Category Archives: Life Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness

Remembering Rebecca

I’m back home, fresh off the Grandmaster 100K in sunny Beaver Dam, Arizona and the surrounding desert. Feeling pretty good, considering, and enjoying the rest days. I have quite a story from the ultra (two, actually), and I was all set to tell you about it.

But today I learned something that forces me to put all that aside, and I’m going to share that with you instead.

I’ve written before about Rebecca Gartrell, who, before we ever actually met in person, chased me across the state of Michigan. Literally. On foot.

We were both running the 2018 Veterans Memorial, a 150-mile race from Ludington on Lake Michigan to Bay City on Lake Huron. The race raises money for Victory Gym, a nonprofit and free gym for veterans and first responders, and also providing PTSD therapy. A great cause I was happy to be part of. And while I drove up from Ann Arbor, Rebecca came all the way from Texas to participate.

Well, from mile 80 all the way to the finish she was on my mind. Because I was the lead runner and she was in second, and at every aid station progress check, it seemed like she was creeping ever closer. I did win by a good margin and wanted to meet her, but was too wiped out to stick around. But I found her race record online, and man, was it impressive.

Five weeks later, Rebecca ran the Last Annual Vol State 500K, a ten-day race across the state of Tennessee. After the VM 150 I was just trying to walk normally again, but for her it was just a warmup, I guess. She did it unsupported, sleeping on park benches and church lawns. Just goes to show, I told myself (again) – no matter how crazy you are, there’s always someone crazier.

Fast forward to the 2019 Veterans Memorial race. I’m there to help out and run the first 12-mile leg for fun. She’s also back, and I meet this remarkable lady for the first time. After chatting about her Last Annual Vol State race, I implored her to talk me out of doing it. “Nope, can’t do that,” she said. Damn. So it’s still on my list of races to do. Someday.

2019 VM150 start. I’m on the left in the red shirt, looking at Rebecca. Kurt, the RD, is on her left in the blue shirt and jeans.

Just recently she appeared on my radar again. I’m researching 200-mile races to celebrate being 60 next year (crazy, yes) and found an online recap of the Buckeye Ultra 200. It features two very tired guys finding the strength to push each other to the end. They finish nearly together – second and third. And the winner? Yep. Rebecca Gartrell.

This month she set out on a planned 870-mile run across the state of Texas (see above, “always someone crazier”). By herself, with one friend as crew. For fun. No money, no prize, no glory. Just to do it. They set up a website to track their progress. I cheered them on.

Well, on Monday, 265 miles into her odyssey, Rebecca was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver early in the morning. I heard the news today from a friend who had also been following her progress. It still hasn’t sunk in. Part of me wants to believe she’s still out there doing her thing.

This is so damn unfair. Things like this shouldn’t happen to people so full of life. And I can’t imagine what her family and friends are going through.

I have no words of wisdom, folks. I can only pass along what her friend and crew person said in the post announcing her death:

Life is short and very precious – hug your loved ones a little tighter and longer and live for the day. She would have wanted you to.

Rest well, Rebecca. It was great to know you.

Turnaround

Yesterday I went out to Chelsea for my assigned tempo run. Being winter in Michigan, it was cold, and I ran the first half uphill into a stiff headwind. It had the makings of a real suck. But the sky was blue and the sun was shining after weeks of miserable gray, and when I turned around and headed back, things felt so much better. All in all, a pretty good run.

And a pretty good analogy, in my mind anyway, of recent happenings in this country.

Now I’m not going to say that the entirety of the last four years was one big suck for me. Quite the contrary. My wife survived cancer, one daughter got married, and our other one got engaged. And I had a number of memorable adventures which I’ve written about previously here.

But on Inauguration Day I felt very much like that tempo run turnaround point. The wind had shifted and the breathing got easier. It had gotten so bad I stopped listening to the news, so I wouldn’t have to hear about the latest crazy-ass thing our then occupant of the Oval Office said or did. Believe what you like about our new commander in chief, but he has a brain and a heart, and cares about more than himself alone. I feel so much better about our country. And, apparently, so does most of the rest of the world.

I hope this gives us all a chance to pause and reflect on where we need to go as a nation, and how we should behave toward each other. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, let’s talk, and I will listen and ask questions. We don’t have to agree, or even like each other, but we need to understand each other so we can all learn and make ourselves and America better.

Burning Man. The ultimate “get along” experience. Everyone should go once.

