As Eric’s 13th deathaversary creeps closer (Sunday by the day of the week, Tuesday by the date), I think about how much everything has changed, and how much is the same.
One big same is I still live in the house Eric and I bought together almost 40 years ago. I look out on the same pastures and farmyard. The stone wall of the cemetery up the hill, with a burst of flaming forsythia among the gravestones, still draws the closest horizon. I run the same routes in the morning and hear the same birds. Today a loon called as I ran along Northwood Lake, its eerie tremolo announcing its arrival as it landed in the water.
Eric loved loons and their regular presence around me is a way he stays with me. A loon shows up in this poem from The Truth About Death, the book I wrote the year after Eric died. As always, loons cry as they fly overhead at dawn most mornings in the spring and summer, moving between the lake and the ponds to the north.
But there are some big changes that ride along with what has stayed the same. I’m older, I’ve lost more people, I have grandchildren, I have more time for my own creative work, I run slower but still fast for my age, I know a lot more widows, I’m no longer a widow myself.
But I don’t think of myself as being in a new category anymore. I’m just here, and mostly it works.
My desk as this early spring afternoon slips over to dusk — Belvenie on the rocks, in a lovely tumbler Eric bought. He would approve.
My sketch book with a drawing of tulips I bought yesterday. Last week I figured out how to draw a leaf turning over on itself; I followed the contour line through the flip, added a bit of shading, and there it was. I’m practicing, still drawing almost every day.
Not Sunday. Under the sketchbook is my bib from the NYC half marathon, on its way to getting pinned on the decidedly not-decorator-worthy-wall of homasote in our bedroom from back in the days David was seeing if the room would work as a studio. It didn’t. But having a wall of fiberboard to tack up race bibs and Emilio drawings and sketches and poems and cards and posters is too wonderful a thing to take down. Two weeks ago David put up homasote over the art desk in my study.
As I ran down the West Side Highway towards the Battery on Sunday, sun on my face and the wind at my back, I knew I was probably going to make it to the finish line fast enough to qualify for the race next year, but my right knee and left thigh and left, blistered foot hurt.
So I let them go. I remembered what Sam told me after he ran an 11 mile trail race a few weeks ago. Describing his fastest stretch, running downhill after a grueling, steep-as-shit climb, he said, “I was flying. My body was gone.” A faster song came on my playlist and I picked up my pace.
1:58:17. That’s 31 seconds slower than last year. I’ll take it. It gives me 3 minutes and 43 seconds to come under the 2:02 qualifying time next year, and the year after I’ll be 65 and get another 10 minutes. With my time on Sunday I’d have been fifth in the 65-69 age group. The number of women running dropped from 162 in the 60-64 group to 53 who were 65-69. Two thirds fewer. Can I keep running into that age group? That fast?
In the first years after Eric died I would have laughed at myself for making plans to place in races two years out. Where do plans get you?
But I like the idea that by keeping myself on the road I could get closer to winning, even though being able to run 13.1 miles is winning enough.
I’ve been making books (the first definition of bookmaking is someone who takes bets –those of us making actual books come in second). I’ve learned how to fold sheets of paper into zines and bind pages with the five hole pamphlet stitch. Next week I’ll learn caught loop binding and then on to coptic binding, a beautiful braid of stitches to hold a book together.
I’ve been making phone calls. My goal each week is 15 acts of resistance, which include making collages and going to meetings but mostly calls to Senators Hassan and Shaheen with occasional calls to Annie Kuster. My message is basically the same — resist the Trump autocracy/hypocrisy/treachery flavor of the day. I also make regular calls to McConnell’s office because his particular brand of partisan bullshit cowardice is particularly infuriating to me. Sometimes I even get through. When I don’t, there’s no way to leave a message. Of course.
I’ve been drawing. Every day. I’m bound to get better.
I’ve been getting smart feedback on my memoir manuscript from incredibly generous friends (you know who you are) which has made my writing brain fire off in flashes of insight that I know will lead to a tighter, stronger, more dynamic book. Part of yesterday was spent making lists of what’s coming and going in the next draft — getting ready to dive back in.
