Sometimes you have a fascination and you don’t really admit it. Sometimes it even takes many long years for you to come to terms with it. Mine is: I think I am predisposed to love women who run.
You can see women who run at 3 years old on a beach, at 12 years old on a soccer field, at 35 years running on fitness trails, and even at 65 running for a tennis ball. Like wild mustangs, it’s the living gusto of their hair flying and arms pumping, and also… they seem to float. Why is it that men, for all their strength and speed, never seem to float? Men lumber along, and they sometimes drive with great horsepower…but they don’t float. Take it back…Baryshnikov seemed to float, but that was a different stage.
I found out my wife Brenda was a runner when she decided to run off some lethargy after our second boy was born. She entered the 8-mile Turkey Trot in Dallas, and won it. Brenda mentioned once that when she was very young and very poor, the Irish seaside community of Kinsale would have festive days and she would win money in the kids races.
That first Turkey Trot started a long progression of Brenda running while the boys were in school, or I watched the boys and we sometimes went out to watch her. Most boys moms did not run, but ours grew up thinking it was the usual thing. Brenda was invited to be in a women’s running club in Dallas, the Metroplex Striders, and she was able get expert workouts with coaches for 5,000 and 10,000 meter races along with ex-college runners and others who took running dead seriously. 5 to 10 miles a day of running gave her lasting health benefits, of course, but one drawback… Brenda went through running shoes rapidly, and there was no mileage guarantee as you would have on automobile tires.
However, there was also a solution to the constant need for shoes…New running shoes were often prizes by running shoe companies. Brenda would thus win shoes by winning races. Running was just beginning to become popular and in events like the Six Flags season opening 10K run, they would give occasional trips to other running events. In this way, modest as our income was, Brenda could stay in shoes and take some running trips around the country and, as it turned out, the world.
Once when she won the local Six Flags opener, a local radio station had as a prize a trip to any marathon in the U.S. Brenda had her heart set on running the Dublin marathon, but it took a little talking. I told the people at the radio station that Fairbanks, Alaska was almost as far as Dublin from Dallas – a few hundred miles difference. There were not at that time any marathons in Fairbanks, Alaska and the local big airline, Braniff, did not fly to Fairbanks, so I convinced the radio station manager that they could accomplish the same prize and also tout the new flights of Braniff to London. So that is how Brenda got to run the Dublin marathon, visit her sisters, and become an international runner-mom with kids in tow.
We also raised a daughter, Deirdre, who ran. Women who run run after soccer balls and basketballs and tennis balls… floating all the way…in my eyes at least. It should have been obvious to us from birth. Brenda kept running – 9 months pregnant – until 3 days before she delivered Deirdre. They were in the delivery room and I was still struggling in a dark hospital closet (where they stuck me to put on my paper shoe covers) when I heard this little squall pierce the air. I went into the delivery room to see this naked little baby girl writhing on a pedestal with a towel over it and then…to everyone’s amazement, little Deirdre rolled completely over, almost off the pedestal, before they caught her. Those of you who’ve had kids know they sometimes take months to roll over, and here she was doing it fresh into the world. One theory was that Brenda running all through that pregnancy thoroughly oxygenated her baby, and so our Deirdre was ready to go from the first minutes. Brenda’s Metroplex Strider team came up with a pair of baby running shoes, coupled with the pronouncement that when she turns 13 she is ours.
One Dallas running event, held for Easter, was a 6-mile husband-and-wife team run, called the Bunny Hop. The idea was that the men would go charging along ahead and their wives would be dragging along miles behind. It occurred to us that if Brenda beat the man in the best combo, all I would have to do is beat the wife. (Are you still beating the wife?) I was playing soccer at the time and they say you run 5 or 6 miles a game, so I guessed I could make it. I had learned pacing somewhere and so I did the first 2 mile lap around city park course in 14:57 minutes with Brenda well ahead but with the other man and wife blasting along together a good ways ahead of me also. But I was patient and did not want to burn out. At the 4-mile mark, I was 30 minutes on nose and just about even with the wife. Brenda was, not surprisingly, ahead of the man of the other pair, with a long hill in front of her.
As it turned out, Brenda always adored running hills, especially running up hills. It’s a valuable preference for a distance runner, as hills are where many running careers go to die. I thought that might be my case as well, as I edged out ahead of the tiring wife going into that last long hill. By now a lot of the trailing — and leading – spouses were stopping and walking that killer hill. I kept going past many of them, and the wife was just behind me so I had to keep running. I swore that if she stopped to walk I would stop to walk as well, but each time I looked back, she was still chugging up the hill behind me. I looked back 7 times and on my eighth look over my shoulder…she had stopped running and was walking. I’ve got her, I’ve got her I thought as I trudged on, barely running to make it over the top, and then to glide downhill, watching Brenda far in the distance leaving the husband well behind in a final downhill sprint…floating over the finish line. We won — I with the lesser half of the trophy medal.
My granddaughter Clodagh is running now. At four years old she just runs in random long bursts of bellowing glory across the grass of a park, but as I look at her I swear she is floating…and I think: here is one more woman I love who runs.