The finish line for Katie Arnold’s first-place victory in Saturday’s Fodderstack Classic 10K — a giant blown-up arch with computerized timing — is a far cry from the uneven chalk line she crossed as a young girl in 1981, her National Geographic photographer dad David Arnold of Huntly awaiting her arrival on Gay Street to capture the moment.
“Dad wore his camera everywhere he went, like an extra appendage, as familiar to me as his thick horned-rimmed glasses and his wavy black hair,” Kate writes in her moving new book, Running Home: A Memoir. “Slung around his neck, the Nikon was part of his dress code, just like the thick gray ragg wool socks we teased him mercilessly for wearing, day in and day out, winter and summer.”
Her father is no longer alive to cheer Katie on to the Fodderstack finish line, passing away of cancer eight years ago. It was her resulting “crippling grief and anxiety” — and suddenly being forced to confront her own mortality never contemplated before as an adventurous editor of Outside magazine — that drove Katie to write Running Home.
The pair were “kindred spirits,” the book’s publisher describes Katie and her dad. “He introduced her to the outdoors and took her camping and on bicycle trips and down rivers, and taught her to find solace and courage in the natural world. And it was he who encouraged her to run her first [Fodderstack] race when she was seven years old.
“Now nearly paralyzed by fear and terrified she was dying, too, she turned to the thing that had always made her feel most alive: running. Over the course of three tumultuous years, she ran alone through the wilderness, logging longer and longer distances, first a 50-kilometer ultramarathon, then 50 miles, then 100 kilometers. She ran to heal her grief, to outpace her worry that she wouldn’t live to raise her own daughters. She ran to find strength in her weakness. She ran to remember and to forget. She ran to live.”
But there’s more to this father-daughter story. At the time of her first Fodderstack race, on the heels of her parents’ divorce, Katie was “desperate” for her dad’s attention. It wasn’t until after his death in 2010 that she discovered his diary pages divulging mixed feelings about fatherhood, and in his own weaker moments “deep resentment” for his daughter.
And so Katie runs.
“There is so much about the Fodderstack in the book,” she tells the Rappahannock News shortly after sprinting to Saturday’s finish line, “and how I really became a runner here, on this course, by accident at seven when my dad just suggested it on a whim. So it’s really special to be back, especially to be launching my book here.
“It’s a memoir,” Katie, 47, points out, “but I think that it’s about living your most empowered life and pushing beyond your own limits and the limits that people put on you. I think that it’s inspiring to many people, and I’ve heard that from readers. So while I wrote a memoir I think that you can certainly apply it to your own life. It doesn’t have to be about running. I believe you can just substitute whatever your thing is for running, and the message is the same, which is do what you love.”
All of which resonated with the audience that packed into the Rappahannock County Library on Friday night, coming out in the pouring rain for Katie’s book reading.
“I think they got the biggest kick out of when I read the section about my first Fodderstack,” she says, “because they understand and they know the course, and many people in the room were running [Saturday morning]. So it was real special.”
This year for the first time both of Katie’s daughters ran with their mother in the race, the second Fodderstack Classic for 10-year-old Pippa, who finished second in the under-14 age group.
“She ran it four years ago, and that’s actually the end of the book, the last chapter is about this race that I did with her. And then Maisy is 8, this is her first time.”
She now hopes her daughters will carry with them the many positive lessons found in Running Home.
“I just hope they find what they love to do, and aren’t pushed to do it, but find it from within, and that’s really the gift that my father gave me. He suggested this race, but he didn’t have any ambitions for me,” Katie says. “You know, today’s parents push their kids. First running the Fodderstack was a goofy idea and then my dad didn’t make me run it every year — I did it because I wanted to. And I think that’s the key to having a lifelong relationship with something, is that it comes from within.”
Katie, who lives with her family in Santa Fe, New Mexico, describes it as “very special” to come home to Rappahannock, especially to compete in the Fodderstack Classic.
“This is my ninth victory,” she notes. “I had never counted it, but my stepmother went down to the library and dug up the old records and found that I’d won it eight times. So today is nine!”
Katie’s specialty is ultradistances. “I just won the biggest race in the country in August, the Leadville Trail 100,” she reveals, an ultramarathon held annually on trails and dirt roads through the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Because of its altitude and steepness it is ranked as one of the most difficult 100-mile races in the world.
Not that the Fodderstack is a piece of cake.
“I don’t often run on the road,” says Katie, sweat dripping from her body. “I’m a trail runner, so coming here on the road you have to run fast!”