I have been a runner for 27 years, yet I am hard pressed to say exactly what makes me run. My first turn around the local high school track was motivated by sheer vanity. Having gained over 40 pounds with the birth of my first child, I was determined to make running the means to an end. I shed the pounds, but found in the process of doing so a new enthusiasm. Those were heady late twentysomething days when running seemed more like a cult than a sport–part of the Brave New World of Fitness that made me feel like a colt. It made me feel sleek, toned and fit, filling me with a kind of coltish momentum, as though I were riding the crest of a fast, furious wave.
Ten years later, I was still running, but the momentum had slowed to a trot. With a second child and a full-time job, I found a different reason for running: it was now my way of slowing down the pace, my refuge from the frenetic rush of schedules and deadlines. Feeling more like a cow than a horse, I ran to be still, allowing the rhythm of a body in motion to be a kind of stabilizing grace. During those years of music lessons, daycare and baseball practices, running became my still point in a turning world.
Twelve years later, when my husband fell terminally ill, I ran to stop the pain from swallowing me whole. I ran against the pain and through the pain, sometimes weeping, sometimes cursing as my legs carried me numbly over stones and rubble. When my husband passed away after an eleven month battle against an illness that had the upper hand from the very beginning, I ran to make peace with the pain. Somehow in the echoes of my falling steps, I found a rhythm that seemed at one with the sky–stars suspended in darkness that made brilliant their light. And I realized that there was not much difference between this world down here and the one up there: we leave the way we live because nothing shines brighter than a dying star.
Now in my fifties, I am running more than ever. I can’t help but sense that the question “Why do you run?” seems beside the point. I cannot live without running; it has become as much a part of me as breathing is. I run because running has been the only constant in my life, the only thing that hasn’t changed or has survived despite the change. My children are now grown, my eldest son the father of two. We have new additions to the family, even as my husband has moved to a different peace. I have changed; my hair has greyed and my body has shifted to a more matronly cast. I forget recent events, but my memories of the good old days are etched forever in stone. No longer the colt nor the cow, I have the permanence of time. Change seems no longer a menacing beast because I know I have been blessed–blessed with life in whatever form it takes. And I know I will survive in whatever form I take. I know because there is nothing in this world–nothing– that can beat the beauty of a cool, steady run.