Just the other morning, I got into a conversation with a coworker about the company challenge for the year – Tough Mudder – and in turn, motivation. This is no ordinary gal I was talking to – the ‘rfm’ tattoo on her arm stands for ‘relentless forward motion’ and her idea of a good time is participating in a 100 mile foot race. Regardless of our very different paths to this point and very different breaking points – one person’s five mile huff’n puff is another person’s sweat-breaking mini-warm-up – the fact remains that mind over matter can carry us through adversity. Through life.
It made me think.
Last year I lost my mind and did something that has impacted me more than I had anticipated: as a member of a team of 12, I ran the Ragnar Relay Napa. It’s not just any road race: it was a 24-hour, 187 mile (those liars, it was definitely further) relay race.
And it was, in a non-Merriam-Webster word, AMAZEBALLS.
It sparked something in me: a drive that had long been dormant, a belief that I am capable, a need to conquer. A need to thrive. Prior to the race I had never run more than six or so miles, and that was during the training period. Come race time, I dug deep, I used my team cheering me as my fuel and I pushed through blisters and the feeling of toenails falling off inside my shoes to run those miles at a pace a minute faster than I had anticipated. I surprised myself. Those moments when I thought I couldn’t push through another mile, hell, another hundred yards over that hill, I held tight in my mind’s eye the things that move me and soldiered on.
As I embark on a new journey – one to complete my first half marathon, where I hear I will battle it out with the last 1.1 miles – I seek to refuel and reflect.
Running is, in some ways (many ways?) masochistic. Sadistic. Sick, in general. In many ways I still see it as punishment from my days of playing soccer when conditioning was something we simply had to do because we were told to. Truly, if you had told sixteen year old me that years in the future, I would be running pick-ups in the park by myself, of my own free will, I’d have probably looked at you and asked where you got that second nose from.
However, reflecting on the life that I can call my own, I see now, I have every *good* reason to run for my life.
Sure, I run for the usual reasons: my health and fitness, as a stress-relieving mind-emptier, because my place of work compels me to.
But I run for other reasons too.
Because, though they started later in life, my parents run. Because they go on vacation in Kauai and their idea of fun is boogie boarding all day every day and participating in a 5k while there. Sixty-something years young, my high school sweetheart parents run together. While my father had been a body builder as a hobby, my mother didn’t start going for a daily walk till I was in junior high school. To know that the third annual Bay Area T9k is approaching and we will run it together – yet again – is pretty wonderful. Last year, she had been ill heading into the race and went against the wishes of her doctor and ran with me. One can only try to imagine their grown mother on a doctor’s crinkling table, pleading like a child – “But you don’t understand; I have to run with my daughter this weekend!” She walked only when I made her and surprised me by taking off and finishing strong in the last 100 yards. Go Mom!
I run because of this little lovey boo, my first pup, my little girl who spent far too many months waiting oh-so patiently for love in a clean but still small kennel at the shelter. Juno loves broccoli and running fast and while she’s not much of a road runner, she’ll go for days on the trail. We deemed Thanksgiving as her calendar birthday and you had best believe I will bake her a cake in November when she turns two. Her little grunty, sighing snuggly body pressed up against mine in bed is a reminder that it’s better to be part of a pack. A loving pack that sleeps in a perfectly (un)comfortable pile.
My pack grew not too long ago. After seven years, many addresses, three cats and a dog together, we became husband and wife in the eyes of the law, something we had perhaps already been for some time in our own hearts. It was a beautiful celebration, a joining and growing of families. What was most amazing was that I was able to have my grandfather there.
Yes, at 103 years young, my grandfather was apparently insistent that there was no way he was going to miss it. Later my aunt said that leading up to the event, he ate only when reminded that if he didn’t, he could not keep his strength up to attend. It moved me to tears. The drive from Palo Alto to Berkeley left him cranky, but rightly so; such age comes with all the leeway in the world.
Not only was he there, he was there because he wanted to be. Ever sharp as a tack, he told us he wouldn’t have missed it for the world. As I posed for these pictures with my teeny 95 year old grandmother’s vice grip on my waist, I was reminded that nothing lasts forever, and nothing should be taken for granted.
Little did any of us know that less than two months after that day, just weeks after his 103rd birthday party where he would make two short speeches, make jokes at our expense, drink beer, eat cake and fall asleep promptly in a recliner, our beloved Papa pass.
Admittedly, it makes me smile inside that Grandma apparently said he went too soon. A very full and memorable century plus three years, recorded via oral, audio, video and written history by his family; immigration, tales of war, tales of amazing lifelong dedication. After children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, his wit was in tact till the end. My dear sweet grandmother says it was still too soon.
And while I knew nothing could last forever, while we had many years to come to terms with the inevitable, when it comes, you’re never quite as prepared as you think you will be. The loss aches to the bones while the memories warm and heal, a balance not even enough to make it invisible, no – just painful enough to know it is real. Like the soreness that sets in after those last few miles, after digging deep down in to every fiber of your being to push each step out, never looking past the next and simply knowing that if this step comes the next will surely follow, this is the deep breath. It really happened, it cannot be undone and the ache is a reminder of the good. Of the ebb and flow of the world, the beauty in the downs and the ugly in the ups, that which has helped you grow, shaped you, helped to make you. With time this ache will fade, with proper care, with recognition and time, the stride will grow strong again and carry on to that next point of one step at a time.
We all love and miss you dearly. My cousin Tim put it best when he said they simply don’t make ’em like that anymore. Thank you for bringing our giant clan together so closely, for every Thanksgiving grace, for every time you ever held one arm tightly around my waist and one around my sister’s – a grip that never changed- and reminded us of our worth and to never settle for anything. We will always be “[your] girls.” To say my grandpa was an incredible role model is an understatement. Know you will live forever strong in all of us and I am proud to be an Ignacio.
And so I will be thankful for what I have, for what I have been given, for the fight in me to push through, to overcome with a relentless fervor, to not be defeated, to thrive. To tap into what has always been inside me. What was put there years and years ago. And so, I run on.
One step at a time.