Saturday, January 15, 2011

This One Means Something

This morning was a run I did not want to skip, even though it was on a moderately challenging course (the Phoneline Trail) followed by 3.7 miles of downhill pounding on the return via the tram road. I have had numerous bad experiences on both Phoneline and the tram road, and have on more than one occasion run there as I was "coming back" from an injury. It is not really a run that you want to do if you are not in good shape. Plus, it is 9 miles and the most I've done since October 17th -- the ill-fated Mt. Lemmon Marathon Day -- is 5 miles. Still, I wanted to go.

It was the planned Come Run run, for one thing. But it was also a planned run for the Tucson Trail Runners, TTR, another running group to which I belong. I've gone on a few of their runs but have never really gotten into trail running, partly because for a long time I was so focused on qualifying for Boston, partly because I hate carrying my own fluids, and partly because I desperately fear stepping on snakes. They are a great group of people, as are all running groups I know of. This particular group, TTR, is headed by Ross Zimmerman, the father of Gabe Zimmerman, who, as pretty much everyone in the U.S. with access to the news knows, was killed last weekend at Gabrielle Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event. An announcement had gone out to the TTR list-serve that this weekend's planned trail run was cancelled and a Phoneline/tram road run would take its place, because Ross was planning on running and it was anticipated that a larger-than-usual number of people would want to turn out and express their condolences.

Now, I have met Ross on a few occasions but can barely even call him an acquaintance. I'm not sure I would recognize him anywhere but in running clothes at a trailhead. I know him mostly from the long, slightly quirky but always interesting emails he sends to the TTR list-serve. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't recognize me at all, at a trailhead or anywhere else. Still, I felt like I should be there. Why, I'm not sure. I felt like the group run -- to which Come Run had also shown up -- was a way to show support and to let Ross know that we all are in pain at the thought of his loss. I thought that even if I didn't know what to say it would be meaningful just to be there as another runner in the crowd. Because runners in Tucson belong to a community, a wonderful, amazing, inspiring community, and when something bad happens to someone in that community, we all hurt with and for that person and want to help them any way we can. I can't even begin to imagine the week he's just had, and the ones yet to come, but I have to think that a run in the mountains with the same old people who always run has to be at least a little bit of a relief, or something normal in this sea of chaos and loss that's been happening ever since January 8. So that's why I showed up. (That, and I really did want to gauge my own fitness and just enjoy being alive and [relatively] healthy and able to run. Every day we can run is a gift. Physical health and even life can be taken away at any time. We can't ever forget that! It is a cliche to say, "Don't take any day for granted," but I think events of the past week have shown us that a lot of times cliches become cliches because they are TRUE.)

We met just before the sun came up at the entrance to the trail. There were probably 50 or so people there, maybe more. I stood to the side while people hugged Ross and talked to him one at a time. Then, just before the run started, Ross got everyone's attention and said a few words about Gabe. About how athletic and talented he was, and how well he treated people, and about the woman he was engaged to, and about how he will be forever young and will never have to suffer getting old. I couldn't stop thinking the whole time about how Gabe, even though I didn't know him, was one of us. He fit in this group. He was active, healthy, caring, devoted to his family and community, everything a good person can be. He ran the Mt. Lemmon Half Marathon with his fiancee this past October and was planning on doing the full Mt. Lemmon Marathon with her this year. And even though it's useless to think about the unfairness and sorrow and tragedy of everything that happened, and pointless to wonder why it had to happen to all of those good people, I thought about those things anyway. I mean, seriously, WHY does his family have to live without him now? In what kind of world does that possibly make sense? It just doesn't to me.

RUNNING makes sense, though. The picking up of one foot and putting it down and repeating with the next foot, times a million, that makes sense AND doesn't require thought. That's why the Phoneline Trail, steep and rocky for the first couple miles, felt good. I did not care a whit about how fast I went. I wanted to run the whole thing but didn't care that much if I had to take a walk break. As it happened, I did run the whole thing. I was slow and my glutes, of all things, and lower back were killing me by the time I got to the end of that tram road, but I did the whole thing and none of the really threatening injuries (stress fracture, tendinitis, mysterious "female troubles") were causing me any problem at all. The pain wasn't a big deal. Running pain just means I'm alive and able to run one more day.

Gabe Zimmerman was a federal employee who made the government look good. I am a huge believer in the power of the government to do good. Say what you will about it being ineffective and wasteful -- I can tell you first hand, there are an awful lot of government employees making a positive difference in people's lives every single day. Everything written about him makes it crystal clear that he was that type of federal employee. It makes me proud to be a federal employee and have the opportunity to make veterans' lives better. Nothing about this whole ugly, terrible incident makes sense to me, and nothing makes sense about that fact that Gabe Zimmerman's family has to live without him for the rest of their lives. But I think we can all try to be more like him and make a difference in people's lives in the world as a whole.

And I am very thankful, as always, to be a part of the running community here in Tucson. I have never, thankfully, had anything anywhere near this terrible and devastating happen to me, but I know that if I did, I could count on my running friends to be there for me and support me through it just like I know Ross's friends will be for him and his family. And I would do the same for any of them.

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