Last week was one of those weeks where I inexplicably had zero motivation to run and the forces of nature and life conspired to make it easy for me not to. Monday was a rest day, Tuesday and Wednesday were incredibly windy (and I hate, hate, hate running in 30 mph wind gusts, aka my first and second marathons), Thursday a huge cold front blew in and I went to visit a friend in the hospital, Friday it was cold and rainy, and Saturday I drove to Oklahoma (and back, seven hours in the car total) for a second cousin’s wedding shower.
All excuses, I admit.
So Sunday’s long run was a shock to the system.
Getting up at 6:30 was really getting up at 5:30 because of the daylight savings time change. All I have to say is I am not a morning person. Let me say it a little louder: I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON! On top of that, when I was leaving it started to rain. At 52 degrees, that’s not the end of the world, but remember I’m from Texas. Anything below 70 degrees and we start to go hypothermic.
I texted Bill to see if he was still running. He said he could go either way. Things were looking up. I texted Hari, who was going to run a few extra miles before we all met up at 7:30. He texted “en run” and said he had only one mile left and would see me in the parking lot. Grrrrrr.
I was a little grumpy making that drive to the lake, windshield wipers happily swishing back and forth. At the very least, I would go ahead and drive over to the lake, if only to tell them I didn’t want to run in the rain.
But, I try not to be one of THOSE runners who bails on their friends at the last minute, and I knew full well I would do my long run, no matter the weather.
And, of course, it turned out to be a great run. A few more people showed up than I expected and we had a nice little group. We practically had the lake all to ourselves. It rained the first few miles, but not heavy, which was very refreshing.
Here’s my guilty confession: I actually love running in the rain.
I’m such a fraud. I complained about the rain but I actually always love running in it.
The lake loop is 9 miles, which meant we needed to do 3 miles off the lake to get in the 12 I wanted. Bill wasn’t feeling the love and decided to stay on the lake and run the loop by himself.
I must have been half asleep because I let Hari decide what our off-lake route would be. My dear friend Hari is notorious for a) getting lost, b) finding hills, c) inexplicably extending our routes miles longer than they should be, and d) turning every run into a tempo run.
He will deny it all but it’s true.
True to form, Hari found two hills, one steep and one long. The 12 mile route morphed into a 14 mile route. And we kept a fast pace.
My month off from running has meant my stamina is still not where it should be, so I turned off early by myself and took the 10.5 route back to the car. My IT band was feeling strangely tight, and my calves were hurting a little, too. I wanted to somehow tack on a few more miles to make it the planned 12, but I was alone and I was weak. I settled for 10.5.
Those last three miles alone were ridiculously difficult. It was a good reminder of how much it helps to do your long runs with a group.
All in all, it was a great run. We won’t have too many more cool mornings like this in the future, with summer right around the corner, so I need to count my blessings.
And running in the rain: a stellar bonus!
Wednesday night’s six mile run was one of those magically great runs you always hope for when you step out the door. The kind of run that’s a perfect storm of everything good: good weather, good temperature, good legs, good mood, good health, and good friends. The kind of run that feels effortless, as if you could pull a Dean Karnazes and run all night long.
The kind of run that reminds us why we love running so much.
After last summer’s record breaking temperatures, I swore I would never again complain about running in the cold. Every day was a marathon of complaining about the heat, and no one complained more vociferously than I did. I was in a seriously bad mood for about six months. I was starting to think I was becoming a permanently negative person.
Now that it’s finally, finally colder, I’ve found myself some mornings procrastinating and trying to find excuses not to run. I see the trees moving, that means it’s a little windy, and that wind must be pretty cold. I quickly shake it off, though, and remember how any run below 100 degrees used to be something to celebrate.
Time to quit whining and enjoy our few short months of winter.
After wearing the bare minimum of clothing all summer, it’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly how much to wear when the temperatures start to drop. We all usually start out the first few cold runs by overdressing. Somehow, on this perfect night, I manage to wear just enough to stay both warm and cool at the same time.
There’s something special about nighttime running in the winter, especially on a clear night around Christmas. The run down to the lake is especially dark through the trees, and the cold air keeps the pace brisk. On this particular run there’s electricity in the air since so many people have recently completed marathons. There are enough PR’s and I’m-a-badass endorphins to go around to light up the night. A street lamp goes off as we turn the corner, confirmation that we don’t need the artificial light.
It just feels so good to run.
