off and running

I run at night, and usually, very late. Ten, eleven, midnight. The past few weeks it's been at two, three in the morning. Sleep and I are having some issues. We should probably talk to someone about it. We probably won't, though. We'll probably plod along unhappily for a few more months, expecting a deus ex machina that never comes, until one of us breaks. It's a template of self-sabotage I've perfected.

I often assure the worriers in my life that no one's out at that hour, but that's not true. There are plenty of people out. But it's been my experience over the last few years living downtown - and running its streets at night - that those who are out have no interest in me. They've got plenty of other, bigger concerns: finding shelter, finding safety, finding whatever it is they need to give one another. They congregate in clusters below Angel's Knoll, talking in low voices, barely lifting their heads as I move past. They spread out in solo, huddled forms on Broadway, gathering bags and newspapers and cardboard around themselves, staking overnight claims in the relative warmth of doorways.

They never bother me, and I try never to disturb them, or run too close. I am well aware of the privileged life I lead compared to them, and the thin sliver of dumb luck of having been born to whom I was born, that separates me from them. If they smile, or nod, or say hello, I am friendly back. They're not people to be afraid of. They're just people, looking for happiness and security like the rest of us. But they happen to be at the bottom of a much steeper mountain than most, and I feel for them.

I run to Little Tokyo, then past. I loop back and navigate the Arts District, maze-like and crooked. I run down Spring Street, past late night revelers and diners. I run to South Park, then up to Figueroa, and back home. If it's early, I follow stop lights. If it's late, I run red lights with impunity.

I run with music. I couldn't run without it. Lately, I run with Hamilton Leithauser screaming in my ears. He eggs me on. If my voice can hold those notes at this volume, and hold them so richly and effortlessly, your legs can hold out until the end of this song. Listen to me. Don't think about anything other than my words, my harmonies. Don't think, Ellie. Just listen.

I do think, though. I can't help it. I meditate on exactly what it is I'm working for, with each step. Health, of course. But that's not what I think about. My thoughts, when I'm running, stray to much shallower, albeit exotic waters.

I think about sex when I run.

I obsess about it, even. Somewhere along the way, the exertion of intense physical exercise crossed wires in my brain with the excitement of having sex. Sometimes, thanks to endorphins, the high they give me feels strikingly similar. I've realized that I never feel more alive than when I'm having sex - or just about to. And a really hard run, one that leaves me panting, sweating, and burning with muscle fatigue, makes me feel thrillingly alive in the same way. This is my body. This is the hardest I can work it. This is the ultimate physical test I can put it to, and these are the visceral rewards it has to give. All of it applies to both endeavors.

Then there's the vanity of it.

I am never more vain than when sweat is running down my back, and a torn, ratty t-shirt clinging to my skin. My hair sagging in a damp ponytail on my neck, and my face flushed red with blood. I am never more superficial than when I'm wearing four year-old trail runners with holes in the toes. I am never more keenly aware of the shape of my body than when it's hidden under a thermal and sweatpants.

I run so that when he moves his hands down my body, around my hips and across my stomach, I feel like my best, sexiest self. I run so I can confidently peel off my clothes, lights on, eyes locked. I run so that I never have to shy away, or flinch, when he touches any part of me. I run so I can exult in that touch, and rise to it. I run to remove the obstacles to intimacy between he and I.

Whoever "he" is.

Whoever "he" will be.

And by obstacles, I don't mean flesh itself - some arbitrary, culturally predetermined amount of it that has to be eliminated before a woman can be considered sexy. Fuck that noise. Sexy happens at all sizes and shapes. Sexy is not a number on a scale. What I run to remove are the mental obstacles that exist, as they do for every other feeling human being, between having and loving my body: the hang-ups and insecurities that are an inevitable part of the human experience. To be clear: we should all determine for ourselves what size, shape, and weight makes us feel sexy and healthy - and work towards that ideal. And hopefully, that ideal is of our own design - not imprinted on us by unwelcome and unrealistic societal influences. Though it's fucking hard not to feel those influences, innit?

Anyway, that's why I run. I'm running towards my ideal self, which may look nothing whatsoever like the next woman's.

And sex. Sex gets me running.

Another thing that gets me running? The power of secret-keeping.

When I was a dancer, my body was in the public domain. Anyone could come see it, anytime they wanted. There was very little I could hide. Precious little left to the imagination. And that was ok. There is no shame in what I did. I gained some unexpected, hugely valuable skills from my experience as a dancer. And at times, having my body in the public domain was actually quite fun; at the very least, it was a massive, constant ego boost.

But now that my body is, once again, a private matter, I find a wholly different kind of pleasure in that privacy. Anyone seeing me on the street can size me up and know, generally, what my body is like. But I tend to dress, day-to-day, in non form-fitting clothing. Baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts are my uniform. So the exact contours and curves of my body - the lines of muscle or the pockets of fat - are a secret I can choose to keep or reveal, as I wish.

I love that.

I find that deliciously empowering.

I love the idea that the showing, the sharing of my body can be a gift I give to another person. Something for us both to enjoy. That if I work hard enough on it, it can even be a bit of a surprise. I run to gain muscle tone that doesn't show from underneath loose denim, or empire-waist dresses. I run so that he - whoever "he" is - has no idea exactly what I'm hiding, and is maybe, possibly, hopefully a little bit delighted when he finds out.

None of this is to suggest that my body is anything "better" than anyone else's. It's just a body. It weighs a certain amount. It has certain measurements. Those numbers are no better or worse than anyone else's numbers. They're just my numbers. The point is, the potential of making it something that I feel is special, that I am empowered by and can enjoy - that's what gets me off and running.

Even if half the time I come home and eat three bowls of cereal, anyway.