It was Sunday, June 9, 2019, the morning after I placed fourth woman in the Laurel Highlands 50K trail race in our hometown, Ohiopyle, Pa.
"Because I love to run," are the words that stumbled out of my smiling mouth. For one, I was touched by your profound inquiry at such a young age. Second, I never asked myself the question so directly.
This was especially true for the Laurel Highlands 50K, when five weeks prior to the race, I was inflicted with bronchitis, a sinus infection that led to a locked jaw and ear ache which led to loss of appetite which led to losing seven pounds which led to zero sleep at night, in addition to painful hives that covered my body head-to-toe every four hours and disappeared and kept reappearing, all because of an allergic reaction to dogs. For three weeks, my training plummeted, my lungs felt as if they would implode, my head as if it would explode, and when I did run, I fueled with organic honey cough syrup and slowly hacked my way through. When training seemed as if it couldn't get any worse, my right knee began to lock, and any downhill running was out of the question.
If it were a half marathon, these pitfalls would be trivial. But I still had three weekends of back-to-back long runs, which included 20 and 22-milers, plus at least 50 miles per week to log.
Nope, loving to run would not get me through this one.
Do I receive a DNS (Did Not Start)?
Absolutely not. I would rather at least TRY.
I taped my knees, wore calf sleeves almost all day, got acupuncture, did yoga, foam rolled, chewed Arnica for the inflamed knee and came to terms with the possibility that this might not be my best race.
Avie, you were on to something. Why did I run a 50K?
Despite those challenges, it was fun, and I smiled through it all. A knife shooting through my knee? Awesome! Losing my podium spot? Who cares! Lungs still feeling it from the bronchitis? Sure, but it still felt like a party!
The answers at face value are simple, yet they grow in complexity as miles increase, hours on the trails build, as time away from you, my son, my sons, lengthens...
So I'll break the answers down in parts.
My first answer for you, Avie, is this:
Running is inherently less dangerous and less time consuming than my other favorite outdoor adventure sports.
Before you were born, I led 5.10 sport climbs, climbed 5.11s and led traditional routes (climbing and placing your own protection in whatever cracks you can find in rocks, often climbing far above the safety of your rope). I white water kayaked Class IV creeks and rivers and was in my boat six days a week, driving hours for the best rivers, where the best rain fell. Mountain biking was a means to the river, a way to see more woods in less time. I rode single track five times a week, my favorite trail in South Carolina consisting of 90 down-hill jumps. Running happened in the space between climbing, paddling and riding, often as a means of shuttling, shaking out legs after a ride, or as a quick pre-dawn wake-up, with my longest runs topping out at 10 miles.
When I gave birth to you, the world of adventure sports and the time I didn’t know I once had shrunk. The thought of setting up complicated anchor systems with ropes and trees was too much for my new-mom, exhausted brain to compute, and getting myself on a rock with a newborn at the base who might need me sent anxiety running though my veins. What if a rock fell on you? What if I were leading a sport route, and you began to cry? Worse, what if my trad gear failed, and I fell, and I was too hurt to care for you?
Kayaking anything longer or bigger than the 1.5-mile Class III “Loop” section of the Yough River near my house required a whole day and friends, most of whom did not have a newborn and whom I didn’t want to burden with the “let’s do this as quickly as possible, before my milk rushes in” worry, ruining my head game for creeking or boofing waterfalls. Collecting the gear, strapping the boat, these tiny logistics left me weary.
Mountain biking lost it's appeal because of the static, seated, hunched forward position, so similar to breastfeeding, the holding and curled-forward-into-you frozen pose I held for so many hours, night and day. The mere act of dismounting my bike from the rack in the garage and latching it to my vehicle tired me and felt like precious moments wasting away as I couldn't wait to get out the door to get back to you as soon as possible.
My body craved freedom - swinging arms, rotating hips, upright stance, full-body, wild, forward-moving limbs, arms flying out to the sides like wings. Forward, backward, all parts free and un-gripped, freedom, freedom, freedom, unburdened by equipment, left to the devices of my quickly moving feet, chest thrusting forward, head reaching tall to the blue sky above, with nothing to hold onto. My mind craved zero planning, zero logistics, zero mental lists of gear or equipment.
The answer was RUNNING.
The simplicity of running engulfed me. It brought me back to my body. I ran with you in a stroller five days a week, while Eric was working, four to 8 miles, and sometimes more. On the weekends I ran solo. You napped during our runs, so I felt alone enough, me-time carved out in our own special way. For two years and four months of your life, I never left your side for more than two hours. Even then, the distance from you gnawed at me, and I ached to return, to your smell, your smooth skin, your neediness.
We ran so much, together, Avie, that eventually I felt prepared enough to run a road marathon. It required less commitment, less time, than driving to my beloved trails, and I could cover more ground more quickly, mostly with you in tow.
Completing the Pittsburgh Marathon in May 2016 was one stepping stone toward running a 50K. It gave me belief.
When I had your baby brother, Grey, on April 2, 2017, the postpartum separation anxiety I had after your birth, anxiety compounded with grief at the death of your grandfather (I wished I had been with him more toward his final days, so I couldn’t leave you, because what if I lost you and never saw you again, just like I lost him?) was lifting. The weight that bore down upon me for four years was gone.
It was time to do something for myself, something longer than one or two hours, and since I already had a solid base of 30 miles per week, plus one road marathon and a pre-baby ultra under my belt, the sky was the limit.
It was time for a 50K.
Today, we have returned to climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, in ways that include you and your brother, but running rests within my soul, always. Forever.
Back then, though, in the days of me-and-you, I was left with serene, unrestrained running.
I hope this begins to answer your sweet, curious question, Avie. I have more answers to share with you, in time.
I love you,