Clove’s Secret: The Things That Running Cannot Heal

The attitude started at an early age.  He was only 4!
The attitude started at an early age. He was only 4!

Nope, this one’s not about infertility.

Those of you that follow me may have noticed that I dropped off the radar after the failed pregnancy push earlier this year.  I did exactly as planned; trained up as best I could over five weeks and ran Burning River.  There should have been a race report.  Actually, most of the race report exists, but it became too painful to finish.  I need to do that.

DB had an amazing experience at Badwater, but had underestimated the fatigue.  I learned an incredible amount at Burning River, but knew that I could run so much better with a proper training period.  And there was this little matter of a rather local 100 – small, but only a three hour drive, falling in the first week of September.  DB had run it last year to get his final qualifier for his Badwater application, and I had paced him for 50 miles of it.  It had been a very special time for us, one that bonded us and made us stronger.  We actually decided to forego official anniversary celebrations two weeks later, because the experience on the trails had been so special that we felt we had already “celebrated” our anniversary.

But the past two years, the weather has been horrific.  Drenching, sideways downpours throughout the night.  And the timing is tricky too, because the race starts at 4 pm.  Everyone runs through the entire night, and let’s face it – nine to ten hours of night running on trails does not a fast time make.

So we played it by ear.  We told no one of our secret plan, for we wouldn’t know if we were going through with it until the very week of the race.  But we wanted to do it, and we trained to do it.  In spite of the running all night in the dark thing, this is a fast course, and we had joked about which one of us would bring home the Blackford Family PR (we’re currently 30 seconds apart with DB in the lead, his 19:23:41 to my 19:24:11.)  I wasn’t worried about the after-effects of Burning River; with the long stretches of mud and the extenuating circumstances, I had pushed to the edge mentally, but not physically.  We were psyched and ready to go, preparing playlists and food lists and looking forward to an awesome adventure together.  All we had to do was wait for the weather to hold out.

Online registration closed at noon on Wednesday, and the forecast looked good.  Are we pansies?  Not generally, but we just didn’t want to run in the rain this time.  If it had been a goal race instead of an adventure, like Rocky Raccoon a few back for me or Hallucination for DB last year, we would have prepared the trash bags and not thought about it long enough to feel sorry for ourselves.  But this was supposed to be FUN – an adventure, a summer nightcap for Team Blackford.  We signed up Wednesday morning around 10 am and started making final preparations eagerly.

What we did not expect was for our 17 year old cat, Courage, to enter renal failure later that day.

I got Courage when I was 20 years old, a senior in college, and moving into my first solo apartment.  He came with a litter mate, Serenity, who we lost quietly several years ago.  Serenity had been sick for awhile with kitty cancer, and after two surgeries she died sleeping one night.  Serenity was a wonderful cat; she loved sleeping in the sun and on my back.  She was sweet and kind.

Litter mates Serenity (left) and Courage at 7.  I guess excessive grooming ran in the family.
Litter mates Serenity (left) and Courage at 7. I guess excessive grooming ran in the family.

Courage, however, was the personality of the group.

The runt of his litter, he often weighed in at his vet appointments barely able to tip the scale to seven pounds.  Like his mom, he was just a little guy, but one that carried enough personality to make up for it.  As I said in his Facebook kitty obituary, his hobbies included tormenting the dog, excessive grooming, and hissing.  At seven pounds, he dominated the household.  The 40 pound dog was afraid of him; the 20 pound cat avoided him at all costs; DB and I ourselves were oftentimes wary of touching him, as we opened ourselves up to hissing from the depths of the grave or a nice scratchy swat of our hands with his always perfectly sharpened claws.

Courage was terrified of thunder storms.  Once I went to the basement to comfort him when he was cowering and hiding, and he promptly peed down my leg.  He abhorred the outdoors (so dirty!) and always insisted on fresh morsels of food first thing in the morning, no matter how full the bowls.  After Serenity died, he took up residence on a corner counter in our kitchen.  It was a corner that neither dishes nor food ever touched (it’s generally reserved for charging electronics), and for the past four years, he has ruled from his countertop lair.  Squawking, hissing and glaring, generally reminding us that he was too good for this crazy household, most especially that thing called a dog.

He had his moments, though.  As the years went by and the vets became more and more surprised each time he showed up for his (now) six-month checkup, he slept more and more as well.  So often, DB and I would quietly creep over to the corner, and watch just to make sure his little tummy was still moving up and down.  At 16, and then 17, of course we knew we were on borrowed time.  But like the Energizer Bunny, he kept on eating, kept on drinking, kept on perpetually grooming.  His “sleeper” was still softer than fresh cotton, and he continued to smell as if he had taken a bath in fabric softener.  His old age did nothing to soften his personality, but from time to time, he would be tired enough, or just sleepy enough, to let us cuddle him.  In the corner, of course.  Never in the bedroom or the living room, for the dog went there.  But if we came to him, he would headbutt our hands, lick our noses, and purr contentedly.

