The Longest Runway

My sisters and I would run in the evenings when we were kids. Our property backed onto a public high school with a rusty red colored track. On autumn days, as the sun sank behind the bare branches of the woods beyond the playing fields, my father would follow us through the back fence with his stopwatch, though it was never really a race. Even so, as the sky grew dark and the night grew cold, I can remember giving everything I could to surpass my best time just once more before heading home, exhausted, to my bed.

Looking back on my career, there have been so many instances where I failed to cross the finish line. For every victory, there have been dozens of crushing defeats. Even those victories have had doubtful value, as the rules changed and the stakes rose as I gradually made my way through the course the industry set for me. Some of the girls I started modeling with are household names and although I’ve achieved many things, that isn’t one of them. If my modeling career was my race, I’d be miserable.

I ran a full marathon over the weekend. There was nothing official about the race. A group of dedicated runners set out to do 26.2 miles for the fun of it, some of them running a shorter distance in preparation for the New York Marathon this weekend. I arrived at the hilly, forested trail in the Bronx just in time for the 9AM start. I packed bite-sized, homemade sweet potato chia raisin balls, beet baby food pouches and organic jellybeans. I set a steady, strong tempo as I made my way along rocky paths and up steep inclines. I didn’t expect to run the entire distance, but by the fifteenth mile, I knew I’d finish. That said, it wasn’t the idea of finishing my first marathon that kept me going, nor was it the notion that the people around would be impressed. Instead, the comfort of my stride, my confidence in my strength and my awareness that I didn’t need to impress anyone allowed the miles to pass beneath me.

It didn’t hurt that I had involuntarily tapered in the week preceding the run. Non-stop shoots and the travel kept me off the treadmill. I faced different challenges. I showed up at the wrong airport 45 minutes before my flight was about to depart.  Two days later I slept through my alarm, making it to my shoot within minutes of call-time. I successfully disguised how heavy a toll shooting 45 looks in a day took on me, since I was glad to be working.  Getting in and out dozens and dozens of outfits on a chilly set is a lot more exhausting than it looks.  On Sunday I gladly traded stylish but ill-fitting heels for my ragged, tongue-less running shoes. I adopted what I’d recently learned of running in books and through the helpful guidance of a man who’s run his fair share of marathons.

My new skills got me within sight of the finish line, but at that point emotion took over. I didn’t feel accomplished, as someone might expect. In part, the pain, stress and anxiety that had accumulated in my muscle and bone over the week and over my entire career began to seep out into my blood as I approached the limits of my endurance. As my heart throbbed steadily in my chest, it all seemed to get filtered out. Along with it went the pride I’ve had in magazine covers, advertisements, and great images I’ve had in the past. Instead, my thoughts were flooded with the small joys earned in my quiet, private anguish, of the sort we all share. I thought of my grandmother, as she hugged me that last time in her hospital bed. I thought of the night my teary-eyed father visited me as I was lying bedridden, my frail frame so malnourished that my bones and teeth ached. Competition seemed so silly all of a sudden and that thought felt so liberating. As I covered that last stretch, part of me was back in St. Louis, in the dying light, out to beat my father’s old stopwatch.

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