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An Open Letter to Phoebe

Dear Phoebe,

I feel like I’ve been stepping out on our exercise relationship.

I remember how hard we fought against getting up so early go to the gym. We tried evening, mid-morning, and even the laughably impossible late afternoon workouts before we finally gave in and set our alarm clocks to stun. Both of us had already spent years as sleep-deprived mothers and it seemed wrong to choose to wake up during those few magical hours when everyone in the house was finally and uniformly asleep.

I never got used to setting an alarm and waking up before the sun rose. The sound of the alarm never stopped being a shock. I never relished throwing back the covers before the furnace clicked on in the winter, or during the brief time when it was finally cool enough to need a blanket in the summer. For a moment I would rest on the edge of the bed, listening to the even breath of three people sleeping. I would resist the urge to sink back down into the bed, which was still imprinted with my body. I would know you were out there doing the same and this would finally compel me to trade loose, soft pajamas for the tight snap of workout clothes. Even as I laced my shoes, grabbed my water, and picked up my keys there would be a whisper of doubt. It was never until the door clicked shut, locking me out of my home, that it felt right.  I often stood for just a moment, never longer because I was almost always running late, under the dome of stars or the early morning cloud wisps in a morning not yet marked by cars engines, or voices, or bird songs, or light. Meeting up with you always felt a little clandestine, a little like we were teenagers sneaking out. The gym at that hour always felt a little like a private club.  There was no wait for machines and only rarely a wait for mat space. The handful of us at the gym had our routines, which we all stuck to with surprising regularity. Though we rarely spoke to anyone but each other, and even then only a few snippets of conversation before and after working out, it felt like a community.

I don’t have a gym here or you, but I thought maybe I could still maintain our routine and keep it as if we were working out together, just with more space between us. I couldn’t. Working out at home may be physically the same, but it lacks the mental separation from household rhythms and tasks. I started going outside to walk and exercise along the Rambla.  There are public exercise areas with metal machines, which while less sleek and appealing than the those in a gym make my muscles quake and ache for days.  I did squats and lunges looking out over the water and felt pretty lucky.  I found benches where I could do crunches and felt pretty pleased with myself.

Public exercise machines.

Public exercise machines.

And all this was fine. None of this felt like was being untrue, but this week something unexpected happened that brought me to this letter. I ran. Not from something or to anything just, you know, for exercise. Oh, how hard it was to write those words. How many times have we talked about how running is fine exercise for other people, but not for us because we’re just not runners? And I’m not a runner. When I ran I did not at all resemble those herds of human gazelles we see galloping across campus.  I was more like a giant tortoise, which has a maximum speed of .17 miles per hour. I only just managed to keep ahead of the older man speed walking and talking on the phone behind me. Though he was wearing some very fancy looking sneakers, which may have given him an assist. I also had to stop to walk a lot.  It was really more like I jogged and walked. I guess if I’m being brutally honest I wogged.  But this is all beside the point, which is that there was running involved.  And I wish I could say that it was just one time.  That I tried to avoid some dog poop, tripped, and accidentally ran a bit. That it will never happen again, but I can’t. I hope you can forgive me. I went for a run and I think I may do it again.

Your friend,

Rachel

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