5:30 Sunday morning found me huddled at the kitchen table beneath the room’s only source of light, sipping tea and reading the Book of Isaiah. The fact that this is the most geriatric sentence on record (at least, on my record) is remedied only by the fact I was up that early to prepare for the Rooster’s Revenge trail race.
Why the Bible, you ask? Well, for the last six months or so, I’ve been reading deeply about Judaism—its history, philosophies, associated scholarship, and mystical interpretations, and suddenly realized that to try and understand all of this without having read the central text upon which all these other texts depend is like trying to build a house before building the foundation.
Thus, have I been making my way through the Old Testament, reading the same way I run—slow but steady, marveling at the strange landscapes into which my journeys seem to always take me. And, that morning, though I’m not all that into bibliomancy, I was delighted to happen upon verse 40:31, “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Though I was hoping not to walk at all, it seemed a promising passage to carry with me into the race.
So Bible read and bags loaded, I headed out to meet my trusty training companions–Chris, Cullen, Terry, and Betsy–for our drive down to Mills River. At the start, following the de rigueur three or four trips to the port-a-lets, I had time to bask in how much I love small local races. Instead of fancy heatlamps at the start, there was a fire and promises of s’mores at the finish. It was also wonderful to see, after only a year of living here, how many faces I recognized.
After much arm rubbing and hopping in place to stay warm, the race began promptly at 9 with a cacophony of rooster calls from the pack–the pack which thinned out quickly due to the steep half-mile climb up a gravel road to get to the first of the single-track. I found myself a little short of breath, probably due to standing around in the cold, but I tried to trust in all the elevation training I’d done and push hard up the hill. It seemed to work, as I settled into a quiet little pocket–the lead pack ahead, the rest of the runners behind–where I remained for pretty much the entire race.
Wake-up calls came early, thanks to the 10 river crossings in the first two miles. Though I tried to glide over the water-smoothed rocks beneath the surface, I had to laugh at how I was less graceful flamingo than rampaging rhino.
Then it was a steady uphill grind through the lovely woods with time to let my mind wander.
While attending a Hebrew Day School for grades 2-6, I was schooled in the Old Testament image of God: patriarchal and mercurial, insecure and controlling. I attended a Conservative synagogue and, despite that I know now that questioning and even arguing with God and faith is the foundation of the Jewish tradition, I was instructed to simply accept and not question what I was taught. So when I left for public school, I left religion to languish in those stifling, private-school halls.
And now that I’ve begun this new set of studies, trying to answer or at least amplify the large questions that have lately been rising up in me, I’ve often felt lost–Why now? Why this? Will all this information ever cohere into anything resembling wisdom?
Before we’d begun the race, Aaron Saft, the Rooster’s mastermind, gave the pre-race instructions. All significant turns would be marked with a bevy of orange ground flags and a large blue arrow pointing the right way, while along the rest of the course, orange flags would be placed as “confidence markers” ever 100 meters are so to ensure you were on the right path.
I imagined what it would like to have such course direction for my interior life, wondered what “confidence markers” might look like to say, Don’t worry; you’re on the right path; just keep going this way. That these teachings make me feel more connected to the world, more like the person I’d like to be, is that enough? Does my next book need to come from this?
And these thoughts brought me nine miles in, to the course’s tipping point. Just as I stepped into a sudden opening among the trees–the path a tight seam of earth through a field of high grasses–there was a break in the clouds. As the grass was still wet with morning dew, the sun set every blade alight and the wind set it all to motion. It was like running through a river of cool fire.
A phrase from one of recent my Hebrew lessons popped into my head: העולם הזה הוא עולם יפה. H’olam ha-zeh who olam ya-feh (try saying it aloud; it feels good on the tongue). This world is a beautiful world.
And that, alternated with, They shall run and not grow weary, became my mantra from the rest of the race. Around mile 11, there was a series of seemingly endless switchbacks climbing up out of the dark woods, followed by a long set of more climbing up several gravel roads. I was thankful for the steepness of Bent Creek, my normal training spot, as I was able to set my legs to the running equivalent of granny gear and just crank my way up those long hills.
With a time of 3:36, I was third in my age group and the eleventh female overall. I was also proud to be with Cullen, who was first in her age group and got to take home a very cute ceramic rooster to commemorate that accomplishment (behind her is Terry, with a surge of energy from post-race pizza).
The volunteers were wonderful, the aide stations fully stocked, and minus the angry ground bee that set my forearm on fire around mile 15, it was a pretty perfect race. Next up is Shut-In in November, an infamous local race that is also a 30K, but climbs more than 5,000 very technical feet over those 18 miles.