We run because she asked us to run, because she can’t anymore, and we can.
The Good Men Project Sports asked why we run.
In this feature series, we share your answers.
This is GMP Editor Lisa Duggan’s:
No one knew where she got her athletic ability. The women in my family do not run. We do not play ball. We don’t belong on teams. We can, if called for, dance all night. We hoist thick-legged babies onto our hips with ease and move furniture without assistance. We are strong and even stronger-willed, but sports are not in our blood.
But my cousin was a runner and a good one.
Running was not just a thing she did to stay fit. It was her default speed in all things. She ran from work to pick-up at school, from kick-boxing class to darkroom, from family functions to concerts at Madison Square Garden with her sister. She was not so much an expert in time-management as in time-domination. She bent the minutes and hours and days to her will, determined to pack as much life into the moments as she could.
Marianne also suffered from Crohn’s disease, a degenerative auto-immune disorder of the digestive tract. She was in pain, often on a daily basis.
She didn’t run from the pain as much as she just tried to avoid it.
She plotted routes around it; no processed sugars, or complex carbs. Skip the tough proteins, stick to chicken, work, play, run, and stay busy. She never fully escaped the pain caused by the inflammation; she merely avoided it for the length of the run.
But to say that she was running from something would be wrong. Marianne only ran towards things — always towards the life and the people she loved — and the challenges she set for herself personally and professionally.
There is the story of the dog she feared on her morning route. How she dared herself to run past his gate each day, and would not deviate from her preferred course.
She was never running from, always to — a new idea, a better route, a supplement or treatment that would send her illness into remission.
In 2001 that pain increased in severity and frequency. She underwent a common surgery for Chrohn’s sufferers which was meant to relieve her pain, perhaps once and for all. The surgery was technically successful but it led to a devastating discovery: my cousin had cancer. It was present in all the lymph nodes tested.
Treatment gave her one more year in which she fought hard. She ran through the pain as long as she could, until there was nothing else to do but stop running.
To say that we miss her would be an incomplete thought, an inadequacy, an understatement of infinite proportion. We cannot enumerate the loss. It’s been a long eleven years and yet it’s only been eleven minutes since I last saw her, and the grief always, always, catches me off guard, and right between the eyes.
My cousin Marianne was brilliant and beautiful and passionately persuasive. As in, wouldn’t take no for an answer. And so when she decided we should all run — cousins, spouses, siblings, friends — in the Spring Lake, New Jersey 5 mile race on Memorial Day weekend, 2000 — we did. We signed up that day. We agreed to run the race with her, despite our love handles and bad knees, and a profound, familial lack of enthusiasm for situations which require you to rise at 6am.
I think about that first year we ran as a group. Six of us crammed into the backseat of her Toyota as she took the short-cut on Route 36, doing 75, to beat the race-day traffic. I hear her laughing, I see her determined face, coaching us, cajoling us, as I see her face now, in turns, and more and more, in her daughter’s smile and her son’s bright eyes.
We ran because she told us to. Because she dared us to. We ran because her joy for running, and for us, was stronger than any fear we had about not being able to finish. We ran because her ability to run around and through her pain was all the inspiration we needed.
My cousin’s needs were simple. She wanted just one more day, just one more mile, just one more minute to be with all the people she loved.
So that’s what we give her, every Memorial Day weekend.
We have now run the Spring Lake 5 Mile race every year without fail since 2004, in memory of my cousin. We descend on this picturesque village on the Jersey shore, with 10,000 others, on rainy days, cold days and too-hot-to-run days, to push ourselves to new limits. We collect our glasses and eat stale bagels and have our group picture taken shouting our race-day motto, “This one’s for you, Mare!”
Sometimes, when I run, I think I catch a glimpse of her 20 paces ahead, an auburn head that seems familiar, a determined stride I came to know. And I pick up my feet and urge myself towards her.
We go every year to feel what she felt. By running we keep her close to us. We share in the heady pulse of the crowd at the starting line, where everything is before you — and in the exhausted triumph at the end, when you round the last corner and see a long line of familiar faces waiting to receive you, cheering you in with shouts and outstretched hands.
We run without her, but together in her name.
We run because she asked us to run, because she can’t anymore, and we can. It is the best tribute we can offer her, to live our lives to the fullest. To never take our healthy bodies, or each other, for granted.
That is why we run.
For The Good Men Project Sports’ Why We Run feature, we are looking to collect YOUR comments, posts, Tweets, and emails that answer the questions: Why do you run? What are you running from? What are you running towards (if anything)?
Please send us your submissions through our online submissions portal:
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Photo: Provided by author/Used with permission