Running with Hope

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On Sunday morning, I was just finishing up mile 5 of my 10k race, when I looked ahead and saw the line of runners snaking up Torrance Boulevard away from the Redondo Beach Pier. This is a nasty hill on a good day, and realizing I’d have to run it toward the end of my 10k – my first race in about five years – I was getting my game face on.

I tried on all the old hats I’d used on my previous runs. “Screw you, thyroid disease!” “Suck it, irregular heart beat!” “Watch me now, haters!” But, I wasn’t running to prove anything Sunday. I had no chip on my shoulder, no untouched anger in my heart, nothing I really needed to ruminate over for the entire race. I was just running to run.

So, I put my head town, and relied on some technical training I’d been doing with hills. (Do you know you’re actually not supposed to attack hills but instead almost lean back and shorten your stride? It was news to me, too.)

I made it to the top of the hill.

And I saw my sweet children holding up hand-made signs in their wagon, so excited to cheer for me.

For years, I had run thinking about what it would feel like to cross the finish line to the sight of my family. My husband dutifully came to watch me race. Once, on a particularly difficult Mother’s Day, my mom was there, too. As I’d train for those races, I had a vision in my head of ripping my shirt off and revealing a tiny pregnant belly. I always thought there’d be some miracle to reveal just on the other side of the inflatable arch. I salivated over that vision until – eventually – I let that vision rot and die.

I tried on a new motto, “Abandon hope.” I tried just running for the present, just living for the present, just accepting the life that was around me. It was a Buddhist motto, and I found tremendous solace and meaning in Buddhism, so I thought, “Sure, I can do this.”

And, to some extent, I could do it. I got pretty okay at just being me. I ran a race in March of 2017 as just me. I placed second. It was a good race.

A few months later, I was pregnant.

Now, I don’t believe for a second that I got pregnant because I was finally at peace. I got pregnant because I sought great medical care, had a life-changing thyroid ablation and removal, and worked tirelessly to manage my disease. I got pregnant because, at the end of the day, I didn’t actually abandon hope.

Sunday, as I crested the hill, I actually kissed Hope, my 2.5-year-old daughter, on the forehead, along with her soon-to-be-4-year-old sister, and my husband, who was still there to cheer me on but settled for the third kiss.

It wasn’t my fastest race. I peed my pants a good bit. I don’t look as fierce or strong or hot as I did when I ran all those years ago, trying as I was to abandon hope.

But that race felt so good. Kissing those heads was the most rewarding moment in my athletic career. (I’m not sure the “mom race,” as my kids call it, qualifies as part of an athletic career for all washed-up athletes; for me, it does!)

If you’re running races and waiting for some miracle to be just under the inflatable arch, I’m not quite sure what to tell you. Perhaps I should tell you to abandon hope. Perhaps I should tell you to hold on to it, knowing that life can take us in any direction on any day. Perhaps I should tell you to keep running, working harder, seeing more doctors, ceaselessly chasing your dreams.

Maybe I should, but I’m not gonna say what I should say today.

I’m gonna say what I want: all of it, the whole thing, matters a whole-helluva-lot. Whatever you’re out there doing, you matter. You matter if you embrace Buddhism and give up hope, you matter if you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Petri dishes so you can have your own little Hope, you matter while the eggs are in those dishes, you matter when they become babies, you matter when they don’t.

You matter right there in the thick of whatever story you’re writing just as much as you will when it’s all wrapped up in the end.

I made it to the top of the hill. At the top, there was the promise of abundant love and a cheerful afternoon.

For years, the top of the hill held no such promise for me. I ran it anyway. Just run the hill. See what it holds in the middle of the steepest part. See what’s at the top.

Tomorrow, run it again. New things will be there. No singular running of the hill will be more important than the other. The days when you conquer your biggest demons, the days when you celebrate your biggest triumphs, and – most importantly – the days when you just run the damn hill without much motivation, a little pee in your pants, and no great revelations in the end, those days will allow your truest self to show through.

And you, just as you are in your truest form, are entirely enough.