Rima: Running As Prayer

“I’ve always had that spirit, as if I remember running long distances on this continent. I grew up in the northeast in the mountains and even though I didn’t run, I always had this idea of it and running long distance.” –Rima Lurie

Sunshine Canyon, Colorado. 7 a.m. A lean figure appears around the bend, moving rhythmically up the hill. A woman is running, her salt-and-pepper hair flowing past her shoulders. Her eyes are hidden behind sporty sunglasses and the brim of a purple running cap. Her expression is slightly strained from the effort, though the fluidity of her stride denotes no struggle. She nods and cracks a smile as she runs by me. She characterizes the quintessential long-distance runner–body honed for the craft, an air of indefatigable determination, ageless.

Rima turned 70 last November, but you’d be hard pressed to know her age from the frequency of her runs up and down Sunshine Canyon. It’s a challenging ascent, a mix of pavement and dirt, gaining 3,000 feet in roughly 10 miles from the base on Mapleton Avenue in Boulder to her home on the outskirts of Gold Hill. She works as a hospice CNA in town and will often leave her car at the bottom of the canyon to train on the climb before starting her work day.

I’m sitting at Rima’s home on a late winter morning, drinking peppermint tea. Her abode is a quaint two-bedroom, stone-and-wood cabin that she built herself. Large south-facing windows overlook Sugarloaf Mountain, with snow-covered Mount Evans on the distant horizon. Race medals hang from the walls, somehow blending in to the sanctity of the space. There’s no Internet up here, the place a true haven of tranquility.

Rima is quite shy, and admits to not really liking talking about herself. As our conversation progresses though, she is more forthcoming with sharing her wisdom.

“I think of running as a celebration of life. It reminds me of Buddhist prayer flags, like in Nepal where every pass has flags and prayer wheels. And even though our tangible results won’t be here forever, the experience becomes part of the energetic fabric or something–running and movement as prayer.”

Rima has been running for over 50 years, not her whole life, but the runner’s spirit was already in her from a young age. She hands me a photocopy of a poem she wrote when she was 10 years old.

“I’m alone in the woods
I’m a panther now
I can run wild and free
And be really me
I can leap from rock to rock-
At the stream I hear a symphony
Later I’ll hear an owl hoot
I’ll know the world can be real”

It wasn’t until 1977, in her late twenties, that she ran her first race, the Mt. Evans Ascent, a 14.5-mile road race from Echo Lake at 10,600 feet to the top of Mount Evans at 14,265 feet.

“I started running with a guy who was working for a running store in Boulder and training for the Mt. Evans Ascent and I thought, Oh that’s my mountain, and it sounded like my kind of thing, but I’d never even seen a running event before that.”

The Mt. Evans Ascent had an immediate impact on her as she shifted her focus from running mostly alone to wanting to take part in more events. She caught the racing bug and later that fall ran her first marathon in New York City.

“There were 5,000 people in the race and about 500 women overall. The fastest women were ahead and I was the 20th women (finishing in 3:15), so for much of the race I was the only woman in sight, so everyone was cheering for me. Miki Gorman won in 2:45 and 1977 was the last time an American woman won the race until Shalane Flanagan won last year. Oh, how things have changed!”

Rima does have a competitive side and surprised herself in those early days of racing, eyeing the competition at the start, an inclination she didn’t know she possessed. She still has that competitive drive and often checks the entry list of races to see who else is running in her age group. She doesn’t take it too seriously though, using the competition more as a motivator to keep her getting out the door. She is far more inspired by the places where she runs and the quality of the experience.

“Sometimes after a race, I think that the ego likes being faster, but ultimately who’s going to remember or know the couple minutes you’ve gained compared to how valuable the experience is, and that’s really what matters and lasts.”

Rima’s running career hasn’t been without setbacks though, the ebbs and flows of which she describes as “the gifts and challenges of being in a body.”

Last year, she sustained the worst injury of her life. In a non-running-related accident, she fell and partially tore her hamstring, which caused severe swelling in her entire leg. She had been hoping to finish her first 50 miler at Grand Mesa 50 Mile in western Colorado in July, but the fall abruptly interrupted her training.

