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Extra Miles

Are you all recovered now?

Six days after I walked the Des Moines Half-Marathon with Seventeen, finishing in a respectable 3 hours 32 minutes and 16 seconds, I was still aware of feeling deep fatigue, the kind that finds me propped in bed with a movie at 8:30. He, of course, rebounded after a long nap. More surprising to me than my recovery time was the fact that I have zero desire to enter any more races. There’s a 5K or better just about every weekend until it’s too cold to exercise outside, many with chocolate at the finish line, but I don’t want any part of them. While I genuinely enjoy shared physical activity—I’m a yoga instructor, after all—and can’t imagine any better community than one devoted to fitness, the aspect of the race culture that doesn’t fit me came as a surprise: the noise. When the going gets tough, I thrive on quiet to recruit the strength I need to keep going.

On race day the noise from the start/finish line reached us several blocks away. By the time we got up close, the announcers and their roaring countdown couldn’t be ignored. They nattered about race times and the elite runners and sponsors and how we could all get back and have a beer. It was incessant. Out on the course I was grateful for the fog, a reminder to keep my attention on the task at hand and dismayed by the well-meaning people pounding pans with wooden spoons. It took a couple of miles for Seventeen and me to find our groove, but once we did we were in it and walked briskly in spite of sticky humidity and a slick course.

There were some joyful highlights. We felt famous when young women at a water station greeted us by name, until we realized that our first names were emblazoned on our race tags. Nonetheless, they provided just the right amount of cheer, water and thirds of banana we needed to boost us between miles 3 and 4.

At mile 7 Seventeen allowed as to he might actually be exercising. And we were both thrilled between miles 8 and 9 when the elite marathoners with their police escort ran by us. Shortly thereafter we were caught for some minutes in the noisy crosswinds of a self-appointed entertainer who surely meant well but was pitchy at best as she strummed and sang top 40 songs and the announcer who would call us in for bacon at their refreshment stop (Seventeen: “Even I don’t think bacon sounds good right now.”). The long hill up to the Capitol building followed and then it was north across the interstate and back south again, passing mile 11. The closer we got to the end, the more people stood on the sidelines cheering, playing, banging, yelling. For the last two miles I felt a little like the Grinch: It was all just noise, noise, noise, noise!

Seventeen took my hand and we crossed the finish line together. A smiling volunteer put a medal around my neck and Fourteen, who had been volunteering at the final water station, was standing there to greet us. Remembering that moment of triumph just now, it’s a tableau without a soundtrack, as though all the noise stopped for a few moments of sweet celebration with my peeps. And then it was back, louder than ever, as we threaded our way through to the food booths where Seventeen replenished all of the calories he had burned. A rock band played, the beer garden beckoned, and happy people with medals around their necks danced with their friends. I could barely move. And suddenly I realized all I wanted was the solace of quiet.

So my half-marathon completion party was just me, submerged in a tub full of warm water and Epsom salt until only my nose broke the surface.

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I’m proud of this medal!

When you’ve been striving for something with dedication—my training took over my summer and fall—it’s particularly interesting when it’s done, a different kind of quiet. Into the space spent thinking about hydration and training advancement, not to mention the time commitment for short and long walks every week, arrives an invitation, an opening. I was pondering just that after I dropped Fourteen at Nutcracker rehearsal, tooling over to get the torque on my recently rotated tires checked at Costco. Into the space walked a woman and man on a journey of their own that just for a few minutes intersected with mine.

I had parked when they approached and I could see they were both looking concerned. I wanted to set them at ease, “May I help you?”

The woman, tall, svelte, a little older than I am, looked relieved, “Yes, actually. We’ve locked our keys in the car and my phone is with them. If we could use your phone to call a cab I guess.”

“Of course.” I lit up my phone and dialed the number she reeled off from memory. As she waited for a dispatcher to answer, she was talking more to herself than to me: “I usually use Uber but the app is on my phone. They’re not answering. We only live about two miles from here.”

“Why don’t you let me drive you?”

If it seemed awkward at all to accept a ride from a stranger in the parking lot, she didn’t hesitate. She handed me my phone. “Really?” A big smile.

“My name’s Robin,” extending my hand.

“Mary,” she replied, shaking it. “And this is Charlie.”

Charlie declared he would go in and do their shopping, sending Mary with me. Truth be told he was looking a little askance at the convertible, even though it was a lovely fall day, bright sunshine and blue skies, a gentle breeze. Mary gamely climbed in, gave me directions, and we were off.

We exchanged information, but mostly Mary talked. They were just back, it turned out, from a celebration of life for the parents of longtime friends. But the real shadow in Mary’s life, it came out just before we arrived at her house, was that her own mother had died about ten days previously. “It’s no wonder,” I soothed, “that you locked your keys in your car. You’ve been through so much.”

