I’ll admit to being a sucker for New Mexico landscapes. So when I started turning the pages in Katie Arnold’s memoir “Running Home,” I got treated to big dose of it. And then there was this zinger about running:
“People think long-distance running is about speed, about getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, but really it’s about slowing down. In the quiet of prolonged effort, time stretches, elongates. I look around at the hot blue sky, summer settling down on northern New Mexico, and feel my legs moving automatically and do what comes naturally. I run.”
And that’s all it took. I was hooked.
Much of Arnold’s book is about running, and it skillfully loops her earliest running experience back to a more recent memory, tying together a lifetime of experiences involving family, running, and how people evolve.
Like any good memoir, Arnold allows for vulnerability, admitting doubts and fears. And she’s transparent about her family history, which is at once heartbreaking but also common to the experiences of many in her generation: growing up like most families, then seeing things change, balancing jolting new realities while not totally understanding why things turned out as they did.
In the midst of this is her account of a fascinating but complicated father who, during a battle with cancer, must go through the pains of reconciling his own decisions and how they affected his children.
And woven into this is the mechanism that serves as Arnold’s tool to work out her past – mostly questions about her family – and her present, becoming a writer, a wife, and a mother. For her, it’s running, and she’s accomplished more there than most could in a lifetime.
Arnold has been a podium finisher at several ultramarathon trail races, including the grueling Leadville 100 trail race in Colorado where, in 2018, she was the women’s champion. The outdoors has long been an integral part of her life, but it’s in trail running that she found the medium in which to work out her biggest challenges. In between the description of her non-running life are accounts of casual mountain runs, the labors of training, and all the joy, doubt, pain and elation that comes with races, many of which are set in the mountains in and around her New Mexico home.
Arnold paces the story well, not rushing through anything, but providing the right amount of punch to give you a sense of the magnitude of what she’s describing. It’s a common theme among trail runners – using the sport to stay at even keel. But it’s uncommon to see it told so naturally. Nothing is overstated or melodramatic: Life events are told as they are. Her prose ranges from essay to conversational, and that’s not an easy mix for most writers, but Arnold pulls it off.
There are plenty of running memoirs out there, and they all have their merits. As an athlete, Arnold is a person who has accomplished a great deal. But in reading her story, she feels like one of us.