“I decided it wasn’t worth wrecking myself so my ego could say I’d finished the race. Fundamentally, you want to be healthy to just run. Who’s going to know or remember your time? We know of course, and it matters on some level, but ultimately it’s not worth sacrificing your health just for a race.”

Age and results are just numbers, not without significance, but playing a smaller role in her overall appreciation and dedication to the craft.

This summer, she will again be returning to Grand Mesa to attempt the 50 miler. The race is just an excuse to keep getting out there, a good incentive to try to be as good as one can be. She smiles and her eyes brighten as she describes the beauty of the course, running along the Crag Crest Trail, on volcanic rock, overlooking more than 300 alpine lakes.

“It’s such an amazing planet we live on with so many different landscapes to experience. I’m an experiential person and that’s been true all my life. Running is like a moving prayer, offering yourself, a dance of praise. It’s not always exuberant, but you have to show up on those days so you can be there for those special moments for when it is a dance.”

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Can running sometimes be like a moving prayer for you also?
  • Do you find that, like Rima, if you keep showing up, you encounter those special moments?

All photos by Joe Grant unless otherwise noted.


Rima Lurie 4

Photo: Marathoner of Rima running the 1977 New York City Marathon

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.

There are 18 comments

  1. Richard Senelly

    Thank you. As a septuagenarian who runs trails regularly, and mostly now (though not intentionally) as a solitarian, I appreciate Rima’s story and your telling it. Moving through this world on my own two feet is a wonderful way to know and love life. Climbing a mountain trail (e.g., Colorado’s Bear Creek from Ouray to Engineer Pass) is a great spiritual gift to myself.

  2. Bea

    Oh my, I love this so much. Thank you for seeking Rima out and introducing her to all of us. I’m a 50 year old woman who has been running for 38 years, but only in the last decade or so have I really fallen in love with distance. I have no race history to speak of, and have only just started contemplated running my first ultra. I don’t have a lot of family or friends that I can look to for inspiration with respect to distance running. On the contrary, when I have told a scant few that I think running 50 miles during my 50th lap round the sun seems like a fitting thing to do, I’m met with “you’re too old,” “you’re going to injure yourself,” “you’re obsessed and taking this too far,” and all nay-saying you can imagine.

    I look to the online ultra community for women I can relate to, and Rima is one of those women. I love how running is such a meaningful narrative in her life, in all of our lives, really. It’s the lens that helps us relate to the world, to other people. It’s the choreography that guides how we move through life… I consider running as one of my most consistent narrative threads, weaving its way through my life, connecting all of the important milestones, going on four decades now. This is what I love most about getting out there and just putting one foot in front of the other, day after day, year after year. I remember running through my first broken heart. I remember sneaking in a quick run before taking my first ever exam in college. I scheduled my dissertation defense so as to not interfere with my morning run. I have run up and down the pyramids of Tikal and over the St. Charles bridge in Prague. I ran on the day I got married and I did something that loosely resembling running right up until the birth of my daughter. I am looking down at these 50 year old legs even as I type and just in awe of how far they’ve carried me. And I am reading about Rima and hoping that I have the privilege of 20 more years on these legs, so I can be that 70 year old women you see running all over town, every day, rain or shine, thinking “I bet she has an interesting story to tell.”

    Thank you again for Rima’s story. She is an inspiration.

  3. Bartman

    Thanks Joe for an excellent heartfelt testimonial of the very essence of running. Tomorrow I complete the 73rd year of my mortal sojourn, 60 of which I have been running, and this article makes a nice birthday gift. Good thoughts and prayers to you and Rima.
    Cheers,
    Bartman

  4. John Vanderpot

    I’ll be 55 this spring, spend most of my time around people less than half my age (it’s a job thing), reading this makes me feel like the kid, at least another 20 yrs. of fun just out there waiting!

    We need more heroes like Rima!