Once we get down to the lake, everyone converges at the water fountain, even though they’ve all been shut off. The stars are shining overhead, the lake is smooth as glass, and everyone seems to have forgotten that we’re in the middle of a run and not a party. Someone finally sends out a shout to get going, and we take off running again, along the edge of the lake. How many times have we run along this exact same path? Hundreds of times, if not more, but tonight it’s like a route I’ve never taken before, fresh and smooth and inviting.
Two miles farther and another water stop with no water. No worries. Cold beer is waiting just ahead. All we have to do is run up Meadowlake and Sperry, two old friends we know only too well. Even though I usually dread running up these two hills, especially Sperry, tonight I’m looking forward to it. My legs feel fresh and strong, and I’m in love with hills again.
Everyone’s quiet as we run up the hill, and houses glow with Christmas lights and trees in the windows. Running up Sperry brings back memories of training for Boston, when I was in the best shape of my life, and I wonder if I’ll ever be fast enough to go back. Almost immediately I have the thought, I have this, tonight, and that’s enough for now.
Finally, we’re back at Hillside, and into the warmth of Fuzzy’s, good friends, and an ice cold mug of beer. All is right in the world, and nothing could ever be better than this perfect storm of everything good on a cold December night’s run.
I seem to have a love/hate affair with marathons. I love most of the training, especially the long runs with my running group, but usually hate the actual race. I’ve only had one really good marathon where everything fell into place (weather, pace, health, BQ finish time), but I can’t really say that there’s ever been one single marathon I’ve ever truly enjoyed. I used to think this was some type of major character flaw in my running psyche. Now I know that it just means I don’t always love running marathons.
(I’m still holding out hope that this will one day change.)
Last Sunday I ran the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since July I had trained for the full marathon, but nagging ankle tendonitis and piriformis syndrome made me decide a few weeks out to switch to the half marathon distance rather than cause a more serious injury. Making the decision to switch to a shorter distance caused a lot of anguish and made me feel like I was letting both myself and all the friends I trained with down. Also, training through the hottest summer on record in Texas was miserable, and the marathon was supposed to be the payoff for all those miles of torture.
Once the decision was made, however, everything in me relaxed. I was more than trained for a half, and my only goals were to run the 13.1 miles with my marathon friends, and to make it to the finish line uninjured. My unspoken, true goal, however, was to enjoy a race again, even if it wasn’t the marathon.
All goals were accomplished.
The Friday afternoon before the race, Michael and I loaded up the car with luggage, video camera equipment, ourselves, and the dogs. Yes, the dogs. We don’t travel lightly. The four and a half hour drive north was uneventful, and I even got to see a beautiful starry sky just outside of Tulsa. Our room at the Holiday Inn was surprisingly modern and comfy and, best of all, pet friendly. I could have done without the room being right next to the elevator, but we spent so little time in the room it was never a huge issue.
Our first morning there we reloaded up the car with all the camera equipment so we could film the marathon course, and Bill arrived just as we were leaving for the expo. The expo was tiny and we didn’t spend much time there, but Heather arrived just as we were leaving, so we waited around to see if she wanted to drive the course with us. Poor Heather was having a slew of bad luck getting to the start line. She had contracted strep throat the week before the race, and on the drive up to Tulsa her husband caught some type of stomach bug and, after having throwing up violently on the side of freeway, had to get a room in Norman because he was too sick to continue. At the expo, Heather’s bib couldn’t be located, so she had to be given a new bib and chip.
Bill decided he wanted to drive the course with us, but Heather wanted to see some family and get some rest. Armed with course map, GPS, video cameras, dogs, and Bill we set out to see exactly what the course was like. The official marathon description had said the course was “relatively flat,” but I’ve noticed almost all marathon course descriptions say something similar.
We knew there were going to be hills, but we had no idea there were going to be that many hills. Except for a six mile stretch along the river, the course is pretty much long, rolling hills–and they don’t let up, all the way to the finish line. We always try to incorporate hills into our long runs, and do a pretty intense hill repeat run called “Crazy 8’s,” but the Tulsa hills were long, nothing like what we have here in Dallas. Also, the sheer number of hills were unlike anything I had ever encountered in a race, which isn’t saying much since I’ve only run six marathons.
