(photo from Richmond Times Dispatch)
Honestly, I don’t know how to start. I’ve always been better at writing my true emotional feelings than speaking them out loud. Sometimes I have luck. Other times I feel like my short words will flit off into space after they leave my mouth; emotions never to truly be known by my listener. In my mind, they are clear as day. In my speech, I’m bobbing for apples. When will I get a clear shot at one? How many times will I have to dunk my head in water before I do? Rough.
These past few days have been a time when spoken words really seem to do no justice. So I write.
Three years ago, I decided that running was something I could be good at. I had always run on and off over the years, but I was plagued with shin splints early on. Not knowing enough to get shoes that really helped me, I would keep going. Some days were good and some were terrible. Fast forward to the year I signed up for my first 10k. Three years ago. The Monument Ave 10k. I began training; with shoes I hated wearing because they made my legs feel like trunks, and shin splints were unpredictable and inevitable. If it wasn’t this run, it would be the next. The treadmill was a dead giveaway. Splints in one mile for sure. But I kept plugging away. Some runs would end in complete frustration. Then I got a pair of shoes that fit well. As time went on, my legs became stronger, the pain became less and I found myself running and focusing on things besides “How many miles will I get today before they come?”. During the time I trained, Josh had raced in a few races around Richmond. I couldn’t be at either of them, but I remember him coming home and describing the experience. Mostly, I remember his description of “chills” and “teary eyed” at the Blessing of the Runners and at various points throughout his run. When I experienced my first as a spectator I was hooked. I have never been somewhere where you can FEEL the mood. Where you can FEEL the HOPE and the SUPPORT. I’ve told my first time story to racers who have been racing for many, many years. It’s like they’ve almost become immune to those feelings, as we all tend to do when we’ve been doing something over and over. But one woman said to me, “Yeah, you’re right! It really is a very positive environment! I’m usually so nervous I don’t even notice!” It’s hard to explain sometimes, but it’s as close to pure and honest as I have ever been to (other than a baby, of course). Runners run against themselves. Laying it all out. They run against the training that they did, or did not do. They run with their minds. They run with frustrations and fears. They run with their legs and their breath and their feet. They run stubborn or mad or hurt or sad. They run proud. They run happy. They run with their HEART. Because sometimes, it’s the only thing pushing them. You see all of that on race day. And then you see the people who are there supporting them. Mom’s, Dad’s, Children, Grandparents, Friends, Husbands, Wives. With signs and hugs and lots of yelling and cheering. All for the race against yourself. After that 10k three years ago, I kept running. Not all of the time, and sometimes not for weeks. But I miss it when time becomes so long between them. And I can usually tell I need one when
Josh tells me to lose the mood my attitude needs some re-adjusting.
I know some people won’t “get it”, and I understand why. But something happened to me when I decided to choose running. I became part of a family. A family much bigger than any that I could ever hope for. One that stands behind you and supports you; even if they’re only there figuratively. It’s a family that cheers you on when you’re low and waves a friendly wave of “Hi, I’m on your side – You doing ok? Need anything?” when you pass them on the road. It’s strength in times of need and it’s happiness in times of celebration. I have never been involved in a group of people across the globe, that cares so intensely about one another and their success.
So this is why I write today.
On Monday, in a town just outside of Richmond, a part of our figurative but very REAL running Family was hit and killed around 8:00am by a drunk driver – a Doctor – heading to work. Meg Menzies was out on her morning training run for the Boston Marathon. She left behind 3 gorgeous children and a husband; who is a Sergeant at the Ashland Police Department. Through Facebook, I have learned so much about this woman. How inspiring, supportive, and strong she was. And how happy she made people. How she gave of herself and asked nothing in return. How she lit up a room with her smile. She was a big part of the Richmond area community and was a member of the Richmond Road Runners. She went to VCU and worked at the Y part time, while being a stay at home mom. I never knew her, and if we crossed paths I probably wouldn’t have known. But she is Family. And through Facebook, and unfortunately through her death, she has brought at this point, over 61,000 people together. People from across our Nation and across the WORLD. Over 61,000!!! (Meg’s Miles) From the figurative, we are seeing REAL people poke their heads from behind the door. Wanting to do something to honor our fallen road warrior. And that’s what we will do. We will all be running or walking or biking this Saturday in remembrance and as a reminder that Drunk Driving as well as Distracted Driving can change someone’s life in less than a second. In our world today, the smallest bit of comradeship between people makes my heart skip. So much so, that when neighborhoods are lit up with their front porch lights at Halloween for the kids, I actually get teary. Some may not understand why this tragedy has really hit home with me, and I don’t expect anyone to. Meg was part of the family of runners that I am proud to be in – and this can happen to any of us. Most drivers are careful and aware. But there have been times that I have been nervous. I would like to think that I am fast enough to jump out of the way – but she wasn’t. What makes me so lucky? My heart feels like it could jump through my throat when I think of her family, and of her husband and partner and their life together. I can’t even imagine. I just can’t. She was one year younger than me. We have so much life left to LIVE!
Unfortunately, sometimes death brings a light that shines, and she will never know the impact she is making. Who she is bringing together or who she is inspiring. When I go out for a run, I don’t know if I’ll die of a heart attack or if I’ll get picked up by someone who intends to harm me. I don’t know if I’ll get hit by a car, if I’ll step wrong and break my ankle or catch a root and go flying head first into rocks in front of a fisherman (been there, done that!). But I still run. I still take the chance. And because of that, I’ll still feel the elation of a great run. Or the frustration of a painful one. I’ll still be training my mind to overrule the exhaustion I “think” I feel. I’ll still tell myself to stop being such a wuss and ROCK IT. I’ll still go one or two or three more miles than I had intended. I’ll still look around and see the trees and the wildlife. I’ll still run in the rain and in the blistering heat. I’ll still run up 3 hills, to feel the recovery of 3 down hills. I’ll still soak my face in the river water. I’ll still wave at the nice older couple who are always out in the yard. I’ll still run with Josh. I’ll still feel happy. I’ll still well up in tears. I’ll still push through and every day that I’m lucky, I’ll still come home. Meg can’t. And because she can’t, I will.
In the Finnish Culture there is one word that sums up an entire breed of person: SISU. We are people of quiet thunder. Of respect. Of strength, perseverance and determination against impossible odds. Guts and Grit. In 1940, TIME Magazine wrote, “The Finns have something they call SISU. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate SISU as “the Finnish spirit” but it is a much more gutful word than that.” In short, we’re stubborn as Hell. My race shirt has this word plastered on the front. It will help me during my first Half Marathon in March to remember who I am and how strong I will be. I will also wear it for Meg and her family. May her loved ones know this SISU strength during this time. And may they feel the love coming to them from their Running Family around the world, peeking from behind the door:
“You OK? Need anything?”