Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Running with an Angel

It was early spring of 2012 and I was running on a neighborhood route that I have run at least a hundred times.

Turn right out the front door.  Run four blocks and then turn left.  Continue straight for a mile and a half until the street dead ends at the high school.  Run as many one mile loops around the high school as necessary before turning around and heading back home.

I like this route for runs that are under 10 or so miles, especially on runs where I need to keep a specific pace.  It is an easy, flat run that doesn't cross any major intersections and the streets are usually empty enough that I can run in the street without worrying about traffic.  The streets are lined with 100 year-old maple trees providing shade (or, more often, rain cover) for the equally old homes in the neighborhood.  It is the perfect route for the everyday, run-of-the-mill miles that I do mid-week during marathon training.  And ideal for letting my mind wander wherever it wants to go.

Back to last spring...

I was running part of this route on one of my long runs and it was a cold, wet and gloomy day.  My mood matched the weather and I just wanted to be done.

Then, suddenly, there was someone running just off my left shoulder.  I knew instantly that it was my mom's dear friend, Trudy.  I had grown up going on rafting trips on the Lower Salmon River in Idaho with Trudy's family.  These week-long, unguided, filled-with-adventure raft trips were the highlight of our summers when we were young.  Spending a week in the great outdoors with no walls for privacy (and a shared poop bucket that we carried with us in a raft every day) made for some close ties between us all.  Ghost stories told over late night campfires, early mornings watching the sunrise over the canyons, water fights between rafts that left us all soaking wet, quiet afternoons spent reading books with our feet buried in the sand...this is where Trudy's family, along with all the other families, became not only friends and neighbors but like family.

group pic after a game of beach volleyball - Lower Salmon River (circa 1991)
early morning quiet before the sun rises above the canyon walls
Middle Fork of the Salmon (1998)

So it was with joy and happiness that I felt Trudy's presence next to me on that gray, chilly day last spring.  I found myself suddenly noticing the early cherry blossoms on the trees, the bit of sunlight struggling to make its way through the thick cloud cover as the rain lightened, the lone bird singing a song and the tulips that were just beginning to bloom.  My pace quickened and my spirit lifted.

As it turns out, Trudy had passed away just a few months earlier, following a courageous battle with cancer.  Although she obviously wasn't actually running with me in the physical sense, she was there in every other sense -- helping me to see the beauty that surrounded me, to hear the sounds of life in my neighborhood, to smell the freshly cut grass and and to fill my heart with a sense of peace.

When I returned home from that run, I emailed Trudy's daughter, Sara, to let her know what I had experienced and to thank her for "sharing" her mom with me for a little while.  In all the time I had known Trudy, I had never even known her to be a runner.  As it turns out, she was a runner in her younger days and one of the last memories that Trudy shared with Sara in the week before she passed away was one about running with a girlfriend and feeling the fresh air on her face while watching the sun rise.


Fast forward about a year and I found myself again plodding along my same route on a similarly gray day in late March.  I had probably run along this same stretch of road almost a hundred times since that day last spring.  Once again, I was training for a marathon and was just putting in the miles on a day when my heart wasn't really in it.  And, again, Trudy was suddenly with me, just off my left shoulder.

By the end of the run, the sun was bursting through the clouds and my soul was equally bursting with gratitude.  Gratitude for my family, my friends, my health, my life...and for the gift of Trudy.

She left behind a husband, three sons, a daughter, their respective spouses, eight grandchildren and countless friends.  She left behind memories of laughter, tears, hugs, joy and an endless capacity to love others.  Somehow, amazingly so, she continues to do all these same things to this day.  I know I felt her love on those two days this past year and I will always be looking over my shoulder just to see if she wants to run with me again.

Trudy and Dan on their wedding day in 1969
Trudy as a young mom 
Trudy's grandchildren...who will never forget their Grammy

Has anyone experienced something similar?  Been out for a run and felt the strong and distinct presence of someone else?  

- Kristen


  1. What an amazing and beautiful story. Yes! I have had this happen before, a girlfriend (not very close, girlfriend, just someone I knew) and I reunited through facebook several years ago, well when I was out on my run, her father would be whispering in my ear. It was clear and loud that I felt compelled to tell her about it, even though I ran the risk of sounding crazy. I never knew her father or even met him, so I was surprised, I even asked him why? I told her about the incident and she said he was an avid runner... he had run a 5k just three weeks before he lost his battle with cancer. It sent chills up and down both of spines. There is no doubt that the essence of a person lives on. They visit those who have an open heart and a quiet mind. Thank you sharing you're story about Trudy.. her legacy lives on.

    1. Wow, Lisa, that is an amazing story!! I can't believe you never knew her father and yet that was who you heard so clearly. I got chills just reading about it. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Thank you Kristen, means the world to me that you wanted to share these experiences! Love, Sara

    1. I am happy to share them, Sara, and will always remember your mom. And if it were my mom, I would hope others would never forget her, either. xoxo

  3. Oh my gosh, Kristen. This is a such beautiful story. I'm reading this with tears in my eyes, and it felt like I was experiencing those runs with you. I love that you have such fond memories from those rafting trips! THAT's the stuff that makes life so totally awesome! Just this weekend while we were stying with friends in West Linn, they invited us on their annual rafting trip which sounds A LOT like the one you described.
    I haven't experienced a presence while running but I have at other times. And I'm sure my kids have. My son would "see" my grandmother and talk to her soon after she passed. He was only 1.5 at the time and when I would ask him who he was talking to or pointing at, he would say that it was greatgrandma, like "duh mom."

    1. Yes, those rafting trips will always hold a special place in my heart! They are the BEST family vacation and I'm so happy that we have been able to continue with them in my family, too. The groups are much smaller than when I was younger but the memories we are making will last just as long.

      That is such an amazing story about your son seeing your grandmother. I love that kids don't even think to question something like that -- of course he saw her and was talking to her. Wow!

  4. What a beautiful post. You always have a way with words.
    I have felt the Lord's presence and felt like i was talking with friends (in my head)...both are special runs where I come away refreshed and energized or comforted.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Raina. I can relate to your experience as well -- I get much more spiritually out of going on a trail run than going to church. If I had to pick the single best thing that running does for me, it would be what it does for my spirit on those special runs. It doesn't happen often but when it does, it leaves me full of peace. xo

  5. What a beautiful post. It gave me goose bumps. Love those pictures, what a lovely woman! And those rafting trips sound like a blast! SOmetimes I feel the presence of my Grandma. A certain flower reminds me of her and once I see it I feel her the rest of the way, if that makes sense.

    1. That makes total sense, Jess! I'm sure your grandma is right there with you, enjoying the flowers, too. :)

  6. 1st, I'm sorry that I'm just now reading this. But wow, what an amazing and completely inspiring story. It inspires me to make small moments into big memories with my boys. I'm day dreaming of summer camp outs and when we can go to the lake. So much of my time is caught up in the stupid house cleaning and getting ready for the next day and not living TOday. It also inspires me to LOVE running for running even more. To keep sharing it with the ones around me. To make more of an effort to share my runs with someone. Girl, I wish we were closer! I can't wait to meet up with you. Even if it is a quick little jog in the sand, we WILL run together!