I’ve been writing pushback against injustice. Yesterday I sent off a column to the Concord Monitor pointing out the absurdity of arguments against a bill to protect trans people from discrimination; opponents claim it will lead to women being assaulted in bathrooms. I’ve had it with the “bathroom bill” idiocy. NH’s bill to add gender identity to the anti-discrimination law isn’t about bathrooms and the opposition isn’t about protecting women. Let’s be real — the bill is about justice and the opposition is about bigotry. HB 478 — call your NH House Rep to support the bill today.
I’ve been running. According to my training plan I’m running 11 miles this morning. That means my legs won’t do much else today. My gratitude for a body strong enough to still be running long distances is deep, but I definitely feel the difference between a body that’s 60 and a body that’s 63. Hopefully it will all stay on track for the NYC Half Marathon on March 19. Can I run a time qualifying half marathon again? I’m sure going to try.
I’ve been making collages. I’ve made a book collage of collages inspired by Ta Nahesi-Coates’ essay in The Atlantic, “My President Was Black.” The article describes a concert and party the Obamas had at the White House in October, a farewell celebration. It was presented by Black Entertainment Television and was primarily a party for black people — black performers, black guests, black luminaries.
It was a joy to read about, black people having a party at the White House. A house built by black slaves.
But I know there are people in this country, not the majority but enough of them, who couldn’t stand the idea of a black family in the White House, much less that family celebrating there. The White Fuckboys particularly couldn’t stand it.
Now the White Fuckboys are trying to run the country though they’re not having an easy time of it, partly because their treachery keeps catching up with them and partly because of the organic rise of resistance that’s swept across country.
Today Chris would have celebrated her 65th birthday. Instead, those of us who love her are remembering her and honoring her, as sad as we are.
But she’s also still here. Chris was a committed practitioner of Qigong — postures, movement and breathing to bring life force in to your being for health and vitality. The name comes from two Chinese words: qi (or ch’i or chi) means the life force or energy that flows through all of us and everything, and gong means skill cultivated through practice.
Chris thought a lot about chi, about the life force, about how we’re all connected. When she died, her chi didn’t disappear because her energy wasn’t bound by her body. It flowed in to the life force that’s everywhere. I used some of that chi today.
Sam did a 20k trail run two weekends ago — that’s over 18 miles, up and down mountains, on scrambly trails, not an easy run. When he called, excited by how well he’d done, he told me how he uses chi when he runs — his own version of chi running. When he’s in the flow and feeling good, he stores chi to use later if some part of him starts to hurt or if he’s lagging. If someone passes him, moving smooth and fast and clearly in a good zone, Sam thinks, “Well that person has some chi to spare. I’ll take a bit of that.” Then he uses stored chi or borrowed chi to send to an aching knee or tired legs.
I loved the idea and thought of it today, just under 8 miles in to what I hoped would be at least a 10 mile run. My knee hasn’t completely healed from whatever made it so cranky during the NYC half-marathon in March, and though I have another half-marathon to run in a little over a week, I haven’t been running much, wanting to give my knee time to rest.
The rest has been working. Last week I was able to run over 7 miles without knee pain, the first time I’ve run more than 3 or 4 miles in many weeks. I wanted to add 3 miles to that today, thinking that would mean only adding another 3 next weekend to do the half-marathon.
Heading into that 8th mile my legs were tired and my knee was cranking up. And then I thought about it being Chris’s birthday and the energy she left behind, so much life force still to be used, and I concentrated on pulling her chi into me. I felt a tingling rush of warmth through my body and Chris was right there, hovering over me as I ran another 2 miles — 10.2 miles, exactly what I’d hoped to do.
I’ve been texting with my sisters Meg and Jeanne today, touching base on this sad and happy day (the 6th birthday of one of Jeanne’s grandsons), and when I told them about my run my sister Meg reminded me it’s everyone’s chi. Universal energy. “We are all one,” as it says on Chris’s memorial bench.
On Sunday I ran the NYC Half Marathon. I was delighted with my finish — 1:57:46, more than four minutes to spare to make my goal of 2:02, because that’s the time I needed to qualify to run again next year, or to run the NYC Marathon. But I’m pretty certain I’m not going to do another marathon. All along I said the marathon I did was just to have done one, to cross something off my bucket list (it’s really the only thing I’ve put on my bucket list). But I got such a high from it, especially when I came off the Queensboro Bridge and turned up 1st Avenue, the waves of people running as far as I could see in front of me, the crowds along the sides of the road cheering, the soaring, beat-heavy pop music pulsing through my ear buds. Maybe I’d do it again?
