I feel weird about being a “runner.” Not all the time, but some of the time. It just feels weird that I run around Prospect Park like a hamster in a Habitrail, that I have special clothes to wear while I do it, that part of my identity is defined by the fact that I make the effort to run frequently and far and fast.

Unless I think about it a little differently.

A few weekends ago, Manchild and I came up with a game. It just happened spontaneously. We were on a day trip out to pick berries on Long Island. I was taking pictures. He was running around trying not to get his picture taken. Camera tag. Run. Click. Run. Click. Run. Click. He laughed and ran and had a great time. I had a great time watching him and catching his joy in pixels. He was having so much fun. Just playing. Not thinking about the effect this would have on his metabolism, or how fast he was going, or whether it actually counted as a workout.

I used to do that too. I played tag and climbed trees. I didn’t worry about my fitness level. I just played. But I’ve grown up now, and I’ve put away childish things like chasing people and crossing monkey bars and chicken fights. Or have I?

A child’s work is to play, right? Play helps children develop all sorts of skills: social, physical, mental, creative, emotional. I’ve progressed and prospered in all of those areas since I took up running. I have some of my best ideas while running. I’m much more coordinated and confident. I think more clearly. I work out difficult emotions. I make friends on the running trail.

So maybe I do still play. I’ve just repackaged it as “responsible adult behavior.” I call it running and racing. I say I’m taking care of my body. I’m pushing myself to achieve goals. I’m striving for self-improvement and to be a good example to my children. But perhaps I’m just letting my inner child out so it can — I can — continue to develop into a competent adult. And I don’t feel weird about that at all. We all need some time to play.

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