It was a fairly steep climb up the desolate highway, I could hear some cows off to my left, all the runners must have stirred them up I thought to myself. But wait, right now there weren’t any other runners near me.
It was 3 am and relay teams were spread out. I had been waiting on the runner whom I would relieve for nearly an hour, watching other teams coming in to this art commune that had opened their grounds to us, feeding us, allowing us to pitch tents, stretch out hammocks or, like I did, just roll out a sleeping bag and doze under the stars for an hour or two. I knew that I was probably 5-10 minutes behind the next runner.
I was runner 7 of 12 on our team in a relay called Outback in the Ozarks. We had been at this for nearly 20 hours, fatigue and a diet mostly of coffee and junk food were beginning to take a toll on me. I was in no condition to judge why these cows were so upset. I needed to just focus on this stretch of road, this 4 mile uphill run.
Suddenly, I heard an odd huff next to me. I turned to look, but all that my headlamp revealed were the trees in their early fall stages. I heard heavy foot steps in the leaves, just out of range of my light. A deer maybe? Hunting season had begun, so it was possible. No matter, I still had this hill to climb, a hill that was quickly becoming a mountain.
Then I heard it. If you’ve never listened to an animal becoming prey, it can be shocking. I instantly knew what it was, a cow that had been caught by something, most likely by a coyote. That must have been what I heard, the rustling of the leaves had gone straight towards where I now could hear the cow crying out. I had only been a few feet away, but never knew of the potential danger.
My first thought was not of how close a call it was, but of how running had brought me to that point, that moment. A point where I could come so close to nature. Without running I would have never been out there at that time. I would have never been on that highway. Then my thoughts began to drift, I thought of just where running has taken me.
I’m not talking about just the places I have ran, but the situations that have come about due to running. Ones that I would have never know if it were not for running. How my comfort zone has expanded since I first laced up those worn-out off brand shoes. Back when I would not call myself a runner because I could not do one mile without walking.
Not that I was an introvert back then, but I just lacked the confidence to try new things. There is something about setting a goal, be it a 5k or half marathon, then achieving it that will change a person, even if its just a little. If one continues to set goals and achieve them, a new person will eventually emerge. Failing seems to add character to this new person, to drive them. Once big goals are accomplished, a new sense of accomplishment emerges, all because they ran.
Since I first put on those WalMart shoes, I have found an ability and confidence to speak publicly. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a great orator, but I’ve found my passions. This new found confidence has taken me to the Arkansas Governor’s office, to the State House of Representatives, to radio and television interviews. And yes, to animal encounters that I would never have experienced otherwise, all because I ran.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve found a passion and joy for teaching others about running. Several years ago, I would not have dreamed of teaching of any sort, but through the friends I’ve made in the running community and their encouragement, I’ve even started coaching and teaching running to others.
I’ve managed to make friends worldwide, through several organizations I work for. Without running, I never would have associated with these organizations. My social circle has shifted in ways I never imagined that it could, all because I ran.
The biggest change, however, seems to be the sense of adventure. I am now willing to go further out on a limb than I ever though possible. Most people run to get away from their reality at some level, just to get a break from life. For me running has become my ticket to another life, to an adventure, a way of writing a more interesting life story. Spooking a coyote is just another wonderful adventure brought, all because I ran.
I realize that these musings have pushed me on for another mile. I look to the starlit sky and see a shooting star, then another. It’s at this moment that I remember reading about a meteor shower that we were to have that night. It became yet another beautiful moment brought to me by the world of running and, in the words of Louis Armstrong, “what a wonderful world”.