Nope. Sunday’s half marathon was just as fun, gave me just as much of a high, and was only half as hard. So I think I’ll be sticking with halfs.
But how about 43 marathons in 51 days? Or 27 in 27? Do you know Eddie Izzard? He’s a very funny man and amazingly determined and he’s done that many marathons. “A 54-year-old cross-dressing comedian with a middle-aged paunch, who smokes and drinks, Eddie Izzard is hardly what you’d call an athlete,” as the Daily Mail says.
David and I saw Eddie Izzard perform when we were in London last month. He was wrapping up a three-year tour with shows in his hometown. Even though we could only understand about half of what he said — he talked fast and with a serious British accent — we laughed almost nonstop and are still repeating lines and schticks from the show and cracking ourselves up.
It was reading more about Izzard after that show that we learned he had run 43 marathons in 51 days in 2009, running across the UK to raise money for Sport Relief, a charity that supports vulnerable populations in the UK and poor countries around the world. To get ready for those marathons (not actual races, but running 26.2 miles each day), Izzard did only five weeks of training.
Sunday, when I ran the NYC Half, Izzard had just finished running 27 marathons in 27 days across South Africa, this time in honor of Nelson Mandela but also to again raise money for Sport Relief — over £1.35 million in fact. This time his training consisted of a few runs of 10 to 15 miles.
How does he do it? He credits coming out as a cross dresser, which boosted rather than decreased his fan base, with giving him the determination he needs to do difficult things. ‘”Walking out of the door wearing heels and make-up was so hard. But it prepared me for everything else difficult I’ve ever done,” he said. Izzard calls himself an “action transvestite.”
And physically he didn’t try to run the marathons too fast, at a 12 to 13 minute mile pace, using a lot of slow jogging and steady walking to minimize the impact on his body. Every night he spent an hour in an ice bath and he kept his toenails cut to the quick so they wouldn’t bang up against his shoes (those of you who’ve run marathons or halfs will understand that — my toenails hurt more than anything else after the marathon I ran).
Still, 707 miles in 27 days? Oh, and he missed a day because he was sick and had to go to the hospital. I missed a day of my training for this half marathon because I was sick and just let my long run for that week go. What did Eddie do? He did a double marathon on his last day — 52.4 miles. In a day! What a man.
If you include healing meditation in your daily meditation, which means calling to mind people who need healing of some kind and repeating phrases like, “May they be safe, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they be free from suffering,” you’re supposed to start by first calling for those things for yourself. So I do that, and one of the things I ask for is gratitude. “May I be grateful. . . . ” So, today I’m grateful for:
the time, resources and opportunity for the next adventure David and I are embarking on today — London, India, the Canary Islands. Over three weeks of new sights and experiences.
having a body strong enough to train for a half marathon, beating my race pace goal in a training run this week by more than 30 seconds (8:40 average over 4 miles), and running 9 miles today. I’m currently icing my knees, but I did it. I’m pumped!
the creative space I’ve created for myself, both physically in my study/studio, and in my head and heart, giving myself time to write and engage with other writers and make collages and cook and knit and plan another week this summer at a writing conference because I am going to finish my memoir.
There is so much more I could list, but this is what came to me this morning over the course of those 9 miles.
As those of you on Facebook know, I successfully finished the NYC Marathon last Sunday. It was a long journey from my no-running months last winter, due to a sore knee, through physical therapy, 18 weeks of training and then the long trip on Sunday morning, starting with a 5:55 am train into Manhattan, a subway ride to the South Ferry station, and a ferry trip across the Hudson River with the many runners from other states and countries snapping shots of the Manhattan skyline as it receded behind us and the Statue of Liberty as we slapped through the wind-whipped water to Staten Island.
