Run for Your Life

Gifts

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

On the mend

wrongturn Hi, my name is Liz and I haven’t run in 63 days. It’s been approximately 64 days since I’ve felt like myself.

I won’t bore you with the details...the short story is that a nagging foot injury turned ugly and left me first limping along, then strapped into an air-cast, then trying somethingANYTHING to trick my body and mind into thinking I wasn’t falling apart. Or going insane from the inactivity.

I’ve long said that nothing does it for me like running. But I’ve never had to test that declaration in such a brutal way before now. My doctors were very clear and very firm: no running, no yoga, no bare feet, no fun. Find yourself a suitable, no-impact alternative activity, and try to stop glaring at us.

Got it.

First alternative activity:  WALLOWING. I found a cozy spot on the couch and began systematically binge-eating tortilla chips, dark chocolate and red wine. Usually all at the same time. I trained hard at the lounging and put the refrigerator through its paces, but it turns out pity parties require even more stamina than marathons. I could only sing Sinead’s ode to running so many times before even I got sick of myself. Nooooothing Compares 2 U!

Eventually I sucked it up, joined a gym with a pool and dove into my very least-favorite exercise: SWIMMING. My biggest surprise was how pro everyone at the local YMCA looked. Exactly nobody else showed up goggle-less and carrying a Finding Nemo kickboard. Turns out, swimming is nothing like running. Maybe you’ve noticed before, but in the pool you can’t take a breath any old time you want. You need rhythm and timing just to keep yourself from drowning. You also need a PhD in Pool Protocol if you don’t want to look like an idiot splashing around in the wrong lane, incapable of doing a proper flip turn.

Because I’m such a lame swimmer, and because I figured things couldn’t get any more humiliating, I decided to try AQUA JOGGING, which is Running’s dorkiest cousin. If Aqua Jogging rode a bike, it would be a recumbent for sure. In fact, Aqua Jogging is so dorky it would ride a recumbent to Senior Prom. I know, I’ve heard the chorus of praises: “Aqua Jogging! It’s better for your back! No impact! So refreshing!”  It also requires a bright blue floatation belt and feels like you are mall-walking past a chlorinated J.C. Penney’s. That said, I must admit that I grew almost fond of this goofy exercise. Here I was, moving in an upright, runner-ish fashion and if I planned ahead I didn’t even have to get my hair wet. Who’s the dork now??

After 6 weeks in the pool, I got the greenlight to do low-impact activities like the ELLIPTICAL TRAINER. Turns out, the elliptical is very much like running, as long as you suspend everything you know about forward motion. If you overthink the elliptical and try to put “one foot in front of the other” you are doomed to topple off and fall at the feet of your neighboring gym rat. Or so I hear. Once I got comfortable on the elliptical, I couldn’t stop. I was so grateful to be sweating again. (Note: Please don’t remind me of that sentence come August.)

Around this time I also got the ok to go HIKING with my family. Fresh air! Hooray! In some of my happy places with my favorite people! Alas, one final spoiler alert...hiking with kids is also not running. Even my bossiest running friends don’t ask me to carry their snacks or give them piggie backs up the big hills. It’s the little things I miss, really.

So here we are...63 days out and my body is healing. It seems my foot did not sustain any permanent damage. Not sure I can say the same about my sanity.

An offering

Boston2000 In times of crisis, I always hit the road. Sometimes solo, sometimes surrounded by my familiar pack. The breathing, the rhythm, the simple act of propelling myself onward, is a form of prayer for me. Running is my sanctuary; the running community my tribe.

This week, the miles mean even more, and I'm offering them up to those who need healing and peace. May we all find it.

"One might say running is an absurd pastime. But if you can find meaning in the kind of running you must do...then you may find meaning in the other absurd pastime: Life." ~Bill Bowerman

800's

I hit the track this morning with no particular plan except that I wanted to run where I could use my headphones without fear of being snuck upon. I expected nothing in return beyond the usual attagirl from my ego and the notion that maybe I had burned off the calories from last night’s wine.

I plugged in a soaring soundtrack—the same one I’ve been listening to nonstop since December—and I ran. I tuned out and gathered speed, rounding corner after corner until I realized I was doing my least-favorite and most-bemoaned workout. One lap, two lap, break. Repeat.

Again and again and again.

Then, something dislodged inside me and for the first time in several months, I felt strong. And powerful. And dare I say, indefatigable.

My gut and my heart have been sustaining me all these months, holding me upright and giving me much-needed endurance. My legs though, they have been weary and weakened by the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other.

Today, however, these legs propelled me. And when they did, my lungs, too often constricted and anxious, filled easily. The knot of emotions in my stomach loosened and my shoulders gave way, allowing the weight I’ve been carrying to fall behind and offer a tailwind instead.

Lap after lap I ran in the muggy darkness until there was nothing left. Nothing except the wisdom that even as a mess of tears and sweat, I am undeniably intact.

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