Everything about Katie Arnold’s debut memoir suggests it’s about running, starting with the title, “Running Home.” But only a few pages in, you realize it’s more about finding your way than just racking up miles.
Perhaps that’s why this came-out-of-nowhere book by a first-time author has been earning glowing reviews from media outlets as varied as Bustle, Real Simple, ESPN and Runner’s World.
For Arnold, running was her way of quieting the voice inside her head, allowing her to run until she could leave her thoughts behind, “a kite cut loose from its strings,” as she puts it, achieving that transformative feeling of being in the moment. Until, of course, it inevitably vanishes with the next wail of a hungry child, the demanding email, or a spouse who forgot to take out the garbage. Again.
Arnold took up running as a youngster at the encouragement of her photographer father, who met her at the end of a 10K race that she didn’t properly train for and playfully staged photos of her crawling across the finish line again and again. As an adult, it would be running — logging miles and miles on the trails, and then running and winning ultramarathons — that helped her deal with her father’s fatal cancer diagnosis and the nagging question, “Who will I be when he’s gone?” Running continues to provide her solace against life’s battering blows.
We caught up with Arnold, 47, in the midst of a schedule that includes cross-country flights for her book tour, caring for daughters aged 8 and 10, dividing household duties with her husband, a heavy writing schedule — and all-important trail runs outside her home in Santa Fe.
For most of us, exercise falls off the to-do list when life throws us a curveball. How did running help you deal with your father’s cancer diagnosis?
For me, running is a teacher. If I don't run for a few days, I miss it, on the inside. It’s how I think; it’s how I feel. It’s how I think about how I feel. But for you, it could be something else. It could be walking. It could be run/walking. And it doesn’t even have to be physical. I think we have to figure that out, what are we moved to do in this moment.
You portray running as a lesson in progress and how to appreciate that.
Yes, you can literally break anything down. You start where you start. Maybe you start by just walking around the block or running for just five minutes. And you make these tiny progressions. Six minutes. Seven minutes. Then 10 minutes. Make it proactive. When you can apply that to something like running, then you can apply it to the rest of your life.
You use running to stop the negative voice inside your head.
I don't think there's anyone who doesn't have that voice in their head: the critic, the naysayer. I use my runs to make friends with that voice. I literally say out loud, ‘I see you, I know what you're up to, you're not going to dissuade me.’ You can dispute that voice, you know. You can control the story in your head, and listen to the positive voice inside there, the one saying, “It’s OK, you’ve got this.”
Much has been made about the “second shift” many women face when coming home. But you and your husband seem to have mastered the 50-50 balance for household work and child rearing. Can you please make that your next book?
We just started that way. We established that we'd give each other lots of freedom and divide up what needed to be done. He loves backcountry skiing. We gave each other freedom to do those things. He can take a trip with the guys. If I can offer any piece of relationship advice, it’s advice that was given to me: “Start off as you mean to go on.” Meaning, if you don’t want to make dinner every night for the rest of your life, don’t start making dinner every night in the early days of your relationship. You just have to be flexible.
There's a real story of feminine power in this book. It’s a bit like a time capsule look at how the role of women has evolved in this country.
My mother was raised by a father who was before his time. He told her she could do anything she set her mind to. The power is in that phrasing, “set your mind to.” It echoes making steady effort, showing up, doing the work. I was sent that message throughout my childhood.
I admit that this is a question that might not be asked of a man: Do you feel guilty leaving your family to go for a run, like you’re taking time away from the family?
Well, I never said there wouldn’t be any guilt. And the bad news is, the guilt does not go away. I just push it back every day in my own life.
You use your running to have a relationship with your place, which happens to be the jaw-dropping scenery of Picacho Peak in Santa Fe. What if your place is less about nature and more about urban smog?
It doesn’t matter. Can you go out into it and see the seasons in that cookie-cutter subdivision? Are the leaves changing? The flowers? Do what’s in front of you, and you’ll start to notice it all.
What if you hate running? Or feel your running years are behind you?
It doesn’t have to be super hardcore. When you’re outside and in motion, away from your screens and away from the noise, you’ll find your senses are more alert. Nature is so healing; it’s how we feel connected to the bigger force in our lives.
Would you be insulted if I said this doesn’t feel like a book about running?