run run run run run run run away.

1466088_10152064659053534_734765049_nLast year, a day before the Boston Marathon, I decided that it was time for me to start running again. Now, don’t get me wrong; I was never what one might consider a serious runner.  But my husband and I had dedicated ourselves to running up Wollaston Hill in the ice and snow during our graduate school years (before children, before real jobs, when we were still dreaming of palm trees and sunscreen).  Our first race took us out onto Castle Island, back through South Boston, and into the Seaport District.  At the finish line, we were handed two beer tokens to use at the Harpoon Brewery (I’m still a true believer in the power of running and beer).

So the idea was there on April14th, 2013.  But then, after the Boston Marathon’s abrupt and tragic end, I felt even more compelled to run.  So I started that Tuesday.  I went again on Wednesday. I didn’t know what I was doing.  I didn’t have any training. But I kept going. On the morning of my 36th birthday a few months later, I ran ten miles without stopping. For the first time.  Ever.  In the year or so that has happened since that April, I’ve participated in eight 5Ks and two half-marathons. There’s still a lot I don’t know, like how to not hate myself during speed workouts or what those compression socks actually do.  But it’s the things I’ve learned that matter.

And these are those.

1506398_654428204599198_472453258_nRunning is hard.  Not running is harder.  (The same has been said about writing, of course.) When I run, I’m not (as) stressed out. I sleep better.  My skin looks nicer.  I can see some of my muscles.  And I don’t feel as badly about my infatuation with a certain hop-centered beverage.  When I don’t run, I’m mean.  And tired.  And impatient. And bloated. And mad at myself.  Really really mad at myself.

Running has taught me things. All kinds of things. Shoes do matter and speed workouts actually work. A seventy-something-year-old woman can float across the finish line just steps before I come huffing and puffing and pounding. I really can hold my pee for thirteen miles if I have to. And when I race, there are all of these people (some with cowbells, even) who have no idea who I am and yet they decide to cheer for me like they’re my biggest fans. I’ve learned that tripping, falling, and bleeding are all part of the . . . fun.  (And sometimes part of my lack of coordination. I’m really not so good at running in the dark.)

Someone once said that “fate is a fickle mistress.”  (Ben Linus said it better.)  Well so is running. Sometimes three miles feels like fifteen.  Sometimes you can’t do physically what you can do mentally.  And sometimes, it’s just the opposite.

1970642_10152667636984046_1663929333_nSometimes, my knee will hurt so badly that I’ll hobble up that stupid hill, holding back the tears. And my runner-coach-friend will text me:” IT Band.”  And I will have to Google “IT Band.”  One Saturday, I’ll run thirteen miles, and two weeks later, I won’t finish five.  I’ll feel good when the speed workout is over (and so is that puking sensation), but I’ll want to die (or at least puke) while it’s happening. One weekend, I’ll get a stomach virus, and the long run is out the window.  A weekend later, I’ll get another one, and I’ll start thinking I’ll probably never make it to mile seven of that upcoming half.  There are soccer practices, soccer games, Girls Scouts, dance camps, papers to grade, nights when my children and I won’t sleep; there are all of these things that will try to keep me from running. But I have to keep going.

Because it’s so hard to start again once I’ve stopped.  And I’ll always wonder what I could have done if I just hadn’t stopped. If I just kept going.

The truth is, I don’t know that I’ve ever participated in anything with such measurable goals and tangible accomplishments. Even when I tried to take swimming seriously in my younger years, the accountability wasn’t there; I wasn’t ready, yet, to answer to myself. And maybe that’s the point of all of this: to feel like I truly did something. And have the t-shirt and medal to show for it.  

Because sometimes, you meet those goals.  Sometimes, you exceed them.

20140702_132638I don’t know, yet, if I would call myself a “runner.”  I mean, I run (if that’s what you call it). But I don’t know what my pace goals are. I don’t have my PRs memorized. I don’t know if I want to get faster or just keep going. What I do know, though, is that there is some connection, some understanding between those of us who like to run.  We’ll get up at five on a summer morning when the humidity has weight to sweat through a quick 5K just for the watermelon afterwards.  Even though we’ve never actually spoken, we’ll nod encouragements to each other when we pass on Campbell Road on early Saturday mornings. We get excited when others tell us they’re thinking of taking up running (my mom and stepdad are running their first 5K this weekend — go Mom and Jim!). And if you think of running as a solitary sport, you’re (mostly) wrong.  It takes an entire community.  (My coach would be happy to tell you how often I text him.)  And, honestly, I thought I enjoyed running alone, until I ran with a pack of teenage students this spring. While I still enjoy the quiet and solitude of a morning run, running with others changed my whole perspective.  In a good way.  

