Part 2: 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. Read Part 1.

Progress not Perfection

“Good morning, Ruth. Ready to run?” Gina asks as I approach.

Peeking from under the fitted Mountain Junkies ball cap she usually wears, Gina shares a wide, upbeat smile. The husband and wife team who put these races together, Josh and Gina Gilbert, prove the benefits of a life well-lived. She’s a fit and beautiful woman in her upper thirties with a cheerleader’s energy and teacher’s supportive nature. Perky but not irritatingly so, her dark hair cascades to her shoulders and she looks as put together in capris, running shoes and T-shirt as any woman in a business suit. Josh’s infectious smile and dry sense of humor balance his intense temperament. The 40-something chiropractor makes geek and fitness guru seem like a perfectly sensible combination.

I respond to Gina with my usual, “As long as I finish and have fun!”

The Gilberts know most of the hundreds of racers by name who frequent their events. I always pick up my packet on race morning, and look forward to seeing Gina and her crew of volunteers. Some of my favorite people to see on race day stand behind the table to hand out T-shirts and bib numbers. Denise is definitely one of them. She volunteers for every event, arriving before dawn and gracing every racer with a sweet smile, a Southern “Hiiiiiiiiiiii” and for me a generous hug.

Before I can see her face, the other woman checking me in finds my name, checks me off and calls for a small shirt. She asks Denise for a small women’s T-shirth, turns around to hand me the brown paper bag of goodies and safety pins.

“I haven’t seen you in a long time.” I stumble over her name but manage to pull it out of my sluggish memory just in time. “How are you Katrina?”

Another tender soul whose dedication to personal progress inspires me.

“You look great,” she says. “Good luck!”

I meander away, catching the usual pre-race chatter as I check out the T-shirt.

A spunky girl with knee high Wonder Woman socks, complete with tiny capes behind her knee caps, bounces on her toes and breathes warm breath into her balled fists.

“It’s colder than I thought it would be,” I overhear.

Back to the car to drop off the race packet, I watch a racer dressed in head-to-toe neon chase a dog past the cars and into the open field. I doubt this is the run he planned for today. Barely past 8 a.m. and the park is bustling. Trios of friends huddle near hatchbacks tying shoes, pinning race bibs and swapping stories.

A group of friends, many who also run with the Mountain Junkies, also gathered for a memorial run/ride for my brother on the first birthday following his death (July 26, 2012).

A group of friends, many who run with the Mountain Junkies, also gathered for a memorial run/ride for my oldest brother on the first birthday following his death (July 26, 2012).

I pick leaves off my trail shoes, enjoying the simplicity of tightening laces and making a perfect bow, double-knotted and tucked into each side. A cold bottle of water in hand, I head back to race headquarters.

I make my way through the growing crowd at the picnic shelter, thinking about the race ahead. I like to arrive early because every good race day begins with overheard conversations and shared pre-race rituals.

Feeling a bit apart from today’s race activities, I realize that’s not altogether unusual.

I often observe more than engage, not in my daily life but at these gatherings. I’ve been a part of the Roanoke trail running community for over three years, and there are many people I’ve never seen before, or seen plenty of times but never spoken to.

They may run ultra marathons competitively, reaching new heights in their individual age and gender categories, or spend their weekends climbing mountains on legs or bike tires. Most prioritize life over work and friends over profits. Most of this I know, or infer, from Facebook, where these runner friends generously share their lives, accomplishments and disappointments on the trails with their friends and fellow Roanoke Valley Trail Runners. We cheer each other on to reach training or race goals—no matter the distance or difficulty—and create a true community of people in Roanoke who care about each other and our backyard mountain paradise. It’s easy to be jealous of the many of these dedicated runners, like the Gilberts.

I personally prefer my life of competing only with my own best self and spending weekends with a six-year-old who shrills as he rides his bike down the small hill in our front yard.

On race day, our passing conversations are always the same.

“How’s it going? What have you been up to?” I ask.

“Doing good, busy but good,” they say. “Running much?”

“Not as much as I would like, but it’s good to be here today.”

I try to make the practice runs from time to time, but I’m not as serious a runner as many of them. I run to think, to breathe, to be.

As usual, a line springs up at the tiny row of portable toilets. My last minute attempt at hydration must have worked. I swap greetings with the couple standing in front of me, dressed in old race T-shirts and gym shorts with ball caps pulled over hints of heather hair.

The second person in a row asks the man about his head.

“Head’s fine. Left side’s fine. Chiropractor is helping with my neck,” he repeats. It sounds like a mantra he’s practiced.

“I’ll holler if I see a tree today,” his friend laughs.

“That’s his problem, he needs to look up when he runs,” says his wife.

They all chuckle and the line shifts forward a step.

I nod a silent hello to “Pigtail,” as the only name I know her by, the lady who wears her silver locks in two bouncy pig tails.

“You signed up for the marathon?” A college-aged boy dressed in matching Adidas sweatshirt, shorts, shoes and tights calls to an equally athletic-looking couple crossing the parking lot.

“You think I’m crazy?” says the equally athletic girl approaching the porta-potty line. “I’m just doing the half. It’s still three hills, or mountains.

“You going to run a full one day soon, right?”

“Before the end of the year.”

Her resolve sounds familiar.

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 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

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  1. […] 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 and Part 2. […]

  2. […] 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 race as a […]

  3. […] story, as your friendship and kindred sharing of experience adds value to my every moment. Read Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part […]

  4. […] as your friendship and kindred sharing of experience adds value to my every moment. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part […]



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