Today was the day of The Mountain Goat, a ten-mile run here in Syracuse, but I didn't run it. Last year was my first in a long time without signing up. The previous two years I had paid but been unable to run because of scheduling. My friend Ben has run it fourteen years straight. We used to drive together and after finishing he waited for me to come in. He asked if I was running it this year and was only mildly disappointed that I wasn't. I just can't see paying to run in part because the race becomes an obligation and takes some of the fun out of it.
Yesterday, midway through a run, my GPS watch battery crapped out. I knew I was doing just over six miles so it wasn't a big problem, but it got me wondering how useful the watch is to me. I use it to track mileage and my heart rate, but I have a pretty good feel for both. The watch is becoming unnecessary and may be getting in the way of enjoying running. Why am I still using it?
One book I finished this week was Sharon Creech's young-adult novel Heartbeat about a girl who won't join the track team because racing and competition get in the way of the joy she feels in running. There's a great section in which she resists the track coach's badgering. She just wants to run barefoot for fun.
I also finished re-reading Chris McDougall's Born To Run, a book that confirmed my love for barefoot running. The book's real theme is the spirit of running which can have little to do with competition. McDougall tells of people who run well because they are joyous and compassionate. The physical and emotional go together. I kept wondering, Why do I run?
This morning I ran part of The Goat course backwards, jumping in at Thornden Park heading back toward mile seven. The elites were coming through. The beauty of their strength and speed, I just love it, can't get enough. As I ran back through the course, the numbers of runners increased into the hundreds and looked much more like me. On Comstock, I heard my name and saw Ben. I yelled his name and raised my fist. We both smiled.
I continued against the flow, on the other side of the road. A woman coming up Colvin said, "oh, man, you are so going the wrong way." I smiled. "Story of my life," I told her and kept running down to where the drummers were doing "Stayin' Alive" to help runners up the hill. That song makes me smile.
Instead of ten, I ran 5-1/2 miles then drove to the temple to pick up my girls from Sunday school. Waiting in the car, working on this essay, I saw Ben coming up the sidewalk. He ran The Goat, finished downtown, and walked two miles back to the temple. That's a bunch of miles, but Ben runs a lot farther, almost always smiling. I went to see him.
We sat on a bench and talked about running, music, and teaching. The police had taken down all the roadblocks. The streets were open. The race was over. Ben pointed to two women jogging down Madison past the Temple, numbers pinned to their shirts, still working toward the finish though there would be no timer recording when they crossed. "Hard core," Ben said. I nodded and smiled feeling I had just had my questions answered.