Roberta F. King

Author site for the memoir, He Plays a Harp and other writing by Roberta F. King

Archive for the 'Running' Category

05 September

The Signs

I’ve always been open to signs, you know, like an answer to a meaningful question via the appearance of a rainbow, a bird crossing my path or something else that tells me what I need to know.  Though I’m open to signs, I can’t think of a time when I actually had a meaningful sign.

Until today.

Heart Rock

Heart Rock

I found this rock, or chunk or concrete while I was running. I picked it up and ran home with it in my hand and the moment I spotted it, I thought “Ah! A heart rock for Sally.” Sally is my friend from the Neahtawanta Inn in Traverse City. She collects heart-shaped rocks. Her husband Bob Russell, died August 23 from cancer, which he fought for almost three years. I met Sally and Bob when we stayed at the Inn in 1988. I was pregnant with Noah. While Noah was growing up, we stayed there, too. I like to think that they built the accessible room at the Inn just for us! I’ll bring that rock to Sally, in memory of Bob.

While running, before I found the rock, I was thinking about meetings in the afterlife. When someone dies, I’ll say a little prayer to Noah (since he’s an angel now) and ask him to keep an eye out for whomever might be arriving. I don’t know if Bob was a heaven-believer or not, that isn’t important. What matters is that Noah is looking for him, to welcome him to a new place.

Before I ran this morning I received an e mail that chapter from my memoir that I’ve been working on as a stand alone piece was accepted for web exclusive publication in Brain, Child, a literary journal for mothers. Other authors who’ve been published in it include Jane Smiley and Anne Tyler. The piece I submitted is titled, The Orders and is about when Mike and I chose to sign do not resuscitate orders and allow natural death orders for Noah.

One of my 2013 new year’s resolutions was that come September I’d start sending queries for my memoir to literary agents. I also wanted to see six pieces of it published–that would be another sign it was ready. That time has come, Brain, Child is the sixth. Also, Noah would have been 25 on September 23 of this year and all these numbers seem like a sign to me.

16 April

His Dad is a Runner

There have been ebbs and flows, months or years early on that I didn’t run, but for the most part I’ve been pounding pavement for the better part of thirty years as a runner. Running defines me. It is part of my person, who I am. As much as I am a wife, a mother, a, writer, a PR practitioner and a vegetarian, I am a runner.

I run alone mostly, in the dark stillness before dawn. I run without music and headphones because running time is thinking time. The hour of running is a time for reflecting, new ideas, planning out my day, problem solving and writing in my head. I sometimes surprise myself when I return home from my five-mile route and can’t remember having passed certain corners or run down specific streets, but I know have, as an hour has passed and I’m sweating.

Despite my love of solitude in running, I love the community and conversation around running. There’s nothing more interesting than a talking with another runner about the details of a specific race route, pre-race/post-race eating, shoe lacing, good bras, race strategy, results and even pooping. This commonality, the shared experience of running and racing is important to me. I’ve mentored novice runners and swapped tips with people who have run as long as I have. I wince when another runner talks about a bum knee, a tight hamstring or plantar fasciitis. We share the love and pain of running and the exhilaration of a race well run. Runners share the disappointment of a race that goes badly and the surprise and joy of placing in our age group. Runners are my community.

That’s just part of the reason the attack on the Boston Marathon was so painful. One of the three deaths in Boston was an eight–year-old boy. He was there, like many kids at races, to cheer on a parent. His dad is a runner.

Kids at races are the best and loudest yellers and the most enthusiastic sign wavers. They ring cowbells, blow whistles, give high fives and yell stuff to strangers like “You’re looking good!” and “Keep it up!” Kids who’d never think of picking up their room or handing a glass of water to an adult, willingly sweep smashed cups and pick up used Gu packages at aid stations.

Where else do kids line up in cheer groups and urge their parents to greater glory?

On April 15, when some hateful person(s) decided to intervene in the sport of running at one of America’s most revered races and killed a cheering kid named Martin Richard. I know from my own experience with the death of my son, that Martin’s parents will never be the same. They will grieve his death for the rest of their lives. I am quite sure, though, his dad will continue to run. Anyone who qualifies for Boston isn’t a quitter. He’ll probably run on his son’s funeral day—I did on my son’s. Each time now, when his dad heads down the chute to cross a finish line, looking around for his cheering people, as all runners do, he’ll think of his son and there will be less joy in the result.

Cheering Girls at Gazelle Girl Half Marathon
Courtesy of Stellafly


27 February

Tolerance of Grief

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Noah’s death.

I admit, the pain of his loss isn’t as acute as it was seven years ago. But still, when I think of him, I can feel the tightness in my throat and my eyes start to burn.

And I think about him every single day.

That’s the reality of this kind of loss. The grief hangs on and on. It’s become a part of me. As much as I am a writer, a runner, a public relations professional, a wife and a friend, I am a grieving person.  I don’t mind the sadness as much anymore, like running I’ve built up a tolerance to it. Just like going out to run five or ten miles, there’s effort, but not the pain I once knew.

A friend of mine pointed me to a poem by Emily Dickinson, I found the last line of it to be intriguing. It seems hopeful,  aspirational, but impossible.“First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.”

Her word choices describe the early bits of of death very well. I struggle with the letting go part, though. I don’t think letting go is something I’ll ever completely do when it comes to Noah. All that I have left of him are memories. Grief and memories are interconnected and without memories what would I grieve? I grieve as I remember the good times we had with Noah, eating supper, reading books, getting ready for school, the trips we took, celebrating holidays and how he looked, felt and smelled.

As long as I have memories of my son, I’ll have grief in my life. The letting go is something I don’t ever want to do.

Noah on a boat in the Keys

One of my favorite images of Noah, we were boating in the Florida Keys. He was about 15 years old at the time.




23 October

Running and Writing

In September and October I ran two half marathons, one in Spring Lake, the other in Grand Rapids. I’m partial to this 13.1 mile distance for a couple of reasons. First, it takes me at least three miles to get warmed up. I hate 5k races for this reason. By the time I cross the finish line of a 5k I’m just getting started. Second, the 13.1 miles challenges me and gives me time to think. I don’t run with headphones because I can’t think clearly with all that music going on (I also can’t write with lyrical music playing; orchestra music, yes, but no singing). I construct some of my best ideas, solutions to vexing problems and new ideas for stories when I run. If I run longer than 13.1 miles, I start to fade. By about 12 miles, I’ve thought all my thoughts and I just want to stop running.

Lately, I’ve observed that I have a comfortable word count, too. It is my 13.1 mile run of writing–1600 words. About half of the chapters in my memoir-to-be end at 1600 words. When I write fewer words, I feel like I’m not quite there and when I write more, I feel like I need to be more concise. As with running though, I sometimes need to push and take a subject further, recently I wrote about Noah and his feeding tube, a 2200 word piece.  It tells an important realization by Mike and I in his life and health. One, I wish we’d come to sooner. I’m writing essays for my UCLA Extension writing class now and the instructor likes our work to be 400-800 words, which is even more difficult. It has forced me to make choices about details and dialogue; cutting and revising.

Being comfortable in my writing (and running) is satisfying, but facing new a new challenge keeps me thinking boldly, believing in myself and in the story I have to tell.