25 May 2012

...little lifetimes...

Michelle Roy ~ a haiku
// fearless beauty shines..
// compassion drips from her soul..
// strength.. unparalleled.

The morning we met :-)    


I met Michelle (M.) in the spring of 2009... a day of running on trails in a small group gave me a few hours to talk with her; such that by dusk I knew I wanted to have her in my life. In truth, the next thing that happened was I asked her out on a date.

We went to dinner that first night out and had good laughs, evidently connecting in a way that was different from her connections with others ­ a way that was unique and good for each of us. Ultimately, though she's always acknowledged my original intentions towards her, we've come to realize the infinite values of being able to support each other through anything... and everything... because the intimacy isn't physical.



That initial connection quickly turned into running together most every weekend. All over New England, training runs and races, alone and with friends - a whirlwind 2 seasons of racing in 2009 and 2010.


This post is long overdue.. I think I put off writing it in part because things have always been so fluid in each of our lives, capturing a snapshot somehow felt unrepresentative; that's where the title of this post originates.  From the outset, every race weekend spent together... the frequency of training runs, meal outs, phone calls.. coupled with constant change ­ they each began to feel like their own little lifetime.  Why am I writing this post in the first place?  The world deserves to know this amazing woman, and how I (in particular) see her...and us.

Finishing @ Savoy    
When I met her, M. was developing into a consistent presence at Western Mass. Athletic Club Grand Tree races. In the years of knowing her, she ran her way to become female Stonehead (total points) three consecutive years. Being on the scene so regularly, it became normal for M. to have people greet her by name, but she'd have no clue who it is that was asking. For various reasons, we started Running so often together as we did, I would usually be greeted at races with a "hello, how's/where's Michelle?" rather than a "how are you doing". Getting to live for awhile amidst the direct shadows of her limelight was (as I think of it now) precious.



Every now and then, even our famous friendship has sprung leaks (oh, how she hates my nautical and aquatic metaphors). For instance, any time I would bring food be in the car, somehow trash and keeping the car clean would cause some friction ­ despite my best efforts to keep the skids greased. Let's just say I won't be bringing another disposable cereal bowl near her car anytime soon ever again.

Another instance might be say, getting into a car ride while letting silence linger amidst a time when something not discussion­worthy was causing her distress. I now know whether, and if so ­ when and how to change topics of conversation to avoid silence otherwise becoming that magnifying glass for the stresses of the off­limits topic. I now know not to mess with the bull...

I've even coined a mocking phrase for it:
"If you don't start talkin', you're gonna be walkin'..."





A few month's ago, Michelle asked me to write a summary of how I perceive her.  Ultimately, the sentiment I communicated was this.. to paraphrase:  

'[she] is my best friend.  Wicked intelligent, funny, easy-going and selfless - among the most compassionate people I've ever met; and when focused on a pursuit, she won't rest until she’s achieved her goal… determination incarnate.  Fortitudine Vincimus.'

Maybe my favorite non­running
picture of us to date. 
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ US essayist & poet (1803 - 1882)

This sentiment from Ralph Waldo Emerson has been the closing signature to Michelle's emails since at least the first time one landed in my inbox ­ and probably since well before that. 

At the time, I was searching for new trails of my own, and with that quote somehow knew this 'girl' was going to lead me down trails and to places I could never have otherwise conceived; I knew that in whatever ways possible, I wanted (and soooo unknowingly needed) to have her in my life. If you'd have told me 3 years ago how close we would be today, I'd have asked you how much it would cost to make that happen.. In the end, it wouldn't have mattered ­ I'd have spent all that I had.. my relationship with her is now priceless.

Leaving her and Massachusetts last year is one of the hardest things I've ever had to emotionally endure; but it has brought us even closer, and I can finally enjoy our relationship for exactly what it is.. there is nothing missing - only negative space in which to breathe...

100 miles, a clover amidst the 
Green Mountains of West Windsor, Vermont    
2009 (Kevin/Michelle paces Michelle)



I had only run 30 miles once before, but M. saw fit to take me as her pacer, believing in me in ways I would quickly come to appreciate, and also realize that I hadn't yet held for myself. I went into the race as prepared and rested as possible. I was going to have to do this distance, but now at night caring for another runner. I was nervous. Originally, afraid that I wouldn't be able to keep up; eventually that I would be able to do enough.

Emerging from the darkness...
victorious! 
Within 5 miles, we were in complete darkness high up on the hill we had just hiked, (M. unwilling to use a headlamp 'cause it "hurts my head"), and sitting on the side of the trail and M. whimpering. She hadn't taken any food or water in many hours, and was growing more vulnerable by the second... from that point forward, the night becomes an utter blur. Over the hours, we kept talking about getting to see Emily at mile 88. And all the miles, I just kept responding "of course you can do it..."



