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The Book of Matches

Recently I attended a triathlon clinic where one of the speakers shared a favorite anecdote about how training is the Book of Matches – you add the matches to light the fire during your training, and during the event you light each match.  This resonated fully as a concept for life – the components of your life are the matches, as well.

unnamed-6I have been coaching my first season of Girls on the Run.  My daughter is in the program, and it seemed like a necessary role for me as an avid runner.  To support the running community, help girls find confidence and build inner strength, nurture future runners.  Pre-season, the head coach and my fellow co-coach trained for the role, and probably every coach cried when we watched the videos of girls working together, breaking through negative societal pressures and finding love in themselves.

This role as coach came at a time in my life where I am juggling a full time job, wife and mother of two children, a home to keep, friends and family to love, as well as athletic training.  This life which I have cultivated is my dream.  I am here, now, it’s real, and I am so lucky each day to have this gift.  However, at the end of a recent Girls on the Run lesson, when parents were picking up their girls, one father was telling dry jokes about volunteering for the upcoming GOTR 5K, to which another mother, the head coach and I all laughed.  But I was so tired.  I wasn’t present there, I was done.  The dad’s jokes were holding me hostage from leaving with my daughter to my refuge of home.  The other mother and I would turn to each other on cue and make open-mouthed laughing expressions that could have been easily replaced with audio of bawling, from my perspective.  I kept thinking, “Does she actually find this funny?  Is she laughing out of obligation as well?  Why is this happening?” So I grabbed my daughter and made a quick escape.    

With my full time job as an architectural draftsman, I really am happy with my work.  At my last job, I was very unhappy, it was a dead end position for me.  Over time my roles were being taken away, I was belittled by management for being a woman/mother, my coworker/friend who sat in the cubicle across from me had committed suicide, and everyone around me seemed unhappy.  I am thrilled to now work in a job where I feel valued for my efforts, the content is interesting and varied, the employees are treated as family and employee’s families are cared for with respect.  I want to report for duty to my standing workstation and contribute, even as the work is demanding and I leave the office each day knowing that there is still so much I have left undone.


My husband and I went to church together from grade school.  He and I started dating at the end of high school, when we were opposites on the outside.  I was a rebellious teen and he was the high school salutatorian.  His solid, yet caring nature has always thrilled me and I’ve been glued to him ever since.  When we were in college, he wrote an essay about the sensory experience of us sitting together with such presence and tenderness.  This is him and me, a partnership, and I pray every day for his health and contentment.  We have grown up together, which is often rare, as so many couples grow in different directions in adulthood.  

unnamed-2We have two children, currently a nine year old daughter who loves to read, do math, play outside, and is very social, as well as a five year old spitfire son.  They greet me with hugs and need play, positive guidance and consistent discipline.  What a gift it is to be their mother.  

I have been a trail ultramarathon runner for a couple years.  The weekend of my coworker’s suicide, I headed north for my first trail marathon.  The wonder of the time in the woods, working through the physical and mental pain and living in it for hours is a beautiful thing.  It’s health, social network and vacation.  It demands training to prevent injury and prepare your mind for the event.  

This is the remainder of my 2016 race calendar:

May 21, Girls on the Run 5K (Calder Plaza)
May 29, Hopcat Full Circle 5K
June 4, Yankee Springs Double Marathon (52.4 miles)
June 11, M22 Challenge Adventure Race
June 25, MSU Gran Fondo, 80 mile bike race
July 16, Dirty Burg, 50K
August 6, Millennium Park Triathlon, Olympic Distance
August 20, North Country Trail Run, 50 miles
September 17, North Face Endurance Challenge, 50 miles
October 1, Franciscan Rhythms 5k Trail Run
October 29, Bad Apple Ultra 12 hour timed race


This is the life I have cultivated.  I have additional roles as board member of Switchback Endurance, which puts on the Yankee Springs Winter Challenge, Yankee Springs Trail Run Weekend and the Dirty Burg, and as board member of the Franciscan Rhythms Trail 5K Run.  This supports my running community.  I am a team member of the Priority Health Champions and Team Apex, both of which support my athletic roles and activities.  I volunteer for any races which I can schedule in and bring my kids if they are willing, to cheer on friends and support these events.  I also bring my family to volunteer with Feeding America once per month, to distribute groceries to families in need.  This is a necessary thing, to have my children work together and foster kindness and love in our community.


With all this, there is the book of matches.  Each part is my life.  There is no “Ten Top…” list which puts it in order.  Many days I have zero “me” time – even if I wake up at 5 am, each moment is spent doing the essential stuff that has to be achieved to keep the machine in working order.  The matches, which represent my loving heart and energy stores, have been placed in the book and are being lit and replaced each day.  I’m learning how to keep the box filled, which is by taking care of the central computer.  Drinking too much, spending excess time on social media, staying up late, taking on extra activities, these things are emptying the box of matches.  Now I know that coaching Girls on the Run is not an option for this season of my life.  It requires leaving work early and making up that missed 1-1/2 hours in an already full life.  It’s all learning and relearning, staying in the life you cultivate and loving along the journey.    

13217356_10154856352453047_6255401338557476068_oErika Kuhnle is a trail ultra marathoner and triathlete.  When she’s not training, she’s a wife and mother, volunteer in the running community, and full time architectural draftsman, seeking ways to use her MA in Nonfiction Writing.  Wild music, delicious food and hearty, dark beer with friends and family make her sparkle and shimmer. 

  • Kathleen Bechtel
    Posted at 13:52h, 16 May Reply

    Fabulous story of your life Erika. I enjoyed reading about how you juggle all the demands in your life. Life is such a delicate balance sometimes, with children. You are an inspiration in your goal setting and goal achieving!

  • Connie kuhnle
    Posted at 22:59h, 16 May Reply

    Thank you Erika. I’ve known you a long time but today, reading this, I got to know more of your heart. And it makes me want to get to know you more. My son married a pretty amazing mutifaceted woman.

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