Combining poetry with a road race? Unusual. Also: genius.
Can you actually hear the poems as you run by? No, not really. Is it a total hoot to see costumed people spouting poetry from their tomes – some perched atop large boulders on the edge of the woods, emerging like sophisticated woodland nymphs or Tom Sawyer with a poetry book instead of a fishing rod, others refusing to acknowledge you as you pass, so engrossed are they in their recitation – as you amble along your sometimes-not-merry way (depending what mile it is)? 100%!
A dose of exercise with a side of culture does the body (and the psyche) good. The genesis of the James Joyce Ramble, which features poetry along a 10K race course, was a runner in the 1980s who decided that getting through James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake was as difficult as training for a road race. I can’t speak to that, but it was definitely a good idea.
I temporarily dropped my 5K or bust mantra to give it a try. It was another example of beauty in the unexpected, combining two unlikely partners and creating something brand new that is much more than 1+1 = 2. It also proved, once again, the personal growth and joy that stem from challenging yourself beyond what you think you are capable of, and the power of friends cheering you along, or running right beside you.
As they say at the James Joyce Ramble: Read. Run. Refresh. Repeat.
Have you ever trained for a marathon? I have not (and probably never will). My body starts to hurt around mile 3 and that’s that.
My husband is a marathoner, though, so I have an up-close window into the sport and I’ve learned some important things about life through the lens of marathon training that are relevant even if you aren’t a runner. Even if you’re thinking “marathon shmarathon, running 26 miles is nuts,” keep reading.
To be able to run 26.2 miles takes MONTHS of training, discipline, and dedication. At their peak training, marathoners are running 40, 50, 60 plus miles EACH WEEK. If you happen to live in New England, training for the Boston Marathon, which happens in April, requires running in truly atrocious weather (think freezing cold, ice, and snow).
As fun as that doesn’t sound, for my husband (and clearly thousands of others), the allure of the storied, challenge-of-a- world-class Boston Marathon is like a gravitational pull. He ran it a couple of times in college, but a major injury in his 20s sidelined him from distance running. He has been a reliable fan ever since. When we were still dating, we spent an April afternoon sitting on the curb at the marathon halfway mark eating sub sandwiches and cheering for the runners. That was my first marathon, and every year since we look forward to Marathon Monday.
Because the Boston Marathon is more than a long run. For elite runners, it is a world-class race. For charity runners, who have dedicated months of their lives to raise money for their charity and to train for this superhuman athletic endeavor, it’s the challenge of a lifetime. Many of these runners have compelling, sometimes earth-shattering stories about why they are running or who they are running for. For the locals, it’s a rite of spring, a community-gathering on a massive scale with a festival-like atmosphere. Friends and neighbors emerge from the hibernation of a long winter, joining together along the race course to rally the runners toward the finish line.
Over the almost 20 years that we have been cheering on the sidelines, my husband has mentioned wistfully that he wished he could run Boston again. In late 2019 he decided to give it a shot. He trained as a charity runner, but just before his peak run in March 2020 the COVID-19 lockdowns began. The Boston Marathon was cancelled for the first time in its history. That fall, the Boston Athletic Association offered a “virtual” marathon. So he trained for that, running five 5.24 mile loops around our neighborhood. He finished, and many neighbors and friends came out to cheer (from a distance), but it wasn’t the official course with the Boylston Street finish and, it turns out, it’s not really the same.
So he trained some more. He ran a different marathon in the fall of 2021 to attempt to qualify for Boston, but hit the wall at mile 22 and could not keep his pace. He was determined to run the Boston Marathon in April 2022, though, so he found another charity with marathon bibs and committed to raising money for them.
This time he decided that to avoid hitting the wall, he would train with more miles than ever. He ran over 350 miles by his peak run. He ran in ski goggles in the snow. He ran in small loops near the house in case the weather turned too treacherous to continue. His nutrition was fully dialed in.
And now April 18 is on Monday. There’s a flutter in my chest just thinking about it. We have both dreamed about this day, he to finally cross the finish line on Boylston Street one more time, me to cheer him along the course where we have cheered for so many.