There I got in a long line of people slowly making their way to a long line of buses, waiting to take runners to the start village. Once there I wandered through the tented areas offering coffee and Gatorade, Power Bars and bagels, waiting until the last minute before getting in my starting corral to shed the extra layers I’d worn to say warm in the early morning chill, made much chillier by a hard, cold wind.
At 10:55 the gun for Wave 4 boomed and the last group of starters shuffled in a mass towards the starting line. By the time I stepped over the line the mass of runners had thinned out enough that I could actually start running across the Verrazano Bridge. In spite of the pre-race instructions to leave extra warming clothes in the start village to be donated to charity (or have them transported to the finish line, an option no one seemed to be using) and not to drop them on the bridge, I was dodging sweaters and sweatshirts, hats and gloves, coats and scarves for the first several miles of the course. In fact, there never stopped being discarded clothing for the entire race. Why would someone drop gloves 24 miles into a marathon and not just carry them the last 2 miles?
After the fierce wind on the Verrazano Bridge, the sun came out and the buildings of New York did a good job of blocking the wind for much of the course. I churned along, listening to podcasts and then switched to a running playlist Adrienne had made, and which I added to, at mile 13, in order to pump myself up for the second half of the race. The music helped a lot as I finished the long run through Brooklyn, a corner of Queens, and powered up the incline of the Queensboro bridge, then let myself cruise down to the turn up First Avenue in Manhattan.
First Avenue was the highlight for me. As I started to head north, I looked up at the sea of runners before me, stretching for miles, and the crowds of people along the sides, cheering and shouting and holding signs. Through the music I could hear “Way to go, Grace,” “Go Grace,” “You can do it, Grace.” It was definitely a good move to write my name on duct tape across the front of my shirt so I could get personal encouragement.
Knowing I’d see David at miles 8, 16 and 24 helped too. “Just another mile and David will be on the sidelines,” I would tell myself, and when I turned south on Fifth Avenue at 138th street I started counting the streets in my head, “Just 46 more streets until I see David at 92nd, just 20 more streets, just 5 . . . .” and there he was, smiling and cheering and holding out a PowerBar in case I needed more to eat (which I didn’t).
As I neared the finish line in Central Park I realized I was really going to make it. I’d thought all along I was going to be able to finish this marathon, that I’d prepared myself and trained for it. In the last six miles of running I understood why the training program peaked at a 20 mile run. The last six miles are pure will and grit — once at 20, I kept going by locking in the one-foot-then-the-next rhythm, focused on the music blasting in my ears, and just kept moving. Now I could see the finish line and all I had to do was make sure I didn’t stop.
I didn’t. But now I have. The Hal Higdon training program that served me so well in preparing for the race has a post-marathon recovery program, and I’m now in Zero Week of that program. As in Zero running. The first three days say “No running!” On Thursday and Saturday you can do a gentle jog if you really need to, but the advice is to take the week off. Rest! I’m not good at that but I’m doing it. My toes are still too sore to do much moving yet anyway.
Going in to this marathon I told everyone, and myself, I was just doing this one because I’d decided doing a marathon was on my bucket list. Now I’m not sure I’m going to stop at one. Running 26.2 miles seems like a good deal for an endorphin high that lasts this long.
My son-in-law Matt is also training for the NYC marathon, but he’s using the Novice 2 training program by Hal Higdon, while I’m using the Novice 1 program. Mostly what that means is he’s running a mile or two longer on long run days, so he did 18 miles two weeks before I did. He told me when he finished he thought, “Yeah, I could do another 8 miles,” (which would bring him to the 26.2 miles of a marathon).
I did 18 miles last Saturday and when I finished I thought, “Yeah, I could throw up now.” Not encouraging. What is encouraging, is that my 5 mile run yesterday felt like nothing, and my 9 mile run today was relatively easy — I even did an extra .4 mile. Nine plus miles easy? This is new for me. The longest I’d ever run prior to this training was the 13.1 miles of the five half-marathons I’ve finished, and my training runs were never longer than 9 miles or so. I didn’t follow any training program. I’d just start adding a mile to my longest run on weekends for a month before the half-marathon, get up to 8 or 9 miles, then go push myself through the 13.1 I needed to run to finish the half.
