I’m running to forget, and to remember.
For more than a decade, Katie Arnold chased adventure around the world, reporting on extreme athletes who performed outlandish feats—walking high lines a thousand feet off the ground without a harness, or running one hundred miles through the night. She wrote her stories by living them, until eventually life on the thin edge of risk began to seem normal. After she married, Katie and her husband vowed to raise their daughters to be adventurous, too, in the mountains and canyons of New Mexico. But when her father died of cancer, she was forced to confront her own mortality.
His death was cataclysmic, unleashing a perfect storm of grief and anxiety. She and her father, an enigmatic photographer for National Geographic, had always been kindred spirits. He introduced her to the outdoors and took her camping and on bicycle trips and down rivers, and taught her to find solace and courage in the natural world. And it was he who encouraged her to run her first race when she was seven years old.
Now nearly paralyzed by fear and terrified she was dying, too, she turned to the thing that had always made her feel most alive: running. Over the course of three tumultuous years, she ran alone through the wilderness, logging longer and longer distances, first a 50-kilometer ultramarathon, then 50 miles, then 100 kilometers. She ran to heal her grief, to outpace her worry that she wouldn’t live to raise her own daughters. She ran to find strength in her weakness. She ran to remember and to forget. She ran to live.
Ultrarunning tests the limits of human endurance over seemingly inhuman distances, and as she clocked miles across mesas and mountains, Katie learned to tolerate pain and discomfort, and face her fears of uncertainty, vulnerability, and even death itself. As she ran, she found herself peeling back the layers of her relationship with her father, discovering that much of what she thought she knew about him, and her own past, was wrong.
Running Home is a memoir about the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our world—the stories that hold us back, and the ones that set us free. Mesmerizing, transcendent, and deeply exhilarating, it is a book for anyone who has been knocked over by life, or feels the pull of something bigger and wilder within themselves.
“A beautiful work of searching remembrance and searing honesty . . . Katie Arnold is as gifted on the page as she is on the trail. Running Home will soon join such classics as Born to Run and Ultramarathon Man as quintessential reading of the genre.”—Hampton Sides, author of On Desperate Ground and Ghost Soldiers
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The journey has taken all day. We got up before dawn and we’re still not there. The road before us winds and swerves, up hills and down. It is very narrow, and you can’t see around the curves, so you have to stay to the edge and hope that no one’s coming in fast from the other direction. My older sister, Meg, is driving, like she always did. My three-month-old daughter, Maisy, is in the back, asleep in her car seat.
There are fences and walls on either side of the road and, beyond them, green fields and horse pastures unfurling to dense woods. I’d forgotten that trees get so tall, taller than the second story of a house. I’d forgotten that there are second stories of houses. I’d forgotten about grass. I’ve been away so long.
We pass a small sign for Huntly. There’s nothing here but a low white house where the rural post office used to be. It shut down years ago, and now Huntly is just a name on the map. A mile later, we turn left onto a smaller road. Meg slows down as the asphalt gives way to gravel, as Dad taught us to do out of respect for the neighbors. The lane tightens as it passes a row of mailboxes and a neglected stucco chapel that was once a slave church. To our right is a house abandoned when we were children, its rusting swing set still lurching in the weeds. On the left is the overgrown apple orchard where a horse named Mack used to graze, so skinny we could count his ribs.
My heart skips the way it used to when I was a girl and we’d come back after a long absence. What was waiting for us? What had changed while we were away? We were gone far more than we were here. Always I had so many questions.
Now, at last, I see it: the wooden sign, huntly stage, hand-carved in large black letters, hanging from its post. We ease in and creep between two long rock walls overhung by persimmon trees, giving way to grass on both sides. The field to our right slopes up a long hill that hides the house, until it doesn’t, and there it is, rising right out of the grass, all the lights on, calling us back.
I’ve been coming to Huntly Stage since 1978, after my parents divorced and my father bought the property with his girlfriend, Lesley. I was six that year. Through much of our childhood living in New Jersey with our mother and stepfather, Meg and I visited the farm four times a year; this dwindled to once or twice a year after we went to college, and considerably less when we got jobs and, later still, had children of our own. A quick computation yields a disappointing sum—fifty-two weeks, a year of my life at most.
