I ran the Chilmark Road Race again this year, and like every year, I made the same joke at the start: “I don’t care how I do, as long as I’m not carried from the finish line to the first aid tent.” I’m happy to report that, despite fewer practice runs than usual and this year’s intense heat, I achieved my goal.
The race felt hotter. I felt less in shape — two changes in a summer of change. I belong to a very lucky group of women who have been able to use our Vineyard Time as a punctuation mark, a long series of ellipses, between school years and all that those years really mean. Together we have observed academic successes and failures, witnessed first loves and prepared superficial balms for first heartbreaks. The Vineyard has always provided that time when I can take a deep breath, surrounded by some of my favorite women in the world, and ready myself for whatever comes next.
But this summer has felt different. The kids have gotten older, of course, so old that we now call them kids with a wink and a set of virtual quotation marks shot into the air above our heads. But conversations on our long beach walks (the few we have had time for) have shifted away from work to retirement. Questions about Lyme disease and muscle strain have veered painfully toward ailments more sinister.
This year before the race, I had fewer practice runs and long beach walks because much of July was spent cheering on my father as he ran his own race of heart surgeries and post-op rehab. Twelve-hour days sitting beside his hospital bed watching him sleep while I ate tubs full of brownie bites turns out not to be the best way to train for a road race full of heartbreaking hills. While my father’s new heart makes him feel years younger, those weeks left me feeling older than I had imagined. It seems watching your parents age is even more bittersweet than watching your children grow up. Change is hard.
But as I pinned this year’s road race number to my T-shirt and watched my youngest son pin on his, I couldn’t help but remember the first time we went through this summer ritual. Although I have no idea what my first number was, I clearly remember his, written in magic marker on white construction paper bought at Alley’s: two and a half, his age. That little guy is now a 23-year-old, six-foot, three-inch college graduate with a job and an adult life of his own.
That makes 21 summers of running the Chilmark Road Race, 21 runs with family and friends, in sun and in that one memorable time of rain, in various degrees of fitness and fear. Every year brings more changes to our Vineyard summers, but the Chilmark Road Race remains the one constant. Twenty-one years of running the race. Twenty-one years of avoiding the first aid tent. Bring on 21 more.