I run in Michigan winters because it makes me stronger, and helps me achieve my goals. Maybe we had to go through a period of adversity to remind us that democracy cannot be taken for granted, and getting along with each other requires active engagement. I have to hope we emerge stronger as Americans because of it. That remains to be seen, of course.

But for the moment, I’m happy to breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the sunshine.

Telling My Stories

I began this blog in 2011, which means this is my TENTH YEAR posting about my adventures in this spot. Wow. Really hard to believe. It really doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was writing my first posts and hoping someone other than my family would read them. And they have!

It amazes me to this day that people say to me, “I was reading your blog the other day,…” when I was sure they didn’t even know I had a blog, let alone read it. And for everyone who’s ever posted a comment, or liked my posts in WordPress or on Facebook, thank you so much. I appreciate it so much.

With recent happenings, my running adventures have been confined to my neighborhood, of course. No races, no run club (hey, I miss you guys!), and I even try to stay off heavily walked areas, including the wonderful new path along Huron River Drive to Dexter-Huron Metropark. When this all passes, you have to get on it. Walk, run, bike, whatever. It’s gorgeous, and will be even more so when it’s full of green things and flowers.

And the stay-at-home order does have certain advantages. One big one is more time with my wife. We actually get to see each other during weekdays, not just at the end when she’s exhausted from a long day and commute home. And we’re going on walks together just about every day.

Just yesterday we walked to the Fox Science Preserve about two miles from our house. I’ve run by it many times, but never actually went in. I had no idea that it’s 69 acres big, and represents a terrain very close to what it looked like when the glaciers retreated 12,000 years ago. We’re definitely going back to walk the trails sometime.

As for training, moderation is the conventional wisdom for now. I’m doing easy runs up to 16 miles, occasional intervals and hill work, walks, and reasonable strength training. Part of me feels the “guilt” of not hitting things hard as usual, but plenty of time for that later. And the fall racing season could be really packed, so it’s a good idea to rest up and be ready.

Training at Body Specs. I really miss this. Oh, yeah. Really.

And then there’s my creative writing. Funny, even with this enforced “at home” time, I still have to make time to write. And that’s what the most successful writers do. They sit down and work, even when they don’t feel creative. It’s the same thing I’ve had to do to train for races. Get my butt out the door even if the weather isn’t perfect, or to the gym even when I’m not motivated to lift heavy things or do pullups. You know what? It works. We shall see if I can apply the same discipline to my writing.

So I’m going to continue telling my stories, running and otherwise, on this blog and elsewhere. And if you have a story you’d like to share with my readers, running or otherwise, drop me a line. Stay safe!

Getting On and Taking Advantage

A warm welcome to the readers of RunBikeThrow, my blog, and Happy Planet Running, my Zero Waste business website. I hope you are well and staying safe through all this.

The RBT family – me, my wife Joyce, and my daughters and their partners, and my siblings and their families, are all fine and doing their best to get on with the business of life while taking the appropriate precautions. I’m fortunate that while Happy Planet Running is on hold with the event companies, I have important work to do at my office job, as does my wife at her job, and we are both able to work from home.

It’s been a strange couple of weeks, as normally at this time I’m very busy with March races, or planning the April ones, in addition to everything else that goes with an active professional life. It feels odd to wake up in the morning with nowhere to go, no people to meet, no group runs, and no events to support.

And I’m not alone here. Last weekend I was talking with the race director of a local 5K that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. “Normally at this time my phone would be ringing constantly with people mad at me about something,” he told me. “You know, I miss the stress.” As do I, to a point.

And yet, haven’t all of us busy people secretly (or not) wished for a break from so many responsibilities? To have time with our spouses and kids? To cook more at home? To finally finish that side project, or work on our Great American Novels? I sure have. And here it is.

So we’ve been taking advantage of this enforced isolation. We are cooking more. We’re going on walks together. I’m finally able to organize my business stuff, and clean out some closets. And yes, I am actually working on a novel. One I started years ago and finally decided it was time to get done.

The world we live in right this moment wouldn’t support the story I’m telling, but dammit, we’ll get through this, and although our world may be transformed in ways we don’t fully grasp yet, I have faith that people will be able to gather again, and celebrate together, and do all those things we 21st century people do.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll be a little more compassionate toward each other, appreciate our common ground and respect our differences, and better understand how precious is every human life.

My best wishes to you all, and I hope to see you at the races someday soon!

Jeff