I suppose I have an obligation to explain why it has been almost two months since I have last posted.  I offer no excuses.  I leave you only these simple words to mull over: editing book, children on summer vacation, new puppy, husband away and holding down the fort.  Take a moment.  Discuss amongst yourselves.  It’s okay.  I’ll wait.  And we’re back in 3…2…1…

Last weekend I attended and participated in the 25th Annual Montgomery High School Viking Cross Country Invitational in Santa Rosa.  Mind you, I ran in the FIRST Opener as a high school junior, a zillion years ago.  Okay, somewhere in the ‘80’s. 

And now… on with the show.

I need to start off by saying that my forties thus far have actually  been pretty wonderful.  I dig my children, I adore my husband, I have spent the last two years finding those fabulous friends that I lost along life’s highway and gathering them close once more.   Wonder of wonders, I am writing.  This is a life long dream that is finally seeing the light of day.  I could not be more grateful.  That being said, I was finding myself feeling a little “Murtaugh”.  That’s when you start catching yourself muttering, “I’m getting too old for this shit”.  That’s not very me.  I tend to be almost nauseatingly optimistic and joyful.  Where was the Erika that I had been?  Was I slowly fading, or eek, God forbid, aging?

Last spring, my high school cross-country coach, Larry Meredith, put out the call.  The 25th Annual Viking Opener was happening on September 17th.  Every year the meet includes a two-mile alumni “Fun Run”.  At that point I was still heavy addicted to ice and ibuprofen after tearing my plantar fascia last November but sometimes you just have to make the leap.  I tossed my hat into the ring and said I’d find a way.  Maybe a chance to see all those teammates that I still love so much would help with the Murtaughs.

Watching the emails and the Facebook Posts slowly roll in I became concerned.  Where were my peeps?  No Scarlet Monks? (This is the nickname for the teams I ran with.  The story of this name requires a whole blog entry of its own.)  A couple did sign up but I started thinking about what it would take to really get the band back together.

Obviously, I needed to start stalking my teammates.

Let me digress here, stalking has gotten a bad rap in recent years.  A few psychos have truly taken the fun factor out of it.  Stalking is really a very effective tool to find people and then get them to do what you want them to.  It involves a great deal of Google’ing.  Linked In and Facebook are also wonderful resources.  I even pulled out a few old address books (remember those?) and called some people’s parents.  Slowly, I started seeing results.

Once I found and/or reconnected with my teammates of yore I had to convince them to completely rearrange their lives and come to the race.  Better yet, make a weekend out of it.  There was some guilt, “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you”.  Sometimes there was a little arm-twisting, which is hard when the twist-ee lives two states away.  Other times I resorted to bribery, “I’ll buy the beer”. (I mean, it works on my kids, err, the bribery, not the beer.)  Surprisingly, sometimes people are just glad that you asked and that’s all it takes.  I get that, who doesn’t like being invited to the party?

After all that, race day arrived.  I had only gotten three hours of sleep the night before because Larry had sent out this God-forsaken email with everyone’s PR’s to hit.  I knew, after doing a time trial the previous week, that there was no way I was making mine.  Still I was optimistic that I could beat my previous alumni showing.  Eight years ago I ran the race after I had just had a baby.  I finished last, I was so far behind that they had put away the time clock (I’m not kidding), my shirt was soaked (not with sweat) and I was bleeding (you don’t want to know where).  I was pretty sure I could better 2003.  The real question was; could I find Erika out there on the trail?

As I arrived at Spring Lake I started smiling like a kid on the best Christmas ever.  The people I loved, some of my favorite people ever, were there.  Everywhere you looked there were people hugging, talking animatedly and we all wore the same smile.  Some people who couldn’t run were there to help and to cheer.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue and suddenly, I didn’t feel tired at all.  Then the race started.