I caught myself a couple months ago projecting narratives about Marathon Monday, from the weather to the crowds to the smile on my husband’s face. I noticed myself weaving this tale of glory and triumph about April 18 and realized what a good fiction writer I could be. I mean, how could I know what the weather in Boston would be like in April!?!? That’s a fools errand within days of the event let alone a month ahead of time. If you want a lesson in things you cannot control, New England weather is a good one.
But Monday is supposed to be a perfect day for marathoning, 55 degrees and partly sunny. It should be perfect.
And I still got the story wrong.
Long story short, after complaining for a couple weeks about his ankle feeling funny, my husband was diagnosed two weeks ago with a large blood clot in his leg. He went from running 50 to 60 miles a week to lying on the couch with his leg propped up on a pillow, sleepy from a high dose of blood thinners. No marathon. (And, no, it’s nothing to do with COVID.)
So this is the lesson, or one of them: the race was always going to end. It’s the culminating achievement of months of training, but there is the day after and the day after that. And ultimately, hopefully, that’s what you are training for – the long game, life.
The truth is, the structure and rigor of marathon training kept my husband emotionally and physically fit throughout the rollercoaster ride of these two long pandemic years. It got him out of the office and outside during a time when it was particularly easy to lose track of the days let alone when you last left the couch. The deadline of this particular marathon forced him to figure out what was wrong with his ankle quickly. In another context, it would have been easy to assume it was nothing, which could have been truly catastrophic.
Of course these last two weeks have been a doozy of emotions. That marathoner’s rigor runs hard up against controlling outcomes if you are just disciplined enough. But life has a funny habit of getting in the way of our plans. So we find ourselves holding both grief and gratitude in the palms of our hands. It’s that old tenet of both/and. It’s both extreme gratitude for the clot being found with medication to stabilize it. AND, it’s deep grief and disappointment over getting so close to this marathon yet again, coupled with the worry and processing of the actual diagnosis. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, disappointments and challenges. Ultimately, I guess, what else would we be training for than to have muscles to flex, resiliency ones and physical ones, when we need them most?
Good luck to all the runners on Monday! We will be basking in the vibe of the event and cheering hard at the halfway mark – and likely shedding a couple tears as well. Both.
Taking a break from gallivanting around the world to bring it to you straight here. This is HARD. Today is day 41 by my count. My mom was hospitalized three weeks ago and diagnosed COVID positive. It got REAL around here fast. I wrote an essay about it that HuffPost published this morning. Check it out in my Clips. Also, the featured photo today is a painting my brother did. Just sayin’. So damn talented.
At any given moment I am shades of overwhelmed, fine, depressed, grateful and everything in between. I miss the grocery store. I mean, that’s low. What used to be a chore has become a dreamed-of escape. That’s where we are.
I spend my days cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, procuring food items, entertaining my children (I have stopped calling it homeschooling because that would imply they are learning something when, frankly, I have no idea if they are. I am just happy when we get through another day mostly intact), and trying to keep up with my quarantine journal (which is remarkably challenging to find time for, an odd situation to find myself in since I never leave my home). My mom being unwell has added a layer of intensity to this isolation existence as I have worried for her well-being and tried to navigate emotionally once again how quickly life can be upended. There were days during the past three weeks when I needed to call the hospital to check on my mom but also really, really needed to grab that grocery delivery time one week out (the first available) to ensure my family had the provisions we need. So bizarre. The brave neighbors and friends who are still going to the grocery store jumped in and saved us as my juggling act came crashing down, even sometimes adding a bouquet of flowers to the items they dropped for us on the front porch.
Rest assured, when I am not virtually traveling the world with you, I am keeping it really real here. Our virtual travels and hope-filled stories bring me tremendous joy and give me meaning and perspective (and, boy, have I needed that lately). It’s helpful to focus my busy brain on positive things, to spend time learning about places I’ve never been and remembering places I have.
It all feels so futile sometimes. Life. This version of life in particular. My mom alone in a hospital, sick and unable to communicate. All of us at home. Futile and frustrating and fraught.
And then I remember: One day at a time. Tomorrow is a new day. Breathe.
We need to continue to have hope and to find the fun where we can. My mom, and my beloved aunt Nancy, and their mom would say – this too shall pass. And so it shall.
