Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Ever since I was young I’ve been a runner. This doesn’t mean I have run consistently since I was young. In fact I’ve gone for years at a time when I didn’t run or ran only very sporadically. But every time I put on my shorts and lace up my shoes it feels right. Seeing the pain I put myself through to get back in shape and then to stay in shape, I have often been asked, “Why? Why do you run?”

Why do I run? There are plenty of times when I ask myself the same question. Running is hard. Really hard. Even when I am in my best shape, I am usually gasping by the end of a long run. My legs tremble. My side aches. I sweat gallons. I quickly get out of shape when I stop, and it seems to take forever to get back in shape. It’s crazy right?

I’ve come up with a lot of answers over the years. My most common is, “Because it feels so good when I stop.” But I’ve also been known to go with, “Because I don’t have the eye-hand coordination for any other sport” or “Because I love eating so much it’s the only way I keep from crushing the scale.” I guess those are all true answers to one extent or another. But the real answer is a lot harder to articulate. It’s so personal, I’m afraid people won’t understand or will take lightly something which means a lot to me.

The best way to explain why I run is with a few images. They may not mean a thing to you. You may read them and still think to yourself, “But it’s still running.” That’s okay I guess. I mean I don’t understand how people can love knitting or going to the opera. But if these images don’t convey why I love to run, I couldn’t make you see anyway.

Image one. It’s nearly dusk on a late summer day. My dad, my younger brother, and I are running along a trail that parallels the south fork of the American River. Although most of the river is fast flowing, this stretch, called Natomas, is between two dams, and the water splashes back the evening sun as though it is coated with a million tiny diamonds. To our left is a high cliff of red clay that has absorbed the day’s heat and reflects it back now as the air begins to cool. My brother, Craig is probably twenty-five and I am two years older.

As the three of us reach the last two miles of the run, my father can see we are holding ourselves back to stay with him. “Go ahead,” he says nodding toward the upcoming straightaway.

“Are you sure?” we ask, enjoying our time with him, even if we are slowing down a little.

“Go,” he puffs, “before you two kill me.”

Like hounds being released to the chase, we open up our pace and soon leave the rest of the world behind. Shoulder to shoulder we match each other stride for stride and for ten wonderful minutes it feels almost as if we are no longer tethered to the Earth. It feels like gliding, like floating. The ground moves beneath me, but I am not sure whether it is me or it that is stationary.

All at once I have the feeling that we are not alone. I glance behind me but my father is far away in the distance. “It’s our brother,” Craig says, as though reading my thoughts. “The one that Mom miscarried.” And without question I know he’s right.

For the rest of the time we run in silence—not three, not two, but one. In complete harmony. In complete peace. Perhaps understanding a moment this perfect is too good to waste on words.

Image two: I am driving to Sugarhouse Park. I thought I knew how to get there. After all, I served my mission just down the street. But I’ve taken several wrong turns and I’m late. I’m afraid I’ll miss the event I have come here for. At last I see the deep blue pond and the green grass. All the parking lots are filled with cars and busses and I begin to panic. I see a long line of figures race by and wonder if I’m too late. But no, they are boys. I breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally I discover an open space and quickly take it. As I step out of the car, I hear the crack of a starter’s pistol and I glance around wildly, craning my neck—looking for any signs of movement. There they are. A flash of color. Red, white, green, yellow, and blue tank tops and shorts flicker through the trees in the distance and come my way. Scanning their faces I search for the one I know so well. At last I break into a run myself. Dressed in slacks, loafers, and a button-down shirt I fly across the grassy hill toward the pond, as though I am still a kid myself.

Then I see her—rounding the end of the water less than fifty yards away. “Go, Erica, go!” I scream, pumping my fist as I run toward her. My daughter glances toward me and a grin breaks across her face. But she doesn’t falter. Her long thin legs pump like the legs of a strong foal. Her pace is steady. It’s a pace I’ve come to know well as we’ve trained together over the last year. Talking and laughing. Aching and pushing.

“Go get ‘em!” I scream. And she does. For just a moment I am at her side and we run together. She gives me a thumbs up just before one of the judges blows his whistle and waves me away from the race. I drop back abashed, but he gives me a knowing grin. Maybe he has a daughter too. A runner.

Soon she will disappear over the next hill, just like she will disappear from my life in a few more years. Of course I’ll meet her at the finish where she will be flushed with the pride of a good run. And I know she’ll never disappear from my life completely—even when she finds the man of her dreams. But for now it is enough to watch her run the good race as my chest swells with pride.

Image three. Many years have passed since my dad and I ran along the banks of the American River. He is now seventy and I am forty-four. He has lost a step or two, but he is still running when many men his age have relegated themselves to the recliner, or the bed, or worse. It’s been a couple of years since I have run regularly, and I am out of shape. But at the beginning of the year I signed up to run with him in the Hobble Creek Half Marathon. Thirteen miles. A distance which seemed doable six months ago, now seems infinitely more intimidating.

