Running as my Ariadne’s thread
By Marlene Farrell
Running is my spool of Ariadne’s thread. I unwind it as I navigate the unknown corridors of my life’s labyrinth. Its light but strong familiarity reassures me when I stumble and gives me the courage to go around darkened corners.
Recently, though my journey is far from over, it feels like I have doubled back and, holding the middle of the thread in one hand, I’ve come across the beginning again.
The middle is where I am now, a runner for over 25 years. With that enduring loyalty, that deep muscle know-how, I can and did run 29 miles in the mountains on a recent fall Sunday.
I hadn’t trained for the distance, elevation or time on my feet. My whole running career was the training. It’s ingrained, knowing what to bring into the mountains: layers, lots of food, a water filter, first aid, and two partners. I’m practiced at running up and down, through muddy seeps and across sharp-edged talus. I can push through miles of shrubs that tickle me with wet fingers so water runs down into my shoes.
On this particular run to Lake Ingalls and Stuart Pass, time loses meaning as we run through boulder-studded forests up to a wind-swept lake, knowing the only was is forward to a car at the other end. Even after a wasp sting or slipping in a creek, we carry on, practicing communal moving meditation.
I see the other end of the thread, where it all began, as I assist the coach of my son’s middle school cross-country team. This is their first time, like it was for me so long ago, of putting to use this human ability to stride gracefully across open spaces. We help them hone it. Through repetition their movements are pared down to what is efficient. Their muscles learn to cooperate. They start to sense working muscles, not as unpleasant, but as tolerable, even satisfying.
Time matters. Even if we don’t dwell on the number of minutes it takes to run a course, it’s there in the clock that is ever ticking. At the meet they fight against it publicly, as the spectators hover next to the course lines painted on the grass. We see them, encourage them, and empathize when their faces are crinkled with strain. This is where it begins for a runner — learning to go internal. The line of spectators dissolves into a blurry wave to be ridden.
As I watch our runners I remember my first meets. I was older, in high school. Still, I harbored a secret longing to quit halfway through almost every race. I doubted whether toughness was worth the price of the agony. Any beauty of the race was lost in how hard it felt. Our runners seem so much braver to me.
But I didn’t quit. I held on fiercely to that thread. And now I’ve carried it past many unexpected treasures. The thread on the ground marks my years of meanderings. I can look back and see it, and be grateful. It allows a long mountain run to just be what I do. And I love to see 11 to 13 year olds discover their own thread and consider whether or not to pick it up.
Marlene Farrell is a writer, long-distance runner and coach. She lives in Leavenworth.