Running on 'radical hope'

Poet Ada Limón on not giving up; plus races in Loch Ness, Canaan Valley, Cape Cod, Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Loray State Park, Cedar Canyon + Vermont's Green Mountains

“I love the quote by Richard Hugo, ‘writing is a way of saying you and the world have a chance.’ I still believe in that chance. I don’t know if it’s always hope. Sometimes it’s just survival — and survival feels like hope because it’s all you can muster. But I still believe in the chance, and I still want to be here for that chance.”

These words, by the American poet Ada Limón, are from the opening minutes of the latest episode of one of my all-time favorite podcasts, Tommy Tomlinson’s South Bound.

Their conversation opens with a reading of one of her poems, one she wrote for her 2018 book The Carrying about getting through winter and thinking about spring — as she describes it, “[the idea] that spring might actually come.”

The poem’s title? “Instructions on not giving up.” Here it is in full:

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me.

When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come.

Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty.

Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

No matter what it has been through, the tree’s leaf is an open palm. I’ve been through hell, it seems to say, but I’m not ready to give up just yet.

As their conversation continues, Limón shares how her belief in her work — that poetry, really all art, provide a kind of radical hope in the world we’re all living in — has been sorely tested.

“One of the things that has kept me coming back to the desk in the morning and feeling okay is poetry. That’s not just writing it, but really reading it — and knowing that other people are writing it out there. And finding and feeling that community, that art is still being made, and that words are still being used for good, you know? Despite how we see words being used in the last year.”

What she emphasizes is that the poems she writes are more than simply expressions of her creativity (as important as that is) — they’re also things we write for each other, as a way to reach out to one another.

That’s essential at this time when we can’t physically do so. It reminds me so much of the fact that, right now, we really can’t run together much at all, at least in large groups. But we can run and share our photos with each other (like we do in our Strava group!), our stories and our routes, our big achievements and our near misses.

We can’t do them as big as we used to — for now. But we can use our the individual runs we do to reach out and connect with each other, and for that I’m grateful.

🎧 Listen to Tommy Tomlinson’s interview with Ada Limón here.

I hope you’ll give the podcast a listen, as they talk about living in the South (Limón is a native Californian but now lives in Kentucky), how the bonds of their local communities have strengthened during the pandemic, and how much hope is possible right now. It’s really wonderful.

As always, let me know how your running is going through these (hopefully!) last few weeks of winter — and keep in touch.

Your friend,

— Terrell

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Races you might love running

Loch Ness Marathon & Festival of Running

Inverness, Scotland | Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021

Will you see Nessie? “Maybe aye, maybe nae,” say the race organizers, who’ve put together one of the world’s best-loved running events. Some 8,000 runners come out each year to run this point-to-point race alongside this freshwater lake in the Scottish Highlands, perhaps to catch a glimpse of the famed Loch Ness Monster, but also to take in the route’s stunning views and the friendly, warm, low-key atmosphere described in this Guardian article. It’s run at a time of year when summer is giving way to fall, so the leaves are just beginning to turn but the trees are still thick with foliage, and you can see the tops of the mountains that surround the lake off in the distance. The marathon — sorry, there’s no half! — follows a downhill descent over the first few miles followed by a long, flat stretch between miles 10 and 18, a few rolling hills over the last few miles and then a finishing stretch along the River Ness.

$81 and up | Sign up here

Canaan Valley Half Marathon

Davis, W.V. | Saturday, April 24 - Sunday, April 25, 2021

Run along the edge of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, whose 16,000 acres span roughly 70 percent of West Virginia’s Canaan Valley region, and where you’ll run past the sounds of water running through protected streams and bogs that fill the meadows beyond. Despite its location in the hills of eastern West Virginia, the race organizers say the route for the half marathon is both beautiful and “surprisingly flat,” which means you’ll need to “get ready to set a new PR.” And, they add, it’s “only a half day's drive from major metropolitan areas [like] Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Columbus, Ohio.”

$80 and up | Sign up here

Falmouth Road Race

Falmouth, Mass. | Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021

A seven-mile run almost entirely along oceanfront roads in this coastal town on Cape Cod. You’ll start the race in the village of Woods Hole — perhaps most famous as the home of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — and from there run along tree-shaded roads for the first few miles. These early miles take you past the iconic Nobska Point Lighthouse and then onto the roads that parallel the Shining Sea Bikeway trail, followed by the last few miles that run into Falmouth, where there’s a final steep hill before the last half-mile downhill into the finish line at Falmouth Heights Beach.

TBD | Sign up here

Iron Horse Half Marathon

North Bend, Wash. | Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021

For those of us ready for a lighter challenge, this almost all-downhill run unfolds on a pair of trails alongside the Snoqualmie River near Seattle. You’ll run on an old railbed that once ferried passengers on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad from the early 1900s to the early 1980s, and today is a more than 200-mile-long trail for hikers, runners and cyclists. Stretches through forests, old railroad tunnels and over train trestles are part of the route inside Iron Horse State Park, after which you’ll turn onto the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which you’ll follow to the finish line in North Bend.

$70 and up | Sign up here

Black Squirrel Half Marathon

Fort Collins, Colo. | Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021

A run along some of the more than 20 miles of trails that wind through the valleys and hillsides of Colorado’s Loray State Park, whose nearly 3,000 acres are nestled among the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just outside Fort Collins. The race “covers a variety of terrain, with a mix of moderately technical and non-technical trails,” organizers say, as the half marathon ascends to about 7,000 feet above sea level in its first half, followed by a “rapid and somewhat technical descent,” along gently rolling hard-packed single-track trails. Throughout, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the nearby Horsetooth Reservoir and the Great Plains beyond.

$75 and up | Sign up here

Cedar City Half Marathon

Cedar City, Utah | Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021

Its organizers say it’s one of the nation’s fastest half marathons, thanks largely to the big elevation drop you’ll experience between the starting line (at 8,408 feet above sea level) to the finish line (at 5,600 feet) here among the canyons of the Markagunt Plateau in Utah’s southwestern corner. From the start on Cedar Canyon Road inside Cedar Breaks National Monument, the race descends along paved roads and trails, past white sandstone cliffs and canyon walls, with waterfalls and red rock formations towering above you as you run down, down, down to the finish line in Cedar City’s Main Street Park.

$50 and up | Sign up here

The Mad Half

Waitsfield, Vt. | Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021

Giant red barns, tall silos, covered bridges, wide-open farm fields and quiet country roads form the backdrop you’ll see along the route at this mid-summer race. If you’re a skier, you’ll find it familiar, as the Green Mountains of Vermont here are home to wintertime ski destinations like Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. The race has earned accolades from the likes of Runner’s World in recent years thanks to its gorgeous, bucolic scenery throughout, and the quaint charm of the small town where you start and finish the race.

$85 and up | Sign up here

A song to run to today

The Dark End of the Street” from the album The Commitments: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by The Commitments.

Words to run by

“I have been bent and broken, but — I hope — into a better shape.”

— Charles Dickens