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.