Arnold became an ultrarunner, meaning she challenges herself with distances sometimes twice the 26.2 miles of a marathon.
She had been running – and still runs – shorter distances.
Hours before a recent phone interview, Arnold, a Santa Fe resident, just returned from a 12-mile run that she called “a celebration.” It was her way to celebrate the publication of her perceptive, dynamic memoir “Running Home.”
“Running is a form of expression. I feel strong. I feel connected to the world, connected to myself. Running has always been a personal experience for me on so many levels,” Arnold said.
Her ultrarunning grew out of death and birth. She explains the path that led her through the mourning and grief after the death of her father, former National Geographic photographer David Arnold, from late-stage kidney cancer. Her writing draws out the reader’s sympathy and, at other moments, tears.
In one passage, she writes with hopefulness about the Thanksgiving less than a month before her father passed: “… we hold out a tatter of optimism that he will miraculously rouse himself and eat with us. But he stays in bed, listening to Brahms’ Requiem on the CD player and slipping in and out of sleep, while we clatter around the dining room, hoping our forced cheer will drift up through the ceiling …”
Two paragraphs later, she effortlessly shifts gears, from the grayness of impending death to the brightness of a new-born daughter: “The moment Pippa was born, I knew I’d given birth to a wild animal. … She was a ball of kinetic power, barely contained in a 7-pound body. She had the face of an organ-grinder monkey, the oblong belly of a tree frog, and the limbs of a baby wolverine, taut and wiry, ready to spring.”
Then there is the power that propelled her to write about mourning and grief.
“Writing the book had an energy all its own. Early on, it felt it was coming out of me. My job was to get it down, and get it out into the world,” she said. “Ideas would come to me when I ran and I would write them in my notebook.”
Arnold remembers being in survival mode in the first year after her father’s death. The next year she returned to running. She said she was “running her way through the grief.” In the following year emerged a pattern of self-discovery and a discovery of the man her father was.
“My hope with the book is to reach or touch people who are not runners but who maybe lost someone or lost some of themselves,” Arnold explained.
She isn’t urging everyone to use running to get through grief. Rather, Arnold said, “follow the voice inside you to guide you and you will come out stronger on the other side … For me the process of training and running was not the end result. It’s a progression … not the destination.”
She encourages people to trust their inner energy to go places they hadn’t imagined, especially if they’re in a dark place. “And don’t think in terms of heroic, epic distances but instead keep doing the thing that moves you,” she said.
Arnold is a contributing editor and the former managing editor at Outside magazine, where she has worked for 24 years, starting as an intern. She has also written for the New York Times, Sunset, Runner’s World, Elle and many other publications.