There comes a moment at the start of every single race where I think very quietly to myself these magical words: WHY THE F AM I DOING THIS?

Only I think the actual f-word. And then think it again a few times just for good measure.

That moment comes frequently when the race in question is a half marathon. Before the Missoula Half on June 26, I first had that thought when my 3:30 a.m. alarm went off. I thought it again on the bus to the start and while shivering in the predawn cold for an hour. This is a truly dumb way to spend time, I mused, as I waited for permission to run for 13.1 miles in order to collect a bottle of water, a bag of snacks, and a medal.

A cardboard sign saying "There will come a day when you cannot do this but today is not that day."

This would be my new race mantra but I need to add more curse words.

Missoula was my 25th half marathon, which boggles my mind, too. It feels like my first one in my hometown was yesterday, rather than nearly a decade ago. After so many start lines, tho, I now notice my brain’s predictable routine. Some runners do strides. Some recite mantras and cue up power songs. My race prep is questioning every single life choice that brought me there.

Another advantage to experience is knowing the moment will pass once the miles start to tick by. It’ll likely come back again, then pass again, like the tide or a TikTok trend. I just have to let it wash over me.

Middle aged lady in a hat at the start of the Missoula Half Marathon

That woman in the cheetah print robe was the envy of us all.

Perhaps I enjoyed the Missoula Half so very much because I only had that thought at the very beginning of the race. By mile two, I cheered all of the twists that brought me to this very spot, which was running beside a river in a state I’d never visited before. And because I am not a fast runner nor one in any particular hurry that day, I would really get to soak in all that the course had to offer. Which was mountains majesty and charming neighborhoods and a big cow and a dude playing a piano in the middle of his yard and a million good dogs who would let you pet them if you stopped.

Dude playing a baby grand piano on his front lawn.

Said dude. Said piano. Said lawn.

Even my playlist was on my side. Unlike some runners (*coff* Sarah Bowen Shea *coff*), I don’t fastidiously pick out which songs I want and arrange them in very specific order for all 13+ miles. Instead, I have a big ol’ playlist, hit shuffle, and leave it up to the fates to give me what I want to hear. And this time, right when I was starting to think about having a little bit of a sit on the side of the road, the universe gave me Emmylou Harris’ “Born to Run.” It’s a song I like well enough but am not devoted to. At that moment, however, it was perfect.

To be fair, the whole all-is-well vibe of the race itself was set from the moment I my rental car from Spokane east to Missoula (and why I flew into Spokane is its own very dull long story and I’ll spare you). There has been some unsettled weather in my house. On a personal front, we’re navigating what the future looks like with aging parents, a kid in college, and a kid in a gender transition. On a professional front, it looks like a book I really want to write is unlikely to come to an indie bookstore near you because no one wants to pay me to write it. Rejection always stings, now matter how many successes you’ve had.

In short: nothing was dire but everything was profoundly disappointing, in the way that it can be sometimes. To quote the great text of City Slickers, my rope was full of knots.

Woman in a hotel room in a zoom meeting

One of the great things about the COVID age is that I I can fulfill my duties as an elected official in Upstate New York from a hotel room in Spokane.

Driving is one of my favorite ways to mull over the state of the world and organize my thoughts. From Spokane, I plotted a route that would take me though gorgeous scenery and to a national historic site. Somewhere on I90 outside of Missoula, under the really big sky, I suddenly realized everything would be OK. Maybe not right now. Definitely not in the way that I want it to play out. But, eventually, if only for a few moments, OK would be achieved. 

I don’t know that kind of clarity is something that I can hold onto for very long. I’m sure there are entire schools of philosophy devoted to loosely cupping that emotion in your brain rather than squeezing it so tightly it suffocates. Regardless, that ineffable moment left as quickly as it came. But its memory still lingers.

Years ago, when one of my kids was having a complete meltdown over who-can-remember-what in the grocery, a more experienced parent said to me, “nothing very good and nothing very bad lasts for very long.” She was right. Not just in kids but also with all of the thoughts that ramble through our brains on a road in Montana. Or right before the start of a long race along a river.


Adrienne Martini’s book, Somebody’s Gotta Do It: Why Cursing at the News Won’t Save the Nation but Your Name on a Local Ballot Can, is available where ever books, ebooks, and audiobooks are sold. It also received a rave review in the New York Times.