[Editor’s Note: In our final Community Voices column of 2019, we share the writing of Veronica Leeds. Veronica works at the Ridgefield Running Company in Connecticut to create community-based trail running programs, runs on the Steep Endurance Trail Racing Team, and rambles through the U.S. East Coast woods with the Leatherman Harriers and her son, Vladimir. In this column each month, we showcase the work of a writer, visual artist, or other creative type from within our global trail running and ultrarunning community. Our goal is to tell stories about our sport in creative and innovative ways. We’re excited to continue our Community Voices column in 2020! Read more about the concept and submit your work for consideration!]
On a snow-swept night five-ish years ago, I gave birth to Vladimir.
Heretofore, I had been a brooding student translator of Classical Tibetan. I memorized and recited sutras, translated obscure points of philosophy, and practiced with the fervent desperation of a Westerner. Then suddenly there was a baby in my arms, and I morphed into Milky Old Faithful whose highest reading material was Touch and Feel Construction Site. I was miserable, and miserable at my misery, because it seemed like other women were delighted to stay home and make felt cutouts of Elmo.
Somewhere between the 1,000th and 2,000th reading of Touch and Feel Construction Site, I saw a flyer for the Ridgefield Half Marathon. I had never been a runner. Too hard on your knees, I assumed. For no discernible reason, I entered the race. Predictably, it was hard, and I concluded that humans were not meant to run such long distances but I would try it once more and decide. A few weeks later I lined up again, and somewhere in those painful, graceless miles I became a runner. I fell in love with the act of putting one foot in front of another, happy or aching, alone or with friends.
The first year was rough. I devoured every episode of Ultrarunnerpodcast, bought every iteration of foam roller, and managed to do a bit of running in between Achilles injury and metatarsal stress fracture. My goal for the year was to run an ultramarathon–an ultramarathon, OMFG–and as the year drew to a close it was not looking good. I had signed up for two 50ks and a 50 miler and DNSed them all due to injury. But I still wanted to do it and now I was healthy. Talking to fellow Leatherman Harrier Jo Mo one morning as we rambled over Deer Hollow, he encouraged me to ask our group’s intrepid leader, Lee, to set up a Sunday run with a 50k option. I was scared, it felt like a Big Ask, and I didn’t know Lee so well (ha!). But I asked, Lee obliged, our friend, Jeff, made an aid station, and I ran with friends almost the entire way. That birthed the ‘Annual Pre-Xmas 50k’ (now the ‘Annual Dancing Rock 50k’ fatass, which technically no one has finished).
This year, so much changed. We moved to the perimeter of Ward Pound Ridge “for the school district,” I started working in the running store, Vladimir started preschool, our ferrets of eight years died, and we got a kitten. My husband, Gene, fell in love with running, too.
My love for running deepened and shed the trappings of adolescent infatuation. I took only one non-scheduled rest day during the year due to injury. I had a win, a DNF, and I ran into a pole and broke my nose and occipital bones. We watched two friends run 100 miles, the accomplishment of which held a bone-deep beauty and grandeur. I spent hours with friends, discussing everything from Bernie Sanders to Viagra mishaps to the visceral gruesomeness of death. I spent hellish days with my Gene, like that time we did 20-plus miles of hill repeats on Schaghticoke. I touched on deep-seated anger and insecurity with my therapist, Joe Cloidt, who works unbeknownst to himself and pro bono while running at Ward Pound Ridge on Sundays. During these shared miles with kindred spirits, in hot and in cold, something opened, something softened, and I felt less sad and alone.
So when this year drew to a close, I wanted to run 50k again, not as a last chance, but as a celebration of friendship. Anyone who gives themselves to running know that it transcends the act of putting one foot in front of the other. Yesterday, during the last solo miles of the Second Annual 50k, it occurred to me that running is love, it is a big love letter. It is a big freaking love letter to my friends, who have chosen to embrace their heritage and spend this precious human birth as our ancestors did, running together through trees. Thank you for sharing your triumphs and heartaches with me. Thank you for teaching me to keep running, that the pain will subside, that some mornings will feel light and free. Thank you for sharing your gloves, your wisdom, your trailside diarrhea. You have given me the greatest gift of all, making me feel a little more okay. You have not transformed my messiness or imperfection, you have not lessened the sting of those pockets of sorrow, but you have helped me relinquish attachment and start living with increasing tastes of freedom.
When I ran 50k yesterday, I felt fine. Afterward, I ate some leftovers and watched “Cars 3” with Vladimir. (Last year, afterward, I threw up in a measuring cup and shuffled around for days.) Today I woke up without an alarm, descended the stairs without complications, and looked out over the fresh snow. Wake up Vladimir, and I’ll take you to Pell Hill to go sledding. Wake up Vladimir, today is a new day, and I’ll take what I’ve learned from my friends, my dear, sweet friends, and treat you with kindness and love.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- When has running brought you back close to being in balance after a life challenge?
- And when for you has running become a moving celebration of living and love?