Because of the infrequency of our visits, Huntly Stage has never felt entirely like home, yet it’s as familiar to me as any place I’ve ever known. I can close my eyes and summon it in my mind: a two-story wooden house overlooking twenty-seven acres of fields and streams and forest. After a summer rain, no greener place exists than this corner of Rappahannock County, in northern Virginia, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dad likes to joke that he can watch the grass grow, but I’ve seen the way he studies his fields and tends to them like children, and I know he’s not kidding.
As with so many things we come to know well over a long period of time, at some point I began to take Huntly’s constancy for granted, or perhaps I always had. I thought it would never really change, just as I thought my father would never change.
I was wrong.
Three weeks ago, Dad was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer. Shortly after getting the news, I flew east with Maisy from Santa Fe, where I’ve lived for fifteen years. My husband, Steve, stayed home with our two-year-old daughter, Pippa. Meg caught a flight from her home in California, and together we rented a car and drove an hour and a half from Dulles airport to the farm for a long weekend to help however we can. On the plane, I worried that Dad would have cancer written all over his body, but when we pull up the driveway, he’s ambling down the walk to greet us.
“Hello!” he bellows. He looks okay, a little wan but still sturdy, himself.
“Dad,” I say, hugging him hard and handing him the baby. He puts his arms around her, and I put my arm around him and together we walk slowly inside. Through his sweatshirt I can feel his shoulder blades moving up and down with his breath.
The house is comfortably cluttered and largely unchanged from my childhood. Books line the shelves in the living room, paintings and photographs hang on the walls. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is plastered with cartoons; a plastic Queen Elizabeth figurine sits on the windowsill, gracing the room with her regal, solar-powered wave when the sun shines. Lesley, who married my father in 1981, is from England and still goes back every other year.
What’s different is the way the house feels. The air inside is heavier and quieter, sleepier, but there’s too much to do to just droop around the house. Meg and I run errands in our rental car, hauling in supplies from Kmart, ten miles away in Front Royal: a case of chocolate Ensure, because Dad’s losing his appetite, and a new pair of plaid pajamas, because his old ones are threadbare. Both seem like terrible portents of what’s to come.
Reading Group Guide
1. How do some of Katie's early childhood experiencesrunning the Fodderstock, jumping in an icy river in wintershape the relationship she has with her father as a girl, and then as a young adult? How would you describe their father-daughter dynamic, up until the time Katie moves to New Mexico?
2. Why does Katie feel so shaken, reading the contents of her father's letter in Chapter 8? Do you see her father's actions as a betrayal in any form? What was his obligation to her as a parent, in regard to the circumstances of his divorce and talking to her about it?
3. What do you understand Katie to mean when she says that, in the wake of reading her father's letter, she wonders if "he hadn't also been afraid to commit to himself?"
4. What is the thin edge? What is the difference between fear and anxiety, as Katie experiences them both?
5. Are there similar things that seem to motivate the different kinds of "extreme" athletes and adventurers Katie interviews for her job at Outside?
6. What does Katie learn, from reading her father's letters to his former lovers, in Chapter 17? How does she "carry" this knowledge with her going forward?
7. Discuss the different meanings Katie writes about for the word "practice"—what does it mean for her to practice running?
