Let’s say, God willing, that you live to be 80 or 90 years old.
And let’s say, hypothetically, something happens to make you lose your entire memory, including running. You forget all of the years you spent logging miles, all of the racing and the bonds formed through the sport, BUT, you are allowed to hang onto the memory of one single run. Just one.
Which run would you choose?
Would it be a race where you broke a long-challenged barrier? Would it be a special run with a loved one or a training run somewhere with spectacular natural beauty?
I pondered this during my afternoon run yesterday and the answer surprised me.
In January of 2020, Michael and I were talking about getting pregnant. I had just faced a year and a half of baffling injuries and had passed the threshold into my thirties. I was standing face to face with the painful reality that I needed to step away from the sport for a time.
We were vacationing on Oahu and I was running one of the last hard workouts of my road career and perhaps the first while I was pregnant. Across the street from the rental house was a bike path. The path ran alongside a two-lane road flanked by dense, tropical jungle on one side and lush, velvety farmland on the other.
It was one of those mornings where that famously warm Hawaiian rain came streaming down in sideways sheets. As I ran my workout, I charged directly into that rain, soaked to the bone, splashing through puddles and squinting against the downpour.
An old truck rumbled into view and the driver rolled down his window. He was, to my best guess, a very old Hawaiian farmer, and he lifted his arm into the rain with his fingers tucked, thumb and pinkie extended.
On the mainland we interpret that sign as “hang loose”, a cliché surfing gesture. In Hawaii, it doesn’t mean that at all. It’s a hand symbol called the Shaka, used by locals as a symbol of acknowledgment and friendly intent, of respect or appreciation. In a way, it means, “I see you.”
I lifted my arm in the rain and returned the gesture.
To him, someone who had maybe never run a mile in his life, I was just a girl 40 years younger than him, running hard on the side of the road in the rain, but he took the time to say “I see you. I see that what you’re doing is difficult and it’s worthy of respect.” It was a brief human connection between two strangers who will never see each other again.
That’s what I want to remember. I want to remember that I was an athlete who continued to give my all, alone in the rain, even as my professional career was closing like a curtain around me. I want to remember the human connections, however brief, that were made across generations and lifestyles. I don’t want to remember the easy, uplifting moments as much as the painful ones that chipped away at the soft surface of me to reveal the steel underneath.
I don’t know what the future holds for me as an athlete. I know that right now I’m gaining back fitness more rapidly than I could have hoped for when I was pregnant, and I’m in a place where I’m more certain than ever that a brand-new chapter is about to unfold, but I’m positive that I don’t want that chapter to be in Flagstaff.
The truth is, I’m really, really tired of Flagstaff.
I’m tired of living in a town full of professional runners.
I’m tired of training at altitude.
I’m tired of living in a place where I can’t escape my sport, but most of all I’m just tired of the desert and I deeply miss the dark green of the Northwest.
So that’s where I’m headed. Michael and I will have a brief stay in Spokane, Washington as we hunt for our dream home across the Idaho border in the incredibly beautiful town of Coeur D’Alene.
We visited Coeur D’Alene in June and fell in love with the lakes, the forest, the town and all that it offers.
I don’t want to raise Charlotte in the desert.
I want her to have the kind of woods that I grew up with. I want her to dirty her knees in a massive garden and scrape them up climbing fruit trees. I want her to roll up her grass-stained pants and wade into a creek to hunt for crawfish. I want to be close enough for her to know her grandparents and spend her summers at the Oregon Coast like I did. I want her to have beautiful land to roam and I want all of that for me and Michael, too.
I came to Flagstaff to run my fastest times on the roads and I did that. It’s time to move on. It’s time to move back to the misty trails of the north.
Over the course of the last ten years Michael and I have lived in Washington, North Carolina, Lake Tahoe, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Flagstaff with stints in South Carolina, Florida and Lexington as well. We’ve seen it all, and we want to settle somewhere amazing without settling for less. No place is perfect, but Coeur D’Alene is perfect for us.