I’ve been intentionally pursuing running a 5k in 50 states for two and a half years. For 18 states, running a 5k in new state was a way to feel the success I couldn’t find in career and love. That changed in Iowa.
The Iowa plan was much like other states. It would be a “cross the border run” as in Georgia, Idaho, Delaware,Louisiana, and Illinois. I was also driving to Iowa with my high school friends Heather and Rachel as in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC, and Louisiana. The difference was that a few days prior I’d accepted an offer for a new job I was over the moon about. I had given notice to my current job at the newspaper but hadn’t yet started my new job so it was all champagne, smiles, and congratulatory messages. I hadn’t told Heather and Rachel anything about the job opportunity either so I was looking forward to sharing the good news and catching up. We rolled out of Fitchburg, Wisconsin a gray, drizzly day after Christmas. It was depressing, challenging weather to both drive and run in and if I hadn’t lured them out of bed to join me, I’m sure we would have each been cozied up in our respective holiday hangovers.
For the hour plus drive to the Wisconsin-Iowa border I rattled off the amazing perks of the new job (“wine Fridays!!) while they listened and congratulated me. Eventually the conversation turned, as it always does, to old boyfriends: the ones we met in AOL chatrooms, supported through their gastric-bypass, and were “50 shades of crazy.” For me, the passenger about to conquer another state, the drive was a giddy mix of telling ridiculous past trysts and acknowledgement of professional success. The blend of joys was both surprising and comforting.
Rachel and Heather dropped me off at Riverview Park, a tiny island in the Mississippi River withing the Iowa state line. They drove off to investigate lunch options in Dubuque while I walked along the Mississippi feeling cold and sluggish. I snapped a few pictures at the end of a pier and the end of the park with signposts for the direction of Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. The run would be an intersection of states and emotions.
While I ran those chilly 3.1 miles along the Mississippi I thought about the joy in coming back to running after spraining my ankle. I also acknowledged that for the first time in eight years, running was no longer the only area in which I felt successful. I’d been running across the country and diligently in Seattle, sometimes fast, sometimes far, but mostly doing it to feel good about myself. Though each had had their ups and downs, neither my career nor my love life had been what I had hoped they would be. So I ran. I ran without a supped up LinkedIn profile or an engagement ring because it is what I could do. No matter how fast or far I ran, every time I ran was a victory or sorts. That day in Iowa, because I had gotten the job I had dreamed of but was never sure I could get, felt different. Running was no longer the best part of me. My career had finally trumped running. It was what I had wanted but the tiniest bit bittersweet. I recognized both the loss and the triumph, wrapped up that final point one of a mile, and met my girlfriends at the car.
On the way back to Madison conversation inevitably floated back to boyfriends. As we approached the spot where one of us used to make out with our boyfriend parked along a country road, I decided to take the crazy up a notch and play some Richard Marx. I shared that my first slow dance had been to “Right Here Waiting for You.” We laughed over that memory our other respective memories to “Endless Summer Nights” and “Hold on to The Nights.” That’s the thing about visiting your girlfriends, you can revisit the vulnerable and ridiculous one minute and celebrate the professional achievements the next.
That’s also the thing about running. Running is what I do when I am feeling better than best. It’s also what I do when I don’t know what else to do, when I am so broken in spirit that I swear my legs are the only things that work. With a new year and a new job there a sure to be many more ups and downs. This 2016 my wish for you is wherever you go, whatever you do, running will be right there waiting for you.