A decade ago, my husband, Jack, and I were fortunate enough to get to travel around the world on an extended honeymoon. As I say in the book , I chose monuments and museums over miles. If I had insisted on carving out time for daily exercise, I might have come home divorced (again!) instead of newly wed. But I was able to slip in a few runs here and there. I traversed the trail-laced grounds of Malahide Castle outside of Dublin. In Budapest, I explored Margaret Island, the surprisingly bucolic oasis sandwiched in the middle of the Danube River. And in Christchurch, New Zealand, I loped around Hagley Park.
Every so often, I recollect these runs, letting sun-dappled memories transport me when I’m stuck in traffic or folding laundry. (A runner's version of a Calgon-take-me-away respite.) This past week, jarred by news reports of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch, I’ve been reliving my NZ run with renewed acuteness.
Photos, New York Times articles, and radio coverage about natural disasters are always heartwrenching—in 2008, I sobbed in the shower listening to NPR’s Melissa Block interview grieving parents whose children had died in the earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province. But having spent time in a place—eating a delectable pumpkin salad and sipping a local sauvignon blanc in a bistro; learning about Antarctic explorers at the Canterbury Museum; punting on the Avon River; laughing over “Snatch” at a movie theatre—brings the disaster closer to home. And there’s something about having run there that ushers it closer still.
Prior to New Zealand, Jack and I had sweat profusely while marveling at the temples of Bangkok, then shivered in the frigid snow falling on yurts in Mongolia’s capital of Ulan Bator. So to arrive in Christchurch in their late spring (it was early December) was hitting a weather jackpot. Our B&B was mere blocks from Hagley Park, the charming city’s largest greenspace. I had no planned route on the trails that traversed the grassy landscape. Upon entering the park, I turned right, running under an allee of trees and past some older gentlemen out for a fitness walk. Emerging into full sunlight near the golf course, I headed into the center of the park and flanked the banks of a small lake dotted with ducks. I crossed a wooden bridge to explore the botanical gardens. The flowers—scarlet
tulips, pink azaleas, and early yellow roses—were familiar, but much of the greenery had a slightly prehistoric look. My endurance had dipped dramatically—funny what several months of only tourist-speed walking will do to cardio fitness—so I used the intriguing flora as an excuse to walk a bit and explore. Eventually I resumed running and circled part of the park perimeter again. Heading out of the park near the museum, I spied an appealing sidewalk café and made a note to return there with Jack.
I can see it all so clearly in my mind, and it nearly breaks my heart to imagine how it all must look now—and how emotionally ravaged the residents of Christchurch must be. Here's what I’ve come to realize this past week: Where the heart has beat faster, the heartbreak pounds harder, too.