Today is Marathon Monday in the Boston area. It’s literally a state holiday and a true rite of passage to spring. Obviously the marathon isn’t happening. My family is participating in the #BackyardBostonMarathon instead. I am running around my house 26.2 times; my kids are doing the same around the backyard. My husband is doing an insane number of push ups and sit-ups (to get to 262) plus a 2.62 mile run.
It’s not the marathon, not by a long shot. But if we all do it together (I mean, apart together, of course – stay home! do NOT go on the marathon course), that’ll channel the spirit of the event and that’s meaningful. My mom’s care home and hospital are along the marathon route. Give her a virtual wave and hug as you “run” by. We can use all the spirit of the marathon more than ever because, folks, we are in one right now. I am personally seized up on Heartbreak Hill. So cheer me through and I’ll cheer for you, too. I’d love to see your photos!
Do you think I am talking about the holidays? Naaawwww, that’d be so predictable. I’m talking about getting your freeze on for a reas-on at the Millinocket Marathon and a Half this Saturday, December 7, in the Magic City (aka Millinocket, Maine)! It is the most warm and fuzzy event in one of the coldest paces in New England – and it truly is magical.
No matter the weather, approximately 2,500 runners are planning to participate in this fully subscribed event. In fact, the town is expecting as many visitors to descend for the weekend as there are residents! And the northern Maine hospitality machine is ready, with an artisan’s fair, spaghetti dinners, warming huts, pre- and post-race gatherings, and logging trucks to mark the start and finish.
As with the four prior years since the race’s inception, there is no entry fee. The idea is to entice visitors to this stunning area to spend money in a town that has weathered severe economic downturn since the paper mill, its primary industry, faltered, stumbled, and finally shuttered, over a decade ago. It takes place during a time of year that can otherwise be pretty quiet and challenging for businesses. It’s a shot of adrenaline for local businesses and residents when they need it most. In its fifth year, the event has become a tradition for runners and residents that everyone looks forward to.
And, this year, my husband is running the half and I will be there to enjoy being in one of my favorite places on Earth and to cheer on all the runners.
The marathon is, for my husband and I, this incredibly synergistic convergence of our passions. Often our passions look something like this, with his on the left and mine on the right:
Him (Fenway Park)
Fortunately, we appreciate each other’s interests and passions and accept that we don’t necessarily share the same ones all the time! Our relationship is fundamentally grounded in respect for the other person and their interests. We have enough overlap that it’s not an issue, though it’s taken some ironing out along the way to understand what drives each of us for sure. I didn’t realize, for example, what an offense it was to not actually pay attention to the game when we would go to Fenway Park. I like the atmosphere, but the game? Not so much. On the flip side, I used to be a park ranger in northern Maine, headquartered in Millinocket, and love the peace and solitude of the north Maine woods. He can’t quite understand the appeal of climbing a mountain (for fun?) and spends most of his outdoor time swatting away every biting bug from within a 100-mile radius that descends to attack him as soon as he steps out of the car.
So imagine my surprise when I told him about the Millinocket marathon and a half and he said, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. I’d like to do that some day.” I mean, for as much as I love it there, I personally thought it was a kind of crazy idea to drive over 5 hours to voluntarily run 13.1 or 26.2 miles in winter in that rugged country. I was pretty sure he’d have the same reaction. Instead, he watched and re-watched the Running with Cameras race video (which, incidentally, won an Emmy for the New England region in 2019!) and got ever more excited about it. He up’ed his fitness efforts and his running game. And he signed himself up as soon as registration opened for the 2019 race.
Here we are now, a couple of days away from the race. We are finding that both of us are excitedly anticipating the drive North and being a part of this event and this community, each in our own ways, but also together. He is anticipating the challenge of the run, the camaraderie of the event, and being part of something that helps a place he knows I love. I can’t wait to see Millinocket thriving and alive, to be close to those mountains, and to cheer on my husband, all the other runners, and this community that I have come to love over all my years of living and visiting there.
