Rima: Running As Prayer

Joe Grant writes about 70-year-old Rima Lurie’s perspective on a lifetime of running.

By on March 27, 2018 | Comments

“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
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.