The Power of Plastic

Two days ago, on a 16 mile run, I encountered a beautiful holy relic. It was lying on the ground by a trash can, gleaming up from the pavement in all its plastic pastel glory.


Of course, it wasn’t a sacred talisman when I first saw it. I passed it right by, focused on my aching knee as I went into mile 11. But my steps faltered, slowed, and then… I turned around to scoop that treasure off the trail.

Recently, some people have been helping me figure out why the last month was hell. The smartest thing any of them did was demand that I play more. It wasn’t a suggestion: I was actually charged to spend the weekend entertaining my 8-year-old self, with a report due after the fact. Of course, no 8-year-old ever wanted to run what feels like the length of Nebraska, so I’d been trying to placate Lil’ Jenn during my marathon training by pumping happy jams and running off the road a few times to inspect wildflowers. When I saw that charm bracelet, though, it was undeniably clear I’d found the winning ticket to self-babysitting success. The Jennie of 1992 would have been infinitely pleased by free swag with a dolphin bead on it.

The plastic loop didn’t fit around my wrist, so I held the thing in my hand to ponder as I ran. Almost instinctively, I found myself rubbing one bead between my fingers, thinking that its color and shape reminded me of picking wild blueberries on a hike in Virginia years ago. That thought moved me on to the purple butterfly bead, next in line and reminiscent of my mother and how she swears she sees a butterfly every time we chat on the phone. And on and on. The green triangle bead? My three dogs. That other one? The time J and I sat and talked at the hookah bar for hours. And this one – how much I love fresh grapefruit sprinkled with sugar. I pounded down the trail, transforming that lost little loop into a rosary of good memories.

By the end of the run, there was no doubt this talisman will be with me when I race in five weeks. But there was also a lot less doubt about how I’d endure the 35 days until then. My thanks are due to the mystery child who lost her bracelet, to the therapist whose words made me pick it up, and to everyone who played a part in those recollections. You should all know:

Even though current Jennie doesn’t go to church like Lil’ Jenn did, I definitely haven’t lost the faith.


20 responses to “The Power of Plastic

  1. There is something about the clarity one derives on a run or long walk that is astounding. On my walk that I recently took, I went through the woods, and re-discovered the wonder that I used to have just being surrounded by green wilderness. I must make use of the time we still have with the green before it’s all gone. Then I shall have to dig deep to re-discover that at one time, I loved the snow! (Winter is coming, and Jon Snow knows nothing)

    • Mother Nature is way smarter than I am. I think that’s part of why I find being outdoors so comforting – everything I see is a subtle reminder that much bigger forces than me are at play, and that nature generally carries on all right and manages pretty astounding things despite the stresses put on it.

      I’m not surprised that you’re a child of summer like me. I ABHOR cold weather and dismal bare landscapes. Maybe I should redesign my house to include an enormous fireplace and a bearskin rug upon which I could teach Jon Snow a thing or forty.

    • Quick! Quick! Get the smelling salts! I can’t have people fainting all over my blog. 😉

      Surprisingly, (I really mean that; I was totally surprised) it was a pretty easy, relaxed run. There’s something to this notion of training for five months and building up endurance. Although I did hear a story yesterday of someone who had never really run at all doing a marathon on a dare, and finishing, no problem – WTH?!

  2. Jealous of the 16 miler, been a long time since I did one! But congrats on the find and best of luck with more treasure hunting on those long runs. Just out of curiosity are you going to do a 22 miler or 20 miler as part of the marathon training?? I too know of someone who went and ran a marathon with NO training, crazy boy, he did it but he paid the price afterwards, I like to think training prevents the body rebelling in the weeks after!!

    • It was my first time running that far! Kudos to you with your experience. 🙂 This Saturday, I’ll run 20 miles, and that’s the furthest long run of the training. Then it’s tapering down to October 13 – the Chicago Marathon!

      I simply never would have run 26.2 miles without months of training. I’m tough, but I do NOT possess the mental stamina to make that happen.

      • Whooohooo re this weekends run, I ran a 22 miler before my marathon and will NEVER do a 22 miler again, I reckon 20 is plenty. It took me way too long to recover from the 22 miles and there really was no benefit to it. Hahaha there’s no way id ever run one without training either, my body would fall to pieces! (actually, my body is in pieces but its not running related!). I’ll be watching your posts to see how Chicago goes, sorry, I’m sort of like an ex smoker inhaling any cigarette smoke right now, sorry. I’m not really a freak!! 🙂

        • I don’t think you’re a freak, friend! Clearly this is a major focus of my life right now, and I can’t get enough of talking about it! I’m sorry your body is rebelling against you… I hope things get better… and I’d love to stay in touch about Chicago.

  3. I am sorry to hear that you’ve had a hellish month. Anything that can serve as a reminder of the good things and help you keep your sanity and good spirits is worth holding on to.
    Any chance we’ll see more poetry any time soon? Even if it’s of the frustrated, angry emo variety?

    • There’s definitely a chance. I’m thinking of combining my social justice essay subject matter and my poetic stylings into one cherry bomb of a rant. (But it means a lot that you’d tune in even if I was being emo!)

  4. AAH nothing like a long run to help you find the hidden treasure that is YOU! Only wish that I was in training like you… No new big races in sight but I still pound the pavement at dawn. Glad you are moving forward!

    • Uff, up at dawn is more than I can handle! I truly admire morning runners, because I am, by nature, an end-of-the-day slogger jogger. Two days ago I did my 20-miler, and I had a very similar experience of being still within mind while my body moved. So, so good. Thanks for the well wishes!

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