I started running in high school when it became clear that speed was my only strength on the lacrosse field. I didn't join the track team or cross country, though. I just ran. On a particularly hot summer day, I remember a cute boy from school pulling up beside me in his red mustang. "You need a ride?" he said. "Your face is all red."
"No," I said. "Just running."
When I was first out of college, I was a 5K junkie. My husband - then my boyfriend - would shake his head at my ability to lace up after a night of chicken wings and nachos, toe the line at the local race and do pretty well.
Not long after our first son was born microcephalic and needed a CAT scan to detect brain abnormalities, I put on the sneakers and ran. In those early years of questions, running helped me get away from worry and fear.
After my second son was born and I was a little bored at home, I joined an Ultimate Frisbee team. Once again, it turned out that my only strength on the field was my speed. Then I tore my ACL.
Not being able to run made me climb the walls. Slowly - much slower than I would have liked - I worked back to my running, my escape from negative thoughts. While running my first 10K post-surgery, I neared the turnaround pointing feeling good. I realized I was running again — that I would complete those 6.2 miles. I leaped in the air and slapped the volunteer a high five.
Wherever I go, I run. I have run open, untrafficked spaces in the Adirondacks, fresh-groomed cross country trails in Vermont, alongside the sparkling Pacific in Hawaii and next to the lapping Atlantic in Avalon. I have run the cobblestones of Paris, the Borghese garden of Rome, the impossible hills of Costa Rica and under the hot sun on Turks and Caicos. Mostly, though, I run familiar routes around my home in suburban Philadelphia. I don't run spectacularly far or stunningly fast. I just run.
Somewhere along all those miles — as my little boys were growing into strong, responsible teens and as our family dreams were becoming realities — something profound shifted in me. I still run, but I’m no longer running away. Running is not an escape anymore. It’s a place of peace for me. I’m not saying that it’s always easy or even that I’m always happy to lace up. But once I’m out there, feet pounding pavement, breath heaving in and out, muscles burning – I am alive. And when there is nothing else competing for my mind space, I can’t help but remember that I’m grateful.
Since my ACL surgery, I’ve completed two full marathons. My husband has finished six — plus three full Ironmans. We can’t even count the half-marathons anymore. That’s a lot of hours logged on sidelines and on racecourses. Though neither of us has ever qualified for Boston, I watch the news coverage and I can’t help but think: It could have been me. It could have been us. For all those runners and spectators, Monday's bombing obliterated the joy I've known from competing and cheering and replaced it with terror.
Because I don't know what else I can do, yesterday I ran. Today, I will run again.