Bill wasn’t happy at the sight of all those hills, but kept a positive outlook nevertheless. I was secretly happy that I wouldn’t have to run all those hills the next day, but a part of me also felt disappointed that I wouldn’t be facing the challenge. Even though I complain about them, I generally like hilly courses. Mostly, though, I thought about Heather and how tough this course would be for her since she had been sick all week, and also knowing that we hadn’t really done enough hill work to do our best on this tough course. I also thought about Liz, who was attempting to finish her first marathon after being carried off the course halfway through three years ago in her first attempt, and coming back stronger than ever after surgery and a long recovery. This is not the course I would want to run on for my first full marathon. I also wondered if Don would be able to run the sub four hour marathon he felt was within reach.
At dinner that night, everyone wanted to know about the course, and they quickly caught on when I hesitated. Hari covered his ears and made it clear he didn’t want to know anything about the course. I told Heather and Liz to run the first half conservatively, because the second half had more hills than the first.
Of course we had all been checking the weather forecast obsessively the week before the race, and the forecast didn’t change all week. It called for a very warm, windy Saturday, with temps in the 70’s, with a cold front blowing in Saturday night and the winds diminishing before the race start, and temperatures in the mid 50’s. We were all keeping our fingers crossed that the winds would die down and the temperatures would drop before the race, because Saturday was incredibly windy and warm.
We all came back to the hotel and Michael set up the video equipment to interview everyone about tomorrow’s race. Everyone relaxed and stretched in the hallway as they waited, and then it was time for bed. (When we got home, and Michael tried to download the video, he discovered the memory card had somehow been corrupted. He’s working on saving the data. When he does, I’ll post the video. Fingers crossed.)
I went to bed that night not nervous, merely excited about running in the morning.
RACE DAY: Woke up to 47 degrees and a slight wind. Got dressed and met Hari, Bill, Heather, and Liz in the hotel hallway. Hari and Bill were almost identically dressed in matching WRRC sleeveless tanks and arm warmers. I was glad I had packed for all four seasons and remembered to bring gloves and a headband. Since the hotel was half a block from the start line, the hotel lobby was packed with runners cupping warm cups of coffee trying to escape the cold temperatures.
Going outside, it felt colder than 47, and the breeze was a little stiff as we made our way into corral B. Everyone was excited and ready to start, only we realized the start was actually only for corral A, and there was a five minute staggered start between corrals. With only 4500 runners, the staggered start seemed a little strange. Also, I heard some runners around me complaining about the fact that the 4:00 pace group was up in corral A, so if that was your goal and you were in corral B, and you wanted to run with that specific pace group, you were pretty much out of luck.
I’m usually very observant during marathons, but for some reason I don’t remember many details from this race. Maybe it was the course, maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was because I was much more relaxed than usual, but if I hadn’t driven the course twice the day before I wouldn’t be able to tell you very much about what it was like. Also, since I was going to stay with the marathoners and not push the pace, I had left my Garmin home. I must have missed the mile markers because I was never really sure of where we were on the course until we got down to the river, which meant closer to my finish line.
Hari, Bill, Heather, Liz, and I all started together and ran the first few miles as a unit. The start was nice, with confetti and loud music and the obligatory hyped up announcer, but the first hill appeared just after the first turn, and it was an almost mile long uphill. It looked imposing, but it was also early enough in the race to not really register in the brain. One of the first things I noticed as we ran the first few miles was how little crowd support there was. Undoubtedly the cold temperature had something to do with that, but even when we did encounter people there was very little clapping or yells of encouragement. Not once did I hear anyone yell out a runner’s name, which is very different from other marathons I’ve participated in.
Hari pulled away from our little group fairly early, as we knew he would, but we could usually see him just ahead of us. The first six miles took us through rolling hills of charming neighborhoods, a Catholic school with students stationed at six speed bumps with signs and warnings, and beautiful trees resplendent in fall colors of red, orange, and yellow. I told Heather to look at the trees, trying to counteract the tunnel vision we all seem to get when running long distances, and to keep us from grumbling about the hills.
We were all very quiet as we ran. I remember wondering about that, and looking back I think it was because of the hills. They weren’t terribly steep, and we were all trained enough to handle them, but there was always another one just around the next corner. The good thing for me was I knew that once we got down to the river after mile 6 it would be flat, and I reminded Heather of this as we got closer. Bill and Liz had fallen a little behind us, but we knew they were close by.
I asked Heather how she felt and she replied “terrible.” I knew she was just being grumpy. Once she asked why we were doing this, and I came up with some BS answer of “because we can, because we’re strong, because of the trees, because we’re alive . . .”
