In 2004, in the dark days of blood-doping in professional cycling, Lance Armstrong said to Floyd Landis, “Run like you stole something.” They were out on a breakaway with Jan Ulrich, Andreas Kloden, and Ivan Basso. Landis had ridden on the front, driving the pace until all the other riders had dropped away. Armstrong, in a brief spasm of generosity, gave Landis the greenlight to go for the stage win, and when he said, “Run like you stole something,” he meant that Landis should behave like someone who’s done a crime (as they both had, and all the others around them), and wants to get away with it (as neither of them did in the end).
Unfortunately, Floyd didn’t have the gas to beat the others to the line, and Armstrong ended up saving the stage for US Postal on the day. Stealing it back, the thing they were both stealing. No honor among thieves.
There is another way to run like you stole it, though.
I try to remember that whatever trail I’ve “found” or am exploring for the first time, that’s somebody’s regular spot. There is very little, that’s runnable, that someone else isn’t running regularly. I can’t really discover anything, and it’s hard to know a place until you’ve run it a lot, so most of what I run is stolen, if only for the hour or two I’m there.
I should have gotten all these thoughts together for Thanksgiving, because the way my European forebears came to this continent and stole it encapsulates the problem with property and the way we use it. The Native Americans didn’t have deeds, didn’t have hard borders, didn’t know they had something that could be stolen, because they didn’t think of land that way.
Now we run these sequestered patches of earth, marked off from all the private property that surrounds them. All of it stolen. All of it someone else’s. Or no one’s. We impose our ideas and our rules on wild places, as if the trees have no stake in what we’re doing, as if the chipmunks and coyotes are our tenants.
I can’t correct the past or overthrow a system. I own property too.
But I can run like I stole it, respect the plants and animals that make it home still, even the people who call it their local spot. Maybe it’s better to run like I borrowed it, knowing it has to be returned in the same condition, or even better than I found it. Stay on the trail. Pick up some trash.
Above all, I can be grateful I get to be there at all, because really, I have no right.