words by: david jaewon oh and members of csrd
images by: david jaewon oh and carissa camp

“Yo, it’s like a ghost town now” is a common phrase that we say to each other nowadays over texts or on zoom. It’s also often followed by “I miss us.”

It’s ironic that, as a co-founder of my running crew, CSRD (Club Seattle Runners’ Division), I enjoy a solo run a lot. Probably because I find it extremely difficult to talk and run at the same time, but more importantly, solo running helps me to compartmentalize things as a working artist. I start every run slow and easy and I apply that same idea to my creative process. With each step that I take, I start to refine my ideas from a word to a sentence, or a photo to a series. More often than not, I find myself running alone because I simply need it.

Solo runs have been much more liberating as of late, but they’ve also begun to seem strange. I sometimes forget how open the city is these days. It’s so empty that at times I find myself stepping away from the sidewalk to run on the road in the middle of the city, like I was in some sort of race all by myself. The barren nature of Seattle didn’t really hit me until the morning I went out to take a few photos of the usual routes our crew runs for this journal. I couldn’t help but notice how much it has changed. It wasn’t until then that I realized just how excruciatingly harrowing it is to have this new kind of banality on our hands. Underneath the colorful murals, all the shops that used to invite people in with warm lights are now replaced with stale brown freckles of a plywood board.

How are we doing? What does running mean to us when we cannot see each another face to face? How do we keep it moving when everything else seems to just stop all of sudden? I invited some of the runners from my crew over Zoom to chat and share their feelings about their lives as of late; Jayson, Ashley, Michelle, Ariel, and Mel.

“I miss the whole crew, I miss everything” said Jayson.

It’s such a weird time right now. It has forced us to be incredibly vulnerable and wonder where we can go from here. Our lives have thrown us into a big, giant and yet, somehow tranquil mess – in a split second. For the last few weeks, we have been clicking the ‘refresh’ button every chance we get in hopes of returning to the normalcy that we are used to. But instead of this return, we are quickly realizing that this metaphorical internet connection is dumb and slow. Right now, running may be the only way left for us to get a hold of some control in our lives. Especially for someone like Melanie or Arielle who works in the medical field and are on the frontline during this pandemic.

“At my work, [COVID-19] is all we talk about. I hear it all over the news and social media so running gives a good break from it” said Mel.

“I am the type of person who thrives in a team or group environment. So when that’s being thrown out like it is now, I don’t know what to do. But it’s been good because running keeps me in a routine so I can be strong at work. When I’m scrubbing at my work, I’m standing on my feet for hours helping out surgeons. If I’m not doing that, I’m circulating, which is interviewing patients in the pre-op area. I’m positioning them, helping them or helping scrubs if they need something so I’m on my feet a lot. Running is good for that, it keeps me healthy,” said Arielle.

More than ever, runners are practicing an act of push and pull with such a delicate balance; push for the extra mile or an extra minute simply to pull it together. It’s not foreign for runners to push. We are born to push for the finish line and kick away our vulnerabilities with every step we take.

Through conversations I had with runners in my crew, I started to navigate my sentiments on solo runs a little deeper. As much as I enjoy the solitude from a solo run, perhaps I enjoyed it because I know that I have a crew to turn to at my convenience. Granted, the solo run is meditative, but I don’t live in a monastery. It is part of my creative process, but it ultimately leads me to create some type of by-product that I’ll eventually put out to the public. Every Monday and Wednesday gave me a good reminder that I have an extended family to meet. I know that I was never really alone and still aren’t. I know I can’t rub shoulders with them right now, but I also know that we all look out for each other.

When I scroll down to my Strava feed, I see a handful of my friends labeling their runs as “sanity miles.” In a time that is so out of control that we don’t even know when we can get a roll of toilet paper, the miles we run are the only thing that we can control. During this time, I keep thinking about what it is to run. What it is to run for your “sanity” and ultimately, to run for yourself. Being able to move your body and breathe should be a celebration. It is much more complex than an Instagram post or a finisher’s medal. Before this outbreak, we would talk about our upcoming races and our training regimens. Sometimes gleefully and sometimes, so dreadfully. We ran to qualify for a race, or to achieve a certain time, all in the pursuit of validation. Perhaps now, we have exhausted ourselves with an expectation of that same instant-gratification. We’ve forgotten how to enjoy the simple joy of running. Wouldn’t it be nice to use this time we have to truly appreciate what it means for us to run?

“It’s a weird sensation because it feels like the city is available for you in a way that it wasn’t before. Also, I think I feel like this whole climate made me more aware of people around me, just because you have to, not in a bad way. When you see a runner coming from the opposite way, you give them a nod to say hello or like give them a thumbs up because that feels validating. Before all of this happened, it would annoy me just a bit to move out the way for others and then jump back again but now I think it’s just part of running. I may have to just stop at the median to let others pass me and wait. The circumstances that we are now in mean I have the responsibility to be a little more flexible as a runner than I was in the past. I’m not going to beat myself up because I stopped for someone to pass me by. I don’t really think about how it’ll affect my time or my mileage anymore,” said Michelle.

So this is where it leaves us; my crew, our crew, the crew. Where do we go from here? So much of our identity was tied to being together and building a community. When this ends (and it will end), I don’t know what our runs will look like. I know returning back to normalcy will be slow if it’s even possible at all. Can we hug and dap one another like we used to? Are we okay to make a tunnel at the end of our runs for people who are finishing up? Will people even show up to run? Will people come back? Can we bounce back?

“You want to be part of something, you want to celebrate your accomplishments with other people and you want others to do the same with you. Whether you just ran a sub 5-minute mile or your first mile ever, it feels so much better if you can celebrate that with other people. It feels good to go down through the tunnel at the end of our runs and see people. I think it’s in our nature as human beings to be social,” said Michelle.

What I have come to realize during this isolation is what this crew meant to our runners. It gave them a place to connect and express their love to one another. Even at the loneliest time, it let them know that they can come to us at least twice a week and run a few miles. We are running through this ghost town all by ourselves. Without any romanticizing, it is so lonely and yes, we cannot see each other right now. But we collectively know that we exist. We send encouragement to one another and push each other through this hard time as best as we can. The way that only runners can do; by pushing through to the finish line. Even if we do not know exactly how long this race against the pandemic will last, we do know that there’s a finish line to this. We know it. Ashley reminded me during our last conversation that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. Not only have our training regimens or routines been thrown off, our lives have changed completely. But what hasn’t changed is what binds us together; our crew and the passion that we have for running.

“Just because our runs are canceled doesn’t mean our crew is canceled, you know? We are still present online through Facebook and Instagram. We should create more engagements and opportunities to reach out even if it means we are doing Zoom calls. Running or not, it’s good to know that you can still connect with others and even learn from how they are coping with all of this,” said Ashley.

We know we are out there, doing the best we can. We’ll push through until we are all back in one place, it’s the only way we know how.