Are You There Running? It’s Me, Vanessa

Vanessa Runs

As a preacher’s kid, I often saw my dad conduct marriage counseling. In his office, he kept a standard Marriage Counseling Questionnaire that he would hand out to each partner separately. They were instructed to complete it alone, without consulting their mate. My dad would then take the answers, assess them, and focus his sessions based on the responses.

The questions were meant to expose differences and highlight potential reasons for divorce, covering a broad range of topics. The most common themes were finances, expectations, and family values. Did she want kids while he didn’t? Did he expect they would live with his mother?

As a teenager, I would thumb through the questions and imagine that when I chose my own life partner, I would have it all figured out. We’d be on the same page about everything.

It didn’t work out that way.

The first partner I chose was perfect on paper, but less ideal in real life. We nailed the questionnaire, but something happened afterward that I had not at all factored into my future.

I changed.

I changed my mind.

I changed my passions.

I changed my outlook on life.

He didn’t change with me, and I found myself angry at the questionnaire. It had promised me a happy marriage. I had studied and aced the exam, yet somehow still failed.

Fast forward to a few years later when I started sizing Shacky up as a potential mate. I didn’t care about his financial stability, his job prospects, his religious beliefs, or whether or not he wanted kids.

I asked him only one question:

“Do you think you will ever get bored of running?”

He paused to think, then answered.

“No.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll move in.”

And that was that.

This sounds like an idiotic way to start a relationship, but for me it was a valid question. Through the most turbulent and unpredictable years of my life, my love of running had been the only constant, growing stronger with time.

Over the past few months, I have watched with curiosity as many of my friends have lost their running mojo, renounced racing, given up ultras, or just moved on to other interests. Many have claimed to be “bored” with running, a concept that Shacky and I discussed while climbing to the top of Nevada Falls at Yosemite National Park last week.

Why weren’t we bored of running? We bounded down the dirt trail and mused about it.

How does one get bored of running? We gazed out over the roaring waterfall and theorized.

When I wasn’t reading the Marriage Counseling Questionnaire as a teenager, I also enjoyed the quirky tales of a silly girl named Margaret in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s a diary-like collection of prayers that record both the mundane and exciting details of Margaret’s pre-pubescent life. She prays about growing boobs and embarrassing moments.

I approach running the same way. It’s something I come back to every day, like a diary—through both the mundane and exciting.

Are You There Running? It’s Me, Vanessa.

Running for me is not in itself something I can get bored of. Perhaps we get bored of our weekly training routes? Maybe we are bored of specific race scenes? But running itself is just a form of movement, like driving or walking to the fridge. If we are bored of driving to work, are we really bored of driving itself?

In my training for Zion 100, I took a step back from high mileage running to incorporate some cross training. I did some Crossfit-inspired workouts, and a lot of yoga. Although I enjoyed those activities in different ways, at mile 30 on the Zion course I had an epiphany:

Shit, I really just like to RUN.”

Yesterday we were playing on the trails with Catra Corbett, described by Chris McDougall in Born to Run as the “kaleidoscopically tattooed” woman who ran the 212-mile John Muir Trail (then turned around and ran back). It took her 12 days, 4 hours and 57 minutes, round trip.

As we started running our third or fourth incline together, Shacky asked her if she ever “trains”.

“Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, Oh shit, I have to run 35 miles today!

Catra scoffed.

“Pfft, NO! I do this for fun! Maybe that’s why I’ve been able to do it for so long.”

Catra doesn’t get bored.

On Saturday we followed Catra out to Miwok 100K 60K and fed her fresh mango from the Muir Beach aid station. We spent the rest of the day cooking bacon in the RV and passing it out to runners, while cheering and rocking the cowbell. One woman walked up to us and said, “Thank you for doing this. Nobody else is doing this on the rest of the course.”

I smiled and thought about my friends who had gotten “bored” of ultras. For me, there is still a strong lure here.

After spending some time in Catra’s home and picking oranges from the tree in her backyard, we got into the RV and started driving toward Auburn. I thought back to the first time I ever heard about Catra, reading Born to Run on a park bench in Toronto, Canada. I dug through my bag for a highlighter, and highlighted Catra’s name.

I must remember her, I thought.

Later, I got on Google and looked her up. I found her Facebook page and sent her a friend request. In my mind, her world was so mesmerizing, so fabulous, and so different than my own.

I’m blown away to I realize that this has now become my world too. I’ve transitioned from highlighting the name of a running idol to prancing around with her like we’ve been lifelong friends, all thanks to this one humble form of movement. I am thrilled to think of how far running has brought me, and how closely it has aligned my everyday life with my wildest dreams and strongest passions.

Are You There Running? It’s Me, Vanessa. I’ll be here a while.

Photo: Catra Corbett
Photo by: Catra Corbett

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