The timer was set at 15 minutes to signal the turnaround. The plan was a 30-minute run, out and back. My goal is to get faster, so the run included "light-pole intervals," making this a fartlek through the neighborhoods of West Akron.
Never one to properly judge distances, my planned route was to run down one street and turn back when my watch went off. Unfortunately, that one street wasn't long enough, and so I ended up on another that took me toward what I perceive to be a rougher area of the city.
As my run took me closer toward this part of town, I kept checking my watch to see if I could turn around yet. And maybe I need to confront the uncomfortable topic of racial stereotypes. I was a pasty white guy running through a predominately black neighborhood.
Crime is an unfortunate aspect of living in a city, and our neighborhood became a pretty big target a few months ago. Our block started up a Neighborhood Watch program, and Mrs. Viper and I invested in a home security system. The crime seems to have tapered off, for now, but I still follow the police blotter to track the activity within our local boundaries.
Where I was running is -- not a high crime area, per se, but what I'd call a "more crime" area. Logically, I know I'm not much of a target when I'm running. I don't carry much. Want my $25 Timex? Here you go. My smartphone? It's yours; the battery will be dead in 20 minutes anyway.
In my rational mind, I know I was racial profiling this neighborhood. I hate that these thoughts even cross my mind. I enjoy living in an area with cultural diversity. But sometimes the fear of the unknown manifests itself as ugly prejudice. I don't like that about myself.
My watch beeped to turnaround a block past a neighborhood convenience store, the ubiquitous "corner store" found in most urban areas. People were out and about because of course they were. It was 60 degrees outside. In Northeast Ohio, you have to savor these breaks in bad weather.
Over the last couple years, the notion of "community" has become a more important concept in my life. This idea grew from my interaction with the local old-time music community and playing the banjo. This wasn't the first community I've associated myself with, nor will it be the last. What I realized by running through my surrounding area was that I need to get more in touch with the community of my neighborhood.
Though I was a mere half-mile from home, running down that street felt totally foreign. That alien feeling resulted in "fight or flight" instincts and suppressed racism.
The issues of race and class, and the inherent xenophobia these subjects elicit, are at the heart societal unrest in the United States. We try to promotes ourselves as some idealistic embodiment of human progress, but there are some rotten bones in the closet.
Running started as something I did to better myself. That quest is never ending. A run serves as an effective tool for personal discovery, even if what I find is unpleasant. The first step of solving any problem is identifying the problem.
My run was good. My pace was almost 10 minutes per mile on the nose over what turned out to be 3.12 miles in 31:10, marked improvement from previous efforts this young year. I'm going to run through that same neighborhood again, and I'm going to work on maximizing my physical fitness and minimizing my mental unfitness.