Remembering 9/11 Through a Run

Training log entry for run on Sept. 11, 20012001 was a good running year for me. I was still training with my first — and most beloved — coach Andres Soeffker with the best group of running buddies I’ve ever had (sorry, Pikes Peak group).

That year, I had more race PRs in one calendar year than I’d ever have again, in the 5K, 10K, 30K, and marathon distances. In weekly speed work, I ran my fastest 1600, 800, and 600 meters. I even came in 3rd Woman Overall in a 5K.

But it was a sad year, too. In April, Andreas moved back to Europe and the RunTex Distance PR group I so loved disbanded.

And there was 9/11.

The entry in my training log, shaded in black pencil, is sparse: “Was running today over in Shoal Creek area when I learned the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been bombed. A horrible, horrible day for the United States.”

There are some stats — I ran Mile 1 in 9:02, Mile 2 in 9:49, Mile 3 in 9:34 — and Mile 4 was where I heard the news.

It’s funny how there are so many things, important moments, that escape my memory. But much of that run is seared in my brain, frozen, like snapshots, as clear in my recall as though it were just yesterday.

Reliving That 9/11 Run

That Shoal Creek loop was a flat 6-mile loop I ran regularly. One tiny personal connection I loved about this route was that Mile 3 took me past the house my parents lived in when I was a baby. I’d just turned down that street, thankful to be halfway done and enjoying the slightly overcast day, when I noticed a man standing beside his car, looking strangely at me. It was odd; he was staring in a very intent manner, clearly paused on his way because of me.

My hackles raised, I swung wide to the other side of the street, wary of a stranger’s focus, anxious to place more than arm’s reach between us. As I passed by, he called out, “What are you doing? Don’t know you know the White House has been bombed?”

Startled, I picked up my pace and kept moving. What a strange man, what a bizarre comment. Was it true? I ran even faster, anxious to figure out what was happening.

I rounded the corner to find an AT&T truck parked by the side of the road. The driver’s side window was down and I could hear the man sitting inside was listening to the news. Breathlessly, I approached the window and asked, “Do you mind if I listen? Do you know what is going on?” Wordlessly, he gestured toward the radio, his very speechlessness frightening.

Later, I understood that a plane had been flown into the World Trade Center mere moments before, 7:46 a.m. Austin time. What’s hard to understand 14 years later is just how much confusion there was initially. In those days prior to the instant feed of Twitter and Facebook accounts, newscasters struggled to share of-the-moment news without making and spreading incorrect assumptions.

There at the truck, I suddenly snapped into the present, realizing I needed to get home, needed to get in front of a TV, needed to think about my family, the kids in school, my early-riser husband already at work. I thanked the man and sprinted as fast as I could to my car at the nearby park. On the way, I yelled out to people I passed, who, like me only moments before, were completely unaware of the horror: “We’ve been attacked!”

Once home, I immediately turned the TV to ABC News, trusting it to provide the latest, most reliable accounting. I was there to see the second plane hit, completely disbelieving my eyes, finally understanding that these events were truly intentional.

I remember my husband and I, sitting in the living room, weeping.

We left the kids in school, fearing that disrupting that normalcy would create more problems, opting to pick them up as usual. The kids home, our family talked over the tragedy. The TV remained on, ABC anchorman Peter Jennings staying with us throughout the long day and night.

New York City, One Month Later

In Oct. 2001, I flew into New York City on my way to run the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, PA. On the plane, I cried as the flight attendant pushed the beverage cart, looking at the narrowness of the aisle, realizing in a tangible way the bravery exhibited by those passengers aboard United Flight 93.

Driving into the city, police checkpoints stopped all cars entering the tunnels, but we didn’t mind the delay. Fear was real; fear that we were still in danger, that other attacks were imminent. As we made our way to the hotel, fire stations stood out, festooned with memorials. Barricades placed before buildings to create protection zones caused our taxi driver to reroute several times.

Neither my husband nor I could bring ourselves to go to the World Trade Center site. It felt too ghoulish, as though our gawking would dishonor those who’d died or trivialize the pain their loved ones were feeling. Years later, we would pay our respects, but not then — it was too raw, too soon.

In the dark at the race start, students handed out safety pins they’d decorated with red, white, and blue beads to all the runners. We wore them to honor the innocent bystanders, passengers, firefighters, and rescue personnel who’d lost their lives in the combined attacks.

I still have that pin.

I will never forget.

Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

0 thoughts on “Remembering 9/11 Through a Run

  1. Thank you very much for that remeberance Leah. It reminded me of how the normal day to day routine can be comforting and then can also completely meaningless in the midst of such tragedy. Your story took me right back to that day.

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