think in the mornings before the rest of campus had woken up. Sometimes I was hung over. Other times I was just looking for clarity and calm. But each time, no matter how I felt when I first arrived, I left a different person — at ease with my state of being and at peace with whatever was to come.

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Seven years ago, that very same run — five miles total — took all of the energy I had to complete. Last weekend, it felt a lot shorter than I had remembered.

But what really stuck out from beginning to end wasn’t the distance or the hills (remember that mass downhill to the river; to get home, I’d had to head uphill again), rather it was the familiarity of it all. I even knew where to duck under a broken fence that takes you over the train tracks — a move that, if missed, could result in a very different route. I felt the twists and turns as though I had experienced them just days before.

Like I said, the entire adventure was a lot shorter than I remember, and before I knew it, I had reached the end of the river — right where I knew to expect a water fountain, and right where the big hill that would take me back to where I started began. In far less time than I anticipated, it was all over. I was home.

Last Sunday’s run was spectacular for the memories it evoked. Really, the entire thing was an exploration of the familiar — a return to what I knew, but with an entirely novel and mature perspective.

I imagine that, for many, it’s like running a race more than once. Each mile and turn is remeniscent of something you felt previously, but thanks to age and wisdom, you’re simply much better prepared.

The rest of last weekend was spent catching up on lost time, enjoying the delicious fall air, and being generally festive in an autumnal way.

There were donuts…

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…and there were pumpkins. Pretty adult stuff.

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While my presentation wasn’t over yet, and I was still crazed, it was nevertheless the perfect way to take my mind off of any impending stresses and anxieties while soaking in the scenery in the place where it all began.

Do you remember the first place you ran? Where was it, and have you returned?

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