At mile 7 Heather commented on how she wished she were halfway done with her race, like me. I was surprised we were already at 7, but was also glad that the course was finally flat. We did get down to the river, but I had forgotten about the 1.5 mile detour off the river down a road that went past every fast food joint and pawn shop known to man. Every city has a road like that, and it felt like running down Garland Rd back home.
Finally we were back at the river, which in my mind meant I was close to the finish line. The faster runners passed us going the other direction on the other side of the road, and we saw Don blaze past us. He looked strong and determined to run his sub 4:00. At this point the miles seemed to stretch out like a rubber band, and it felt like we were never going to reach the turn around. My legs felt good, but I didn’t push the pace, remaining cognizant of the fact that Heather still had 13+ miles of hills ahead of her.
We saw Hari pass on the other side of the road, and finally came to the turn around. We saw Bill just behind us, and became concerned that Liz was a little farther behind. I had a feeling she was running her race plan and saving energy for the second half.
At this point, coming into the last 3.25 miles of the half, each mile felt like twice its normal length. It was flat along the river, and it was monotonous. The Arkansas River is not terribly scenic as it flows on the outskirts of Tulsa, and across the river there were a lot of plants and refineries. It was also cold, with a slight headwind, and I told Heather my legs were numb from the cold and I couldn’t feel them anymore. It felt much colder than it had at the start. Even with gloves, my fingers were freezing.
Step after step, we trudged on. The ankle tendonitis that had plagued me almost the entire training season was completely absent during the race, but the past few week’s struggle with piriformis soreness had made its appearance just after all the hills at mile 6. I felt it every single time I lifted my right leg, and there was nothing to keep me from thinking about it on this last flat stretch of the course.
I was glad for the water stop at mile 12, and suddenly Bill was right behind us, talking, and I was glad Heather would have someone else to run with when I split off. Before I knew it, it was time to cross over to the other side of the road and up the hill to the finish line. I felt so sad to leave Heather and Bill, but also glad to be finished. Just before the split, I called out to Bill and Heather to wish them luck, but they didn’t hear me, and I felt sad again. Even though I knew I had made the right decision to run “only” the half, it was still tough to see them continue on without me.
Suddenly, I heard my name called out from some spectators on the median and was surprised to see an old friend from Dallas. She was just as surprised to see me. Then I saw Michael and the dogs, which gave me an incredible burst of energy, and I gave it everything I had through the finish chute, passing everyone in my path–which felt awesomely badass!
After I grabbed a space blanket, my medal (which is the coolest medal in my collection), some Gatorade, and a bagel, with teeth chattering, I made the long walk back to Michael. IT WAS FREEZING! Thankfully I had loaded up Michael’s backpack with a bunch of throw away race clothes, including two items I couldn’t seem to get rid of: the world’s ugliest Turkey Trot t-shirt and a pair of pink Hello Kitty sweatpants I had bought in the children’s department at Target for $2.45 to wear before Boston. Despite how ridiculous the outfit looked, I couldn’t wait to put everything on and warm up. Even though I had packed for four seasons, I hadn’t brought enough for winter.
Our original plan was to wait at the finish line for the others to cross, but it was way too cold to stand around for two hours, especially when Michael had forgotten gloves and a cap.
We decided to walk to the car to warm up. As soon as we started the car we heard a radio announcer saying the temperature was 37 degrees, with a wind chill factor of 26, which meant the temperature had dropped ten degrees since the start. I’ve run in colder temps before, and was freezing at the finish, but it truly was almost perfect weather for a race.
We decided to drive over to mile 24 to cheer on the runners and possibly run someone in. Almost immediately we saw the husband of the old friend who had yelled out my name just before the finish line, and he was keeping pace with the 3:40 group. Not too far behind him, however, was Don, definitely on pace to run a sub 4:00. He looked strong and very focused, and surprised to see us. I hooted and hollered for all the runners, especially those who looked like they were struggling. I was amazed that some people could look so fresh and alert, and others looked like they would give anything to curl up in the grass. A few people looked at me like they wanted to kill me. I’ve definitely been there!
I was ecstatic to see the next runner from the group: Liz!!!!! She looked very tired, but I was impressed that she had passed Bill, Heather, and Hari to take the lead. I wondered how it had felt when she made it past mile 12, and if she shed any tears thinking of what happened three years ago. Seeing her so close to finishing her first marathon was incredibly inspiring.
