Archive for March, 2015

The Longest Run

Posted on March 27, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Bridal veil blooms early in San Antonio.  I see the first flowers open sporadically like buttermilk dripping down the side of the neighborhood fence as I set out for my long run alone.  It’s been months since I’ve run distance alone, and I’ve grown accustomed to deep conversation and chatter, miles that speed by and long stretches of comfortable silence, all beside a friend.

But it’s spring break and I’m on my own, trying to remember what it’s like to be inside my own head for so long, all the years and miles I’d done it alone, wondering now how long eleven miles will take.

I start slow, uphill in the direction of my first out-and-back, a 6-miler that crosses back through my neighborhood entrance, where I plant a water bottle under a wisteria, then my usual 5-miler in the opposite direction, another out-and-back down Park Ranch Road where I unfailingly startle the deer.

spirea

Bridal veil blooms later in Salado, was blooming in her last weeks when we wheeled my grandmother out on the deck to see the spring thrusting up flowers in sprays of white and purple and gold. Bridal veil hung heavy over the neighbor’s fence and into my mom’s vegetable garden, and I cut it away in thick strands, just enough for my mom to walk under, tend her garden, with my grandmother on the deck tethered to the house by her oxygen tank, watching.

I clipped long tendrils, stuffed them in vases where they sprang wildly over the edges, placed them throughout the house–on the table, by her chair, in her room.

The bridal veil here is the color of buttercream. There, it is the color of fresh milk, whiter, purer. I feel my throat constrict with the weight of memory and will it back open. Crying and running do not mix. The contraction of muscles, sting in the eyes make it too difficult to breathe, too hard to see.  I’m only one mile in and a long way to go.

I run under a line of wisteria, branches burgeoning with flowers, my chin up, and inhale deeply to savor their grape-soda smell.

In the long, hot Detroit summers when I am 7, 8, 9, the whole neighborhood moves outside in the evenings to sit in their lawn chairs. We play in the sprinkler that soaks the lawn, my grandfather’s roses, the only time I see him in an undershirt, in this heat. My grandmother carries out bottles of Faygo, rootbeer, grape, cream soda, my favorite, her house dress swaying as she calls us out of the sprinkler to dry, smiling as she hands us our drink and, maybe, if we’re lucky, ice cream.

wisteria

I’m four miles in and stop for fuel, slow to a walk, squirt the gel in my mouth, wash it down with water, and pick back up into a run. Sticky water dribbles down my chin, my neck. I reach up to wipe it away where it has settled into the hollow at my throat, where my race necklace usually sits.

The polymer cross seems to pulse from the other side of the store, shiny red like a drop of blood hanging amid the other jewelry on the rack, a heart beating. I’m drawn to it, hold it in my palm, let it dangle from its black rope. I consider putting it back. I’ve come here to buy Mother’s Day gifts. But I buy it anyway, put it on in the car.

My grandmother notices it immediately as I sit on the side of her bed, her hand rising up to my throat, she holds it lightly. It’s May, nearing race weekend, the Beach to Bay Relay, and I am reluctant to go away, she is so sick.

“The race is this weekend.” She removes her oxygen mask, reading me.

“Yes,” I say, avoiding her eyes, “but I’m not sure I’ll go.”

“Don’t you have a team? Aren’t they relying on you?”

“Yes,” I say, “but…”

She puts her hand on my lips to silence me, back down to rest on the cross. “Go,” she says. “Win.”

I think of the past nine months caring for her, and in between the running, the races, not for the race itself, but for the training, the structure, the plan, the discipline to get out of bed, to feel life, any life, the life in my own veins as I watch it slowly drain from hers. The excruciating days that melt into nights and back into days, all the same, and the only way I know that time has passed, know the day of the week, is from the markings on my training plan.

“OK,” I say, not wanting to go, knowing she is right. “For you.”

My sister and I drive to Corpus late Friday night, arrive in time to meet our team for dinner before the greasy diner stops serving. We follow our friends to the strip of bars and they dance while we walk to the bar at the end of the line where a three man band plays the blues. We buy a beer and sit outside sipping and listening quietly until we go back to the beach house alone.

