The day we got the call
packed our things in haste
rushed into a silent car,
heavy with worst-case dread
and fervent expectations of an outcome that was not to be,
I packed my running shoes.
Something inside me knew I would need them.
That I would need the endorphins and their sticky embrace. The tentacles of feel-good, coaxing themselves around my cortex, cooing in their gentle way,
I would be okay. Yes. Things would be okay. Yes. For a moment it would be okay to feel okay. Even for just a moment.
The previous summer I had completed my first half marathon. I had marveled at the strength of my own body. Me, who had exclaimed I wouldn’t be able to do it. Me, whose quads and glutes and rock-hard motivation had brought me through the finish line. I experienced, for the first time in my life, the runner’s high. The I-can-conquer-the-world high. The I-can-do-anything self-assurance. I was powerful. Capable. And tenacious.
And so of course my brain knew, without really knowing at all, that on the day of that loss – on the worst day of all – the running shoes would be necessary.
I used to believe that if I could just run fast enough down that hill behind the house, that if I could rotate my hips fast enough and propel my feet fast enough – that I could fly. That I could ascend – a blonde Pegasus – up into the thin blue air that only 9,000-foot elevation can create. I would look up wistfully in the sky and will myself – my body – my mind – up into the heavens. To be with him. To be with Ross.
For me, running has always had that curative effect. Sometimes it’s punishment for a weekend of indulgence. Sometimes it’s therapy after a day – a person – a reality – that I don’t understand. Sometimes it’s my excuse to turn off the brain. And just DO. Instead of think.
In Boston I ran across the bridge from Bay State Road to MIT – and looked down the Charles in triumphant exuberance.
In Fairplay I ran with the burros. As a tribute to my brother. In a show of consternation and rebellion when my father teased that I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. I ran to fulfill a dream. To be a part of a community. To complete a tradition.
This weekend in Grand County I awoke in early morning mist to climb the highest rock I could reach by foot – where I stood – a statue – looking haughtily down at the lake below. I shook my fist at the sky and reassured myself I was still in charge.
But some days – like today – even 3 miles feels long. And hard. And hot. And I know deep down that part of the reason I’m doing it is pure vanity. I want to look good. I aspire to be a 4 or a 6 – not an 8. I yearn for a whittled waist – not my present squishy belly. I seek chiseled quads. I want toned buttocks. I want biceps and triceps I can actually see. I want to look good in my dress. In my swimsuit. In my cutoff jeans.
Call me vain. Or self-involved. Or perhaps just petty. These are, after all, the fringe benefits of fitness. The fringe benefits of “being a runner.”
But at the end of the day – even a day like today – I come home hot, sweaty, a bit exhausted. Maybe even discouraged. But steadfast, nonetheless. In my belief that I am a runner. That the feet pounding the pavement – whether slow or fast, plodding or featherswift, yield the feel-good.
I am grounded. Literally.
The ground pounds into my soles.
The groundedness grips my soul.
The tentacles of endorphins wrap their sticky fingers around my brain. They coax and coerce my body to relax. To enjoy. To smile a moment.
better equipped for what life brings.
Whatever that may be.
And of course
there is still a part of me that believes
that if I just run fast enough, if I rotate my hips quick enough…
then maybe I can ascend right up into the heavens.