Part 1: Washing Away

Last weekend, on March 15, 2015, a group of Roanoke runners, got together for an annual race. It landed directly on a day holding great significance for me. I spent the sunny Sunday climbing to the Mill Mountain Star with my best friend and little sidekick, and visiting my brother’s grave site. I haven’t run since early in my pregnancy, and at 8 1/2 months along, even a leisurely hike is pushing my physical abilities. The concurrence of the third anniversary with race day reminded of 2012, when I tried to run the course, and of 2014, when I wrote the following narrative essay…

Run its course

I arrive at the park and get in line behind a stream of cars.

The last time I was here, it had rained for the entire week leading up to the race. How did I ever think I was ready for that race?

Today, a gray sky shows winter hasn’t relinquished, but no rain is predicted. Parked at the back of a huge gravel lot, I sit in the warm car for a few minutes. Train’s Calling All Angels plays on the radio. “I won’t give up if you don’t give up.” I often leave a day’s message up to FM fate.

I step out of the car.

I swear the temperature dropped by ten degrees since I left my house.

Ruth Running

This pic was taken on race day 2012, from what I can remember. The mud is much more epic in my memory. The 2015 race followed weeks of snow melt and drenching rain, so my mucky run has nothing on that.

Judging from the people huddled behind steering wheels, fellow Mountain Junkies as the group is affectionately known, I’m not alone in wanting to hold on to modern luxury for a few more minutes before hitting the trails.

Still planning to run in my favorite tank top, I’m glad I decided to wear the RNUTS (Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Nut Series) neon coral pull-over to keep me warm until the sun comes up. I always wear my Race for McGee tank when I compete more for recovery, less for results. Running to recover pieces of my soul, to put myself back in place, I wear McGee’s words on my back.

“This is a race I did not plan to run and certainly didn’t train for, but I know how to dig deep and push through to the finish line.” –Debbie McGee

The poignancy, from my once-in-a-lifetime friend’s mother, speaks of her race against death. It speaks to all of our races for life. A woman who ran a marathon of marathons, including many of the greats—Boston, New York, Shamrock, two after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease—said in those words what every runner feels at some point.

Inevitably someone stops me before or after a race to tell me how much they like the quote. I especially like it when they say they’ve been chasing me for miles trying to read it, and don’t catch it until the finish line.

Every runner has a desire to compete, but for me, competition is more often a fight to be my own best self and run my own best race as it is to achieve a specific time or defeat another runner.

I take a single key off my key ring and unzip the front pocket of my capris. I touch the heavy coin already zipped inside. It’s an eleven-year sobriety coin—one no one I know has earned, but one I am 24 months closer to being able to call my own. I found it when we cleaned out my oldest brother David’s apartment.

I immediately wanted to keep it even though I knew it wasn’t his. He tried AA as a last ditch effort, but was never sober more than three or four months. He couldn’t come to terms with the higher power requirement. That is something he and I share, as children raised in an all-or-nothing, Jesus-or-hell fundamental family—an inability to give it all to God.

The coin may have belonged to an uncle who stayed on the sober wagon for over ten years before slipping back into the self-hatred only inebriation seems to dull. I really don’t know. I hope to one day call it mine. I’ve carried it for every race, and nearly every run, since the first time I ran this same course two years ago.

A course I’ve since remembered as a brutal, muddy battle along the winding mountain bike trails of the sopping Bedford, Virginia park, the Montvale Five-mile/Ten-mile.

I will post this memoir essay in multiple parts. Thank you to everyone who is represented in this story, as your friendship and kindred sharing of experience adds value to my every moment. Read Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

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  1. […] Last weekend, on March 15, 2015, a group of Roanoke runners, got together for an annual race. It landed directly on a day holding great significance for me. I spent the sunny Sunday climbing to the Mill Mountain Star with my best friend and little sidekick, and visiting my brother’s grave site. I haven’t run since early in my pregnancy, and at 8 1/2 months along, even a leisurely hike is pushing my physical abilities. The concurrence of the third anniversary with race day reminded of 2012, when I tried to run the course, and of 2014, when I wrote the following narrative essay. Read Part 1. […]

  2. […] when I tried to run the course, and of 2014, when I wrote the following narrative essay…Read Part 1 and Part […]

  3. […] A group of girls behind us notice the quote on my back. (Read quote in Part 1: Washing Away) […]

  4. […] would be 40 on July 26, 2015 and I miss him everyday. The Washing Away Series (see also Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 5) are pieces of a long essay I wrote about consecutive years running a […]



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