Think of the Talking Heads. See David Byrne in an over-sized suit, finding himself behind the wheel of a large automobile. How DID he get that beautiful house? How DID he get that beautiful wife?
That’s me on Sunday, running along a stretch of new trail up on Boston’s North Shore, in a sprawl of woods behind a polo ground. How did I get here? Who’s woods are these? How is this my life?
I signed up in the traditional and then in the official way. The traditional way entails a friend texting me a link for a race and the statement, “We should do this.” Then I say, “Sure, I’m down.” And then I forget about it. Nothing concrete has transpired, but I’m signed up.
Weeks pass. Maybe months. And then my friend says, “That race is next week. Are we running?” And I say, “Sure, I’ll register right now.” And then I register without really looking at the course or the logistics. They’re in. I’m in. We’re in. I’m sure it’ll be great.
And so Sunday’s race. It took us 45 minutes to get there by car, then another 1/2 hour driving in circles looking for the two, tall orange cones that were the start/finish line. This required opening a gate on a dirt road and driving around a polo practice field (maybe the only one I’ve ever seen) to a patch of dirt up against the woods. There stood the two cones at the mouth of a trail leading off into the brush.
This is racing in 2020. You register, decide when you’re going to run, pick up your friends and do your best. No aid stations. No clapping. No chip timer. No free banana at the finish. And it turns out, this is my preferred format for a race. No crowd to make you self-conscious. No line at the bathroom. No DJ. No one ruining my pace, except me.
The first mile was a lie, like they all are, so I didn’t invest too much in how my legs and lungs were feeling. Instead, I looked around and realized I had no idea what I was doing there.
I said, “What is this race? Is this a race we would run in any other year? Do people come and do this?” And my friends assured me it was, and we would, and that really what we were doing made total sense in some universe of theoretical wonders that included polo grounds and rich people giving permission for low lifes like me to cross their property in the name of trail advocacy and general good will.
So we ran, and the weather was perfect, and I had that chimeric feeling of being able to run forever. We left the province of polo and skirted some train tracks. We twisted and turned following arrows and ribbons, like a kids’ game. We ran past horses lazily grazing in their fields, bright sun pasting our shadows to the ground, and eventually we were done. We ran back through the orange cones and acted like we’d done something important.
Once in a lifetime. Same as it ever was.