It’s all in how you look at it…

3 Aug

I know I am a lucky monkey. I wake up grateful every day. Things that might strike others as bad to the core, my internal optimist-monkey is always compensating for with positive spin, like a C- average marketing student with an internship at Stop and Shop brand generic foods.

Seen 8/3/14 at Stop and Shop, Wyoming RI

Seen 8/3/14 at Stop and Shop, Wyoming RI


But true to perception, I am an optimist. A cynical optimist, but an optimist nonetheless. This is why Saturday morning, and actually a lot of mornings lately, are surprising to me, because Saturday featured an incredibly cranky me as we prepared to run our 2nd Ocean Beach 11.6 mile road race in New London, CT.

00 sad monkey

I don’t know what’s going on with me these days. I know I am incredibly lucky. My family, for the most part, is healthy and happy. My job, although of late it has been stressful, is good and interesting. But I have been burying stuff, or making piles of it, maybe. I worry about stuff. I worry about my Mom and her having to deal with my Dad and his stolen memory, and the changes fast happening with them. I worry about my daughter and the good independence born this year that makes me so happy but also a little sad. She never had a teen rebellion. She just quietly took responsibility for herself and stopped worrying what I thought about it. This is good, and necessary, I know. This is what the optimist in me thinks, anyway. The pessimist-monkey wants to wrap her in bubble wrap until she’s 40.

Saturday I had this stuff on my mind. Every race I do, I think about my Dad anyway. He’s the one who got me in to running when I was 13. You had to do something he liked to get any time with him, since, when he wasn’t out at sea, he was only back for a couple of months. He liked being outdoors, so we six kids had limited things to choose from to be part of his time home. My brother can coax beautiful native flowers out of his postage-stamp sized Portland garden and it’s probably because he chose that aspect of my Dad’s time home – you could make decent cash weeding for my father. I was pretty garden lazy. And chore-lazy. But you had to do chores to do the fun stuff with him, so I got good at getting stuff ready to go to the dump, or raking leaves absentmindedly. I couldn’t wait for chores time to be over so we could get on to the fun stuff – a hike at the Norman Bird Sanctuary, perhaps, or walking out to Hazard’s Beach.  Even getting to go to the dump or to the hardware store was a big deal and I would wait by the door like a dog to go for the ride in the car. When I got a little older, he said he was going out for a run, and if I wanted to go, I had better hurry up. I ran and got on my terry shorts, a t-shirt, my pair of Zipps, and knee socks and off we went. I was so thrilled to be included. I was probably missing out on hanging out at the pool with my best friend or the beach with my Mom and sister, but I was going on a run, like Bruce Jenner, or Jim Fixx. Back then, I didn’t know of any female runners. I just knew I was getting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that my Dad usually reserved just for himself. We ran up to the Art Association, left on Bellevue, and all the way out to Reject Beach, where we turned around to run back. It was probably only a couple of miles, but it felt very far. Along the way Dad waved to a tall man with white hair and told me, “That’s Claiborne Pell.”  There were a lot of runners on Bellevue. I felt a part of the gang. Dad showed me how to execute a sprint finish down Old Beach Road. The next year, I joined the high school track team and I did okay. I was never first, never last, and always, always did the best that lazy monkey allowed.

Lazy monkey shows up at races. This is the monkey who, despite the body being trained and fit, despite my brain being ready to race, tells me that I would much rather be home and should give up this race stuff already, since I am never going to win. And then there’s Tom in the car, saying, “are you ready to win???” and I’m like, dude, I don’t win these things. “Well, how are you ever going to win if you have an attitude like that and don’t line up at the front?” But Lazy monkey doesn’t want to line up at the front, because then she will be passed and have many more reasons why racing in the rain, even a free race, kind of just sucks. At first it does, anyway.

Thankfully, the spirit of my fellow runners was enough to turn around my crappy attitude as we stood around waiting for things to start. I looked forward to the front of the pack and caught Tom’s eye as he turned around to look for me. A lucky happenstance. The gun went off and off we all went, and I went into Run Like a Meanrat mode.  The race starts on a beach and hugs the coastline in the first mile, so it’s really hard to be all pissed off when the ocean is like, right there. Even on a rainy day. The midpack moved along like a herd of elephants. In the distance I could see Tom’s orange shirt. I decided to ignore Lazy Monkey and push it a little, maybe because I was thinking of my Dad and that was a good way to think of him. He wouldn’t like me dawdling.

Around me, I had all kinds. There were the gabbers, who talked for four miles and stayed with me, fast and young, despite my attempts to drop them, until I got a second wind and pulled far enough ahead to not hear them anymore. There was a foot slapper who stayed behind me, annoying me at first but comforting me in later miles. There was the Girl In Purple – one in every race – elusive and steady. I tracked at her heels. And then there was the compact older dude, the Dad Stand-In, who I picked to be my Dad for this run. He smelled bad but dressed like my Dad used to on runs – cotton shirt (old school!), athletic shorts, socks, and older sneakers. Surprisingly fast. I stayed with him when I lost the girl in purple.  Meantime, I pushed my pace as hard as I could. I haven’t been much on the roads and what I have done this year has not been fast, despite using a new training plan and running more miles than ever before. But I had been concentrating on trails and distance for Wakely, and my road miles were showing it.  But I didn’t let negative old Lazy-monkey get to me. I looked around and enjoyed the scenery. And even in the not as scenic parts of New London, I really was enjoying it.

Mile eight and its hill came and went, and I caught up with Amby Burfoot and a few runners running with him. He’s a talker too. I listened to him for awhile. He’s not as old as my Dad but was a big-time runner way back when and won the Boston marathon the year I was born. So that was cool. I decided to pull ahead of them and did so, effectively getting off by myself at mile 10. I felt pretty good at this point, the morning’s cloudy mood lifted, and I pulled out the stops for a sprint finish at Ocean Beach.  Three minutes slower than last year, but still a good race considering I have been negligent about road running.


photo courtesy Sara Pearson

My Dad would have loved this race. Sure, I can call my Mom and tell her to tell him I ran another road race, but I’m not sure he’d even know what that is, or who she is referring to. I have to remember our runs from Newport now, because he doesn’t, anymore. I have to remember my runs now, for me. And isn’t it amazing that things that we do as parents that mean probably very little to us at the time mean so much to our kids? My Dad probably thought it was cute and funny that one of his kids wanted to run with him, but likely had no high hopes of me ever being a runner as an adult. I think about this when I think about my daughter, and wonder if, despite my neglect or my being missing in moments makes any difference, since she has these memories of us that mean so much to her, and help to define and guide her now that I am no longer in the role of guide. Just as my Dad, and memories of spending time with him, guide my behavior now.


Meantime, Tom and I spent Sunday afternoon looking at old family slides of his Dad and Mom and Grandparents. Since Tom lost his Dad to Alzheimer’s it was especially poignant. I wonder which one of us will inherit this sucky gene. Anyhow, we gathered the slides to get digitized at Southtree Photo Services.  I will have to go through my box of photos and see if I can find some old slides at my parents house.


This blog post has been all over the place, I know. But that’s what my brain has been like. Running is good and bad in that it helps you sort through a lot of shit. But it also brings back memories for me, and I am grieving for a person who is still here, but not here. There are a lot of conflicting feelings that go with that last part.

How do you deal with your nostalgia?


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