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Letters from Downtown: Runner's Edition

I'm a runner. It's hard to pinpoint the moment in my adulthood when I decided to lace up the tennis shoes that my mother bought for me one Christmas (specially designed for the woefully flat footed) and take a jog around my North Campus neighborhood. It's even harder to determine why I continued. In my adolescence I was never particularly athletic and my gym class's Presidential Physical Fitness exam timed mile run was an event greeted with unparalleled dread. Yet, despite its mysterious origins, my enthusiasm and commitment to running has been one of the few consistencies of my adult life.

For almost as many years as I have lived in Albuquerque, I have lived north of UNM's campus. I had runs of every possible length and difficulty plotted out and committed to memory—a trek around the golf course followed by a tour of Nob Hill, Indian School to San Mateo and back around. Some runs were undertaken with such frequency that I had memorized every dip in cement, every uneven step.

Recently I moved my life and all of my belongings to a house Downtown. Creating circuits for runs has given me the opportunity to explore my new surroundings and interact with my new neighbors, for better or for worse. Whether they're passing by on a creaky bicycle or in an SUV, everybody, I mean, everybody downtown has something to say to a runner. Or, let me contextualize this further, every man has something to say to a female runner. Sometimes they are shouts of encouragement, sometimes they are vaguely threatening queries into my relationship status. Regardless, the cross section of pedestrians, car traffic and my running routes have increased. This has given my runs an entirely new texture. Formerly an hour-long foray into my own thoughts, my runs now seem to put me on the defensive. I startle when cars drive by and honk, I tense reflexively when I cut across a street without a streetlight. I'm not sure if I'm finally taking to heart my mother's advice about being on guard and carrying pepper spray, or if I'm just not used to living in what could be loosely described as an urban environment.

This past weekend I participated in the 32nd annual Duke City Marathon on a relay team. It was nice to see the usual dynamic subverted. Instead of traffic, runners—more than 5,000 of them—dominated the Downtown streets. Traffic was rerouted as masses of bodies in spandex trotted from Third Street and Tijeras to Paseo del Norte and back again. The most chatter I heard was the offering of water by volunteers at the intermittent “motivation stations” and the simple call, “on your left!” as cyclists sharing the Bosque Trail cruised past. Yet, as my teammate rounded the corner on to Third Street, an onlooker from the still-cold shadows of downtown's tall buildings, shouted, “woo, girl! Look at those long legs!” From where I rested on the curb, I had to shake my head. Encouragement or catcall? It felt like an affront that as my teammate accomplished something important, and yes, physical, that all that this idyl man in the shadows had to remark on was the aesthetics of her legs, not how strong and powerful they are, but how attractive. I can't speak for every woman sprinting passed you, but to the bystanders at organized marathons or my marathon runs around the neighborhood: no matter what you have to say, your silence is more appreciated than your compliments.