But most of all, it was the kitchen.  The back door to our home is through the kitchen, and it’s the one we use every single day.  From his corner by the door, it was his squawking that announced our arrivals and departures for all these years.  When leaving for a run, for a trip, for the grocery, he was the last thing we saw (and heard).  And when returning from the run, the trip, the grocery, he was the first thing we saw.  He would leap from his corner of the counter to the table with his food, and immediately demand it be freshened.  Waking up was perhaps the hardest part; I never told DB that as bad as I am with the 4:51 am alarm for the run, it was often Courage’s squawking in the morning that was the first thing I heard, followed by him (DB, not Courage) brewing my “starter cup” of coffee.

Courage watched me go from a lost and confused 20-year old single college girl to a 37 year-old married woman with a mortgage and two cars.  Sometimes he took better care of me than I did of him, but together, we grew up.  But more quickly than me, as is the order of the world with pets, he grew old.  And though we had noticed a small bit of weight loss that was concerning us and that had to be brought up at his next appointment in six weeks, we hadn’t realized how quickly something really bad was happening.

Clove at 24; Courage at 4.  I didn't kid when I said he detested being held.
Clove at 24; Courage at 4. I didn’t kid when I said he detested being held.

And it happened so fast.  In the space of two days, he went from “are you okay, buddy?” to “I’m not ready for this.”  Monday we thought was just a sleepy day; Tuesday he seemed a bit better and more energetic.  Wednesday we knew we had to get to the vet, and by Thursday morning, he was gone.  But not before a final round of hissing at the dog.

It was, and is, more excruciating than I had ever imagined.  In a household full of big personalities, his was the largest, and he has left us heartbroken.

Going into the kitchen was horrific.  It has become habit over these years to automatically look in that corner, check on him.  See if he’s washing behind his ears for the 87th time for the day, or watch him get just a little more comfortable on his blanket.  And the eating – oh, the eating.  For seven pounds, this cat could not hear a noise in the kitchen without deciding he needed a bite of food.  In just the past six weeks he developed a penchant for dog food, and would run over when we fed the dog to snatch a single morsel of kibble.  He didn’t always eat it; it was yet another swipe at the dog, at the establishment in general.  “HA!  I got your food, you dumb canine.”  If he was the king, the kitchen was his throne, and it was suddenly quiet, silent, and overwhelmingly empty.

King of the castle, kitchen and counter, still glaring after all these years.
King of the castle, kitchen and counter, still glaring after all these years.

We thought it would help to go.  To get out of the empty house, to get on the trails, to do that thing we love so much.  But 100 miles?  Even as we drove, it became overwhelming.  We were exhausted, mentally destroyed, wrung out.  Our faces literally hurt from crying.  We tried dedicating it to him, committing to each other, talking about how good the “hurt” feels afterwards.  But we forgot two key points:  we were already hurt, and in a race that’s 90% mental – well, you understand.

We were fried.  Yes, even my 50-year old husband was fried from losing this cat.  They had forged a special bond from an initial mutual hatred to a deep mutual respect.  And, dare I say it, love.  I caught a few secret moments between the two of them in that corner, and though it took a good 13 years, they fell for each other.  The truth is, we were absolutely raw, and it became more and more evident that in a race that requires digging – for all 100-milers at one time or another require that – we had nowhere to dig.  We asked each other if we could get it done between the two of us, but the real truth was – well, we couldn’t.

For as much as we thought we just needed to get away from that kitchen, all we wanted to do was go home and try to heal our aching hearts.

So we did.  We ran 33 miles, quietly turned in our numbers, and left at 11 pm.  There would be no PR’s, no indulgent aching in our legs over the next three days.  No, it would be the Puppy and the Fishie, quietly and quickly driving home in the middle of the night, to return to an empty kitchen with broken hearts instead of broken legs.

When Rocky Raccoon rolls around come February, we’ll be ready.

But yesterday just wasn’t the time.

Because some days, you just can't be bothered.  You taught us well, little prince.
Because some days, you just can’t be bothered. You taught us well, little prince.

Trail and adventure enthusiast. Girl who swears like a sailor but not when she's teaching Sunday School. Survived infertility without a successful pregnancy. Self-employed, primarily working for Clif Bar and Company. Thirteen 100-mile race finishes with seven top 3 placements. An original Saltine.

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  1. Sending you hugs…I’ve been wondering how you were doing. We have a 14 1/2 year old Golden Retriever I got when I was 24. He has seen me through so many good and bad times. All we can do is know we gave them a good life and help them gracefully crossover when it is time. They give so much and ask for so little in return.

  2. Oh Clove…… I’m teary reading this…. I have a 17 year old kitty boy who is also on some borrowed time. I’ve had him since I was a lost 20 something girl too…I know that someday soon, he may be gone, and I just can’t bear to go there in my mind. I am so so sorry for your loss. I truly understand what it means to have had a furbaby with you through all those years. Sending you peaceful thoughts….

  3. Thank you for this. Lost my cat companion back in January and could relate to just wanting to do nothing the first few days. It’s only after that initial grieving process that running can help heal some. It’s weird that even now, in a new house, I still think that someone will be coming to the door to greet me. Aint it funny how that works? You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. I have been there too many times myself & just lost my 11 yr old cat to lymphoma this past winter. I’d never lost a cat so young before. And I still miss him every day. And I have been there with renal failure, too, unfortunately.

    It takes time to remember the good times, not the bad. They do not live long enough no matter how long they live.