I knew what I was doing was wrong. But that wasn’t what scared me.
When I was in my early twenties, I became obsessed with running.
Or more to the point, any activity guaranteed to expend maximum calories and keep me in the waif thin shape I’d whittled myself down to through a grueling regime of exercise and restrictive eating. I was in an emotionally toxic relationship, a job in which I was merely coasting along, and overall, deeply unhappy. As such, relentlessly pounding the pavement had become a kind of recluse. The further I ran, the further away my problems felt, for a while.
One afternoon in the staff break room, an athletic looking guy with shoulder length red hair tied back into a messy ponytail plonked himself down on the seat beside me as I rearranged the salad on my plate in an attempt to look like I was eating it.
“I’ve seen you running,” he said, interrupting my lettuce leaf twirling.
“You have?” I replied, surprised anyone would notice me at all.
“Of course! You look like you’re in great shape!” he smiled back.
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“I’m Mark, I just started here. I’m actually a runner too. If you ever want a jogging buddy to motivate you, I’d love to come along,” he said.
And so, every day after work, and then some weekends, Mark and I laced up our sneakers and hit the sidewalk. We jogged every possible route within a 10-mile radius around work, then around some of the popular running tracks around our city, and finally, Mark invited me back to his place which was right by one of the toughest and longest running tracks, he assured me, “with beautiful views of the city.”
By the time I pulled on my old sweatshirt and threw on my battered Nikes at Mark’s after work one muggy afternoon, I’d lost myself so deeply in my running obsession I’d spent weeks training on a twisted ankle, twice passed out from exhaustion and was so thin I no longer felt like I existed. I’d stopped meticulously applying my makeup before work in the mornings, abandoned my usual regular mirror checks to ensure my hair was in place, and began withdrawing socially.
My boyfriend was working late, long hours, which suited my need to escape the noxious energy that fired between us when we were together, and I’d stopped going anywhere unless it was to work or run, so Mark had become my main point of contact. Far from reinforcing the sense of being a pinball aimlessly flicking about in a box that was keeping me from plugging into my life, Mark cheered me on when I ran, pushing me when I was certain my feet couldn’t go another step, making me feel like anything was possible. I began to long for our time together in between running sessions, fantasizing about the abandon I felt when I chased his sneakers along the never-ending sidewalk.
In all the time we’d spent together, I still knew little about him. Our discussions were always focused on what track we’d run next and what time we’d set to knock it over in. But as I reclined back on the front steps to his apartment building to stretch before our run that afternoon, something had changed. There was an electricity between us that prickled at the back of my throat when he shuffled in on the step next to me, a steadiness to his usually animated voice I hadn’t heard before.
“Want to go for a drink after this?” he asked.
“Sure,” I answered, without missing a beat, unsure of what to expect.