Beauty before me when I run. Beauty behind me when I run. Beauty below me when I run. Beauty above me when I run. Beauty beside me when I run. Beauty within me when I run. I see Beauty all around. In beauty may I walk. In beauty may I see. In beauty may we all be.
This is the blessing given every year, for the past 29 years, at the Leatherman’s Loop 10k trail race. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been blessed prior to the start of a race before, but the Leatherman’s Loop felt different as soon as I pulled into the parking lot grass field and saw a tee pee and more tie dye than one generally expects at an athletic event. The music festival, downright hippyish, atmosphere is no accident. It’s part of the charm. The race director asked us if there was anyone he hadn’t hugged yet.
Runners have a way of making anywhere they run “beautiful” and that, I believe, is the point of the opening blessing. Normally, I train in Jersey City, where there are no mountains or meandering streams. I don’t even pass many other runners along my route, which is determined in part by the distance I want to go but mostly by the direction the street lights point me. Still, my runs can be serene, like viewing something from a distance. You can hear conversations, but don’t know what they’re about; be part of a moment and that fades away as soon as you fly by. Everything is scenery, from the people to the odd details you might not notice if you were driving by or walking with a particular destination in mind. There is beauty in these runs, as long as you’re not too focused on the run itself.
At the Leatherman’s Loop, held among the trees, hills, swamps and streams of the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Crossrivers, NY, you can (and I did) literally trip over the amazing natural beauty. It’s impossible to miss. This type of trail race, where you have to run through mud and waste-deep water, as well as hop over fallen trees and avoid other random impediments is quickly becoming my favorite to run. I’ll never get a personal record at these races and they don’t have the cache of Spartan or Tough Mudder, but they’re just damn fun. The Leatherman’s Loop, and other hybrid trail race/mud runs, take me out of my everyday experiences and provide an incredible physical challenge. And they are just DAMN FUN!
Even running in this splendor, however, it is easy to caught up in other bullshit. For much of the Loop, the path is very tight and crowded. I lined up at the start too far back and got caught up in the thick of it. I passed a few people by sprinting, but there was just another jumble ahead of them and I wasn’t sure how much sprinting I’d be able to do over the span of six miles. I tried to pass right, but should have stayed left, getting stuck in a bigger group. My shoe lace came undone. My legs hurt. The race wasn’t going how I’d envisioned.
But then I thought of that simple blessing at the beginning of the race, looked around and breathed. I helped another runner out of a stream. I appreciated everything around me. In my Jersey City runs, I studiously avoid anything brown and/or liquidy. It’s just better that way. At the Leatherman’s Loop, the mud is cleansing (sort of) and the multiple streams even more so. I kept up a decent (kind of slowish) pace, not really forcing anything. Finally, around mile-four, the course opened up a little and I kicked it up a notch. Then tripped over root.
It didn’t matter. Not at this race. Not on this day.
I was running the Leatherman’s Loop – and all of my races this year – for Team Smarty Pants Vitamins and I wanted to run it well for them, to #RunSmarty. I’m not great at going Zen. I like to keep score, and that means running fast. But, relatively early on, I was forced to let go of the idea that this was a “race” for me, more like a festival I was both a part of and in a rush to get to. There was music aplenty: a bagpipe player, mariachi band, and an a cappella group, not to mention the rhythm of footsteps, slosh of mud and water, and the hopefulness, exhaustion and occasional frustration of my own breathing, as I still really wanted to pass some people. But mostly I just enjoyed the beauty that surrounded me and that I was a part of.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Smarty Pants Vitamins. All opinions are my own.