But, as the orthopedic doctor I saw about my sore knees pointed out when he advised me against doing a marathon, a half-marathon is half of a marathon. Right. Which means it needs serious training. So I’m training and I’m serious about it, which I need to be or I’d stop. It’s really hard.
So why am I doing it? Why did doing the NYC Marathon end up on my bucket list? I’m not sure, I just know myself well enough to know that once I set myself a challenge, I’m going to keep moving towards the finish line unless there’s a serious reason not to. Feeling stiff and depleted and nauseous after my last long run isn’t serious enough to stop. It just makes me more determined than ever.
This weekend will be easy — only 14 miles for my long run, though how that’s going to fit in to observing Yom Kippur on Saturday and then traveling to visit family on Sunday I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I will.
And then the next weekend is the longest run I’ll do — 20 miles. I’m already planning my weekend around it, which is what following a marathon training program takes — lots of planning around the running, rather than fitting running in around the plans. I’m planning to be ready to run (and most likely walk some to, which according to Hal Higdon is perfectly fine) 26.2 miles on November 2.
I’m not into bucket lists, but if I was going to have a bucket list I would put running the NYC marathon on that list, and since I just finished my fourth week of training in a 16 week marathon training program, to be ready to run from Staten Island to Central Park, passing through all five boroughs of the city in the process on November 2, against the advice of the orthopedic doctor I saw about my sore knees and some of the signals from those knees (though not all the signals, or I would stop training, or at least I tell myself I would stop), I guess I do have a bucket list and as of now the only item on it is running the NYC marathon.
I ran 10 miles on Saturday. That’s the furthest I’ve run in a couple of years, since doing a half marathon in November of 2012. I didn’t run at all for over two months this past winter because my right knee was too painful. At that point I knew I’d gotten in to the NYC marathon, which I’ve been trying to get in to for years, so I was discouraged and frustrated. Friends who run marathons regularly tell me if you’re going to do one, NYC is the one to do.
In mid-March, when my knee was still bothering me even after over a month of not running and a couple of months of physical therapy, I made an appointment to see an orthopedic doctor.
“I don’t see anything on your x-rays that isn’t explained by age,” the doctor told me. “And I see no reason you can’t keep running 3 or 4 miles at a time, 3 or 4 times a week, for as long as you want. But I think you should really think about not running a marathon. You could do damage that would make you unable to run. I’m a runner myself and I’ve decided I’m never going to do a marathon.”
“But I’ve done a number of half marathons,” I said.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “That’s half the distance of a marathon.”
He has a point. But so do I. I want to do a marathon. I admit waiting until I was 60 to decide doing a marathon, the NYC marathon, is on my bucket list is a bit late. But by the end of March I was running again and I’ve been carefully adding miles to get to the point where I could start a training plan. I’m paying a lot of attention to both knees as I train and I’m ready to stop if they get too painful. The knees are definitely a bit cranky, but nothing like this winter, and nothing yet to make me stop.
So I’m hopeful. In the training plan I’m following this is a step back week. My long run this week will only be 7 miles. Good. Ten felt like a lot.
A year ago, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino created The One Fund with the purpose of helping those most affected by the bombings. The Fund collected and distributed nearly $61 million to over 230 individuals in just the first few months.
Shortly after the bombing, two poets, runners and editors decided they wanted to contribute also, and conceived the idea of an anthology of poems by runners, with half the profits from sale of the anthology going to The One Fund. Martin Elwell and Jenn Monroe put out a call for poems, and a few months later published Bearers of Distance. The book includes nearly 50 poems written by runners and poets of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities, poems that aren’t necessarily about running but inspired by running. Besides the usual poetry bio for each contributor, there is also a running bio.
I was honored to have the poem below selected for inclusion in the anthology, and especially today, as we all think back to that grim afternoon a year ago, I’m happy to have been a tiny part of one effort to bring healing to those affected.
Don’t name the color. Let the dawn
on snow be the last finch flapping
out of my sleep and drawing me
into the morning ice air sharp
against my cheeks. Yesterday’s
footsteps lead into the street,
the robin that haunts the buried garden
waits at the end of the road. Desire
twitches its tail, lungs feed my heart,
my blood carrying memory, a lover’s
arm that wrapped my waist as I slept,
the sun gold, snow on fire.