Mary had clear social graces and did occasionally ask me a question, but mostly she talked and I encouraged her. It wasn’t long before we were back by her car, key in hand, and there was Charlie pushing out a cart full of wine. By way of thanks Mary said, “I wondered what I was going to do to enjoy this beautiful fall day. I guess it was ride in your convertible.”

“I’m so glad,” I said, and I was.

As I waved goodbye to Mary and Charlie, I felt grateful that there was enough silence when we happened upon one another in the parking lot that I could respond with the kindness they needed. I remembered just then that one of the elite runners, somewhere between miles 10 and 11, had gone tearing past Seventeen and me, no longer accompanied by motorcycle police or the other four runners. Was he running more just for the fun of it? Adding mileage for some Herculean running test ahead? Or was he running on for the joy and freedom he felt for having finished his task? When he zoomed down the street, his back splattered in dirt, his arms and legs moving in wide free form rather than the disciplined lockstep intensity we had seen earlier, all I could wonder is how he could have run a step beyond the finish. But after my ride in the sun with Mary I realized that we each have extra miles in us—they just don’t all look the same.

Wishing you joy-filled extra miles and the start of something big as we slide into the middle of fall under a new moon. xoR

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Walk On

How are you doing with your training?

When Seventeen was Five-and-a-Half, we moved kit-n-caboodle a thousand miles west, arriving at the front door to our new Iowa home on a below-zero December day, just shy of Christmas. Earlier that fall, I worked with a realtor to find our big box. She asked me for my “hot button” items. I answered, “Living space. I don’t care if we sleep in closets; we’re all home, all the time. It’s cold there. We need room to move around.”

Some thirty-eight houses later, she showed me the brick-front at the top of a short street with an enormous pantry, morning and afternoon sun, a sizeable yard, and oodles of living space. It was, among other things, a “circle house,” not merely situated atop a suburban circle, but inside you could walk around the main floor in a complete circle, a figure eight even, if you were feeling fancy.

One evening as we were still settling in, figuring out the light switches, and dreaming of living room furniture, I was making dinner too slowly for the children. I remembered that when I was little, my mother would send my brother and me outside to run around our house. That house was ringed in wooden decks, so we could go all the way around without touching the ground. But the ground outside our new house was snow and ice covered, so I reasoned little feet could pound around the inside circle of our house without causing too much disturbance. I tore around the first lap with them and then said, “Keep running. Go! Go!” Off went Five-and-a-Half with Two-and-a-Half pell-mell behind him.

“What are you doing?” Their father asked, arriving home.

“We’re running marathon!” They panted past.

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Running boy then …

The next day I got a tape measure and marked off their course. Then I converted 26.2 miles to feet, divided by the indoor track’s running distance, and wrote 1,946 at the top of a blank sheet of paper. “This,” I told Five-and-a-Half, “is how many times you need to run around the house to run a marathon.” For some time after, every night he would run a few laps and record his progress. When the weather got warm and they could run around outside before dinner, the big backyard became a secret land, a place to dig, a world of adventures. The marathon was perhaps half-completed when it was forgotten.

Today Seventeen’s long legs could stride that same circle in no time. Nonetheless, I like the way our house expands and contracts—I can fill it with people for a party or snuggle in with the peeps for family movie night. With Seventeen away at college, I’m very aware that for most days it’s much too big for his sister, Fourteen, his grandmother, Ninety-Two, and me, but as I commenced training to walk a half-marathon, my treadmill in the basement became too confining and I started to roam.

From my front door I can walk a five-mile loop that touches four towns. I can take the bike path east to do errands like dropping the water bill at City Hall or making a deposit at the bank or west to my friend’s house a whole county over. I can loop a variety of little lakes that front the expansive corporate buildings for the countless banks and insurance companies that make their headquarters here. To mix things up I have added destinations like Trader Joe’s, four miles from home, and endless loops around larger lakes to which I have to drive. No matter where or how far I go, I start and end every walk sitting on second stair lacing or unlacing my shoes. Second stair was another feature of that first house I lived in, the place I would be asked to go and sit when I was naughty. Now it’s a seat of nostalgia and a convenient perch near the door.

Three weeks ago I completed my last long training walk, just shy of a half-marathon at 12.5 miles. Since, I’ve been walking a few days a week, between four and seven miles each time. I feel ready for the challenge even as I have started to feel that Sunday’s event is no longer the point. It’s the training, the feeling strong, the finding out what my body can do, and the connection to the world outside my house that feel like they matter. It’s the stick-to-it-iveness that inspires me, dovetailing nicely with stringing together word after word toward my second novel, learning the art of continuous narrative. It’s not the destination but the journey, as clichéd as this trope may be, that has become the point.

Nonetheless Seventeen, who will be home from college, will join me at the starting line on Sunday. He will finally complete the marathon he started when he was a tiny boy. And I will discover just how much I can accomplish when I set my mind to it.

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…and now.

The moon is full on 10.15, and it’s a full moon by which to leave behind anything that no longer serves you. Happy Full Moon—I promise a post-half update early next week. Thanks for cheering us on, Rxo

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