DSC_0003  This morning’s run

Four years ago today I started running the courthouse steps. I had been doing aerobics for many years, and one day while walking my dog past the courthouse, I thought I’d just see what it was like to run the steps; I was instantly hooked.

What I love about running steps goes way beyond the rigorous workout I get.  I wake up just before the sun rises, get dressed in an early morning daze and head out the door with my water and sweat rag on my bike when it’s just light enough outside to see where I’m going. The air is always fresh at this time of day and my senses are on high alert. My neighbor’s sprinkler overflow is scurrying down the street like a river along the edge of the grass, and I pedal faster to pass it up. Sloppily thrown newspapers sit patiently on driveways awaiting to be retrieved. Yellow parakeets chatter loudly as they fly over the rustling palm fronds, and through the slats of the metal fence around the water treatment plant, I see the sunrise glow as it pushes away the pink clouds. The workers at the plant know me now. I wave and speed down the street.

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At the corner of the busy intersection where I must cross, I observe the blank looks on drivers’ faces as they head to work in the congestion of Metropolitan Miami. Some are looking down at their cell phones, unaware the light has turned green. The courthouse pigeons have moved their perch to the telephone wires on this corner after the courthouse officials installed sharp anti bird spikes along the roof’s edge. I look up at the pigeons for a quick second, but make sure to keep my mouth closed.

I park and lock my bike in front of the courthouse and head to the top of the steps where I remove my sandals and start my stretching routine. The security guard on the second floor nods at me and smiles. Invariably the pigeons on the corner take off and circle over my head, putting on a show as if to welcome me to their former perch. Overhead I can see planes from Miami International Airport ascending, and I daydream about the exciting places where they may be going. The cloud formations are ever-changing.

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As I start to run up and down the steps I instantly go into a zone of sorts, whereby I no longer think about what I’m doing; it’s as if a force beyond my control is moving me. Out loud I count the “innings” or rather laps up and down as I listen to Mick Jagger singing in my ear. Negative thoughts are not allowed here. Courthouse employees arrive to work early, shuffling their feet, looking defeated to have to walk through the doors. I smile and make eye contact with them.

I see another familiar face. It’s Alaina, an avid walker, a 65-year-old breast cancer survivor, and she chats with me, telling me her dreams about getting rich with her cell phone invention. One day three years ago, a thin woman in a clean, long, white night gown sat in the middle of the courthouse steps and started belting out American songs. “Marines’ Hymn, You’re a Grand Old Flag, God Bless America” and so on. I never realized how many patriotic songs there were until this day. She was protesting something, but I don’t know what. There was no one there to listen except for me. Her off-key singing frustrated me for 30 long minutes before she marched off with her poster that just read “Justice” and her collection of flat tunes.

As the run progresses and I ascend the steps, I manage to keep up my pace and continue to not think about the challenge of what I am doing and that gravity is not my friend. I am competing with no one. I don’t dare acknowledge the heat and humidity of South Florida. Passersby ask me where the entrance is to the courthouse and a whole host of other questions. “Passports – room 160, Parking and Traffic Violations, well that’s room 200. No, there’s no entrance at the top of the stairs – it’s down there behind that wall, but you’ve got a long wait until the courthouse opens.”

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People stare at my bare feet. Some men yell comments out their car windows as they whiz by. Thinking I couldn’t hear her, one day a young woman walking past the steps whispered to the young man next to her, “That running bitch is not wearing shoes. What must that bitch be thinking?!”

“That bitch is thinking she can hear every word you just said,” I blurted out as I ran past her.

Sometimes young men, who are on their way inside the courthouse to fight traffic tickets ask me about my workout and my shoeless feet and are looking for motivation to start a fitness routine of their own. I give them words of encouragement and explain that I run without shoes because this is how I keep injuries at bay – especially plantar fascitis, shin splints, hip and knee pain. Read the science of barefoot workouts from Harvard University.

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Across the street is the Walgreens shopping center where I wave to Alberto, the hardworking groundskeeper there, whom I met many times when I used to cut through the shopping center to get home. On occasion I see my dry cleaner peek out the door of his shop to wave at me and the Coke and Lays trucks making their daily deliveries to Walgreens. Just how much Coke and how many chips can one Walgreens sell? I love it when the doormat cleaning truck pulls in from of the courthouse once a month, bringing fresh mats inside and dragging out the filthy ones.

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I run up and down the 28 steps 20-25 times and then take a 90 second walking break on the top landing. In between sets I often do 10 pushups. I run between 3,360 and 4,200 steps each visit. When I finish, I text before and after running selfies to my daughter, who is in grad school in Colorado.

On the ride back I’m treated to an endorphin rush; it should be illegal to be this happy and energetic – not to mention sweaty. I’m 4 ft. 11″, middle-aged and strong. It’s only 7:30 am and my workout is done. Soon I’ll experience a calmness that only devoted yogis speak of.

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Other than, “Why are you not wearing shoes?’ the most common question I am asked is, “How do you motivate yourself to keep running?” Running for me is a habit – like brushing my teeth every morning – and if I don’t workout at least 5 days a week, I don’t feel good. There’s always a long list of excuses not to run, but I won’t entertain them. I have never been athletically inclined – actually more accident prone and was the last girl picked for teams in gym class in school. It’s uncomfortably hot and humid most of the year. I have chronic asthma and debilitating allergies; luckily the only time my nose and lungs are truly clear is when I’m running.

So today on my four year anniversary, I am grateful to be able to continue to run the steps. I’m 55 years old, and as long as I can walk, I can run. And run. And run.

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