8. What does motherhood teach Katie about being a runner? What does being a runner teach her, about how to be a better parent?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I won’t rehash what Running Home is about as the book description from the publisher’s page gives you all you need to know and more. After reading the description of Running Home by Katie Arnold, you know instinctually what is meant by, “I’m running to forget and remember.” The loss of someone we love throws everything about our life off balance, and particularly if it’s a parent or a parent that had abandoned you as a child. Everyone grieve’s differently, just as everyone experiences a myriad of emotions, whether it’s anger, regret, despair, depression, anxiety, acceptance, forgiveness, etc.. The litany of emotions that may be experienced when we lose someone we had a connection to is as long as the list of ways in which each of us makes it through our grief. In Arnold’s case it was going from jogger to running an ultramarathon, and to be clear Arnold is not recruiting running as a means of grieving the loss of a loved one. Running Home is a memoir, and if you read the author’s bio, you know from the beginning that Arnold was an outdoorswoman, and as she has written for the magazine Runner’s World, Arnold is a runner. Her description of becoming a long distance runner that led to her running an ultramarathon and the pain, endurance, and difficulties of running may be lost on those who are not runners and have no interest in learning about the sport of running. In this case, the reader may hop their way through Running Home and miss the emotions Katie writes about following her father’s death, but also the emotions from her childhood that centered around the relationship she had with her father. This would be a shame because writing about emotions so that another can feel the emotion is not easy for many writers. This is a strength that Arnold has, whether she is writing about her feelings of abandonment by her father as a child, her feelings and emotions as an adult, her love for her father, her feelings upon learning of his terminal illness, followed by his death. I applaud Katie for her ability to hit the mark when writing about her emotions that come through, whether as a child or a mother of two. The other thing Arnold does exceptionally well as a writer is sharing her childhood memories while simultaneously incorporating her feelings during the events of her childhood in a way that holds you captive. I am sure that there are many in the world that can relate to the point of feeling the emotions of a childhood akin to Arnold’s childhood, and her life. When Arnold describes the scenery in Running Home, she does so effortlessly. Arnold describes the trails, the crater at Valles Caldera National Preserve, in the Jemez Mountains, Huntley Stage, to her drive from New Mexico to Wyoming, and she does a fantastic job in doing so while taking you to the places she’s describing. Arnold’s writing is well crafted. The addition of the interspersed photographs is an added benefit for the reader when reading about Arnold’s life. Everyone has heard the idiom, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and in Running Home, the photographs speak for themselves. The only negatives about Running Home is that while some parts hold your attention and keep the pages turning, other parts slow to a crawl and you find yourself looking ahead to see how much more book you have to read to reach the end. I spoke to this earlier regarding Arnold’s describing all facets of running. - D.B. Moone
"Running Home" was a book I needed to read right now. A major theme of the book is dealing with loss (Mrs. Arnold's father dies of cancer), dealing with anxiety, coming to terms with your past, and finding yourself. For the author, her method of coping and finding herself is through ultrarunning. I am at my own crossroads and dealing with some of the same issues (but thankfully not the death of a loved one). This book is not intended as a self-help book and while she champions the benefits of running, the author does not suggest or imply that running is the answer for everyone. However, through her discussion of ultrarunning -- how she got into long distance running, the difficulties and pain of ultrarunning versus the joys and accomplishment, etc. -- and through her discussion of her childhood, her relationship with her father (who left the family when the author was young and was more of a part-time father, but also a source of support, inspiration, encouragement, and strength), her career, the overwhelming anxiety she experienced following her father's death combined with being the mother of two young girls, the assistance and advice of friends, and other aspects of her life, past and present, the author provides readers with a lot to think about when dealing with their challenges or fears. The best way to get a sense of the book is through quoting some of what the author wrote -- either her own thoughts or words of wisdom from others. I was provided with an uncorrected proof to review via NetGalley, so some of the passages I quote might be slightly different in the published version of the book. "People think long-distance running is about speed, about getting from point A to B as fast as possible, but really it's about slowing down. In the quiet of prolonged effort, time stretches, elongates." "To tell the truth of something, you need both light and dark, sun and shadow, transparency and secrecy, things exposed and others withheld. If you are patient and pay attention, these details might begin to arrange themselves into a recognizable shape, a pattern that starts to make sense." "Sometimes progression happens in small, almost inappreciable increments, one step after another, so subtle you hardly notice. Other times it requires a huge, terrifying leap." "Running long distances doesn't erase my anxiety, but it does help me manage it. Caught up in the physical effort, I detach from the circuitous worry in my brain." "Sometimes the things we disliked most or were most uncomfortable with are the things we think back on most fondly, the things we are most grateful to have done." "I think about...how many different possibilities exist in the world, all at once. How much calmer life would be if I could learn to hold them all, at the same time, without getting attached to any of them."
I thoroughly enjoyed this inspiring memoir which was so much more than a memoir. Katie Arnold was 2 when her parents divorced. Her mother remarried and they moved to New Jersey where Katie and her older sister Meg had to juggle back and forth with visitation with their father in Virginia. After college, Katie got a job at Outsider magazine in Santa Fe, NM, married her husband there and had two daughters. After the birth of her second daughter, her father died of cancer and Katie sunk into deep depression and anxiety. Katie used ultra running to deal with his death and grief, and ran an ultramarathon. This book is so inspirational in how it deals with loss and anxiety caused by the death of a loved one. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this wonderful book.
This is a great book and is very well written. I kept thinking about this book whenever I put it down. It’s about an athlete. It’s about a child’s feelings of desertion, a daughters love and much more. The author did an excellent job. I’ll be looking for more by this author. Well done. My thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.