I don’t want to wake my roommate with our loud and antiquated door, so I make sure to be quiet as I lock the door behind me and place my keys in the hidden zipper pocket just above my tailbone. I take the four flights of stairs two at a time; I feel the peanut butter and toast I consumed only ten minutes before settle in my stomach. My laces are tied, single-knotted, and my gloves are tucked under the sleeves of my jacket. Before I open the front door of my building, I secure my headphones after starting Pandora. The Who starts singing, “I woke up in a Soho doorway.”
The air is sharp and clean, immediately invading my layers of fleece and wool. My body, still warm from slumber, begins to chill after the first few breaths shock my lungs; any part of my body that was still asleep comes to life. My muscles tighten and relax.
I jump in place and walk for two blocks. My body begins to warm, and having adjusted to the thirty-degree weather, I start running. Right foot, left foot, right, left, pound, boom, pound boom. I have to pace myself because all I can think about in those first five minutes is warming up. I don’t think about the day ahead, my schedule and my work, or my weekend plans—I think only about my body and my blood, slowly warming to the rhythm of the run. Breathing is important, and I concentrate not on the music flowing from my headphones, but the beating of my heart and the steady breaths I force myself to take. I think about movement, the gradual progression of a collection of steps that will eventually bring me 5.2 miles to my office.
I run through the very north edge of Lincoln Park, past the Alexander Hamilton statue and North Pond. This short stretch is the hilliest section of the trip. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is on my left, and I revel in the patches of tended prairie and fauna. I run east on Fullerton, excited that after barely one mile, I am approaching Lake Michigan. The sun has been in the sky for fifteen minutes. Today it is copper, burnt and melting just slightly above the horizon.
The sight before me is one of the reasons I live in Chicago. With the lake and the rising sun to my left, I head south, focused on the John Hancock Tower in the approaching distance. I watch its flickering light cutting through the morning haze and I know without a doubt that in roughly 20 minutes time, I will run past its front door.
Commuting with me on the trail are a varied collection of travelers. There are zooming cyclists with neon shirts and shoes clipped into their pedals; leisurely bicycle riders in jeans and sweatshirts; there are runners, much more seriously and self-disciplined than me, running while sporting Chicago or Boston Marathon gear; there are walkers and wanderers, headed to work or back home.
My time on the trail is soon coming to an end, and as I leave the path and head towards Michigan Avenue, I am always acutely reminded of where I am. Running along the lakeshore manages to separate me from the city. The air is cleaner, fresh from its trip off the rolling tide. But it is the merge into the heart of the city that keeps me awake, guiding me toward my office and my desk, my responsibilities and my day ahead.
Continuing on, I quickly pass the Hancock building on my left. I’m still headed south, and I will continue down Michigan until I reach the Chicago River. Running over the bridge gives way to a new texture and resistance, and I bounce up and down admiring the water below. I cut west at Wacker Drive, smiling to myself as I see the 134, my usual express bus, stop in front of me; hoards of passengers spill out and I’m more than thankful that I didn’t have to stand for a half hour with my hand held above my head for balance.
It’s soon time for me to leave the River and cut south. Depending on the traffic lights, I change this part of my route every time. I’m often forced to jog in place at intersections, waiting patiently while cars dodge pedestrians and maniacally honk their horns. I’m usually slightly saddened by this point because I know that I am merely blocks from my destination. I see my building, a black and grey structure made strongly of steel and grace. I look at my clock; it is 7:30AM.
We constantly think about where we want to go, about destinations rather than journeys, and it is on these morning runs that I am most often reminded of the importance of that time. Although I come across other people, it is a rare time when I am alone with my thoughts. My legs are the only thing moving me forward, and the only thing that can make me stop. Every time I leave my apartment and start my run towards the city, I wholly dedicate myself to the task at hand and to the moments that will only be mine. Throughout the business day that follows my run, my time is not my own. It is my company’s and my coworkers’, and although I understand that decision and that ownership, I miss these minutes along the lakefront. Free from the overwhelming presence of technology, it occupies a space that is entirely mine—and that is why I run.