Tag Archives: running

a survivor

I have become preoccupied with survival.  The art of endurance, of strength, of balancing precariously between life and death and miraculously making it.  I pour over manuals to learn and re-learn wilderness navigation techniques, insurance against getting lost. I do presses and pull ups and push ups in the rediculously-early morning, a rehearsal in pulling myself up and out of impending disaster.  I lose myself in memoirs of surviving avalanches, plane crashes, sinking ships. I run down city streets to prepare myself for climbing mountains. I tie myself on to ropes and learn to climb on delicate foot holds, squeeze precarious handholds, and fall, when necessary, safely, gracefully.  I practice breathing deeply, so when I feel fear building up I can just as easily let it slide away, the back and forth of waves crashing on a beach then being pulled back to sea.  The study of survival is a preoccupation which eats up, in its various permutations, most of my free time.

My degree of obsession seems funny to me because I am already a survivor. I have fallen, bruised and bloodied, to the lowest levels and climbed back up again. I have lost myself in the darkest realms and found my way back to the light.  I have worked through searing pain. I have made it, am making it, again and again.

Survival isn’t an endpoint, but a gateway. It only matters if there is a promise of life beyond the blackness of the rabbit hole. Every battle needs its prize. So perhaps these survival exercises I perform in relative comfort are more than preparation for future challenges.  They help me relive the story of my life and unleash the wisdom loosely folded in the challenges and the failures and the victories of my past.   In the consuming rituals of knot tying, trip planning, pushing and pulling and repairing and strengthening, I am reminded daily that I am a warrior, and mine is a life worth fighting for.

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Anna’s Hummingbird, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, February 2014

endurance

I ran a half marathon yesterday.

I wasn’t always able to run. A large, physically awkward kid, I who would rather read a book than do much of anything else, and that included being active. I was consistently the slowest kid when we ran races at school and perpetually picked last when we formed teams in gym class. My mother kept encouraging me, and I learned the joy of moving my body in the ice skating classes she made me take.  Soon, I wasn’t quite so slow and awkward in gym class, but I still was no runner.

I started running in college to prove to myself that I could do it. It seemed difficult and unnatural during my first slogs through the streets, but over time I learned the joy of a breeze on my shoulders, the rhythmic pounding of my feet with matching breath.  I started running more and more and with my dad, and he spread the marathon bug to me.  In two years I ran 5 marathons, two half-marathons.  I was never fast, I was never even not-slow, but I could endure, and that’s really all that mattered, all that matters.

Dad went on to complete over 20 marathons, including qualifying for and running Boston, but I had to step away from marathons in 2007, after a disastrous race in Honolulu (painful on every level, it started with shivering in the rain while waiting for the race to start and ended with my then-husband telling me to go fuck myself after I hobbled, with blistered feet, across the line). My personal life was unraveling, and I became depleted on every level.  I couldn’t run 45 miles a week anymore. Some days it was all I could do to get out of bed.

But I kept running, albeit for shorter distances, through the divorce, through grad-school stresses,  through my mom’s illness and untimely death, and now, through the frustration of infertility.  What was once difficult and unnatural has now become part of me. Before I started my marathon of loss, I’m glad I had running to teach me that I’m stronger than I think.

the course was very challenging!
image retrieved from http://runkeith.blogspot.com/2012/03/half-marathon-and-mountain.html

Even now, as the load of grief over losing my mother is lightening a bit, I’m finding it difficult to fit in time for my long runs.  I was under trained for the half-marathon and my muscles are protesting terribly today.  I almost skipped the race entirely due to the undertraining, being out late at the opera the night before, etc.  But  I figured I could likely finish the race without an injury, so I went for it. Because I have the gift of health, and I’ll lose that too someday.  But before that happens, I’m going to use it.