Running 100 miles toward the tiniest of treasures
A little something for me, a little something for everyone else
On September 30th (my birthday) I ran my 100th mile in 19 days. Didn’t think I could do it. I had said to myself with a bit of a jaunty scowl, “You probably can’t do this.” But here I am. I committed.
First I ran a mile. The next day I added another mile, and then another mile the next day and so on, until on the tenth day I ran ten miles. (Running these distances is not a thing that I do. Prior to this my absolute max on a great day was six miles, so this, for me, was a feat.) After hitting ten miles I worked my way back down again, running nine miles, then eight, seven, back down to one, to complete the circle on a day that marked my 37th birthday. Halfway through it all I realized that altogether it was a hundred miles. Mark, ever the proud husband said, “That’s 100 miles!” and I said, “How ‘bout that.”
It wasn’t a program. It was a hair-brained idea I had while laying in bed staring at my popcorn ceiling, both wanting and dreading another year, exhausted and numbed by pandemic life. It happened to be twenty days before my big day when I thought of it so the system fit roundly. That was one good thing. I didn’t think too carefully about the how or why, I just drafted a tweet, hit send and figured that gave me permission to somehow try something different. Anything different. I guess I wanted to slow down time and speed it up all at once.
And now I’m on the other side. I ran my miles. Here I am solidly into my 37th year. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done any running at all. What have I learned?
Well here, at least, is what happened.
I ran every day, but the stretches between runs lengthened over time. At first I did a steady 24 hours between each run, rising in the mornings between 6:30 and 6:45. With the sunrise. The sand hill cranes. And the bats. The bats are still there in the morning, I was so surprised to see them! But now I know. Bats are full of surprises.
Tactically, I made sure I was hydrated. Made sure I planned a route and laid out my clothes the night before.
Soon the time between runs became 26 hours. This happened on a Saturday as I ran later in the morning since I had more flexibility on weekends. Could stretch time a little more. But the next day, Sunday, I put it off more. 36 hours between runs. I was unsettled by this. I couldn’t figure out if I was putting it off or not wanting it to end. Was I beginning to fail? I didn’t know.
That’s a good way to put it: Not wanting it to end. My ankles hurt around mile five on the way back down. Still. I didn’t want it to end. Didn’t want to fail.
So 37. A strange number. Not 30 or even 35, and not 40. Not here, not there. A between number. Like those hours between runs. Between everything. And everything between. What have I learned?
One morning a rainbow revealed itself to me one half at a time. I don’t know why I was surprised. I guess I didn’t know a rainbow could exist without its middle. It was like a broken life line running down the center of my palm.
I thought while running that I’d quite like to be a bird flying high, maybe right through the center of that rainbow. Or even through the colorful bits. A bird can take the straight shot, to wherever she wants, regardless of whether there are colors in the sky or not. Regardless of any fences below.
(I would not like to be a bat, I thought. It’s incredible they know where they are going at all, but their paths are full of tumult.)
When you run there are plenty of fences. Boundaries to push through. Pounding pavements. Rough and blood-scraping asphalt. And this thought that you don’t think you can do it when actually you can but you don’t know that yet. Sometimes you trip on a completely flat piece of sidewalk and you think to yourself, “What the hell?”
My eldest daughter’s birthday is ten days before mine. Ten days between us. I had her when I was 29, like it was some feat. At the time it was. It’s still a defining moment, it always will be, but the definition grows hazier as time passes. I had been on the cusp of a new decade. So my daughter and I share the same final digit in our ages, as I had with my dad. She is seven now. Dad would have been 67. Dad and I were both 29 when we had our daughters. He was, I’m sure of it, doing something completely different when he was 37. Probably worrying about the next job and maybe hiding tequila under his bed. Wondering if it all added up.
Funny isn’t it? Numbers. I never figured myself a number person. In high school I skipped AP calc and hid in the art room under the artful eye of my MCAD-educated teacher with the tattooed blue eyeliner. God did I hate calculus. In hindsight maybe I hated my calc teacher but at that age they were one and the same. In any case it made me love art.
Now I do all the money in our family, all the budgets, all the plans. And planning, I’ve realized (with or without numbers) isn’t just something I’m good at (though I am). Here is something I’ve learned about myself: Planning is required. To get to a hundred miles. To get to 37. I have to pick the route ahead of time, or none of it makes sense. Otherwise I’m randomly looking at my watch and grimacing over how little distance I’ve covered. Endlessly looking at my watch. Miserable. Insufferable.
I want to know where I am on the route. Not precisely. I don’t want to know everything that’s around the corner. But whether I’m a quarter, or a third, or halfway through. It helps to have a plan. It is necessary for me to have a plan. Circular, if possible. It compels my run.
Perhaps a thing that worries me deep in my subconscious: I don’t have a plan for being 37. I have more hopes than plans.
Some things I saw while running gave me hope.
- This view of a small lake, previously blocked by a brick wall that the wind blew down and turned into a makeshift walkway.
- Finding running buddies momentarily in the goats on my grandmother’s pasture who spontaneously ran alongside me.
And these, the tiniest treasures of thoughts and experiences:
- Tiny wet frogs, quick to jump from the path of my oncoming shoes. How did they know I was coming?
- Flowers. Especially the bright yellow and pink ones on impossibly tall trees.
- Sunrises. I don’t care when you last saw one, you’ve forgotten how beautiful they are.
- And a mysterious green fruit. I should learn what that is. Do you know what that is? Please tell me.
Many things on my runs reminded me of death. And life. Life and death or death and life. You’ll see what I mean.
A tree, stricken down by too strong winds. Brimming with ready seed pods. What happens next?
A kitten, near the trash bins, likely hit by a car. Lizards without tails, being taken by ants. Tails without lizards being taken by ants, lizards without tails watching from the brush.
And this squirrel. The saddest thing I ever saw.
Light coming through her ears. She could have been falling asleep on the warm pavement. The rough and blood-scraping pavement. What happened?
Perhaps she fell from her tree. Perhaps she tried to fly. Perhaps she was running, and ran into a fence.
I guess you don’t get to answer that question, when you do actually die. That’s something for everyone else.
What happened? What did I learn?
One of the places I frequented on my runs, not by intention but because it was situated on the corner of my largest loop, was a cemetery. With its Green Tent. The Green Tent that on different days moved to different places on the lawn. It reminded me of the cow plop in high school. Pick a square on the gridded football field and see where the cow plops. Who will be the lucky winner?
On the cemetery lawn the signs read, “Sandhill cranes live here, and sometimes they move the flowers. We’ll do our best to put them back. But — that’s life.”
Alas, I’m 37. Still feel like I’m seven. COVID has been good for a few things: the space to think, mostly away from the tumultuous, intersecting paths of other humans.
I do my best to be grateful for every day. Each of mine, and each of everyone’s I love.
It’s been good for that. It’s been good for the running, for the sunrises and sunsets, for the sandhill cranes and the bats and this beautiful, beautiful family of mine that presented me with a goddamn bonafide trophy on my 37th birthday for my 100th mile and for being a great mom (I try).
It’s almost 2021 now. I hope it’s a better year for us all.
Please, whatever you do, vote! Try. Commit. Vote vote vote vote vote.
Vote for the path of less tumult. Vote for the life line, broken or unbroken. Vote for the rainbow. Vote for the lucky winner, God help us.