The first six tenths of a mile is uphill and while I’ve been training, hey, it’s only been eight weeks.  I was hurting (already) and there was no sign of my younger self.  I wondered if I would find her after all. As we started the uphill section on the second mile, I was beginning to feel a little sorry for myself.  Just as I started that stupid thought, “I’m getting too…” the past Erika was there, bounding joyfully beside me.  This was a mixed blessing.  On the one hand I had been seriously considering walking up the last ten feet of that hill but there was no way I was doing it with the fifteen-year-old version of myself watching.  Are you kidding?  So that was good.  The drawback was, as I said, I was hurting and she, with all the intolerance of the young, thought I was a scrub.

As we ran the last part of the race together, my younger self and I, I was flooded with memories of times and races past.  So many things in the kaleidoscope of my memories come from cross-country.  The first time I went camping, the first time I kissed a boy under the stars, banana pancakes (sorry, Coach, I never did develop a taste for those), hill sprints and spaghetti feeds.  I remember Peewee (her real name is Elizabeth) teaching me how to put on eyeliner and Schaumberg teaching me how to blow my nose without tissue  while running (as he says “ya’ gotta commit”).  I remember the first time I had the dry heaves and thought I was going to die.  Marc Spina patted my back and said, “That’s okay, it means you were doing it right”.   I learned how to play truth or dare, what the F.B.E. is (don’t ask) and I went to my first prom.   I had forgotten just how innocent I was.  I had forgotten how brash and impetuous I had been.  Suddenly, I remembered how impatient I was in high school.  I was also braver then.  Nothing could beat me down.

She, being the outspoken girl that I was, had some really uncomplimentary things to say about me.  You don’t want to know what she thought of how slowly I was running.  I had to take offense at her comments on my weight.  Twenty-seven years and three kids, I wanted to tell her, but I didn’t.  I had never planned on children and my fifteen-year-old self would have been scandalized.  She was surprised that I had grown our hair out and again; I had to bite my tongue.  (This was easy, I was huffing and puffing so much that speech was really out of the question.)  I could have told her, I suppose, that our guy  was out there and that we would get to marry him.  The only drawback is that he has a Rapunzel complex, hence, the long hair.  I didn’t tell her, she would have to live it herself.  Besides, she had already decided that she was never getting married.  Why ruin the surprise?

She ran on, back to my memories and I finished the race in the bottom third of the field.  To my delight they hadn’t even put away the clock yet.  My time was 18:20, not my PR of 13:44, not even the 16:18 I was supposed to hit but it was better that the 19:31 of my time trial the week before.  I didn’t hurt myself on the run.  I felt like I could go home, train harder and run faster and longer.   I felt like me again.   I looked around and basked in the after race talk.  People were replaying the race, giving one another grief and high fiving friends.  The best part of all was that the weekend wasn’t over yet.  We still had the post-race party to go to.

While I enjoy my more traditional reunions, this one was something really special.  It’s all the classes, not just mine.  To see the people who were ahead of me then those that came later; that’s a true joy.  These are the people who I spent the most time with.  We ate, slept, dreamed, and lived cross-country.  I saw them at school, after school and on weekends.  We were a tight group that cheered each other on and helped one another out.  We still are today.

I could do a whole blog entry just on the relationships that I was able to revisit, the people who I could look at and tell them I still love them and always will.  We walked Spring Lake, we had dinner, we drank, we talked and talked some more.  We had a party at Doyle Park. I saw Larry, my Coach, who I’ll always love and who helped shape some of the best parts of who I am now.  He brought me to tears, again.  I laughed until my abs hurt as much as my quads.  I was more honest than one usually is in day-to-day life, more open, and more vulnerable.  I had the wonderful words “Hairy Man” displayed on the caller ID of my phone. I went out for a beer at eleven o’clock.  I got eight hours of sleep for the entire weekend.  I woke up early and loved it.  I roamed Annadel alone with my thoughts.  I had wonderful conversations that lasted for hours.  And I laughed.  Did I mention the laughter?

I know that I’ll always be able to find the real Erika.  She will always be on the trails.  The young me helped show me the road back.   Running is a lot like childbirth.  Through great pain we find even greater joy.

We Scarlet Monks have all agreed we will not let so much time go by again.  A dinner and a run is in the near future.  I think fifteen-year-old Erika would approve.

The Fifteen-year-old Me

She'd come to regret that hair, although not as much as some other styles she'd sport.