I know that I will never be fast, and, most likely, my husband will end up beating me. Soon.  But all that really matters to me is that I just keep going.  And, really, isn’t that all that ever matters, with anything?

P.S.  I ran enough to wear out a pair of running shoes.  I bought my second pair this week (thank you, Milton).  That feels like a serious accomplishment to me.  I think I deserve a beer.

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(she said) i’ve been to boston before

fenway.

On Sunday, April 14th, 2013, I stood in my kitchen and told my husband that I wanted to start running seriously again.

The next day, when I was serving jury duty, I glanced at my phone during a break.  My cousin, who lives in Roslindale, posted: “Explosions in Boston at marathon finish.”  Because he’s a runner and I’m an English teacher, I thought he was speaking figuratively.  Like there was some kind of upset or underdog winner.  I didn’t think he meant explosions that actually explode.

But then there was a text:  Did you hear about Boston?

And so, when it was lunchtime, I traveled down the four floors of the courthouse to my husband’s office.  “What happened at the marathon?” I asked, rather casually, because there’s this strangely idealistic part of me that doesn’t ever think the worst. The receptionist turned to my husband and my husband turned to me, and there was that look again.  The one that says without words, “I’m going to tell you something sad.  Really, really sad.”  I’ve seen it a few times before.  And it always makes me feel worse for the person telling me than it does for myself.  Because they have the information, and they’re somehow obliged to impart it.  And that one moment when they know and I don’t, that one moment just before they tell me, that moment must be torturous.

anna.“Somebody tried to blow up the finish line,” he said.  He followed it quickly with, “But Anna’s okay,” as if he knew, already what my brain was doing. That afternoon, I sat in his office as someone at a desk nearby played the video over and over again.  “Watch!  You have to see this!”  She said to anyone walking by.  I kept hearing it: explosion one, explosion two.     Explosion one, explosion two.

I moved to Massachusetts before I turned two, and grew up in a suburb twenty-five miles south of the city.  I went to Emerson.  My first teaching job was in Charlestown, at a tiny school toward the top of Bunker Hill.  I have done my fair share of Friday afternoon (and well into the evening) drinking at the Warren Street Tavern, Sissy K’s and Sidebar.

But my Facebook feed was flooded with posts from friends back home, and I felt like a phony.  My hurt was on my sleeve, but it didn’t feel justified; I had left in May of 2004 (of all years, right?), and they were still there.  They would stay there.

run for boston.

It’s a difficult thing to be so far away when catastrophe strikes. I felt untethered.  I wanted my world to stop, for just a few minutes, so that I could catch my breath.  I wanted to be near the other Bostonians at my work (there are four of us, including one student).  I realized that there was some part of me still rooted in that place, too deep to be dug up.

I remembered what I had said to my husband the day before.  And so on Tuesday, I ran.  And on Wednesday, the kids and I made a Run For Boston sign and I ran again.  It’s what made sense.  And I started with three miles.  I couldn’t run the whole thing at once.  But now I can finish in twenty-seven minutes.  A nine-minute mile is fast for me. And I’ve even added more miles. (The last time I ran five miles successfully without stopping was when we lived in Quincy and we ran the Harpoon 5-miler in 2003 — my favorite part was running through South Boston while someone on the third floor of a duplex blared “Eye of the Tiger” from a boombox in his bedroom harpoon.window — and the reward was the two free beers at the end.  It turns out that one can get pretty drunk off two beers after running five miles.) I’ve gone 58.82 miles since Tuesday, April 16th.  I’m up to more than six miles on Saturdays, and anywhere between three and five miles at least three times during the week.  I can’t seem to stop myself.

I don’t do it to lose weight.  I don’t do it believing that I will someday run a marathon (though I do like the idea).  I do it because it makes me feel strong.  I do it because it’s a tiny piece of my world I can control.

I do it because there are people who can’t, people who wish they could.