The Elusive Moments that Matter

9 Oct

“In the long run, the times had are more memorable than the times run.”

I read this recently in a running magazine and have been thinking about it ever since.  Some people have a gift for speed, for winning races, for turning a pleasurable activity into an occupation.

The rest of us get something else out of our running.  I could list 100 reasons why I run fairly easily. And all of them would be true. But there’s something about the memories…those moments that matter only to us…those elusive moments that can’t be predicted…that keep me coming back for more.

On today’s hilly run (hill repeats around the State House in drizzly rain) I started thinking about my 4 team relay races and the elusive memorable moments from each.

Reach the Beach 2010 (New Hampshire)

Running at White Lake State Park. Waiting was a blur – my parents are here, I have no idea how to run with a head lamp, will our runner hurry up and get here, will our runner please take his time…and then I’m off.  And no one told me that I have to run around the lake in the middle of the night completely alone. We saw a bear earlier. I have 11 male teammates and they are all warm and dry in the van and on some road somewhere and I am running on a trail, trying not to trip over these roots, making my own bridge over the sludge, why the heck am I doing this?

A few hours later…sitting dry in a diner…but now warm. I cannot stop shivering. I eat pancakes, I chat with other runners while waiting in the bathroom line, the gruff and intense VP of my company puts his winter jacket on me…still shivering.  We visit an old car show and I concentrate on standing in sun spots with my 7 layers on (the Men’s Large orange running jacket makes me look like a pumpkin) and I forget, for a few minutes, that we are in the middle of a race because the sun is shining and it is fall in New Hampshire and people are showing off their cars and chatting with each other in the town square and I am happy.

New England Relay 2011 (6 New England States)

“The good news is that I won’t get lost on this second leg,” I say to myself. Over and over again. Because contemplating the bad news is just too dreadful. The bad news being that it is about 1:30 AM and it is pouring rain and I am running straight uphill for 6 miles.  At which point, another team member will run the downhill. I should be encouraged by my team, pulling over and cheering, helping me on. But I can’t…because seeing their headlights climbing up and up and up and never going over a hill, disappearing from sight, reminds me just how steep this climb is. It’s almost better that it is at night, I cannot see the hill. I can only feel it in my legs and lungs. And because I can’t listen to music, I can feel it quite strongly. I am making my own music with my gasping grating breath and shivering. Why am I doing this?

Ragnar Relay Ultra 2011 (Appalachians)

This is crazy. Running a race through the Appalachian Mountains with 5 people I do not know. And running 6 legs instead of 3.  2 back to back, then 2 more, then the final 2. Once again, it is dark and I am climbing up the side of a highway passing through the mountains. What I don’t know is that in a few more miles, I will be running through a town as the bars empty for the night. But for now, it is dark and I am alone. There was another runner but he is long gone and I see no one behind me and I can see for miles.  And it is glorious and creepy and breath-taking and exhausting. I am loving every minute of this. And hating every minute. And I’m fairly certain that only other runners can understand how that makes sense.

On Legs 5&6, I keep telling myself “you are almost done” but it is hard to think.  No sleep for 48 hours, barely any food, no stretching. My legs are on auto pilot and my brain is exhausted from the mental energy required to focus. I am running in the early morning hours on a Saturday (it takes about 0.22 miles for my brain to remember what day it is) and it is a residential area. Lots of houses to look at and stop signs to wait at (annoying) and just when I think I want to curl up and take a nap or fake an injury, I hear music! The high school marching band is practicing at 6 AM by the fence so they can encourage the Ragnar runners. That is me. I am encouraged. I pick up my stride (barely, but it takes effort) and concentrate on the correct placing of my feet. Each step forward is progress. Each step forward gets me closer to my goal. And although this is not fun, I know that 10 minutes after I pass the baton on, I will forget the bad moments and remember the fun, the challenge, the accomplishment.

Reach the Beach 2012 (New Hampshire)

8+ miles of mental toughness. Running downhill is harder than I thought. I think of all the ways I am lucky – I love bridges and I saw a lot. I have 2 vans full of teammates cheering me on. It is not raining. I am strong and capable. I am running without music or GPS or a watch. I am just running. I will just run until I see orange cones and then I will stop and someone else will run and maybe they will experience this frustration to settle into a good pace or maybe they will have a better run. Every run can’t be a good one, real runners say they hope for 30% of their training to feel good.  Only 30%.  This is not that 30%.

A few hours later, it is almost 3 AM and every runner comes back sweaty and sleepy but with a huge grin on their face. “It was a great run!” they say. “The best yet! Who knew that running in the middle of the night could be so wonderful?”  And I feel nervous because I don’t think I will have a good run and running at night always feels much longer than it is…and suddenly it is my turn and my team has to desert me to race ahead and wake up our teammates. So I am alone. At 3 AM. Somewhere on a road in New Hampshire. With a 8% climb on the last mile which I can’t think about yet as there are 4-5 miles to endure first.


They were right. There is something eerie and beautiful about the fog and the headlamps piercing the darkness. And there is no moon tonight but I can see stars. I never see stars in Boston. I never run at night. I certainly never run at 3 AM. I am going a good pace, a sustainable pace, a pace that feels tough enough to make me proud but easy enough to be bearable. And the hills and fences and winding road are gorgeous. I love New Hampshire. I love running. I am lucky to be enjoying this night while the rest of the state sleeps, tucked in warm beds. Oh wait…there is the hill.  This is my personal challenge – attack the hill. Climb and climb, breathe in and out, stay focused and look down and don’t even think about walking.

And then the run is done and I think “I actually wasn’t ready. It is calm and peaceful and the night is gorgeous and I was content.”

Leaving a run craving more, feeling content, connected to nature and the beauty of the darkness is a good thing.  A memorable thing.

Which I will think about during the 70% of my runs that are not memorable.  As I wait, hoping, that each next run is the elusive 30% that keep me coming back for more.



One Response to “The Elusive Moments that Matter”

  1. Mom October 10, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    I loved reading this — it actually made me cry. To be up at night and breathing in (however raggedly) those scenes. I just love New Hampshire, too, and I’m glad you got to see it in its solitary beauty. You almost made me wish to run.

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