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Why running through my suburb taught me more than 18 years of walking it

WORDS BY HANNAH NELSON

“Fragments of conversation drift from living rooms, a baby is cradled on a veranda, and my sharp breaths fall in line with my steps.”

I’ve lived in the same small, country suburb my whole life and by the time I hit my teens, I was sure I knew this place like the back of my hand. The rainforest-covered mountains behind my house no longer energised me, and the wide streets only made me worry about bumping into a schoolyard crush who still lives up the road. I felt like I had outgrown my suburb, and the little it seemed to offer. 

I knew if I was going to continue living here, something had to change. And for me, that was running. Initially, I viewed running as the domain of slender women with A cups and well-defined calves. I had a very firm idea of who was a runner, and who wasn’t.


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Juliette from the early 2000s film Bend it Like Beckham is the embodiment of what I believed a runner was, with her obsessive love of sport and lithe limbs. This mindset ruined any chance I had of running in school cross country races.

Those blue ribbons that rippled on the shirts of the winners never interested me; it didn’t make sense to me, that desire to win. So it took me many years to recognise that I loved running, just not for the sake of competition. This revelation only happened when I started running around my suburb during the pandemic.

Given gym treadmills were off-limits, I decided to tackle my suburb’s hilly terrain – it was that or nothing. I worried that my breath would catch, and I wouldn’t be able to run the whole way. But from that first run, I quickly forgot about my tired lungs. Instead, I focused on the different grasses beneath my dew-damp shoes and the people I passed and later began to recognise. 

When I started running through my neighbourhood something major shifted in my mindset, and it allowed me to find a newfound appreciation of where I’ve been raised. Here’s why.

Watching the suburb wake up

Early morning is my favourite time to run. I make my way past the houses where electricians are scrambling in their open garages looking for tools and packing them into logo-printed utes. I’m always hit with the realisation that they would have woken up and had breakfast before I’d even tied my laces. 

Then there are the old people that I wave and smile at as they trundle along. What’s most surprising is their fashion. Barney, an elderly man, walks the same path every morning wearing a Nike windcheater. And during the hectic five-week period of State of Origin, when neighbours’ drunken cheers would rise and fall throughout the night, he’d don a Queensland sweater. Loyal to his routine and team. Then there’s an elderly couple who strides past me with the Kath and Kel powerwalk. Their matching white outfits are so bizarrely beautiful against the red dirt ground.

A gained awareness

More and more these days, I tend to lose interest midway through conversations, and it used to freak me out. I’d worry that maybe I’d lost all social skills or that the post-COVID drop in socialising was affecting me. But in the mornings while I’m running, I notice everything. 

The way the cockatoos waddle around in a flock, picking seeds from the ground. Once I even noticed a rabbit leaping across the road and into a bush. For those of us who live up north, it’s alarming to see a rabbit – we all know the destructive impact they have on native animals and their habitats.

Even so, realising the bushes within our suburb might be filled with more than just insects and cobwebs excited me. This newfound awareness of my surroundings reminds me that I can still find interest in the little things. 

An intimacy 

I realise the word ‘intimacy’ often relates to sexual or romantic relationships, but I’m talking about the intimacy of running and the vulnerability I feel while doing it. Most of the time, I feel ungainly and on the brink of fainting but when I pass people in the street, I realise that to them I am just a girl running at my own pace. They’re more focused on keeping their dogs from chasing the cockatoos away. 

The quiet also adds to this intimacy. Fragments of conversation drift from living rooms, a baby is cradled on a veranda, and my sharp breaths fall in line with my steps. And like any type of intimacy, I double-check, out of pure necessity that I am safe. For me, that means thinking about who I would go to if I felt I really was going to faint. There’s Michael and Claudine, whose artistic influence I valued growing up. There’s Phil and Mandy, who let me swim in their pool.

And there are Lauren’s parents, who would watch our soccer team play each Saturday a few years back. These memories tell me that perhaps living in the same suburb my whole life has given me more than I could have hoped for. It’s given me a level of comfort, something it took many runs for me to realise. 

For me, running is no longer a matter of fitness – it’s about gaining a sense of belonging in the place I live. No matter how many times you might have skipped your school cross country or ruled out exercise entirely as an adult, there’s always an opportunity to start. Perhaps you’ll discover pastel-coloured flowers that sprout on the side of the road or maybe you’ll learn something new about yourself. Either way, it’s a pretty special way to start the day. 

If you’re looking to get into running, try these tips.

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