Every year in January I look forward to the full moon and running the small city race in a place many have never heard of, Omer MI. Last year I went there in great shape, having recruited many friends, hoping to run out of my mind, avoid getting captured by the wolf, and ……. I followed the lead fast boys who missed the first turn and spent the next three hours lost in the woods by the light of the full moon. I didn’t get captured by the wolf, and I had one heck of a story, as well as emerged healthy enough to tell it.
This year, the race seemed to go un-noticed and up until I crossed the finish line spent, having given it my all, was I even sure I was in shape enough to finish the 15 mile night trek through woods and cold back roads.
This isn’t a glamorous race and there are no medals to be won. It’s a shotgun start, on the corner of a dark road, in a town no one knows, with runners whose faces are hidden behind masks, and whose names this year I didn’t know.
It was a race I was doing for me because I love a long dark road, I don’t even mind getting lost, because eventually if you keep going you get found, usually while finding yourself.
I’ve run from this dark corner enough to know the legend and I never tire of hearing some of the crowd really asking if there are “wolves” there in them woods…..I like the guys who howl out, and the kid who runs in nothing but his compression shorts always makes me shake my head. It’s dark when we gather and its a run with no crowd support so you’ve got to be good in your own head. I think it’s a race created just for me. I get to be amongst other strong athletes, compete, and yet be immensely private, as I star gaze, watch the moon play tricks on the snow-covered evergreens, and follow my own path while following the path.
When I run for all the right reasons I have my best runs and by the light of the full moon I saw life clearly.
I knew from the gun that the lead group was going to beyond me this year, but there was a second group that I wanted to stay close with. I fell a few strides off from them in the first miles as I was burning up and questioning my clothing, lighting, fueling, and sanity. What was I thinking I wasn’t strong enough to keep this pace in these conditions. Then, I did what I do and started to settle in about 4 miles in. I went around the girls, and three high school boys, they came back up on me, I stayed calm, and in less than a half mile I strongly went around them and didn’t see them again.
I then ran on by myself, finding my strength, finding my peace.
With the flashing lights of the fire truck signaling the last turn before coming upon the half way point I was having fun. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me, but I knew I was running strong and because I knew the course I believed I could hang in there. I came up to the half-way and heard my name being called out. Marcus had made his way to the exchange to hand me a swig of not frozen water and to let me know I wasn’t that far off the lead group.
I hadn’t really come to “compete” but there is a part of me that always hears my dad in my head, “better to sweat stink and win than to sweat stink and lose.” And so I took off.
At no point did I really think I could catch that front group, but his words, his tone, and his belief in me gave me what no Gu could and I picked up the pace to be the person and the runner he believes me to be.
The second half of this course is a beautiful and open road of moon-lit shimmering snow that I can never get enough of taking in. There are stretches where the moon is my headlamp and the stars represent the prayers and intentions I lift up. I run because I can. I run because I know I’m strong and that by running I some how make sense of me. I work out problems and I pray for those in my life that I can help in no other way………I only hope that they feel a blanket of comfort being wrapped around them as I run, and run, and run, and that warmth nourishes them and they are strengthened………
I ran fast, I ran strong, I ran prayerful, I ran hopeful, I ran Groovy.
I crossed the finish line with nothing left to give and told Marcus, “I tried, I never slowed down, i tried, I couldn’t catch them, but I tried.”
Running is a metaphor for life and sometimes we put it all out there and we fall short. Sometimes though, where we fall is really where we are meant to land.