Self-Care Routines: Neighborhood Runs

I grew up with a healthy (ha!) dislike of running. When it came to NAPFA tests, I was always one of the last students to complete their 1.6 and 2.4km runs in late primary and early secondary school. The first 2.4km run of my life was rather dramatic. Five of my classmates bounded alongside me and cheered me on, having completed their runs. I proceeded to throw up the moment mine ended (or maybe it ended because I threw up?) and gratefully drank the iced Milo that someone shoved into my hands. I vaguely remember giving each of my friends a Kit Kat as a token of appreciation the following day.

Joining a uniform group ensured I clocked the physical exercise I so clearly needed but after graduating from high school and junior college, I remained someone who refused to break a sweat willingly. That was until I entered university, for I discovered that running was a wholly different experience outside of a track on campus, and doing so for myself, by myself, was liberating.

Gone were the days when I felt like a hamster on a wheel, left alone with crippling thoughts about how someone was probably going to lap me again. Instead, I’m free to listen to music and take in my ever-changing surroundings. Mind you, there is not a single run where I don’t marvel at the different wildflowers that grow by the sidewalk. With ample distractions and devoid of the pressure to speed up, running became less like a punishment and more like an exploration. And each run in my neighborhood left me feeling alive, present, and connected.

Things I Noticed: Before the Circuit Breaker

16 March 2020: Precautions were already in place but the threat of the coronavirus still seemed distant and everyday life was largely undisrupted.

  • At a playground, five children were playing Beyblade, complete with a Beystadium (I had to Google this). One of the girls kept eyeing me because I was stretching and tying my shoelaces near them.
  • I passed by a dog who was sniffing about while its owner crushed metal cans that she retrieved from a rubbish bin.  
  • When I made a loop back, there was a family ahead of me. One of the daughters started to move aside to give way to me even though I was still a distance away. I thanked them, unaccustomed to such sensitivity. I usually have to jingle my house keys somewhat passive-aggressively to get people’s attention when they’re in my way.
  • I passed by another playground filled with children’s chatter and the echoing bounce of a basketball.
  • Watched an uncle watering his plants during golden hour. Wanted to stop to take a photo but I had already ran past the scene and it would be weird to go back.
  • Since I was going through a Pure Heroine phase (yes, I’m seven years late to the party), I was listening to the album for the entirety of the run. Lorde’s “A World Alone” was playing and I thought the bicycle sounds were real. I kept turning around to make sure that I didn’t have to give way to any bikers.
  • One line of the song goes, “[…] make a mess then go home and get clean”. I remember thinking, “this figurative description literally describes my neighborhood runs”.

Things I Noticed: During the Circuit Breaker

9 April 2020: It was Day 3 of the circuit breaker. I remember panic bubbling up in me when I left my house to get lunch and saw that my neighborhood resembled a ghost of its former self.

  • But when I headed for my run at 8pm, there were so many people exercising with their family members that I felt less scared and paranoid.
  • A middle-aged lady was walking her brown poodle while picking litter off the sidewalk with a trash picker. I didn’t realize it then but now I think that she may have been the one who was crushing soda cans too.
  • When I ran past her again, I said thank you as loud as I could but she ignored me. Maybe she didn’t speak English.
  • I saw a total of five dogs during my run but I’m not a dog person so I can’t name their breeds.
  • Half the people I ran past were wearing masks (it was still optional then).
  • The playground and basketball court are now out of bounds and were cordoned off with red tape.
  • The buses were almost empty, with only a handful of passengers.
  • On my way back home, I spotted a familiar face. It was an elderly uncle from my block. He was smoking while on his daily evening walk with his black dog. I avoided contact as I wasn’t feeling up for the small talk.
  • Seeing him reminded me of my favorite (and dead) community cat, Ginger, since it was usually the topic of our conversations. I find comfort in knowing that when I reflect on the times I had with Ginger, I associated it with a world undisrupted by the virus.

9 May 2020: It’s Week 4 of the circuit breaker now and across the weeks, there were some notable occurrences during my neighborhood runs.

A bench at a bus stop with grafitti which reads, "As long as there is gambling, there will be cheating!!! So don't gamble!!!" in all caps.
  • I keep forgetting to wear my mask. The first time, an uncle stared at me so hard that my mistake dawned upon me. I went back home to retrieve it, impressed that he got his point across without saying a word.
  • The second time, I decided to make sure that I didn’t stop running the entire time I left my estate so I could avoid getting fined.
  • Running away from a rat.
  • This really bizarre vandalism masquerading as advice. What spurred the vandal to scribble this onto a bench at a bus stop with a permanent marker? What kind of cheating were they referring to? I have so many questions.

Beyond the dopamine hit, running in my neighborhood feeds my emotional need for solitude and the occasional escape into my imagination. It allows me to re-center myself. To be an active participant in my surroundings. To restore my relationship with the physical world, even as I keep a safe distance from passersby. To serve as a reprieve from the social isolation that emerges not just from quarantine but as a side effect of being so immersed in our digital lives.

Having established a routine so rooted in personal care, being able to perform it during the pandemic did have a stabilizing effect. After all, I’m not above clinging on to any semblance of normalcy. What is one self-care routine or habit that you’ve continued to hold close to your heart in these times?

Feature image by Sherryl Cheong

Sherryl Cheong

Sharer and carer of wildchild

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