    JV

  5. Jenn

    A long time friend and co-worker in the hospice community, Rima is a truly beautiful human who has been marked by her running as much as she has marked us with her running. She reminds us of the simple art that is putting one’s feet against the earth Blessing to you Rima

  6. Miriam Diaz-Gilbert

    A pleasure to read! I love the pic of the cross adorning the medals. Indeed, as Rima says, “Running is like a moving prayer, offering yourself, a dance of praise.” I’m 59 and running my 8th 50 miler and 22nd ultra on Saturday. I always run with my rosary and folded prayers and scripture passages. Running is my time with God. When I run, I am not alone. God is with me. Every mile is made possible by Him, and my family. Through running I express my thanks and gratitude for many things and all my blessings, including recovery from a life-threatening surgical error (unrelated to running) that almost took my life shortly after I placed third OA in the women’s division of a 24 hour ultra. I returned the following year. This time, the run was part of my healing journey, and a run of thanksgiving and gratitude. You can read about it here: https://www.miriamdiazgilbert.com/single-post/2018/03/12/Come-What-May-I-Want-to-Run-How-Ultrarunning-Saved-My-Life When I run I pray for those in need, including my self, and I thank God for all my blessings. My ultra on Saturday will be part of my Lenten journey. In prayer, I’m dedicating this ultra to my pacer, crew, and best friend of almost 40 years – my husband Jon (married almost 33 years), who will start radiation soon. He’s been diagnosed with rectal cancer. Prayers and positive vibes welcomed! Ultrarunning, prayer, and my faith saved my life during my medical nightmare. Ultrarunning healed me and continues to keep me strong. Now, as I run I pray for my husband’s healing! Rima’s story is so inspirational. Thank you! And please, don’t delay your colonoscopy.

  7. Les

    Thanks Joe! Thanks Rima!

    These sentiments are so pertinent to those who run, regardless of age or competitive inclination. If the numbers are getting you down, work backwards and remember why we do it in the first place.

    Much Peace.

  8. Buzz Burrell

    Good call out Joe! I first met Rima when someone told me I had to see her house – very small, very neat, very all paid for – the opposite of all housing trends. Her only concern was the mountain lion looking in her window, eyeing her house cat. Since then it’s always a welcome sight seeing her tooling up Sunshine Canyon, and reading the passionate reports she sends me from her recent races, which inspire me because they are from events I’ve never run, like Monument Valley most recently. Excellent!

  9. Nadine

    Thanks for *seeing* an older runner. Sometimes they are invisible. As a runner in my 50s, I want to know that there are role models for me as I head north in years.
    And I love the poem :)

  10. Rima Lurie

    I am smiling and touched by your heartwarming comments and glimpses of your stories/being/overcoming…Thank you my friends/kindred spirits/extended family!! About the “aging thing”….Yep, mind-boggling, like, “I’m ONLY 70, (tho’ about 35 in spirit), why not go for it, of course!” And, then, there are the times I feel like I’m going a pretty good pace and some “youngster” blows by me, and I’m like…”Hey! Wha…???” Then, I choose to come back to the moment of gratitude, running in beauty! (Btw: when running is in the flow, it’s like running is happening through me, not that I am “doing” the running.)
    Re: the On Being link suggested by Ben, I had the privilege of hearing Billy Mills speak before the Naatsis’aan Trail Ultra on the Navajo Nation October 2017, and his theme which stayed with me was that of running as healing broken souls.
    Special Easter Blessings for Miriam Diaz-Gilbert! Thanks for sharing your story of challenges and healing! You, and Jon, are in my prayers!
    Gratefully with you all in Spirit, I would love to meet you on the trails, or over a cup of tea! Run in Beauty! Blessings, ‍♀️ Rima

  11. Yasmin Suarez Shaddox

    This is Rima! I am overjoyed to see her recognized here for the spirit and inspiration she is. Her dance on this earth is such a gift and blessing. Thank you for honoring her, and the sacredness that runs thorough her.

  12. Laurie Rugenstein

    I love this story, Rima. You have been an inspiration for me over the many years I’ve known you! I, too, agree that running is a spiritual practice.

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