I spent four days in Tucson last week at the Society for Disability Studies conference. The conference itself was absolutely amazing. The running situation in Tucson—at least the part of Tucson I was in—was just kind of weird and gross.
I love traveling because I love running in new places. There are only so many Chicago neighborhoods I can venture to from my house, and I’ve probably traversed the northern 7 miles of the lakefront path more than 100 times by now. So I get excited when I’m traveling to a new city—new running terrain! Yippee! Running is also my way to explore a new place. The first morning I wake up in any new city, I intentionally go for a run and try to get lost, so that I have to pay attention to street names and landmarks in order to get myself back home. I learn the layout of a city so much faster, and I always end up finding some cool place that I never would have found if I hadn’t gone on that run.
In Tucson, for example, my last day there I went for an hour long run around the cute college and independent business-thriving part of town—the only part really worth going to—which got me to 4th Avenue (fourth ave, as the locals lovingly call it). I’d been on this street before—with it’s food co-op, feminist bookstore, a barrage of vintage stores, and the good bars with the good local beer, but I had only visited it during prime business hours. Running down a business street early in the morning before the shops and coffee places are open is my own type of waking up. It’s like the calm silence before what is bound to be noisy busy-ness. So I’m running down this street that I’ve been hanging out on while not at the conference, and I run past this sandwich board on the sidewalk that says “Revolutionary Grounds” with a big red star. Intriguing. I put the foot brakes on just in time to stop in front of an independent/activist/anarchist coffeeshop and bookstore, with a vegan menu and free language classes offered throughout the week for anyone in the community. This business is the kind of space that I want to eventually create—a rad coffeeshop/bookstore that serves its community in a variety of much-needed ways. It’s like I found a small part of my soul business-sonified in that little, squat building. How had I not seen this place before on all of my wanderings up and down the short 3-block strip of Fourth Ave?
So, thank you running, for showing me the cool shit in any city. Tucson, however, I do not want to thank you. Other than the aforementioned Revolutionary Grounds-find, my running in Tucson was completely boring, and, well, just kind of hot and dry. Granted, I didn’t venture out to any of the state parks that have really good running trails. I had to be at the conference by 9 every morning, which meant I had to be ready to leave the place where I was staying by 8:30 at the latest. And, considering I wanted to run between 1 and 2 hours every day, I just didn’t have the time to drive over to the state parks so then I could run around them. Staying away from the good running trails meant that I was left with some gross trail that ran beside a highway for 4 miles, an industrial/strip center part of town that was flat with tilted sidewalks, and a lot of stop lights. But, there were mountains/big rocks to look at, so I can’t complain too, too much. Maybe.
The best part about all of this, though, was that running in the morning gave me such a great mental setup with which to go into a 12-hour day of conferencing. My first morning in Tucson I only ran 3 miles (on account of a really huge hangover from experiencing the Tucson lesbian bar scene the night before—which, while definitely not dry by any means, like the running terrain in Tucson it was just kind of gross, dumb, and boring), and so the whole day I just felt kind of out of it, tired, and not fully awake in my body. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I only ran 3 miles in a day. (Maybe this is something for me to think about—but I’m an ultrarunner—I don’t even start to feel warmed up until at least mile 5 of any run, so running 3 miles is like doing a yogi doing half of a downward dog with one leg). I went to bed that night feeling completely run down and uncomfortable in my body.
The next day, however, I got up and did a 15-mile run (part of which was on that highway-hugging four mile trail, ick). Those two hours of running put me in such a great mood. I felt so attentive during the panels, and excited to think about really hard shit. The Society for Disability Studies (SDS) conference always puts me into such a weird mental space at some point during it. I think the constant thinking about bodies, the physicality of life, how I navigate my own illnesses, and how there is so much to change both socially and personally until I, and many others, feel fully comfortable in this world. All of this thinking about physicality inevitably makes me lose my shit on one day during the conference. I’ll break down and cry for awhile at some point, thinking about my own weird relations to my own body, and how crazy I feel for feeling, well, crazy. I’ve gotten to the point now where I just expect this breakdown while at SDS, usually sometime during the second or third day.
But there’s a first time for everything, and this year at SDS I never had my “breakdown.” I think I would have had that breakdown on my second day of conferencing if I hadn’t ran 15 miles in the morning. The run refreshed my mind, and got me into a space where I was so excited and in awe of all of the complex thoughts and emotions I was having. I don’t think the run made me avoid any emotions. In fact, it’s made me wonder about what the meaning of “having a breakdown” really involves. When I was on that run (in 99 degree weather with 0 humidity), with salt crystals forming under my eyes, chafing stretching along my armpit, my water bottle empty, and my concern that it was possible I might have gone out further than I intended to (thus, running 15 instead of 12 miles), did I allow for a part of me to breakdown? Did the worrying, the physical pain, and the 2 hours that I had to think about all of it allow for the same kind of release that a good, hard, 20-minute sob allows for?
These are the things I’m curious about.
I’m also curious about how ultrarunners, like Pam Reed, don’t get bored training for 100+ mile races in Tucson. There’s only so much dirt that I can look at.
Thanks for allowing me to encounter some great friends I hadn’t seen in over a year, as well as find the cutest independent bookstores and food coops the southwest region of this country has to offer. Next time we meet, however, I would appreciate it if you cleaned the dirt up a bit, dropped the dry attitude, and pointed the way towards your good trails. While I do appreciate your existence in this world, I will never make a commitment to you, nor desire to caress your desiccated terrain with my now-crackling feet or look at your big rocks (which I think you refer to as mountains) with my now sun-burnt eyeballs. I hope you well in the future, and I thank you for giving me the knowledge that I will never live within your vicinity.
Your (hopefully) one-time visitor,