Ed. note: This post has taken me about two weeks’ worth of pondering and several attempts at writing it. I started it, and intended to post it, on Wednesday (April 4).
Maybe any other time, I’d be ecstatic to write about my 10×800 Yassos today and tell you all my splits, how I felt after each one, and how thrilled I was with how well they went and how well I felt during them and afterward. There’s a time and a place for that post, so maybe I’ll return to it in a couple days. Instead, I want to write about mortality.
And about how I’ve been thinking about the loss of someone I don’t even know, a person about whom I thought during my speedwork today.
I mourned a stranger’s death because it felt like the right thing to do.
One of the many reasons I run is because it reminds me of my own mortality. I realize that I’m not guaranteed a single day, or even the next single moment, of my life, but oftentimes I, like many others, get caught up in the grind and the minutiae of day-to-day life and get more forward-thinking than present-moment-thinking. Running helps to re-center and re-focus me and forces me to remember that I could be gone tomorrow, if not also even an hour from now.
It’s humbling to say the least.
I’m not sure what it is about running that makes me think of my pending death–maybe the exhaustion or the fierce effort or the sense of accomplishment–but at any rate, it’s one of the few things in my life that forces me to remember the reasons I run, to take stock of my life, and to not take anything for granted–including not only my actual ability to run but also my life, itself.
(This is actually why I only wear a watch when I run…. because at any other time, I feel like I’m literally watching seconds, minutes, and hours of my life tick away in front of me. It’s a weird feeling. At least when I wear a watch when I’m running, it is to serve a very specific function).
Another weird thing about my relationship with mortality is that I have been convinced since I was relatively young (high school-aged) that I’d die young. Again, I don’t know why this is, or what compelled me to think this–I think I had a vision or something–but it is what it is. Don’t get me wrong; don’t read this as a call for help or anything like that; but for whatever reason, I’m just convinced I’ll go out young. I think my efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle via my vegetarianism and my running are some attempts to not only make me into a better human being but also, at least in some ways, to delay the inevitable.
Needless to say, me thinking about mortality in relation to my running isn’t something new. It’s on my mind often, but it’s not something that I frequently articulate because generally speaking, people don’t like to talk about death. Mortality and running has been even moreso on my mind since the past week, when I first learned about ultramarathoner Micah True’s disappearance and eventual death in New Mexico. Though I didn’t know the man, I had read about him in Chris McDougall’s Born to Run a few years ago, and the character and persona of True was not easily forgettable.
It’s odd to say because again, I don’t know the man, I never met him, I know nothing about him besides what McDougall wrote, but when I first learned he had disappeared, my heart sank. And days later, when I read he was gone, I, like so many others in the running community, was saddened. I mourned his death yet, at the same time, was inspired by the life he led and the wonderful effects he has had on those around him, particularly those in the running community.
For naysayers, True’s death would be the perfect “in” to write about how running is dangerous, how you should never go out solo, how you should always tell people where you’re going, and all the other cautionary tales that inevitably arise when stuff like this happens, though from the sounds of it, authorities don’t think there was any foul play involved with True’s death. Instead of harping on all the safety-focused and somewhat alarmist stuff, I’d rather write about how running, and by extension of that, my thinking about my mortality, makes me think often and deeply about what matters most in my life–my relationships.
Mark Remy over at Runner’s World did a great write-up about this a few days ago, basically saying what many of us fail to think about each time we run a race or just some miles (long or short) around our neighborhoods: that we might never make it back home. It’s sobering to read something like that, especially if you haven’t thought about it in a while, but it’s true.
I’ve done races before where people have died in the process, and it’s scary as hell. Hearing about it after the fact makes my heart break and shakes my soul. Those runners laced up for what they thought would be another run, albeit special (because of its race status), and like Mark said, they probably were thinking about what they were going to do afterward, where they were going to have dinner, or whatever; I’d venture to say that they didn’t think “ya know, I might not make it home after this. This could be it.” It’s scary to think about… but also a good reminder to stay grounded in what matters most in our lives.
Brian Metzler also wrote a really great post about True’s death, and it sounds like Metzler articulated what so many in the running community are trying to do for themselves–to find peace and consolation in the fact that True went out doing what he loved to do and that he was a man who was grounded in his passions for all of his days, not just in his final moments.
For me, becoming a mother (eleven months ago today!) profoundly changed my life–as it should. Any parent out there reading my stuff I’m sure can relate to my sentiment with how different life is once kids are in the picture, but man… I had no idea. This almost-year has been full of great joys, sleepless nights, and so many proud moments of my A that sometimes I wonder what I ever did to deserve it. Having an amazing husband is incredible in and of itself, but seeing our little girl and knowing that she’s half me–that I carried her for almost 41 weeks before I finally held her in my arms–and then watching her grow each day, from 7 pounds 10 oz. to over 21 pounds in the past eleven months, is just unreal.
Absolutely, incredibly unreal.
When I’m running, besides thinking about my limited time in this world, I often think about my relationships–and in particular, my family. I run for myself of course, but I also run for them–to set a positive example, to encourage them to be active, to make me a better person. I finally bit the bullet and bought a running stroller, and I am very excited about taking A out with me on some of my runs. At any rate, running has played a hugely significant role in my life, especially over the past five years, as has motherhood over the past year.
Today’s 10×800 Yassos workout, which will be one of my last two really hard speed sessions, I think went by much more easily than usual because of how I centered myself. In the first part of my workout, I thought of Micah True–about all the stuff I’ve read about him in the past few days, about how fellow ultramarathoner Scott Jurek characterized the fifty-plus-year-old as “just a kid” and about True’s uninhibited love for the carnal sport of running (and trails and ultras, in particular). I’m sure his spirit and essence will live on in the running community for years to come. For as reserved a man as True was, his humanity sounds like it was anything but. I ran the first few 800s of today’s workout in his memory and honor, aspiring to become half the runner and person that True was in his abbreviated time here.
The other part of today’s workout I thought about A–about how she is almost a whole finger old (one year) now, about what motherhood has meant to me, and about how running and motherhood have been such significant life-changers for me. I wrote about this when I was pregnant, and thinking about this all again, and re-reading what I wrote when I was pregnant, is almost unreal. At this point in my training, I’m about to embark on my taper, eagerly anticipating the days until April 28, my first post-pregnancy marathon, and it is just unreal to think that since I last ran a marathon in late 2010, I’ve been pregnant, given birth, and basically started anew with my training… and have seemed to have gotten faster. At any rate, suffice it to say that life has changed dramatically and profoundly for me since that last race.
This post is all over the place, despite the uncanny amount of time I’ve spent thinking about it and writing and re-writing it (which is somewhat unheard of me for me), but I guess I’ll end it with this. It’s sobering, harrowing, and terrifying even to consider how precious life is and what relatively little time we have here, and for many people, myself included, though I know this is a fact, and while I, personally, think about my own mortality on a pretty frequent basis, there’s really nothing like having a tragedy like True’s untimely death force us to re-think our priorities, consider what matters most in our lives, and re-center ourselves accordingly. True’s spirit will live on in all the runners he met over the years, as well as those who, like me, never met him but who read about him. I’m convinced running has made me a better person, a better mom, friend, wife, sister, everything, and I also think that one of its biggest roles it has played in my life is in its uncanny ability to remind me, time and again, of my limited time on this earth and how important it is to make my years and days here count.
RIP, Brother True.