Right, left, right, left, right.

I’m out before the sun, although I don’t feel that sense of serenity so many people tell me comes with early mornings. It’s cold, and the crisp air is announcing the seemingly endless presence of winter. The darkness makes me feel crazy for even being awake, and the truth is, I want nothing more than to be curled up in my bed. Even the crunching leaves beneath my feet sound cheerless to me today.

But training doesn’t happen if I don’t lace up my shoes. This routine can feel like an unwelcome assignment at times, but I do it because it means more than clocking mile after mile: Moving my feet, in the cold, the rain, or the humid heat of summer, lets me celebrate the miracle of being alive, of owning my body with all of its flaws—and all of its strength and power.

Like most women, I’m faced with constant reminders of an ideal figure I can’t ever hope to achieve. Some days, my body doesn’t feel fully my own; it feels like it belongs to our culture, which has endless things to say about its value, how it’s never quite small enough or curvy enough, never capable of being what it “should” be. Of course, this doesn’t prevent me from receiving unwanted comments all the same.

Too many women know this feeling—you don’t have to be a runner to relate. Even when I’m just out doing chores, I can’t round a corner without hearing a familiar whistle, my peripheral vision immediately on high alert to figure out where it’s coming from.

Recently, a guy yelled out at me, “Hey baby, where you headed?” He was sitting on a step two buildings down. I kept walking as his eyes scanned me up and down, and it was clear that he was imagining the skin beneath my sweater. I was carrying groceries, a familiar ritual on Saturday mornings, but suddenly, it was like I was walking naked in the middle of the street. I felt exposed, vulnerable. Within seconds, the encounter was over, but it jarred me just enough to keep me on edge the whole walk home.

On morning runs, the scrutiny can feel like a magnifying glass. It’s as if any act of movement is an invitation to comment. “Slow down, honey. You got places to be?” The whistles and shouts start to feel as familiar as my quickening breath. In moments like this, I remember that I am never quite safe, never quite unremarkable, even on the familiar streets of my own neighborhood.

So why do I keep it up? Running, for all its challenges, allows me ownership over my physical presence and space. It lets me take back agency and will my body to carry me forward, a literal embodiment of advancing toward an end. Like many women, I am accustomed to hearing that my value lies in being beautiful, but what if, for a moment, my resilience mattered more? Maybe the best way to challenge the status quo is to pound out the frustration through my feet and straight into the ground. My way of fighting back, of standing in defense of what I can protect, begins with a pair of running shoes.

I run because most days, it feels like the only thing that makes any kind of sense. It feels like taking back my power in a world that says, “You exist to be looked at and desired and wanted by someone else.” I run because my muscles, my breath—even my soul cries out for it. Feeling strong as a woman allows me to believe, for a moment, that I don’t have to fear.

I run because my body belongs to me. The wind and the rain and my aching muscles bring me back to this truth. It is as human and as real a feeling as I will ever know. I’m just one person, too small to change the world, but I like to think that running helps me play my part. It feels true to my spirit—one that endures, that chases intentions, that fights against a culture that doesn’t see its worth. And that’s enough to keep me moving.