A calm disembodied voice drifted up from behind settling on us like a gossamer blanket.
“Fish… Keris… we missed you yesterday” said the voice.
Matt and I traded glances. We skipped hill repeats with the cross-country team the day before and instead walked home. On our way we fortuitously found a $20 bill and stopped at the local five-and-dime for a bag of chips and some Cokes. We thought we successfully pulled off ditching running up those accursed hills on the golf course.
We thought ourselves too slow and unimportant to be noticed by Coach. We were wrong. We got busted.
“You two are running Foundryville with me” coach Bull said calmly.
We didn’t even answer. We knew we screwed up. We knew we were busted so we ran Foundryville miles with coach Bull and didn’t complain.
Coach Bull looked like a cross between a corn stalk and gazelle. Looking very tall, due to his slender build, he had a wild tuff of blond curly hair on top. He never raised his voice. He never got mad. He was like the Carl Sagan of running.
Matt and I ran Foundryville with Coach Bull and his much faster A-team runners who just did it for the joy of running. In the end, I really didn’t mind. In fact, I even remember setting a pretty good pace.
I was never fast. Hell, I was never even good. But I always enjoyed running.
Throughout my life it has been the single thing that could heal almost anything; physically, mentally, and spiritually.
It has been a valuable part of letting my mind wander. Combining physical hardship with the solitude of the road…or better yet…the country. There are few things more satisfying to me than being out there.
I have not always been faithful to running. Whole years go by until I fall in love again and start looking forward to running as a reward rather than a hardship. In many ways it reflects my approach to life. Jump into it, never give up, and when it gets overwhelming, break it into smaller pieces.
At 48 I am back at it again.
This time in a place and a time I never thought possible in 1987 running at night through the pasta sauce dinner aromas in the crisp fall air of rural Pennsylvania.
This will be my 6th Bentonville Half Marathon.
I have run many marathons and half marathons over the last 20 years. From exotic locations such as Honolulu and Vancouver to more provincial locales such as Toledo, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri. But for whatever reason, the Bville half is my favorite. I can’t really tell you definitely why.
The course is challenging starting off flat and then rewarding you will a nice down downward grade somewhere around mile 9 only to punish you with a steep hill at around mile 12. Punishing as it is, once you are up that hill you are home free. That hill used to bother me. Not anymore. It still tough as hell, but I know it’s there and I know I can make it up it. I never walk it. I wait until I get to the strange stone obelisk up top for my walking reward.
Maybe it is the sense of community. Everyone seems to come out and cheer. When you are running it you usually chit-chat with those around you like it is float down the Buffalo river. It is always a common ground in conversation without regard to any of the day to day bullshit of the real world.
If I am really honest with myself, I think it is about something bigger.
As a psychologist and researcher, I have had the privilege of constantly investigating new facets of humanity. Recently I conducted a project on urban housing. My team and I read many academic and trade publications. We talked to experts; from urban planners, to architects, to professors. But there is one guy from Atlanta whose definition of home stuck with me:
“Home is not a physical place. It’s not a house or a neighborhood. It’s where you get good food and are welcomed. It is where your people are and where you feel a sense of belonging”
I think the reason I love this race is that, I finally think of Bentonville as one of the many places I can call home.
I know today is unique. You can never truly step in the same stream twice. Someday I won’t live here. Someday I will be too old or weak to run. Someday I won’t even be on this earth. But right now, I am here.
So, when I feel like it is too tough. Like I want to give up or walk home with a Coke in my hand. I remind myself; I will not always have the privilege to run. I hear Coach Bull’s voice in my head reminding me of the impermanence of life…and to lift my knees when running up hill.
So, for today I run.
And I do so here,