A few minutes behind Liz was Hari. I’d recognize those compression socks and arm warmers anywhere! He was running with a small entourage of people I didn’t know, which made me laugh that Hari would make friends in the midst of all the agony. He looked great!
Finally, I could see Heather running towards me, and I teared up! I was so proud of her for making it through all those hills. She was as feisty as ever, telling me she was so over all the hills and hoping there weren’t any more (I couldn’t tell her there were indeed more ahead), and telling me how much she hated the course. I ran with her a little way down the hill and we talked about how anyone could train for so many hills. We hugged and said goodbye, and I knew the medal she was looking forward to would make her feel a lot better.
While we were running she told me Bill had dropped out of the race around mile 20, that he was having some IT band issues and couldn’t finish. I knew how devastated Bill must be feeling, and felt bad for him. I wished I had been there when he made that decision (though he says the curse words were flying at that point and that I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be there).
Everyone met up at the hotel afterwards, exhausted and happy to be done. I was tired, but felt nothing like I usually do after a marathon. In fact, I felt exhilarated. Running the half was fun, and I loved being able to run in a race with everyone I had trained with without dreading all the miles ahead of me and worrying constantly about my pace and hitting a PR. The only battle wound I had was a small blood blister on a random toe, which was also a huge change from the blisters and black toenails I’ve had after past marathons.
Running “only” the half was a blast. I really loved running that day, and it was exactly what I needed. I came home looking forward to running again, and started thinking about running more halfs and less full marathons. I got out my running books and started thinking about a training plan to bring my speed back up to par. I couldn’t wait for the muscle soreness to go away so I could run again.
Running a race just for fun, with my friends, was a good reminder to me that it isn’t always about the PR, or proving how tough we are, or testing our limits. Sometimes you can go out and just run–and that’s enough.
Usually, five days before a marathon, I’m a mess. I’m checking the weather forecast every hour, obsessing over every slight twinge in my legs and feet, worrying about what to pack, wondering if I could’ve done anything differently in my training, not feeling like I’ve done enough, and having marathon nightmare dreams in my sleep. This time, since I’ve had to switch to the half marathon due to injuries, I keep having to remind myself that I’m actually running a race on Sunday.
What a difference minus 13.1 miles makes.
Running a half marathon when you’ve trained for a full is strange. I feel relaxed and not worried, knowing I won’t be alone. My plan is to help pace the friends I’ve trained with through the first 13 miles of their marathon, then I’ll peel off to the finish line and be done with my “race.” I’m not going to push the pace and race with the bum ankle and sore piriformis, and will try to stay with everyone around a 9:30 pace–which is about what we usually keep on our long runs.
Still, thirteen miles is nothing to sneeze at. Once you’ve run a few marathons you start to think in terms of “only” a half marathon. Ultra-marathoners probably say the same about marathons. It’s not snobbishness, it’s just that when you consistently do really long runs, half the mileage you’re training for really does seem like an “only.”
I can’t even say that I actually enjoy running marathons. They’re hard, really hard. And long. I think I prefer the training, especially the group long runs, to the race. At least that’s been my experience so far. I do feel an incredible sense of accomplishment when I’m done, and I love the total experience, no matter how miserable I am the last six miles, but I wouldn’t use the words “enjoy” and “marathon” in the same sentence.
Maybe this is because of the way I tend to race. Usually when I run a race of any distance, I start out too fast and try to hold on. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. This time, I’m looking forward to keeping a somewhat comfortable pace for half the distance I’ve trained for.
Who knows, maybe I’ll actually enjoy the race this time because of it–even if it is “only” the half marathon.
9/15/11 – 6 MILES
Last night we celebrated running through–and surviving–the official Hottest Summer on Record. Everyone met at Fuzzy’s and the weather gods smiled down upon us, giving us cooler temps and a nice breeze at the start. We ran 6 miles total, including the last two being 90% uphill on Meadowlake and our old friend Sperry.
A small cool front blew in and the humidity was down in the teens. It was still 92 degrees at the start, but the low humidity made it feel surprisingly pleasant. Michael brought the dogs and they were extremely excited to run, especially Nevada, who can’t stand it when she’s not right at the front of the pack. She pretty much pulled the entire way, and Michael turned around at mile 2 and came back on his own while Genevieve and I continued on. Once again I was surprised at how early it got dark, and we ran those last 2 hilly miles in the dark. We both decided that Sperry should always be run in the dark.
