'Staying The Course'

Tired of hearing about cancellations, this runner/journalist chose to take part in something called progress in late May. While sports arenas remain empty, the paint on starting lines continue to fade into the earth, I drove out to my workplace and ran on something new.

Our school has built a new cross country course during all this. It goes behind our baseball field, back behind the track, across a parking lot or two. No finish lines or chutes exist yet -- the movers and shakers haven't gotten that far -- but I ran in gratitude for what's happening.

A co-coach and a former runner joined me -- though I usually go it alone, it often helps to hear other people's take on Mile 2 at Darlington, Separation Slope in Carrollton, how they process and processed their pain, why we do what we do.

They've both paid their dues and then some -- but to me the run was getting to appreciate the sport without the pain, rehashing races on old courses while being among the first to plod through this one.

Still, I think there will always be bib numbers attached to runners -- real or imaginary -- so I couldn't help thinking that RIGHT HERE is where our kids should hit their stride, keep their rhythm through this part; get psyched up for the kick about…now…GO. Give it all, finish with nothing!

I don't know, maybe racing is exactly like writing or public speaking. It's not complicated, really, you simply cut open your soul and lay it out there for everyone to see. Vulnerability, exposure, nakedness.

It is the soul of the runner we brought into all this mess; if anything, it will be that soul only strengthened later because of it. The finish was a memory of practices hopefully forthcoming -- chatter and the automatic movements of the post-run stretch. Meditative, it is -- a state I can't reach even sitting cross-legged on a loincloth in my living room.

A run on new dirt. The excitement we hope and pray gets to happen this fall. Cutting a ribbon at the starting line while waiting to see who breaks the tape at the end. Chartering new ground in a changing world but with an old passion.

I don't really know when all this will end. I'm still reading the A through the Z -- people who think we should stay in wearing masks and don't come out until there's a vaccine, to the opposites who think we're doing the equivalent of breaking both our legs just to heal a scab on our hand.

As for us, today we ran on a course -- a new course. I went through bridges and bushes and trees, turns, and hills and switchbacks. In all due respect to the A's and the Z's of the world, I couldn't help but hear chattering kids, the sounds of heavy breathing, footsteps from all the Nikes and Brooks and Asics digging away at our new dirt.

And even now, sitting safely in my home, for now, I've turned off CNN and Fox, muted the important people of the world while they read all our latest numbers. The only voice I can handle at the moment is the one inside my own head -- as scary as that may be. Still, it is a good thing…because it is this voice called hope…