Winter Glass Walks

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After a few years of living a fairly sedentary lifestyle, last winter I added ‘go for a daily walk or cycle’ to my habit tracker. I go swimming and visit the gym fairly regularly, at least a couple of times a week, but as I work from home there were sometimes days, or even strings of days, where I didn’t leave the flat other than to walk the 500m round trip to the local supermarket.

It was an odd place to find myself really, because a few years ago I was addicted to exercise and spending far too much time running, swimming and walking in order to cope with the stress of finishing my PhD. In the end, a series of stress fractures in my feet and shins together with a non-negotiable deadline made me turn my days upside down, sleep during daylight hours, and write by night. It was the only way I could sit still for long enough to write without sloping off for a walk or a run.

These days I have a much healthier relationship with exercise. I have come to realise that I don’t really enjoy running any significant distance, although I do enjoy a cathartic set of sprints every now and then. Ed’s a runner, and I mostly see it as his sport. I’m more interested in cycling and swimming, and I also love walking. Now that I’ve left academia my anxiety is much more manageable too. I’m not quite as twitchy as I used to be and I don’t feel as compelled to always be on the move.

On days where I don’t cycle to the pool or the gym, I take myself for an evening walk around the block to make sure I get out of the flat and stretch my legs for a bit. From late October to late March, these walks are invariably in the dark, but I’ve come to love them. In winter I avoid the canal towpath and walk around the sleepy residential streets near where I live instead, headphones on, hands buried deep in my coat pockets, feet clad in a battered and torn pair of so-called ‘bare foot’ running shoes that really have seen their day, but which I wear anyway because they are so comfortable.

I don’t take my phone with me but once I stop working for the day and Ed goes for his evening run I put on my headphones, close the door behind me and slip into another world for 30 or 40 minutes. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Philip Glass on my evening walks. I don’t know or love all of his music, but I adore his solo piano works and the piano arrangement of his ‘Hours’ soundtrack. There’s something meditative and otherworldly about walking through silent streets in time to pulsing arpeggios as the city lights glitter on the horizon behind me, and it’s probably the one thing about winter I will miss when spring arrives with brighter evenings and busier streets. That said, spring will also bring the cats outside again from the radiator beds they’ve no doubt been overwintering on. I look forward to stopping to greet each of my neighbourhood friends again as the dark of night gives way to cherry blossom, birdsong and icecream vans.

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