We had a few new people running with us, including Kristin, who decided to turn around at the 3 mile mark and do an out and back in case she got too far behind on an unfamiliar route. By the time we got back to Fuzzy’s it was pitch dark, and when Kristin still hadn’t shown up after 15 minutes or so, I decided to jump in the car and see if I could find her. After my experience of missing Michael at the lake a few weeks ago, I knew how scary it could be to run alone in the dark. Plus, I felt really bad because it was her first time running with us and there was no one running at her pace to keep her company. In the end, she made it back on her own, safe and sound.
Everyone bought drinks to celebrate the end of the extreme temperatures (hopefully), and Genevieve got a huge, pink, frozen margarita. Chris and I reminisced about the infamous 17 miler, aka The Worst Training Run Ever, and talked about our future running plans. I told him I wanted to take a break from running marathons, then proceeded to list all the marathons I still wanted to run. He said he wants to concentrate on speed and run some really fast 5K’s and 10K’s, something that doesn’t interest me at all. Maybe I’ll run some half marathons in the spring. Maybe I’ll try some trails. Maybe I’ll just run.
In the meantime, there’s still a marathon to train for . . .
Stats: 6 miles @ 9:39 pace – 92 degrees at the start, with hills
Wednesday night’s run was all about friendship. When it’s 101 degrees at 7PM, it’s very easy to f ind reasons not to run. Believe me, they all crossed my mind. All afternoon they crossed my mind. In the end, however, it was running with good friends that lured me out and kept me moving.
It was indeed 101 degrees when we started our run. Thankfully, there was a nice breeze, and most importantly, there was only 23% humidity. There was also a lot of shade. I have to be honest and say it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe the heat is getting to me, but I think as long as the humidity stays low, running when it’s 101 degrees is doable. I didn’t say it was necessarily enjoyable, but it didn’t kill me either. (My friend Brian sent me a good article on the effects on our bodies of running in high heat and humidity.)
We ran a new route through the Hollywood Heights section of Dallas, and there were some hills. Keeping our options open, we decided to make the final decision on the fly as to whether we would run 4 or 6 miles. I was happy to discover that I’m slowly getting stronger again on the hills, though I’m still not where I want to be (am I ever?). I didn’t use my hill mantra (“just keep going”) at all, and instead relied on my friends to get me to the top. By using my friends, I mean that I carefully watched Bill and Gary out of the corner of my eye. If they kept going, I would, too. If they quit before the top, so would I. We’re a team that way. They never let me down.
We did walk some, but at just over 5 miles we could see the car and had to make the crucial decision whether or not to bail on the last mile or continue running. To keep running when you can see the place you started from is the equivalent of continuing on past the race finish line, just for fun. We compromised and ran out to just past 5.25, then made it back at 5.75 miles, not feeling one bit guilty that we had stopped short of 6. When it’s 101 degrees out, there’s no room for guilt about anything–quitting early, walking, running for beer or Mexican food, etc.
Afterwards, the obligatory post-run beer and Mexican food were our reward for the trying run. Actually, I’m wrong. It was the same thing that got me out there in the heat and through the run that was my true reward: good friends and good conversation. They’re truly the best reasons to run when it’s 101 degrees.
Today is the three year anniversary of the death of a good friend. Actually, he was more than a good friend. He was someone I ran with.
We make friends throughout our lives and we lose them, usually when we change jobs, or move, or simply make new friends when our interests change. Some friends we stay in touch with sporadically through the years, some we rediscover through Facebook or chance meetings, and some we wonder why we never made more of an effort to stay in touch. We make new friends, we move on, and life continues. The friends we lose to death, however, are the ones whose memories visit us late at night, and the ones we can’t forget.I met Arshad through running. We had a mutual friend, Rich, and both caught up with me early one Saturday morning on a nine mile loop around the lake. We discovered we were all training for an upcoming local half marathon and decided to meet during the week for a few runs together. Arshad and I were both relatively new to running and had never run a half marathon before, and we knew that training with someone else would be easier. Also, I came to discover Arshad was the type of runner who enjoyed socializing and meeting new people more than he did running, so it made sense. Even though he was tall, lean, and naturally fast, he would purposely hold back because the companionship was more important than the running.
