“Girl Runner” by Carrie Snyder is one of the highlighted books about running in Canadian fiction that came out in 2014. Written from the perspective of Aganetha Smart, a 104-year old woman in a nursing home, who receives a couple of unexpected visitors. Aganetha may not look like a runner now, but she has an Olympic medal and a nickname Golden Girl in her past.
The novel is punctuated with obituaries, as we witness Aganetha’s loved ones die one after another. It’s a quick read, and it ends with a satisfying twist. Snyder’s timeline is sometimes confusing, but confusing on purpose, demonstrating the mastery of weaving in and out of present, and back into the past.
I have previously written about what to do if your female friends do not support your racing. Snyder explores another aspect of female friendship in her book – if I beat my friend in a race, do I put our friendship in jeopardy?
Yet my favourite aspect of the book are the many references to running, just running.
Running as a way to think, running as a way to work, running as a way to escape, running as a way to exist.
HERE ARE MY TOP 10:
1. You do what you do until you’re done. You are who you are until you’re not.
2. It is too late to change tactics, to go wide around the trouble, to save my best burst of speed for the final stretch. There’s no starting this race over again. And I still run. I run and I run, without rest, as if even now there is time and purpose and I will gain, at last – before my spool of silence unwinds – what I’ve yet to know.
3. I’m so sure of myself, of this track I’m on. I’m sure it will be as easy as muscles on fire and gritted teeth and learning to take the corners, as easy as responding to commands, as easy as running itself, which comes easily for me even when it is rough and painful and grim. I could run another lap right now, I know it. I could run until sundown, just like I said. I know I can’t be spent.
4. I am lost, I am running, lost in the running. My feet in my sneakers are damp with snow and sweat, not cold, though my hands are so chilled and stiff that I have to press them into my armpits, which makes my stride awkward. I pick my way carefully, reminding myself to take caution: roots, stones, invisible patches of ice. Hands thawed, or thawed enough, I swing my arms for balance and pick up pace, finding a rhythm that is familiar, two strides per breath, in and out, tap tap tap like a metronome.
5. The appearance of perfection does not interest me. It is the illumination of near-disaster beside which we all teeter, at all times, that interests me. It is laughing in the face of what might have been, and what is not.
6. I never ran because I was strong, if you see what I’m saying. It wasn’t strength that made me a runner, it was the desire to be strong. I ran for courage.
7. I don’t respond well to winning. I need to run from behind. I need to tell myself a story in which I’m not the best or the favourite, and no one is watching me too closely – no one believes I can win. The other story doesn’t work for me.
8. “I am not fast enough”, I say, and recognize the truth in it. It strikes me that the truth should make me sadder than it does. Instead, I feel unexpectedly freed. No more races. I can do something else instead.
9. When I am running I inhabit and exit my body in the same moment. I bear witness to the harshest of physical sensations, even while I feel myself flying free and away.
And, finally, my favourite:
10. I’ve lost myself inside the familiarity of pain. The discipline of birth is similar to training and racing. Both are explorations of extremity, the sensation of leaving the physical self by means of pain. How can I explain? You give what you have in you to give. You may have more than you know, and you can only know how much, exactly, by slamming head-on against the limits of toleration.
YOUR TURN: Which of the above quotes is YOUR favourite? Do you have a favourite running quote?
Curled up with a book,
Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, a former Olympic athlete who was famous in the 1920s, but now, at age 104, lives in a nursing home, alone and forgotten by history. For Aganetha, a competitive and ambitious woman, her life remains present and unfinished in her mind.
Title: Girl Runner
Author: Carrie Snyder
My Rating: 4 stars