Cancun, 1998

I’m running my first 5K in less than ten days and this morning, I ran faster than I’ve ever run. Under 11 minutes a mile. 10:41 to be exact.

This was huge for me. I’m the queen of the almost-walking 13 minute mile.

So I was ecstatic.

I had run in my neighborhood and there were a lot of people around when I started my cool down. People walking their dogs and taking their kids to school. They must have thought that I was crazy because I had this big “I kicked ass” smile on my face. And I may, or may not, have done some victorious arm pumping.

But then surprisingly, my exultation turned to tears when I realized what song was playing through my headphones. It was the Counting Crows’ The Rain King. Which is the song that always makes me think of my friend Martha.

Martha was killed almost a year ago. Struck by a car that careened on to the sidewalk as she was leaving a shop in her Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. And her death still doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think it ever will.

Martha was a smart, creative and beautiful woman who always had a big smile for everyone. She was a non-discriminating smiler. And she was funny. Cracking up not only those around her but also herself. Her full throated and full bodied laugh could overtake every other laugh that might be trying to burst out and be heard.

And she was taken from us, all of us, way too soon.

I think about Martha every day. Her Mass card is on my dresser. A picture from a 1998 girls-only Cancun vacation is the screensaver on my phone. Four of us on the beach smiling. And Martha’s smile is the biggest.

I think about her two daughters. The older one is the same age as my son. They’re high school juniors and getting ready for their college journeys. Not an easy time. And I think about Martha’s husband, hoping he’s doing okay.

Today, my tears stopped as I began to remember how much Martha ran. She made running seem like it was no big deal. Like running a couple of miles was just a walk in the park. And I was always in awe of that. I remember her talking about running when it was freezing cold out. For me, that would have been torture.

But now that I’m training for this 5K, I kind of get it. I mean running is still a big deal to me. I’m still always wondering if I can finish. But I get why she liked to run. The feeling that running gives you, once you get over the beginning where it’s hard to go faster and farther. The sense of accomplishment. Confidence. And, of course, those endorphins.

My race is on February 22nd. Which is the day that Martha died.

The last song on my running playlist next Saturday will be The Rain King. The song runs a little over four minutes. I’m timing it so that it will come on at the 26 minute mark. I know I’ll finish strong. Because I’ll be thinking about my friend. And I’ll try not to cry.

I love you Martha. You are in my heart every day.