So we trained together. Rich had run a marathon before (which was something I could never fathom doing at that time) and he was our biggest cheerleader. He liked to run a few steps ahead of us and keep the pace. Rich was also tall, so keeping up with the guys was good training for me. We jokingly called ourselves “The Dream Team” and logged many miles together in preparation for the race. I found out Arshad was from Bangalore, India and had gone to school in Chicago for engineering. I got to know him as a person, and he was always happy and in a good mood. We made plans to visit India one day with Arshad as our guide.
There’s something about pushing yourself physically with another person that bonds you to them. Running mile after mile, through every type of weather and temperature imaginable, at impossibly early times in the day, you really get to know a person. All your differences melt away with the miles you log together.
The day of the race arrived warmer than expected, and finishing was tougher than I thought it would be. I made stupid rookie mistakes (eating something different for breakfast and going out way too fast at the start) and seriously considered bailing at mile 10. I finished in 2:03 and Rich in 1:56. Arshad finished in1:49. I couldn’t believe how fast he had run his first half marathon.
I joined the Dallas Running Club and talked Arshad into joining as well. Our goal race was the Oklahoma City Half Marathon. He didn’t want to run another race so soon but trained with us anyway. I noticed that Arshad would run with any group, no matter the pace, and could usually be found in the back of the pack talking to any one of a number of pretty, young, female runners. He always adjusted his running speed accordingly.
Rich was training for a full marathon, and sometimes the groups would converge and run together. I was in awe of the full group and the distances they ran each week. The seed was planted for me, but Arshad said no way, he’d rather stick to half marathons and run them really fast. The months and the miles passed, and I noticed Arshad seemed to be running with the same group—and one girl in particular, Elizabeth–each week. I was happy for him, but never got the chance to ask what was going on.
Arshad’s lease was up on his apartment and he decided to move to my complex on the other side of the lake. I talked him into running the OKC Half Marathon with the group and we talked about reserving seats on the bus the running club had chartered. During that same time his parents came to visit from India. On our Wednesday night run he asked if I would join them and a few other friends for dinner and a movie on Friday. I met his mom and dad, his ex-girlfriend, Jen, and some friends from church. We had a great time, though he took some grief for the movie, an ultra-violent film festival entry about the war in the Middle East. He said he thought his mom would like it.
The next week, just before our scheduled Wednesday night group run, it started to rain. Arshad called to ask if I was going and I told him no. Fifteen minutes later the storm passed and my phone rang. Tempted to ignore it, I picked up and told Arshad I would meet him at the gate, knowing how guilty I would feel if I didn’t run. The dark evening was beautiful, and everything at the lake glowed from the rain. Arshad ran fast that night and it felt good to keep the pace. When I made a random comment about hating to run into a headwind, he remarked, ever positive, that he liked it because it kept him cool. He talked about how beautiful the trees at the lake were, and how it was his favorite place to run.
It was the last time we ran together.
We had made plans to drive together to the local train station for the start of our Saturday morning group run. When I got up early the next morning I noticed a message on my phone. It was Jen, telling me to call her as soon as I got the message. Even though it was six o’clock in the morning, I immediately called. She told me Arshad had been in a car accident the evening before, and it was fatal. His mother was also killed, and his father was in critical condition.
He died on a busy street I travel on quite often, and it was a long time before I could drive past the spot where a manufacturing defect in one of his tires caused his death. Two weeks after his death I ran the Oklahoma City Marathon without him. I ran faster than I’d ever run, because I knew he couldn’t. When I crossed the finish line and the medal was put around my neck by a bombing victim’s family member, I cried and asked if I could have another medal for the friend I had lost who hadn’t made it to the finish line with me.
His death made no sense to me, and it never will.
Today, three years later, I think about him. I can still hear his silly high-pitched laugh, and see a smile light up his face. I remember his earnest curiosity of what made people who they are, and his love of deep conversations. I remember the new running clothes he bought just before he died, and how he worried about what he looked like in them. I remember his carefree approach to running that I am still trying to emulate. He is in my thoughts every single race I run, especially the marathons I never had the chance to talk him into running. More than anything else, I just miss him.
His friends got together and donated a tree and a plaque in his name at the Celebration Tree Grove at the lake. We all think of him when we run past the spot, which is on the same route we ran that rainy night, days before he died. A little bit further up the road is the place where it is always windy. It took me a long time, but now I smile when I think about how he could put a positive spin on everything, even running into the wind.
Rest in peace, Arshad Ahmed, and know you are not forgotten.