Although I cannot say that I wasn’t warned going into this book about the emotions involved, I still had to set it aside a few times to give myself some space to process what the author was going through.
Katie Arnold’s running memoir Running Home is broken up into three main sections: Leavings, Shadows, and Upward. On the front cover of the book, you’re warned that the story is going to involve the death of her father a few months after the birth of her second daughter. What I didn’t realize was that that death, including the lead-up and her grief after it, was going to be more than just the first chapter of the book. Instead it was more than the first 100 pages. Running offers a brief escape from all of the medical decisions Katie, her sister Meg, and her step-mother Lesley had to make over the short few months between her father’s diagnosis and passing. With a two-year-old and husband at home, and an infant needing to be fed with her during any travels, runs were just short escapes to breath and perform some physical maintenance.
The second section, Shadows, was primarily about the year after her father’s death, when grieving took multiple loops, swirls, switch-backs, and dead ends. My father died over two years ago. My process looked (really looks) nothing like the one described in this book. Except for the fact that running provided necessary escape from emotions that could not be processed, at least not that day. It’s in the final section, Upward, that Katie’s running become a more prominent portion of the story than grieving; however, both are still there in collaborative tension together. The author started stretching her runs to new ultra-distances and discovered new strength and purpose in the process. It is not all sunshine and rainbows in the final chapters as she describes struggling to be a runner and a mother, a runner and a wife, a runner and a grieving daughter, a runner and an injured human being. Her races are imperfect and impressive at the same time. You’ll finish the book feeling that you can do amazing things just like this imperfect and impressive runner.
I want to finish with a quote from the book, one that caught my attention so much that I had to fold the corner of the page to make sure I’d find it again before my next race:
“Ultrarunning isn’t a mystery. It’s hard work and human nature. I believe anyone can do it. If it’s in you, if you want it, you can do it. You can run thirty miles, fifty miles, a hundred miles, you don’t have to look like a runner. Anybody can be a runner. You don’t have to be fast. You don’t have to know anything. You just have to start small and break it down. You will be afraid. You will worry about wild animals and strangers and getting injured and losing everything. This is natural. This is resistance. You’re stronger than you think you are. Keep going.” (p. 322)
You’re stronger than you think you are. Keep going.