It was my sister who taught me to run.

In eighth grade, Ruth’s P.E. class did a 1.5 mile run as a fitness test. Gym was usually an embarrassment for my sister. She wasn’t very flexible, hopeless with a ball and clumsy at gymnastics. But when they ran, Ruth beat the entire class.

Eyeing Ruth’s wide awkward frame suspiciously, the teacher barked, “You cheated girl. Go run the course again.”

She broke the school record.

To the teacher’s credit, she apologized profusely and called the high school coach. “I’ve got a girl-wonder for you here.”

The coach was thrilled with his new recruit and encouraging about her future but said, “We’re not in training right now. Go home. Build up your miles and come back in August.”

So Ruth turned around and enlisted me. Like my sister, my build was larger than that of my slender, petite peers. Battling my natural girth, I’d been an avid exerciser since 13; cycling, aerobics, walking, weights. But when she asked me to run I refused. “Running is punishment in gym class; it’s for old guys in sweats cruising the neighborhood. I’ll be happy to go on a walk with you.”

“Have you ever looked at an elephant’s legs?” she asked me. “They are thick, wide. Elephants legs are meant for walking.”

“But humans? Our legs are like gazelles; we are meant to run.”

And so we ran. And so I fell in love with my sister.

At 13 and 18 our age difference was an impassable gulf. I hadn’t asked her opinion on anything for years and had dismissed her as an annoying, spoiled little sister. But as we ran I learned that she was intelligent, thoughtful, funny and compassionate. We laughed at our family squabbles, we cried over losses, we forgave each other for past hurts.

Summer passed in a whirlwind of miles and local road races. She started training with the cross country team and I left for college. I shiver to think how close we came to missing our chance to know each other. But we didn’t miss it. We caught the chance just in time.

My sister and I lived in the same house only one summer after that. But on every visit every slight opportunity, we ran, we talked, we laughed. Every runner knows that conversations on the road quickly bypass the usual social masquerade. You learn a lot about people when your soles are slapping the pavement. Our standing joke for those early years was, “Be careful who you run with. You might fall in love.”

And I did fall in love. Running led me to Erik(a story for another day) and before my 25th birthday I was a mother of two. Ruth joined me for afternoon runs between classes at the U and we took turns pushing the double baby-jogger.

Soon she found a love of her own and built a life of her own. Between us, our intermittent runs in the last twenty years have carried us through two marriages, 10 children, 30 marathons, a dozen moves, several jobs, illnesses, injuries(walking is a good substitute) and some major family battles.

Last night at my cousin’s wedding dinner, drowning in small talk, we furtively made plans over the din of the noisy bar, “Tomorrow, 6:30, Millcreek.”

This morning we ran with the sunrise and solved every personal, social and political problem that had cropped up during her absence.

In our daily lives we plod and muddle through, but when we run, we are graceful and beautiful.

We are gazelles.

September 6, 2008
September 8, 2008



  1. Melissa

    September 6, 2008

    This post makes me ache for wanting a sister and to be a runner. What a special bond you two can share.

  2. Blue

    September 7, 2008

    it was such a treat to meet her today! in fact, you just can’t help but love her after reading your blog about her (and reading her blog!). of course it’s next to impossible to not love EVERYONE you write about…because you see people with such a goodness-filtered lens, and reflect that image back to your readers. and then there are the photos…what an amazing knack!

    i want to be a gazelle! maybe i should just do my miles walking while the stress fracture heals. it’ll take longer, but i have gotten to the point where i desperately want to do the race…and it’s only 5 more weeks away. i can’t afford to buy a gym membership to do an eliptical or stairmaster, and don’t know anyone who has one. so i’ve missed my last 3 runs this week. it’s really bumming me out. i felt like i was finally making some real change, real progress. it’s given me new insight into how frustrating it must have been for you with the hamstring. i feel for ya!

    truly, this was such a beautiful post! just radiating the bonds of love you share. thank you for letting us peek into that sweet relationship! it adds to the goodness quotient of the earth when you write.

  3. Mitchell Family

    September 7, 2008

    Right before going to bed, I remembered that you said you blogged about me today and I had this fear that you retold that most mortifying story I told you on our run. I feel much better now. You failed to mention that once you started running you discovered that you are a much better runner than I am. Thanks for always being willing to run slow with me.

    It was good to meet you too Blue. Ruth

  4. Zalia

    September 7, 2008

    Thank you for taking the time to teach me to run, Michelle. I was the girl who despised the Presidential Fitness challenge in elementary school because it meant you had to run 600 yards. But, you convinced me otherwise and opened a world to me that I would never have found on my own! And, I agree, you must be careful in selecting running partners…they will eventually know too much about you.

  5. jess

    September 7, 2008

    love it… ooohhh how i miss running, and yes – there is a special bond between running partners! i think i’ve said things aloud while running that i never would have in any other circumstance. can’t wait to be able to run again!

  6. Ken

    September 7, 2008

    Dearest daughters,
    Your love for each other fills me with joy!
    I love you so much.

  7. Andrea

    September 8, 2008

    Oh my…Piper needs a sister asap. This was beautiful…I wish someone would teach me to run. I can’t even make it ten houses up the street.

  8. Chelle

    September 8, 2008

    It’s true… there IS a very unique bond between running partners. So true!

    And this is written so beautifully.

  9. Darlene

    September 16, 2008

    I am SO trying to be a runner. I love imagining myself as a gazelle. But I run more like a . . . porcupine. How do you go from jogging to running?

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