Let him run his race, darlin’: Notes on my first run of 2020
The sun was just beginning to airbrush the lower clouds bright pink and purple when I hit the hilltop of my morning run, just past the halfway point. My breathing was easy, I had unzipped my parka and the hood was down.
As soon as I faced the gentle downhill, I increased my stride. The elementary school began to skid by me at greater speed. The neighborhood was dark, evidence that New Year’s Eve had been a busy one, as my feet slapped the sidewalk.
Nobody would ever tell you that I’m a badass runner. Not the point. At almost 67, I run because I like to, it keeps the WD-40 synovial fluid sliding across my aging joints. And, because I’ve been running most of my life, it’s as natural as breathing.
My breath increased, sucking in the cold, mile-high air. It almost burns your nostrils.
Easy. Go faster.
I ticked up my speed again, the child-eating juniper branches grasping for my bright green coat.
There it is. BREATHE.
As I rounded the corner, two short blocks from my final hill, the music from The Final Game, the thrilling conclusion to my favorite sports movie of all time, Rudy, filled my ears.
In 2013 I had trained to climb Kilimanjaro to that soundtrack. Day after day, week after week, stair after stair, mile after mile. Until I stood atop that bastard, wobbly and nauseated from lack of liquids and oxygen, triumphant, like Rocky, my arms waving in the freezing thin air. I turned sixty that year.
The music pushed my legs even faster.
Um. Okay, look. Fast is relative.
Kindly, this is what I look like when I run. This is me and my twin sister:
However, if I may. I was out running at 6:15 am when most of the world was recovering with a nasty headache.
As I approached my final turn I sped up again, this time conjuring up the single most potent, emotional scene in my favorite movie, Secretariat.
Tears flooded my eyes, making it hard to skirt the frozen puddles in the street. I struggled to breathe through the snot. I spat. But I sped up. Because all I could hear was
“let him run his race, darlin. Let him run his race.”
All I could see in my mind’s eye was that triumphant horse churning towards the finish line, oblivious of anything but himself and his magnificent body, born to do only one thing: run.
Secretariat, the greatest racehorse of all time, had exploded out in front of his competition and accelerated so quickly that there was no race. There was only
A TREMENDOUS MACHINE!
in the immortal words of racing announcer Chic Anderson.
Missed it? Here you go:
Secretariat had left the field so far behind that he set a Belmont record that will likely never be broken. It wasn’t about beating Sham or the others. In the end it was about doing what he loved.
As I came into the final turn of my run, which is uphill, I finally realized that I am finally running my own race. Not only can I not compete with anyone else, nobody can possibly compete with me.
Because it’s not about comparisons, better than, younger than, smarter than, more money than, more likes and claps and looks and followers than, more interesting life than; none of that has anything to do with anything. None of those people are in my race. Only I am. Only you are. What “mugs” us in our race is inside us.
Most of my other “horses” are left behind: the self-hatred, the doubt, the bitterness, the anger. I can’t get mugged at the gate, mugged on the rail and jammed into last place on my own track any more.
My race, your race, ultimately has nothing to do with anyone else.
Because that old fart who struggled to finish, who came in last at the 5k, was in a coma six months ago. Given no chance to live. He’d been give last rites. Now he’s right in your face, jogging around the last turn. Running his race. That old man doesn’t care about winning the race. He has already won his.
And that’s the whole point. What is your race?
The freedom to explode and accelerate into my own being, to become whatever the rest of my life may offer, is like Secretariat’s blasting around that final corner, faster and faster and faster.
Every bit of training, every failure, flop and fuck up went into that animal’s win. All the doubts and the detractors and the insults to the horse and his owner went into that race. Pushing him harder, training him longer distances in the few days leading up to the Belmont convinced others he would collapse on the field as Sham cantered easily into racing history as The Wonder Horse.
They said Secretariat would be a loser.
The rest, as they say, is indeed history.
If you have ever ridden an incredibly fast horse at speed, and I have, you know how this feels. If you have ever pushed yourself beyond anything you ever thought you could do for the sheer, heart-pounding love of it, and I have, you know how this feels. If you have ever kept trying until you nailed it, you know how this feels.
If you haven’t tried, if you are afraid to, you aren’t running your race. Kindly I know how that feels, too.
I have beaten sexual assaults, a gang rape, a predatory big brother, an alcoholic and abusive family. I have beaten forty years of eating disorders, a five-pack-a-day smoking habit, a horrible shopping Jones. I have carved and whittled my once-obese body into a (aging, slow and increasingly wrinkled, cranky, scarred, bruised and battered, okay?) tremendous machine. I overcame a billion doubts and ended snarky abusive friendships. I saved and scraped and sacrificed and bought a house, and sent myself on incredible journeys that helped me rewrite the loser script. I learned how to be an athlete. I have negotiated a full life despite 21 concussions. And I found my funny, which has more to do with propelling me down the final stretch with the entire world in front of me than anything else. The way I beat back what had beaten me down was I found my funny.
My father called me a loser. He. Was. WRONG.
Along the way I have had my Eddie Sweats and Lucien Laurins. Nothing happens without people who love you, believe in you, and scream at you,
Let him run! Just let him run!
In this instance, that would be your heart.
I am selling my house, moving to (I don’t know yet), writing faster and better than I ever have in my life, rebooting a new career, and creating even more amazing adventures and clients all over the world. I’m seeking out ways to spend much more time with the animals I love. I’m crafting a new book and making new friends. And this morning I did 75 men’s pushups.
Not a typo. I may be a cranky ol’ lady but I’m a strong cranky ol’ lady.
On Friday I turn 67.
Too many folks that age have been out to pasture for years. Hell, for too many people at forty, when the only thing they care about is what’s for dinner. My Medium buddy Ann Litts wrote me yesterday that as a nurse she sees plenty of kids who can’t walk up a flight of five stairs, much less folks my age. Hard to run a race when you can’t even walk.
They have their own races to run. As do you.
I’m finding my fifth gear, pushing harder, faster, hurtling around the final turn into my last three decades. Everything I have ever done has led me to round that corner into life’s final stretch at breakneck speed, running at life with power and exhilaration. I am a tremendous machine. I am racing towards what I love, a place I love, and a life lived on my own terms.