This week I ran across an excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running in the new textbook for our English 1 curriculum. I was intrigued by the entry and was unfamiliar with Murakami and his story. I have added his name to the list of runners and writers of running I hope to learn more about. Towards the end of the entry, Murakami reflects on being passed by a group of young, female college students, “One generation takes over from the next. This is how things are handed over in this world, so I don’t feel so bad if they pass me. These girls have their own pace, their own sense of time. And I have my own pace, my own sense of time. The two are completely different, but that’s the way it should be.” His words summarize the way I have been feeling recently as a runner, as well as the oxymoron I feel I am stuck in as I try to grieve gracefully.
There are a number of characteristics about running that help it function as a metaphor for life. This summer I have been struggling to find my pace literally and figuratively. I understand we all have our own paces and our own understandings of time. It is why I never start at the front of a race, or why I tear up when I see someone who is working incredibly hard to walk a full marathon. Yet, his commentary about a generation taking over for the next is where I start to flounder. As cliche as it sounds, I try my best each day to run my race, but often at the end, I feel like I missed the start line and am instead running my race on a treadmill.
I write while I run
I write for my survival
In September of 2011, I told my principal I couldn’t teach. I wanted to be home with Josh. The rest of the semester, thanks to the incredible support of donated days from the school staff, I didn’t miss a paycheck. They gave me the gift of time with my son. I cherish the memories of these days. No work is more important than time with family.
Running became my outlet from the intensity and emotion of my daily routine caring for Josh. Terry Tempest Williams, after losing her mother to cancer, was told walking would help. She describes it as “not a medication, but survival, one foot in front of the other, with my eyes focused down, trying to stay steady.” I dabbled in running, but didn’t consider myself a runner. Courtney had run cross country in junior high school and had recently started running again when Josh was born. He completed his first half marathon when Josh was only four months old and then his first marathon when Josh was fifteen months old.
While a respite worker sat with Josh, I would run. I wasn’t able to run far, not that I could have at that point anyway, but I ran loops around my neighborhood. I made sure my phone’s ringer was on high and each phone notification caused my heart to race in anticipation that I would need to sprint home. My Garmin course maps always appearing as a poorly drawn Family Circus comic with a number of routes all looped back on each other.
Courtney’s youngest sister, Tiffany, in January of 2013 called to see if we would be ok with her running 13, half marathons in 2013 in Josh’s memory. Courtney said we would be honored, and that he would join her. The two of them ran 13-13s-in 2013. Training for races gave us an answer to the people who wanted to know what we were doing, but didn’t want to ask how we were doing. It gave us something to hold onto and something to do together. I went from dabbling in running to running four half marathons that year. In December 2013, one year after Josh’s passing, we met Tiffany, her boyfriend, Courtney’s uncle and aunt, and a dear college friend in California to run the 13th race together. We finished the race along the Pacific Ocean. It was appropriate knowing we had stood on its beaches with Josh in our arms a little under two years before.
As a result of Tiffany and Courtney’s memorial the half marathon distance became our distance to memorialize Josh. We were aware of a local foundation that pays funeral expenses for children under the age of one in the state of Montana. We approached the Ramsey Keller Memorial founders and asked if we could add a half marathon in Josh’s memory to their already existing 5K and 10K Run for Heaven’s Sake race. They agreed. The first year we had over sixty half marathoners. The race course was well aided with almost eighty volunteers consisting of our friends, families, and coworkers. The following year, RKM honored Josh by renaming the half marathon section of the race the Joshua Tyree Half Marathon. Each May, we witness as Josh’s legacy provides resources for others who are suffering.
This summer I am training for my second full marathon. There is something about having a race on the calendar that puts my mind at ease. Training for a race gives me the pressure to get out of bed and an excuse to put in all the selfish miles. The hours alone on the pavement give me time to think. Other days, training gives me a chance to avoid thinking and do nothing but focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Running has become my escape, but also a home-base for feeling grounded.
One of these days I will find my pace and my own sense of time. Until then, I have to know some days it is enough to just keep running.