I have the first leg of six in the relay, my sister the third, the bridge. The race is supposed to start on the beach, and I am nervous about running in sand, it’s been so long since I’ve run the beaches in Guam.  I arrive at the start line well before dawn to find the route has changed—too much debris washed up on the beach overnight and we will have to run in the street.

I pace the start line, handling the cross still at my throat, anxious, wanting this to be done. I wiggle my way to the front of the pack just before the gun sounds, surprised when it pops, and run faster, harder, stronger than I have ever run before, over cement streets that wind through stretches of cornfields I cannot see, flats of land I barely notice as my vision tunnels and fog drapes my shoulders, wets my hair, constricts my lungs. My stomach threatens to rise up and out, and I will it back down, promising my body it can do whatever it wants once we’ve passed off the baton, we just have to pass off the baton.  But I am not running for me. I sprint until my legs nearly collapse across the line.

cornfields

I walk to the edge of a field and wonder how fast I ran, good God it must have been fast, I’ve never felt this bad after running. My stomach lurches up and I will it back down, will my legs to keep moving, to get me to a seat on the bus.

Two hours later, I find my sister pale, sitting in the back of the car with some of our team, forcing down fuel. She too had run faster, harder than she knew she could, had collapsed after handing off the baton, weaved to a guardrail through her tunnel vision, and walked in tiny circles until she came back to herself again.

Mile eight and I pull my head into the moment. Time to fuel. I can feel it in my legs as they weaken. How did four miles pass so quickly that I am here again, at fueling time? I squeeze the gel into my mouth and wash it down with water I barely remember refilling at my crossing-point and trot back into a run.

Right after the race, we shower, pack, and drive to Salado, back to see my grandmother.

“Did your team win?” she reaches up for the cross that still nests in my throat as I sit on the edge of her bed.

I hold up my medal. “Yes,” I say. “Seventh out of 212.”

“Good.” She nods, closes her eyes, pats my hand.

She will die the next day.

I reach up to wipe away the sticky water trickling again down my neck, my throat constricting. Almost time to put on the cross again. Three weeks until race day. I have worn it for every race since the one, going on five years.

I pick up the pace, eager to be done. Running is so much easier when I remember it is not for me.

Mile eleven and I stop under the wisteria, sweating, panting, a strange light happiness creeping in. How long did this take?

Before I look at my watch I gulp water, close my eyes and inhale the scent of grape soda, Faygo pop, deep into my lungs. I see my grandmother walking with a tray of soda and ice cream, smiling, house dress swaying.

How long did this take? A lifetime.

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What’s Your Attitude?

Posted on March 6, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“It’s so cold and miserable outside I have to go to the gym, do hills on the treadmill,” I complained to my boyfriend on the phone yesterday morning. “I hate the treadmill.”

I feel like I’ve been complaining a lot lately. So much so that I began to keep a gratitude journal last month. Each night before I go to bed I record five things from the day for which I am grateful. The next morning, I read that list to set my mind right.

Although I’ve always tried to practice in real time a recognition of “good” things that happen throughout the day—a stretch of green lights on my drive home, an item on sale when I didn’t know it, the rain letting up long enough for me to run errands or get gas—I am not always successful at maintaining a positive attitude. My negativity sometimes spills over onto others. My boyfriend. My mom.

It was at her suggestion that I began the journal-keeping.   struggle-gratitude

Last night after I jotted down my five, I quickly drifted toward sleep. But before I could get there I found myself wide awake, thinking about my attitude toward my morning’s workout.

If I am cultivating a mindset of gratitude, here’s what I should have thought instead:

  • I get to drive to the gym (in my own car, 10-years-old and long paid off, with a blazing heater and cushy seat-warmers, a working radio, and more).
  • I get to go to a gym (I have worked a membership into my budget without a second thought, foregoing other luxuries each month instead).
  • I get to go to the gym at 9am—or any time, really (I work from home, plan my own day, schedule my own time, and I can be up at 5:30am, working by 6 in my pajamas and slippers, hair uncombed, glasses askew, dog in lap, and then take a break when it suits me, my schedule, my day).
  • I get to run (Thank you, God. I am able to run.)

I slept more soundly than perhaps I otherwise would have, resting in the knowledge that I am luckier than I think.

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