As the Millinocket Memorial Library t-shirt says, “Don’t Millinocket ’til you try it.” The Millinocket Marathon and a Half is fundamentally about connecting with other people and a new place (or an old place in a new way); about both opening our eyes to the challenges other people and their communities face, and also about opening our eyes to the natural beauty that surrounds us, even in winter; about taking action by showing up and participating fully as partners in making ripples of change; about taking a chance, and second chances; about caring so much for your spouse and what they love, that you are all in to support them (and vice versa); and, of course, about hope, both having it as well as catalyzing it. I can’t think of a better reason to put on every ounce of clothing I own to stand outside and freeze! Go runners!
Literally it took me a whole month. As in, I ran a couple miles at a time and over the course of a month somehow I managed to run 52.4 miles, the equivalent of two marathons. Could I have run a marathon, or even a half marathon, in one fell swoop? Heck NO. But I accomplished this and it is a pleasant surprise!
I am participating in the Acadia to Katahdin virtual race series to raise money for Acadia National Park and Millinocket, the gateway town to Baxter State Park, both of which are in the state of Maine. It has been a great experience. The race app helps me track not only how many miles I have run, but also where those miles would put me if I were actually running on the roads around Acadia and Katahdin. And, not that it’s a competition (at least for me), but it also tells me where I am in comparison to the other runners who are participating.
My racing stats are far from impressive, logging my progress in one- to four-mile bite-size chunks and averaging about 12 miles per week and about 9 minutes per mile. Some of those miles are walking, some are running. But that’s not the point! The point is that I am doing it. Like anything in life, it’s putting one foot in front of the other and making progress toward a goal. As an RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) patient, tying up the laces to my sneakers again and going out for even a mile run consistently is nothing short of a miracle. The days of barely being able to hobble around the block are behind me for the moment. Your guess is as good as mine as to why my RA is behaving itself currently, whether it’s diet or exercise or stress management or better sleep or the super perfect prescription cocktail, but I am running with it (literally) while it lasts!
WE have RA and WE are athletes!
Post Triathlon with my “I have RA AND I am an athlete” shirt on
Will I complete the race’s entire 328.5 miles before December 31, 2019? I would say that’s doubtful. Will I run the actual Millinocket Marathon and a Half that will take place this year on December 7, 2019? No, my long distance days are over. I am a short distance runner these days (and a swimmer – low impact is where it’s at!). BUT, I will be there to cheer on the runners, including my husband, as well as that community that is so dear to me. And in October I will attempt to climb Katahdin for the first time in almost two decades, weather gods permitting. And I can’t wait! My heart has ached to walk those trails I used to clamber up like a mountain goat for fun on a day off. I cannot wait to look out from the peak over the vast and serene landscape of the North Maine Woods, to feel the solidarity of accomplishment with fellow hikers, and the peace and calm that comes from being part of that wild world for a short time. I thought having RA had relegated me to only the low-lying, pond-side trails. And I made my peace with that – the view from there is beautiful, too. But, wow, to climb the mountain!??! What an unexpected gift. This hike will be one of deep gratitude, both that I am healthy for now and that I get another chance.
Life is short and life is also unpredictable. Next year is not a guarantee. October is not a guarantee! I am riding the wave while I can. Sometimes you just have to grab a latte, be bold, be brave, and go for it! And, always, always, be grateful.
“Like a pebble tossed into still water.” This is how Gary Allen, the man behind the Millinocket Marathon and a Half, likens his efforts to create ripple effects of ever-widening positive impact and change. For background, check out this post about Millinocket and the marathon from November – Have you ever heard of the Magic City?
Here we are in August 2019, and while it’s hard to believe that New England could be cold at anytime – ever – from the vantage point of this summer’s heat waves, already Millinocket is on the mind and momentum is building for the December 2019 event. Check out singer/songwriter Jenn Schott’s tribute to the Millinocket marathon:
Another cool new fundraising initiative for the region is the virtual Acadia to Katahdin race that starts August 2 (you have until December 31 to log all 328.5 miles). More info on that here.
Interested in running the actual Marathon or Half on December 7, 2019? Sign up here. Remember, there is no registration fee – this is a race designed around showing up and giving back!
The idea of this marathon was bold, audacious, and selfless. The result has been large, broad ripples more like those that result from water cascading off a moose’s antlers as it lifts its head from the pond than from a small pebble.
Bold. Audacious. Selfless. I’ll circle back to those themes soon.