on running

A little less than two years ago I began running in earnest for the first time in my life. My dear friend, Olympic gold-medalist and world-class marathoner, Joanie Benoit Samuelson, knowing that I had once been a division I swimmer, had been asking me for years, "When are you going to get back into the pool?" and, "You know, swimmers make good runners." 

I had long lost interest in swimming for fitness, in doing lap after boring lap despite how good my body felt moving swiftly through the water. But I was desperate to feel like my former athletic self. More so, I pined for an escape, a respite—even if only fleetingly—from the responsibilities of taking care of my autistic, disabled, chronically ill child, Calvin. I yearned for something to occupy my mind besides the worry, anxiety, frustration and disappointment that loom too large caring for someone like him. I needed something that was wholly mine. 

For the first fifteen months of the pandemic—before Covid vaccines were developed—we didn't send Calvin to school, didn't take our usual outings to the grocery store, and had given up our in-home nursing help. To pass the time, Calvin and I went for daily drives on the nearby backroads taking in the beautiful scenery and listening to music. On our drives I often imagined pulling over, getting out of the car and running into the vast meadows just to lose myself. It was during our drives that I spotted an ambitious and wicked-quick runner who glided for miles and miles even in the harshest weather. I wondered what compelled him to run so far, wondered if he, like me, felt driven to run from some sadness, burden or worry, toward some kind of reward, or perhaps a little of both.

A year later, Joanie gave me a pair of fancy running shoes in exchange for an ice cream cake I had made for her husband's birthday. That was the moment I knew I had to commit to training for her world-renowned Beach to Beacon 10k, which she founded in 1998 and in which she had urged me to participate. It would be my first road race ever, and one that would get me hooked on the sport and on competing again.

Since that first race in August of last year, I've competed in four 10ks, three 5ks, one ten-miler, and a half marathon, which was in early October. I've enjoyed some small successes. Mostly, though, running has done for me what I hoped it would. I feel like my old self again in many ways—more light and lithe and spry. I'm healthier and happier. My capacity to endure my son's troubles has, perhaps, expanded. I think—hope—I'm a better person, friend, wife, mom. I've befriended some sweet and amazing people whose generosity, expert advice and encouragement has been essential to my accomplishments.

Getting out on the trails and roads, especially at my beloved Pennellville with its big sky, open fields, and expansive views across the water has been cathartic. I love to feel the sun and rain and wind—and sometimes snowflakes—on my face.

The one downside, however, is that I've been writing a lot less. Notably, though, when running, I almost never think of Calvin (and therefore I don't feel at all stressed or anxious.) I hear only the sound of my breathing and my feet striking the ground, the swish of my jacket, the song and chirp of birds and crickets, the babbling of brooks. I smell the sweetness of fresh-cut grass, clover, rose rugosa, smoke from a wood stove. I smile and wave at passing runners, bicyclists, truckers. I drink in whatever Maine has to offer on any given day throughout the year. I lose myself. In short, I finally have a time and place where I feel free.

Last week I signed up for the New York City Half Marathon in March with the hope of running with 24,000 other athletes over the Brooklyn Bridge, up Seventh Avenue and into Central Park (thanks to John Blood for that recommendation). I qualified for the event, but I missed the cutoff date for the guaranteed timed entry, so I'm hoping to be chosen in the random lottery which is at the end of this month. Cross your fingers, knock on wood.

I'll be forever grateful to the many lovely people who have brought me to this sublime place called running: my father, our family's original athlete who ran a 4:28 mile at the Naval Academy in 1948; my husband, Michael, who has been running four or five fast 5ks every week for nearly a decade; Joanie Benoit Samuelson, for urging me on for so many years; Rob Ashby, marathoner extraordinaire, who unwittingly inspired me to go the distance, and so many others since who have inspired, supported and encouraged me to keep on trucking. Thank you.


recent dealings

a sick child. a string of painful restless nights for him. rude awakenings. too much missed school. the surgery to remove our dog smellie's melanoma. too many tiffs requiring apologies and forgiveness. a mass shooting in a nearby tight-knit community—eighteen people dead. the shooter's car and body found a mere mile from michael's studio. conversations about gun violence and gun safety measures. conversations about suicide and its reasons. softly schooling myopic, well-meaning people who think suicide is somehow a selfish act rather than from unimaginable suffering. steadfastly countering other people's ignorant comments on the topic. too many sleepless nights. another uncomfortable, contentious IEP. smugness. the feeling that others are disingenuous. mistrust. calvin's grand mal after five and a half weeks of seizure-freedom.

and then, this poem reappears:

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry