The turning of the wheel

wagonwheelWe were laboring up the last hill yesterday, past the Mile 5 marker, when a young woman drew alongside me.

“Hey, lady,” she said, in a friendly way. “I’ve been watching you, every race.”

There was respect in her voice.  I looked over.  She was young and fit, and had a sweet smile. I learned later that her name is Rachel, and she is 29.  I have been running as long as she has been alive.

“That’s quite a compliment,” I wheezed,  as she moved past.

And as my legs churned on, my mind spun back — 10, 15, more  than 20 years ago — to a trail along a high bank of the Mississippi River, in St. Paul. I was out for a summer training run, preparing for the 1993 Twin Cities Marathon, and I was watching a runner ahead of me, a woman in a sports bra and shorts. She looked to be in her fifties:   Her hair was grey and — while she was obviously fit —  the skin over her muscles wrinkled and sagged as she moved.

But she was running beautifully:  taut and rhythmic, strong and graceful. And as I watched her, I thought: I want to be you when I’m middle-aged. I want to be you.


Photo by Jeff Kearney

Yesterday’s outing was the last of an annual four-race winter series put on by my running club, and arguably the toughest: a hilly 10K that this year challenged runners with single-degree wind chills and snow- and ice-packed roads. When we toed the starting line, a  scant 7 seconds separated me from a fierce 59-year-old I knew would push me hard for our age-group win.

I wasn’t sure where my competition was as we crested that last hill, and rounded a curve that opened onto a long, blessedly flat home stretch.  But I had something left, and I didn’t want to leave any of it on the course. So as we entered that last half-mile, I picked it up, and drew back alongside Rachel.   She made a wonderful, indescribable sound — a mixture of surprise and delight — and quickened her pace to match my own.

“Let’s go, girl,” I said.

And we did.   I was balancing at the lip of my anaerobic threshold , my lungs working at the edge of their ability to keep pace with my legs.  And, then, in the last hundred yards, faster yet, into oxygen debt: the short-lived land of no return.

“You go,” I gasped as the finish line came into sight.

“No,” she said. “Let’s finish together.”

And we did.

I hugged her in the chute, then moved away long enough to again breathe, to bring my heart back into my chest and my stomach out of my throat.  I looked back at Rachel; her friends were hugging and congratulating her.  And I had my age-group win.

But it was Rachel who mattered more, and that memory:  Me, more than 20 years ago, watching that older woman running strong, hoping I would be like her when I got to be her age.  And Rachel, yesterday, watching me.

I can imagine another race in the far-away future, perhaps 20 years hence.   I won’t be there, but Rachel will, and still running strong.  And a young woman will draw up alongside her.

“Hey, lady,”  she’ll say. “I’ve been watching you.”


last photo

Photo by Jeff Kearney





  1. Indeed, my friend. Indeed! Thanks for reading.


  2. Susan Lukwago · · Reply

    Oh this was and is so enjoyable to read! Life. Life. It can be wonderful


  3. This made me all verklempt. Perfect capture of a poignant moment.

    Sent from my iPhone; I’ll say it now: Damn auto-fill!!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: