A day after the run, my joints are tender from too many hills, my muscles are sore from too much extended effort, my emotions are stretched by too many intense interactions, and my skin is tight from too much sun. But I made it. My friend Ryan kindly tricked me into a (self) respectable finishing time by talking about how slow he was all week, then throwing down some concrete goals just as we were stepping up to the starting line. “Do you want to finish it in 40?” — Well, why, not?
I told him to run on ahead, but I pushed hard after him and was pleased to get the run over with as quickly as I did so that I could get back to talk to many friends who came out to raise money for and awareness of CHD, to honor our son, and to support us. Two of whom were speedy enough to win their age group awards, but all of whom were a huge help as The Wife and I began the painstaking work of untangling the emotions swirling around on a day like this.
The first mile of the course was lined with those large plastic traffic cones spaced several yards apart, each bearing the image of a baby with dates printed below. Just as I started to notice this memorial, Will’s face flashed by my right elbow, and I choked. Shaking off the tears and forcing myself to breathe, I plowed ahead with my eyes fixed on the horizon. When after several minutes I had safely avoided a sobbing, teary-eyed crash into a tree and regained my composure, I noticed that there were many, many more memorials. Running through this gauntlet of grief reminded me that every one of these images represented another very difficult life cut (tragically? mercifully?) short, another family buried in questions, another dad trying to find some way forward. The accumulation of this collective angst was a weight too great to bear, and so I was glad to see that the memorials ended, giving way to a shady gravel path through the woods. Where I could enter into the familiar realm of hypoxia and cardiac inefficiency– to find that sharp edge of discomfort– and push on and on and on. That space between urgent effort and relaxation, between a celebration of and denial of one’s own flesh, between life and (what feels like) death. To think of my son, who dwelt in this very place every minute of every day. I ran the last mile of heat and hills with him firmly in my mind, feeling all at once that I was very constrained and very free.