Preparation pays off... and despite a long, long night of walking and putting back the calories burned in the initial 70 miles, Emily and I brought Michelle through the final aid station and down into the finishing chute of her first 100mile race finish.

2010 (Michelle/Emily pace Kevin)

This smile is contagious 
Escarpment July 2010 
The deal, in part was that I would have to run Vermont in 2010 if M. got into Western States... and she would get to pace me. She did, and so I had to make good on my end of the bargain. We added Emily to the equation again, and planned my weekend. It wasn't long before I was coming up the road at mile 62 with tears in my eyes to see M. running ahead of the aid station to greet me. The first thing I said was. I don't want to keep going; I don't think I can do this...." Her pitch­perfect response: "Of course you can do this..."

It was a long night, but M. got me to mile 88 to see Emily, and together my girls brought me home to my first 100 mile finish. 

Pacing is tough, one of the reasons M.'s really good at it. In 2011, our friends Patty and Sara were running Vermont together ­ M. and I had the good fortune to co­pace them... and the 4 of us ran the final 30 miles together.. pacing them to a 22h22m finish. Not only to we get on well together, but we also make a great, well­functioning team. Go Team Extreme :)

"Believe in Yourself"
“I can't go back to yesterday ­because I was a different person then.” ­ ~ Lewis Carroll 


"Fairy Princess of Niceness"
We talk and message each other daily.. going for days without communication is almost unheard of now, and any time you're that close to what's going on in someones life, you get good at picking up on subtle changes even if they aren't sharing them with you explicitly. Michelle can tell whether I'm avoiding a topic, if something is bothering me... but then also digs in and makes me confront it. No one's ever been able to turn me over instantly like that.. like this.

“Always sing on the trails...” ~ The Bear 100, from Trailrunner magazine, October 2010 

She'll be coming *over*
the mountain when she comes... 

"Joe's Mountain Hay Bale Hustle" 
Pittsfield June 2011 
I started running trails by frequently spending a day with Michelle running 10 yards ahead of me.... for hours at a time. I got to know her cadences well. More than once, I have found myself running well behind M. only to approach her slowly amidst the quietude of more remote corners of the day’s trail ­ and find her softly singing to herself. The last time, I’d come out of the deep woods from a bio break quickly caught up with her, but didn’t break her illusion of solitude for a good 10 minutes. Getting to listen to her sing as though in the shower, belting out teary lyrics as though no one else can hear ­ I thought I’d never glimpse another moment from her like that... so vulnerable and raw. I was wrong.

"Reckless Abandon"
Pittsfield, VT's Peak Death Race 2011 was an inflection point, perhaps inevitably. My shortcomings as crew chief contributed to the day ending in disaster; more than once that weekend, I saw her accomplish amazing feats of strength and endurance - but I also watched as she had to measure her mortality up close, and more than once. I've never been the same; more fragile in general, and specifically fearful of losing her...

"In life, all good things come hard, but wisdom is the hardest to come by." ~ Lucille Ball

Speedgoat Roy
Michelle is now, and will always be, all people to me at once... if that makes any sense.  As they developed ­ first, a running mentor and wise old soul; next, my muse; then the sister I had always wanted but never had; eventually simpatico.. to a point of having many of the emotional bonds of a life­ partnership.  In some ways we are a rather unlikely duo, but I've come to see how well one side can balance the other, almost automatically... time, and time, and time again.

 "I’m picking out a Thermos for you…. not an ordinary Thermos, it’s true…" ~ Steve Martin, as Navin Johnson (from The Jerk)

Add us to the list: Lenny and Squiggy; Lucy and Ethel, Nemo and Dory, Ren and Stimpy, Phillip and Grace (below), turnips and cabbage... we agree, if you mic'd a phone call or were a fly on the dashboard of our road trip car, you might hear exchanges that sound very much like these, both of us taking on each character frequently...

"How come you don’t wear a harness?"


























"chocolate"


























"...positive support..."


























"I love you, you know…"


























Kevin and Michelle | Michelle and Kevin


M. just finished an epic 10-day journey, running 370 'continuous' miles of trails as part of the 2012 Peak Ultra marathon - and we had the unique opportunity to spend many of her later loops together during the final 72 hours of the race.

To share such literal running bliss is something that doesn't happen very often, and I only hope that it isn't the last time.... so many more adventures for us to share. I wonder what will be next...



I never imagined my life as an endurance athlete, and sometimes it's still hard to wrap my head around what I think I'm doing here ­ but I would have never taken this beautiful path if it weren't for Michelle showing me the way.



All there is left to say is:

Michelle, thank you for being the spice of my life the last 3 years.  I love you more and more for it every day.

"Find ecstasy in life;
the mere sense of living is joy enough."

­ Emily Dickinson 

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