Monday, June 25, 2007

A Wing, a Prayer, and Some Guy Named Mike

Of all the shoes in my closet, these are the one pair I cannot do without.

No, really. I'm not joking. These are my favorite shoes. Because while a great peep toe pump or sassy wedge will always make me feel like a million bucks, only my Brooks trail runners will make me feel like an athlete.

A difficult thing to do.

I was downright dismal at sport in school, boasting a shocking discordance between hand and eye, a stubborn inability to keep my mind on the game or my focus on the team. A junior high school coach had high hopes for my height and put me on the basketball team. Another thought I could be a gymnast. Another a dancer. My step father taught me to ski, a friend to swim. My efforts at all of these endeavors were tepid at best.

But there was one thing I could do and it was this: put one foot in front of the other and run. Not very quickly mind you, but I could do it for a long, long time.

These days I mostly run trails, which I find much more interesting and more challenging than road running. I also run trails because, and forgive me for using a well-worn analogy, it teaches me valuable lessons I can carry into the rest of life. And believe me, I need all the help I can get. Like:

1. You can forge new trails when the well worn path has been lost. If you don't mind a few goat heads clinging to your ankles.

2. While it's important to be on the alert for danger (is that thing slithering through the grass a rattler or a bull snake? just how fresh is that cougar print?) you shouldn't be so wobbly-willed that you miss the thrill of it, too.

3. It's best to maneuver around obstacles rather than try to go through them.

4. If you disconnect your body from your mind and your spirit, you're going to trip over your laces and it's going to hurt.

5. In running, there is no such thing as fat or thin, hippy or busty, short or tall, beautiful or homely. There is only running or standing still.

In addition to running mostly trails, I also run mostly alone and undocumented. In fact, it wasn't until just last year that I entered my first race ever, the nine mile trudge up the Sandia Mountains that Trail Runner Magazine calls one of the "12 Most Grueling Trail Races in North America".

I entered it again this year. Friends and family think I'm crazy, and maybe I am, just a little bit. It's easy to get addicted to this particular kind of extreme motion, lose touch with your rational faculties, and push ever harder at the edge of your personal perseverance envelope. But you know what, you also learn some nifty things about your fellow human beings.

Like the Boy Scout troop who spent all the previous day clearing the trail for last year's run. They also camped on-site overnight so that next day they'd be at the ready to pass out cups of water, slap our hands, cheer us on. What a feeling that was, to run by all those eager-faced Scouts – their enthusiasm so genuine and pure, I felt a renewed obligation to run the best race I could run.

And then later, during the infamous last half mile of the race – a stretch of 18 percent grade that has broken running spirits far tougher than mine – when I was close to tears because I was certain I wouldn't finish anything except my own life, there came out of nowhere a Voice. Not the voice of God, but someone who may as well have been. It was Mike, a member of the Albuquerque Road Runners running club, sponsors of La Luz, who of course finish the race waaaaaay before the rest of us mortals and then stick around along the last section of trail to encourage flaggers like me.

Mike got right in my face, grinned a big-toothed grin, and said, "Hey, snap out of it. Imagine there's a rope tied from around my waist to yours and I'll pull you up the rest of the way." And Mike started to run. I started to follow. Because of Mike, I made it up that last half mile in a decent enough time to finish nine minutes under my goal of three hours.

You've heard it said that there is no crying in baseball. Apparently, there isn't in running, either. Thanks, Mike, for that lesson. I sure hope you're going to be there again this year.


Wicked Thistle said...

That sounded suspiciously like a Sunday inspirational! Very lovely piece. I, too, wasn't a natural athlete, although I believe the term that would apply to my abilities would be "crapass" rather than "tepid."

I do think you're utterly nuts to run the La Luz, but only because I am too wimpy to do it myself and can barely crawl up the dang thing, much less jog it, and so I have no way of kizmeting with the thrill of the accomplishment. What I really think is that it's ultra coolio that you do it and it is a *remarkable* achievement. If they could somehow figure out how to make a mobile elliptical machine, I might just give it a go. Not really.

Really lovely piece, Moi--I do so enjoy that big brain of yours when you put fingers to keyboard! #4 is my new life philosopy, and "wobbly-willed" is my word of the week. :-)

Doris Rose said...

Thanks for sharing a very inspirational adventure and another page from your personal story. I respect and admire your courage, strength and fortitude as I sit lamely at my computer contemplating a relatively brief sojourn through the windy desert landscape with my faithful canine companions...who DO pull me to finish.Carpe Diem, amiga.

Orangeblossoms said...

You are a strong woman, Moi.... I cannot fathom running trails without stumbling, whacking my head on a low hanging branch or tossing my cookies at the 10 mile mark.

You go girl!

Orangeblossoms, who has been practicing low impact power yoga for years now to avoid just such perilous situations.

Moi said...

I am SO impressed with people who do yoga, I can't even tell you. I'm a'feared I'm just too much of a dork to grok to all the positions. One time, at an "active yoga" class (which was basically sun salutation done over and over again at the pace of a speed metal song), the instructor spent half the class adjusting my body into the correct positions. And ladies, I'm no prude but I so do not heart my body being touched in those places unless dinner and drinks are involved.

GeekGirl said...

I just found your blog off Dread Pirate's blog. I don't think you're nuts to do it. I'm tempted myself. Perhaps I'll toss my name in for next year! I loved your comments about your favorite shoes making you feel like an Athlete. Admittedly, that's much harder an aspiration than what the other shoes do, isn't it?

Dizzy said...

"It's best to maneuver around obstacles rather than try to go through them." AMEN SISTA!

After so many bruises and bonks I'm finally getting that!