I ran in a local trail race today. Just a fun little four-miler at a local golf course that backs up to a wild life preserve and has acres of land around it for some wicked trails and some great hills. I haven’t had a good trail run in a while. I missed it. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I ran tonight. Lately, I have been so lucky in talking to some some amazing and inspiring athletes that are accomplishing amazing things in their sport. It’s an amazing world to get to see and I’ve made some amazing new friends in the process.
Driving out to the race, I was excited but calm. Races always give me release and clarity and tonight as I drove I realized that I was more than excited… I missed it. I had not been trailing in a few weeks, mostly confined to the road and the track and the trail is where I really love to run. I needed that run. Several of my friends and running family were there. MELF, kaizenn, Mad Hatter (who threw down a sick time by the way), Novocain, Trips, Run DMC, Ghost Cat, and several other running friends from around town. It was a nice chance to see them and to talk before we ran.
I love race days. They are so significant to me but not because of the fact that it’s a race. I love the energy. I love that so many people collectively gather, race the same path, share an emotional, mental, and physical test of endurance and then celebrate together, regardless of the outcome. For me, the National Anthem is a powerful moment and it always has been. I can feel the goose bumps rise when the first bars of the song begin and by the time it finishes, I am ready to GO. I can’t wait to run. Toeing the line on race day is a privilege. One that I always appreciate and respect.
My plan was to take it easy when I ran, but when the gun went off I took off. I was at the rear of wave one and spent nearly 10 minutes getting around traffic (clock blockers) and when we got to single lane traffic I hadn’t made enough progress to really advance on the leaders. I settled in though, and ran with a woman for most of the trail who had one of the most powerful, efficient strides I had ever seen. She and I kept pace and chatted as we went, sweating, laughing, driving up the hills and coasting down them but really just enjoying the crisp air and the trail. We both liked picking out rabbits and chasing them down. It’s ironic how that unfolds in races, that 30 minutes with her is an experience that would never have happened otherwise and held a great deal of meaning when we were together.
We finished side by side and in a sprint and holding off two guys who were trying in vain to pass us. As we stood off to the side catching our breath, our ribs heaving she managed to say, “Girl, you can trail. Best run I’ve had in a long time.” We smiled. She leaned over and hugged me unexpectedly, and I unexpectedly welled up with tears. It was one of the best runs I had experienced in a while – not for speed or for performance but because of how it progressed, unfolded, how I felt inside of the run and she was there with me for every step. I couldn’t say “Thank you,” out loud in that overwhelming moment, but when she pulled away she saw my eyes wet with tears and just smiled, patted my hand, and said, “I know.” I nodded in response. I saw a friend wave at me and as we parted ways, I looked over my shoulder as she disappeared in the crowd realizing suddenly I didn’t know her name.
We’d accomplished that run together, side by side, pushing each other competitively but with an unspoken understanding that we’d finish together. It was a reminder to me that the reasons to do it are beyond the things that we measure. I remembered myself tonight in the run and that’s why I do it. I lose myself when I don’t.