Daily exercise used to be one easy ritual for me. I had a straightforward routine – I would wake up to a 5:15 alarm, do the minimum possible hygiene I could, get dressed with the first shirt-and-shorts combo I could find straight from the closet, drink a glass of water, and head to the town park.
The Park Loop
It was a very simple exercise regimen which lasted an hour on a good day and half that long on particularly lazy days. I ran a loop around the park, which I estimated to be a tenth of a mile per lap. I did this pacing where the first lap was a complete walkaround – no pressure at all. The second lap was where I would slowly transition into running, the goal was just to get my heart rate up. And for the third and fourth laps I would put all my energy into putting as much ground and dust behind me – racing past casual park strollers and getting looks from old-timers who are just there to get some fresh air.
When I first started doing this daily jogging routine, I didn’t put any music on. And I soon realized that I didn’t prefer this at all – I would get too worked up worrying about things I shouldn’t be even worrying about that early in the morning. One day, an old friend gave me an iPod shuffle, and this was when I started really getting into ‘the zone’ as far as running around a public park loop was concerned.
I remember on one morning I completed an entire Kings of Leon album and all in all finishing more than twenty laps. My thighs and calves were burning for the rest of the day, but there were several points during the run where I was able to experience the phenomenon they call ‘runner’s high.’ Recalling that feeling as best I can, it felt like your own body was moving itself than it was you trying to drag your own weight around. Runner’s high is the complete opposite of feeling sluggish – you don’t want to stop moving and you feel like you could just stay on that plane for the rest of the day.
But of course, feeling high when running, like all great moments, pass.
Was it the desire to feel runner’s high the reason why I kept on my daily routine for so long? Not exactly. I was still on the verge of hitting my 20s and I was still feeling the aftereffects of puberty. I wanted to look good, and I wanted to be in the best physical and mental state I could possibly be. And then I started to realize that it’s having the routine itself that helps you – and not necessarily the external benefits or results the routine gives you.
Having a daily ritual can help you hit your stride, and missing it can also usher you into a state of misery.
It wasn’t just the park loop where I enjoyed my early morning running routine. Just half a block away from the town park was already the beach. I feel lucky to have lived in a town where places like that were just so accessible. When I felt like I needed a change of scenery – when the recurring faces I saw at the park started to get boring, and when my running shoes grew tired of brushing over the same lines of concrete – I ventured into the beach. It was just two minutes away.
The part of the beach nearest me was the seawall. It wasn’t the cleanest part of the beach, and it definitely wasn’t also the most fragrant. But there were mornings in that part of the beach which were just beautiful.
Some mornings, the waves are loud and the sky clear. The sun rises in the east like multiple pink flashlights going off at the same time. Some mornings, an old man with a basketball jersey walks his dog on an unfinished concrete pathway. Their pace is always too slow for me, so I often pass them by twice in their own loop. And some mornings, the environment just isn’t on your side. The wind’s strong and cold, the clouds encroach every bit of available sky, and there’s dog shit all over the concrete pathway.
Regardless of what type of morning I woke up to, I managed to enjoy my run at the seawall, much like any run I had at the town park.
The Side Road
When I was feeling ambitious, I would go for a run on what I called the ‘side road’ loop. It was an asphalt detour from the main highway which did not get any traffic before six. I didn’t like running around this loop that much because the laps were just too long, and there were parts of the lap where I was too close to the highway, and 5:30 in the morning is usually primetime for long-haul trucks with their awful exhaust gases.
The other reason I avoided this loop was because there were times it was too dark at a certain portion of the run – a big acacia tree was too much for a street light, and anyone from the side of the road, if they wanted to, could just grab you and ask you for breakfast money.
Whenever I took the side road loop I usually only managed to finish five laps at most. Longer laps easily tire me out, and that’s why the town park loop was my favorite. I remember doing thirty laps at the town park one time – my nipples were sore and my boxers felt like razors. I’d say the side road loop was my least favorite of the three. It was reserved for when the town park was under maintenance or when there was big catch going on by the seawall.
If there’s one thing I’ve dearly missed during the pandemic, it’s having a daily exercise routine which I not only do for the sake of physical activity – but because I truly enjoy it. Now, living in a metropolis where town parks just aren’t for running, and where seawalls just aren’t for people to be wandering in – I miss my good old running loops.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on August 06, 2021: