The Body and The Planet

Tuesday, September 14

I had a thought this morning. It’s popped into my head every so often since I ran my April marathon, usually when I’m looking at myself in the mirror before or after a run, clad in my running gear. It’s essentially: “I’m the person who people see has run a marathon, and say to themselves ‘Huh, well if he can run a marathon, maybe I can run a marathon!’”

This sounds self-deprecating, I know. It’s the kind of self body-shaming that can only serve to damage my self-worth and question whether if, despite having run a marathon, I’m really the kind of person people think of when they think of a marathon runner. And there’s a through-line from this particular thought all the way back to the deflection techniques I used has a kid, steering into (admittedly light) teasing about my (admittedly only slightly over)weight and owning jokes before they could be used at my expense.

But in that thought, I do take a genuine solace in the fact that I’m a poster child for how accessible it is to run, let alone run a marathon. If seeing someone with my physique banging out five-mile midweek runs before work is the catalyst someone needed to finally lace up their running shoes and hit pavement, then that makes me happy. That’s one more person running, which is one more person presumably trying to improve their physical and mental health, which is one more person being a little bit kinder to themselves and the people around them.

I wouldn’t say I’m self-conscious about my weight, but I am conscious of it. Does that make sense? What I mean is, I’ll gladly run shirtless on an 85-degree July morning, and you won’t catch me at the beach covering up any part of myself except for the parts that decency laws demand I must. Once I’m out in the world I don’t pay much mind to what I look like, or what other people think about how I look. I’m confident and comfortable in my body, truly.

But I have private moments where I am my body’s toughest critic. I hate how snug too much of my clothes fit. I also just don’t like trying new clothes on in general—they don’t make a lot of cuts that work just right for someone who’s 5'8" but also 190 pounds. I don’t love how I look in plenty of pictures. I use the last notch on my belt just to prove to myself that I can, but the deep red ridges it leaves on my waist when I take it off at the end of the day taunt me: You don’t have any business using the last notch, boss. The second-to-last one is there for the taking.

I have insecurities about my body. But I also love eating, so my body is gonna look like what it’s gonna look like, and that’s the tradeoff for eating tacos and french fries and chocolate chip cookies and frozen yogurt and all the other indulgent things that remind me how awesome it is to be alive. For the most part that’s OK. I have a generally well-balanced diet and the running does a good enough job of making other parts of my body look slight and normal by societal standards. And I’m also just fit—at 31, as fit as I’ve ever been—and despite my physical insecurities, I feel good and comfortable in my body.

So I ran five miles. Through no prior intention it wound up being a progression run, with negative splits that shrank with each mile. That’s a good sign. My body did pretty good.

Wednesday, September 15

Exactly one year and one day ago, I took a picture of a wild-looking sunset from a parking lot near my apartment in Jersey City. The sun was blood-red, veiled in a thick haze from wildfire smoke that made its way to the Northeast from central Canada and the American West.

Of all the signposts telling us climate change is here, this one didn’t seem to ripple nationally. And rightly so—at the same time San Francisco looked like a Cormac McCarthy novel come to life, an orange hellscape where it was unsafe to leave one’s house. We could be forgiven for giving shorter shrift to a mild haze in the New York skies. But wildfire smoke reaching the East Coast spooked me. I’ve lived here my entire life and couldn’t remember this ever happening before.

And it seems like it’s been the norm this summer. Wildfire season is as catastrophic as it’s ever been, and more mornings than not I feel like I’ve had to leave my running sunglasses at home because there’s smoke in the atmosphere providing natural shade. This morning was no different. I ran seven hilly miles through yet another muggy, hazy morning that on another, healthier planet, would have been just a little nicer.

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