Member Stories–Marah Retherford “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” -Maya Angelou
I hated running, yet I spent the majority of my childhood and a good portion of adulthood running. I can hardly remember a time when running was not part of my life growing up in Beirut, Lebanon. Running to shelters. Sprinting to avoid sniper’s bullets. Darting out of a car to avoid getting killed during an airstrike. In Lebanon, people avoid talking about the 30 years of civil war and the subsequent mini-wars. Yet, I think those years shaped who I am today.
I was five when the civil war erupted in Lebanon. Suddenly, my whole world of innocent childhood shattered in front of my eyes. I could not go to my ballet school because the roads were not safe. I could no longer play at my friend’s house because she lived in a dangerous part of the city. I was often woken up in the middle of the night to run to the shelter because the cease-fire had expired, and the fighting resumed. I would go to school in the morning, not knowing if I could be back at home in the afternoon. War traumatizes and destroys people and lives. Living in a war-torn country made it hard to have hobbies. My only “sport” for 12 years was ballet and jazz ballet. The one time I was forced to participate in a running event, I hated it. My PE teacher chose me as a member of a group to compete in the Catholic schools sports tournament. Being chosen and volunteering to run in that event is certainly not one of my favorite memories.
As I grew older, my running experience was still unpleasant. I ran after the news as an international reporter, in multiple war zones: Persian Gulf War in 1991, Israeli /Hezbollah multiple mini wars and airstrikes in southern Lebanon, Christian militants conflicts in Beirut, the Syrian/ Lebanese conflicts. The list goes on. In short, the running I did was totally abnormal by usual American standards. Basically, I ran to stay alive and to provide good material for my newspaper. In 2003, dramatic changes occurred in my life –I got married and moved to Texas. Yeeha! It took some effort to live in the beautiful city of Katy, which looked like the countryside to me. No longer traveling the world, I had to find something to do. My neighbor, an avid runner, coaxed me into joining some of her runs, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Then to “enrich” my running experience, she convinced me that participating in a race would make me appreciate the sport. So, we registered for the “Running with the Bulls” 5K. On race day, it’s rainy and cold. I was cursing the whole time. After crossing the finish line, I told myself never again. I don’t even know what happened to that medal! A few years later in 2009, to give running another chance, I registered and trained for the Houston Half Marathon even though running had not grown on me yet. The Friday before the race, I was bedridden by the flu and did not make it to the starting line. Yet another sign that running just ain’t for me. Fast forward to 2016, running as a sport reappeared in life by chance. I met a pleasant blonde Brazilian lady training for the Houston Half at the same gym, and somehow I signed up for the race and resumed running again! A few months later, I joined KARC and met a wonderful and supportive group of friends. Eight marathons (3 virtual), a few half marathons, many 10ks, and 5ks, two 50ks, and one 50 miles later, I admit that running has not only grown on me but also become an essential part of my life.
I am grateful for the journey of running even though I’m constantly lost on the streets of Katy, and I limp to the finish with some kind of injury. Looking back at the journeys of my life, running has always been an integral part of it. From running for cover and safety to chasing after news headlines for a living, to running for the pure joy of the sport and friendships, I’m grateful for those seasons and experiences that enriched and shaped me. Now, I cherish each opportunity to race with my friends.