Following my muddy 50k foray at Lord Hill the weekend before, my marathon goal for Northwest Trail Runs’ Spring Run for Fun was just to finish. I was still recovering, and had just two more weeks before the Chuckanut 50k.
Running the marathon in the Watershed may not have been the wisest choice, but I’d call it a guilty pleasure. It’s a chance to get together with good friends and do some miles on trails. That’s what gets me out of the house on a wet winter morning.
38 degrees and rainy didn’t feel like so much pleasure when arriving at the rainy Watershed. Some of the more creative runners got into the ranger’s office, and started up the heater. At the time it felt as decadent as a good cabernet paired with dark chocolate.
We started together, all of us crowding the Trillium trail. Once we got moving, we felt warmer, which is usually the case.
I took that first loop a bit too briskly – and knew it at the time. The memory of a sub-four hour time here in 2011, stoked some delusion, but that was a different time, in different weather.
I’d settled into a better pace during the second loop, and about midway through fell in with friend of mine. We spent the next six miles or so talking. We talked about training – aiming for Boston Marathon qualifying times, speed work vs. threshold training, building up volume. As we started loop #3 together we started waxing a bit philosophical.
Through a series of conversational twists and turns, we started talking about death. There’s an irony to speaking about death when you’re running a marathon. After all, running requires a vitality that the dead simply cannot muster. On the other hand, sometimes in the later miles, you might feel as though the reaper is sneaking up on you.
In this case, we’d happened upon this topic because it’s part of life. I recalled a recent article written by Roger Angell in the New Yorker about aging. It’s a good read – seems an honest and sometimes humorous take an often inevitable part of life. In this philosophical vein, we agreed that while neither of us fear death per se, the decline that can precede it is a different story.
Then he shared with me that he’d been diagnosed with ALS.
I was stunned. He’s run over 25 marathons and ultras in the past twelve months. With good fortune, he’ll complete his 200th lifetime sometime this year. And in addition to being accomplished in the running community, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
He talked about how unpredictable a path ALS takes in the body. There’s no telling how it will progress, and what the effects will be, or how long he has left with us.
About fifteen or sixteen miles in, we hugged and he ran back to join another friend.
He’d shared some very human feelings of fear and sadness. But being out on the trails each week pursuing number 200, while spending the miles with friends contemplating what all of this means, seems a great example of what psychologist/philosopher Viktor Frankl calls the “will to meaning”.
Much courage, much grace – seems fueled by love for things big and small in our lives.
As I completed my own race – legs tired, feet hurting, and body chilled, I reflected on our conversation. And I’m still doing that.
Words sometimes fail us when expressing feelings about life’s harder turns. But love doesn’t. Share it, and keeping covering the miles together.