Once every so often, I make a mistake. Sometimes, they’re the little ones, the kind you can easily take an eraser to, or rub it out with your thumb. Talking on my cellphone, and missing the exit on the Interstate, is one example. Dousing the soup with too much salt is another. Not paying attention to where I’m going, and stepping backwards, onto one of my collie’s paws. I feel terrible when that happens, but usually, these sorts of goofs can be fixed with a kiss on the collie’s nose. If you’re into kissing collie noses, that is. Then there are the other mistakes, the bigger ones, the ones where you were certain the track meet was on THAT day (because it always is. . .), the ones where you go ahead and purchase airline tickets, because you’ve done that, for the past three years. I think these mistakes happen, because I never stop running.
I did check the college meet schedule beforehand. There it was, a shimmering purple in front of me on the computer screen: the home track meet, on the typical weekend. That was January. That was when I told Dr. K to purchase our plane tickets to Iowa.
When I texted our son that we would be there, as always, for the home meet, he seemed perplexed.
“But, you’re still coming for graduation? That’s only four weeks later,” Harrison reminded me.
I assured him we were. When your kid decides to head out-of-state for college, you become resigned to the fact that there isn’t the opportunity to meet up for lunch after a tough exam. Over the past four years, we had attended only a handful of meets. In fact, we tend to be hard core, visiting twice a year, if that. In a way, I suppose it’s a good thing, promoting self-reliance, encouraging them to grow up, and establish a semblance of independence. It’s also difficult, after you’ve become accustomed to making their lunch every day.
I glanced at the meet schedule once more, in March. There is no explanation for why I checked the schedule one last time, but I was surprised to see the home meet had moved to the weekend before we were arriving! That, or I had goofed, big time.
I texted him again, thinking that we would bank the tickets, skip the meet. The weekend we had planned to visit had a relay meet, in Decorah, a little town three hours away from his school. He said he would probably be running it. Then he added a kicker. “You’re welcome to visit!”
When your twenty-one year old adds an exclamation point to an invitation to come see him, you do it. Even if it means a lot of driving.
I Googled Decorah, and located a cute Bed & Breakfast near the competing school. We would fly into Iowa in the later afternoon, and drive there. We could meet Harrison the next morning at the track.
When I texted him that we’d landed in Iowa, there was silence. There was no exuberation, no enthusiasm. I began to wonder if I had compounded my planning mistake with the erroneous belief that he wanted to see us. Had I misread that exclamation point? So, I called him. He answered, voice dejected. He questioned me about our plans for the night, learned of our long drive, and then sighed.
“I guess I’ll sit here and watch a movie in my room,” he informed me.
“You’re leaving early tomorrow, right?” I queried him. “There isn’t any reason for us to drive to your school now.”
He sighed again, and told me that the team wasn’t leaving the college until nine or so in the morning, and that his first race was after 1 pm. Then he was quiet.
When should you veer off course? Does it happen during initial planning stages, or is it okay to let life lead you by the nose, once in a while? When does a trajectory swerve off into the tangential?
Running has been under the spotlight this week, its importance as an American sport highlighted by the horrific tragedy at the Boston Marathon. We have been reminded, as Americans, of the marathon’s significance, epitomizing democracy. Begun by the Greeks, paralleling the “the world’s first great experiment in democracy”, anyone who can time qualify, can run a marathon. Amateurs run along the same course as the elites, and experience the same excitement generated by their fans, who cheer on the stars, and the unknowns. There is encouragement, regardless of who you are.
That’s because running is hard. There are plenty other arduous activities you can put your body through, but this is one of the toughest. I’ve recently taken up the sport, although for me, I’m more of a plogger. But, I’ve begun to understand the required dedication, the importance of routine, the stamina needed for running any length of road, be it a mile, or logging 26.2 of them.
I’ve listened as my friend, Iron Girl, (so named because she’s completed an Iron Man competition, even though she stands at barely five feet tall), details her practice routine. It’s grueling, with early hours, and regular running shoe replacements. Harrison’s coach requires him to run 80 miles each week, as conditioning, and race preparation. They both tell me of the miles they’ve put in, every week, not in disgust, not in disgruntlement. Every mile they conquer is added to their makeup; it defines who they are. Every mile has its own story.
We sat at a local tavern on Tuesday night this week, surrounded by runners, and their supporters. Iron Girl and her husband had been in Boston for the Marathon, she running it, and he, standing at the finish line, waiting for her to cross it. We celebrated, raising glasses to toast the pair, because they returned from Boston physically unharmed, yet shaken by the fact that some unknown person would dare to interfere with this populist activity, an event bringing together young, old, athletes and bystanders, to cheer on human dedication to forward movement, for its own sake.
Watching friends and family run has taken us many places, areas of the country we would never have thought to visit, had there not been a race, a challenge to encounter.
Last weekend, we cancelled the reservations at the distant Bed & Breakfast in the competing college town, electing to spend the evening with Harrison instead. Luckily, there was a room available in his little town.
Instead of driving three hours in darkness, hoping to have time to catch up with him between races, and later, when he was tired, we spent quality time together that night as a family. The next morning was a leisurely drive to Decorah, following the river road rather than the freeway, not certain where it led. We drove through small villages, named in honor of European towns from where their founders had emigrated. There was New Vienna, Guttenberg, a sign pointing to New Edinburgh Manor, and we crossed the New Volga River, a couple of times. Those peoples, they too had been running, of a different sort. Maybe they had been running away from inhumane living conditions in the Old World. It’s possible they ran towards freedom, and the chance to live without oppression. All had a story, which we could only imagine, as the miles ticked off. We crossed multitudes of waterways in Iowa, plowing the hills, bridge after bridge. None were very wide, and yet, I sensed the presence of a large body of water, near us.
One more curve in the road, and there it was, the Mississippi River, one of the great waterways connecting this country of ours, North and South. It was a freezing day, but as I stood high on a bluff overlooking the silvery-gray expanse of water, buffeted by a brisk wind, I stopped running, for a moment.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.