Perspective during this curious time…running is more important than ever!

The snow is falling on St Patrick’s Day and while this is not particularly noteworthy in March in New England there is nothing usual about this March.  McFarland, USA starring Kevin Costner plays on the television as I write this essay. McFarland, USA is the heartwarming story of a high school Latino cross-country team’s remarkable running success in 1987. The volume is low as I have watched this movie countless times and could repeat the dialogue for each and every actor with running accuracy. Listening to a movie about running, while writing about running after taking a run makes for a very good day! Is there ever enough running in a runner’s life? 

 Freedom in childhood always involved and was equated to running. The outdoors has always provided solace and comfort. As a child the hay fields that surrounded our home were dotted with apple trees, the remnants of chicken coops and a small skating pond.  The open space always represented endless imaginary possibilities such as transforming a New England hayfield into the Great Plains. Nature is good for my soul, artistic inspiration and most importantly is stable and reassuring. Running in the back field or running down our once dirt country road was as important and basic to me as breathing.  I grew up running around a sandlot playing field as the majority of my neighborhood playmates were boys.  Petite in stature then and now has never stopped me from wanting or thinking I could compete with boys. Tenacity has served me well.

Today the landscape that surrounds my home in beautiful Vermont provides a different landscape but a comfort none the less. The Green Mountains continue to stand tall; rivers are freely flowing, and mud season is previewing on our unpaved roads. A twist or two of an ankle last weekend during my Sunday long run was a reminder that the tire ruts are not only adventurous but tricky terrain as well. This morning while running down my snow-covered street I passed the Appalachian Trail and couldn’t help but wonder how many through hikers will make the trek this upcoming season? Many hikers have been officially “social distancing” forever and a day but will this year be different? Everything is different right now…

I have been privileged to have met some of the best elite athletes in the world including past champions to current day elites over the many years I have been involved with the sport of running. I have had many mortal running accomplishments, very successful age group performances primarily in shorter distances but a good run so to speak.  I have attempted all road race distances but have been successful only as far as the half marathon. I trained for Boston Marathon 2012 but dropped in Framingham and ended up in Brigham and Women’s Hospital with bronchitis and dehydration. At the time and up until the evening before I considered the BAA’s offer to defer to the following year due to the high heat warning forecasted for marathon day, but I had trained and felt nervous but ready. Had I deferred that would have meant running Boston 2013 … just can’t go there. 

 “The marathon will humble you. But the truth is, sometimes it will do more than humble you. Sometimes it will break your heart.” 
― Bill Rodgers, Marathon Man: My 26.2-Mile Journey from Unknown Grad Student to the Top of the Running World

Our family home for nineteen years was in Holliston, MA right next to Hopkinton and the start of the Boston Marathon. I had the great pleasure of hosting visiting Kenyan elite athletes around many of their Boston Athletic Association events. Greeting the athletes at Logan airport and welcoming them to the States often for the first time was a great pleasure and honor. As a Holliston High School assistant cross- country coach I loved introducing running to some of the  high school age girl who struggled to learn the sport but  the elation in their faces as they finished their first competitive cross-country meet will forever live in my heart.  I have learned about the sport of running from the most knowledgeable and gifted people in the field from renowned running coaches,  running camps, running clinics, and endless informative running books. 

Technically I am painter by trade but often and not surprisingly I think of myself as a runner first. A lifetime of running and to date I have not wavered on my love of our sport. My finest artistic moment was in creating a painting that celebrates some of the greatest American female elite athletes titled “Women Who Inspire.”  Happily, and proudly the painting is part of the Boston Athletic Associations’ permanent art collection and hangs in the BAA conference room in Boston. How has running inspired my art? I am certain in more ways than I can even imagine.  My most expansive painting and writing ideas almost always form while running. Inspiration and clarity seem to happen simultaneously as the miles tick on. Our sport focuses on moving forward, looking down the road but seldom back…physical yet metaphysical. 

Running has numerous physical benefits and there is science to support this statement, but I would suggest the friendships made from sharing the pavement is the single greatest benefit. Heartfelt conversations, shared secrets, worries and concerns can melt away the miles. The fun and the laughter as we celebrate one another cannot be diminished.  Runners are more than happy to listen to anything and everything running related.  We obsess and live for it.  There is something about moving forward side by side that keeps the conversation flowing in such a caring and non-threatening way. Chances are on any group run you will have the opportunity to have a long conversation with one other runner or a few other runners as pacing increases and decreases. Magic. Even the silences are comforting as you simply hear the rhythm of another human beings breathing and footfall. Nothing better nor more bonding… 

Running during our current crisis may be more important than ever as we try to wrap our brains around a swiftly moving pandemic.  Personally, feeling a bit paralyzed by the information of the day or actually by the moment as social media allows is altering my focus. Trying very hard to employ a daily schedule in this very curious time we are experiencing is not without trials and motivational challenges. It all comes back to running as I head out the door to be once again reassured by nature that it will all be ok.  I want to keep my aging body as healthy as it can be since I now find myself in the undesirable age group that is most susceptible. Isn’t being in your 60’s tricky enough? I have decided to literally run from it …plus one cannot underestimate the power of endorphins! 

Maybe in actuality my true faith and reliance lies in running and nature just provides the stunning landscape. Either way I am grateful for each day I can put one foot in front of the other.

Lace ‘em up and head out the door…

Author: Elizabeth Ricketson

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts. Elizabeth’s essays focus on life experiences and life in Vermont.

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