With the return of my insomnia last night, I decided perhaps the problem is that I haven’t been running enough. (Or maybe I’m just turning into a night owl in my old age?)

The last month of my pilates class has been more “high-intensity,” aka “kick-your-butt/crossfit/OH MY GOD I’m sore/you want me to do WHAT???” Most of the time, I’m either afraid to run (the day before class), exhausted (the day of), or way too sore (the day after). So running has become a thing of the weekend, when I’ve had a day or two to recover from class and at least one more to prepare for the next.

You would think this much exercise would knock me out. If I was normal, I’m sure it would. But I’m not normal, I’m a runner. No matter what other exercise I do, nothing is quite the same. Yes, my body is exhausted after each class, and I spend most of the day trying my best not to pass out on any flat surface available. But when night rolls around, it’s still not enough to make my brain shut up long enough for me to fall asleep.

The crucial difference here is that for me, running is not just a physical exercise. Running has always been a form of moving mediation, less a way of escaping my thoughts than working through them at a faster pace. I put my body on autopilot, synchronize the pace of my mind to that of my feet, and I go. I run, I think, I dodge branches, logs, strollers, and bikers, until I’ve worked my way through at least a few of the things on my mind. In the end, a good run is one that achieves complete unity between head and body, leaving me at peace both mentally and physically.

While I love my kick-your-butt, I mean pilates, class, it just doesn’t have the same effect. When you’re working that hard, you don’t have time to think. You just do, and do again, praying all the while that your muscles will have enough strength left to do the next set, and the one after that, and then oh wait, don’t forget the mat work too! It’s great to find something that will actually shut my mind up for an hour, but it really doesn’t give me a chance to work through very many knotty issues.

Conscious and unconscious exercise — it’s almost like the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. They are both valuable in terms of building strength, endurance, and flexibility, but you can’t neglect one at the expense of the other.

So this morning, I told my body, “Look, I realize you’re sore, but you’re just going to have to deal with it. I need to run.” And run I did, on my favorite trail, stopping in the middle to catch my breath and gaze at the (slightly low) creek. I didn’t make record time, that’s for damn sure, and I struggled with a couple of the hills. But I did a lot of thinking, and felt my mental muscles loosening up even as my physical ones protested at the abuse. Again, too bad. It felt great.

The best part of the whole run came at the end, as I was cooling down and stretching by my car. A hiker was just starting out along the trail, equipped with two walking poles, a pack, and a suitably determined look on his face. He greeted me, and said, “Funny thing about this shirt — they told me it wouldn’t smell. I’ve been wearing it for five days straight, and it doesn’t smell.” With that, he kept walking.

See what I would’ve missed out on if I hadn’t convinced my legs to take me running today? That made it all worth it. That, and my old friend the runner’s high. Oh, how I’ve missed it. Nothing else is quite the same.

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