Running is Love

[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.

Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in New York at dawn. Photo: Lee Willet

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.

Veronica and Vladimir Leeds on a ‘long run.’ Photo: Gene Leeds

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.

[Editor’s Note: If you love any of the information and inspiration iRunFar provides, please consider becoming a monthly iRunFar patron on Patreon (or PayPal) during iRunFar’s end-of-year fund drive.]

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?

Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. Photo: Lee Willet

The Leatherman Harriers. Veronica and Gene Leeds are in the far left of the front row and their son Vladimir is in the back row at far right. Photo: Lee Willet

There are 4 comments

  1. Joe Cloidt

    Veronica, Gene, and Vlad did more than watch their friend’s run 100 miles. They drove to Vermont, volunteering their weekend, to crew for one of our buddies at the VT 100. Then in August they drove 5.5 hours to Rochester, NY to crew and pace me to the finish of my first 100. Without them, the painful vomiting at mile 36 and the profuse diarrhea at mile 55, and the “bad hangover” bronze colored pee would have ended my race. I would thrown in the towel, not knowing that all of these things were manageable with patience, support, and love. Together we cobbled together enough calories that my body would accept as fuel, enough stories to detach me from my suffering, and enough baby wipes and Butt Paste to keep my orifices from becoming open sores so that I did finish the Might Mosquito 99 (100 Mile Ultra and Relay). During the race Veronica, or V-rockstar, as we call her, filled my heart beyond measure. Halfway through the race I was at the start/finish/aid station preparing to head back out for the final unpaced loop of the eighteen 5.5 mile loops. Veronica was helping stratagize about calories and Vlad, being perceptive, hungry, and 3 years old, saw that some treats were being discussed and handed out, said something like, “Mommy, Mommy I’m hungry. I could have cookies.” The cookies being out of reach so he would need assistance to make this happen. Veronica calmly explained, “The runner also needs food and is only going to be here for a few minutes. You and Mommy are going to have lots of time to get you a cookie after the runner leaves.” and gently asked Vlad, “Who needs our attention right now?” Vlad being as bright and loving as his parents, at 3 years old, responded, “The runner.” Veronica gave him a quick, loving squeeze, saying, “That’s right. After Joe heads out Mommy will help Vlad get a cookie.” Why did this seemingly simple exchange fill my heart? As a psychotherapist I often support thise teying to deal with the results of insecure attachment. I don’t often get to witness secure attachment being both enacted and created. In the situation above Veronica acknowledged Vlad’s need, helped him put that need into a larger social context, and assured him that his needs matter and would be met while others’ needs were also going to be met. She modeled “Making life wonderful” as Marshall Rosenberg calls it. Veronica chose to acknowledge Vlad, rather than ignore him or chastise him for interrupting, she chose to describe the situation to help him see his hunger in context, she trusted that he would be able to see himself and others as all being important, she set out a strategy to help Vlad get his needs met that he could understand. We, Leatherman Harriers, are quite fortunate to have one another. Indeed our trails and lives are filled with love and loving.

  2. Amy M

    This article – and the comment by Joe – were beautiful, and I feel blessed to have read it on this slightly stressful post-holiday morning. It’s always good to be reminded of what we gain when we run – not just fitness or increased race readiness, but also a chance to spend time with those we love and a way to model for others how we hope to live.

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