After running every Saturday together for the last three months, we know neither of us is as strong as we should be. But we both signed up and we’re not turning back. We got up early this morning—well before the sun showed its head above the Eastern mountain tops—to catch the crowded school buses that carry us up the canyon to the start of the race. The mountain air is chilly, but I know it will be hot by the time I finish.

We mill around with the rest of the crowd, waiting for the last of the racers to get to the start. We stretch a little, greet people we know, and chat with people we don’t. My dad can talk to anyone. We meet a woman and her daughter. The daughter has come all the way from Orlando. They will test themselves against this race to decide if they are up to the St. George Marathon in less than two months. My dad encourages everyone he meets and tells them they look good.

The start of the race has been delayed because not all the bus drivers showed up. That will make the end of the race even hotter. Nature calls, but the lines for the portapotties are twenty deep and the little plastic outhouses reek. By mutual consent we head up a small canyon trail that leads into the trees and take care of business. After all it was nature calling not the portapotties anyway. As we come back we see several people follow our lead and head up the trail. We laugh and decide we are trend setters.

“How do you feel?” I ask my dad.

“Like I wish I hadn’t signed up for this,” he says.

“Me too.” I grin, knowing that while being back in bed sounds great. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Finally the starter announces the busses have arrived and a cheer goes up. Most of the people begin to crowd toward the starting line. But we ease back a bit. We believe in the strategy of an old timer from San Francisco, who said of his pace, “I start slow and back off from there.”

There are so many people in front of us we don’t even hear the crack of the gun. But we can tell the race has started by the movement that begins at the front of the pack and rolls toward us like a gentle wave. At last we are moving—running side by side like we have for so many years. I have no idea what the rest of the race will bring. I expect I’ll be in a lot of pain thirteen miles from now, but for the moment I am content to let my feet carry me forward.

As I look over the crowd, I see many people faster than us and a few slower. I see runners in a group chattering like magpies, making me wonder how they even find time to breathe, and solitary runners with unknown music pumping into their heads. I see runners younger than us, but almost none older than my dad. He glances toward me, with no idea what is going through my mind. “Doing okay?” he asks.

“Yep.” I nod and look away. Will we run this race again or one like it? I hope so, but who knows what may happen between now and this time next year. I watch my dad jogging easily down the asphalt. He may not be rich or famous. He may not have his name transcribed in any history books or invent a medicine that will save the world. But if I can be just like him in another twenty-five years, I will consider my life a success.


At 1/15/2008 8:43 AM, Blogger Karlene said...

That was beautiful.

At 1/15/2008 10:25 AM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

What a great way to explain your love of running. Almost makes me want to take up running myself.

At 1/15/2008 11:23 AM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Jeff, your message this morning brought tears to this grounded runner's eyes. No one but another runner can know how much it hurts not to be able to run, to fly free, to reach that moment of epiphany with God and self. It's true that sometimes the best part is being able to eat whatever you want and sometimes the best part is when you stop, but those glorious soaring stretches where you run somewhere in the clouds are times to savor.

At 1/15/2008 12:51 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I don't run. I saunter and occasionally break into a trot, but I definitely do not run. But with your writing, you made me feel like I could, like I had. Thank you.

At 1/15/2008 1:24 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...


I wish I could run now! Hmm. Come to think of it, I'd settle for walking. Hobbling is about my best speed these days. Fortunately, they have teetering meets for people like me. For the first time I just may be inspired to join in the next one! Where did I put that registration form?

You are still my hero, Jeff Savage!

At 1/15/2008 1:34 PM, Anonymous waytoocool said...

As Jeff’s dad I could tell you many stories about our running experience, but my favorite is when we ran (part of it) the Saint George Marathon. When Jeff trains he is a very good runner. We trained in California and he was getting into good shape but he moved to Utah before the race. When I came out for the race I knew he was not in the shape he was in California. So after the first seven miles I told him we were going to run for 15 minutes and walk 5. That worked till be had done about 20 miles and from there on it was a real struggle. All kinds of slow runners were passing us. Finley I said,"Jeff there is a guy with a walker getting ready to pass us". In all seriousness he said, “Trip him and I’ll take the walker”. He wouldn't quit and finished. I presented him with a Carson City Silver dollar belt buckle. The prize I have offered any of my children who finish a marathon. I’m proud to be his father.

At 1/15/2008 7:37 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Kerry: I think you have something to add to your writer's quotes - "Trip him and I'll take the walker"


Thanks, Jeff, your perspiration leads to inspiration. =)

At 1/17/2008 1:04 AM, Blogger Nancy said...

Wow, Jeff. That made me all misty-eyed. My dad's a runner, has been for years, and still goes strong, every morning at 5, which I think is absolutely sick. I'm starting to jog though! Maybe there's hope for me.

Beautiful thoughts- loved it.

Nancy Allen

At 1/22/2008 12:11 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

This is such a great legacy for a parent to pass on. My dad has always exercised, mostly riding his bike--he rode it to BYU from Orem for 20+ years. When he was in his 60's he rode in the LoToJa. His bike broke down 12 miles from the finish line. But it's a huge example to me and I've always tried to stay in good physical shape. My dad's father died at the age of 45 from a series of heart attacks.


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