Nobody's progress is linear (and that's okay)
Plus 6 half marathons you'll love running in Amherst, N.H.; Bristol, R.I.; Glacier National Park, Mont.; Snoqualmie Pass, Wash.; New Rochelle, N.Y. + Nashville, Tenn.
One of my favorite movies of all time is 1984’s The Natural, with Robert Redford as an aging Roy Hobbs, taking one last shot at major league baseball even though he’s past the age at which most ballplayers have retired.
If you’ve seen it, you know the ending: with Redford’s Hobbs at bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, the game (and the World Series) on the line — two men on, two men out — he swings away and crushes the ball into the grandstand lights, which explode in a shower of sparks on the field as he rounds the bases.
I love that scene as much as anyone, but that’s not what I love most about the movie, nor is it why I’m still drawn to it, even today.
The reason isn’t because the movie is about an amazingly talented baseball player. (Or, it’s not only about an amazingly talented baseball player.) No, the reason I love it is because it’s about redemption.
As a twenty-something on his way to try out for the majors, Hobbs meets a character called “the Whammer,” who is supposed to remind us of Babe Ruth, back then the greatest player ever in the game.
At a train stop on his way to Chicago, somewhere in the middle of the country, Hobbs’ friend and mentor challenges the Whammer to a $10 bet: if Hobbs can strike him out on three pitched balls, he wins. If he doesn’t throw three strikes, he loses. (And by the way, $10 back then would be about $270 today!)
The Whammer, you’ll recall, goes down swinging on strike three — and Hobbs has beaten the best player in the world, proving to everyone around he has what it takes to become that himself.
But that dream is interrupted. Invited to a hotel room by someone who turns out to be an obsessed fan, Hobbs is shot and seriously injured; he spends the next decade and a half healing and trying to make his way back to professional baseball.
Most of us don’t suffer a fate as tragic as Hobbs, of course. Our lives follow a less dramatic arc, most of the time. But all of us go through dips and ups and downs, and disappointments that discourage us. They take us off the path we believe, somewhere deep down in our souls, we’re supposed to be on.
That’s the theme of a new book I’ve been reading recently, Bruce Feiler’s Life Is In The Transitions, which captures the inner conflict a lot of us feel when we’re blocked from achieving the goals we aim for:
“Each of us carries around an unspoken set of assumptions that dictate how we expect our lives will unfold. These expectations come from all corners and influence us more than we admit. We’ve been led to believe that our lives will always ascend, for example, and are shocked to discover they oscillate instead. Our society tells us we should be basking in progress, but our experience tells us we are beset by slip-ups. Might this gap help explain the anxiety so many of us feel?”
My own running has followed a similar trajectory lately. (Actually, it hasn’t been a trajectory at all — it’s been more of a circle, as I started strong in the fall, only to fall back in the winter and get diagnosed with Covid in January.)
I think that’s how running goes for us all. We ascend, we climb — especially if we’re training for a goal, or a race — and then we fall back down the mountain again. And we have to work our way back again.
Amby Burfoot, the former editor of Runner’s World and the author of a number of books on running, perhaps said it best:
“We have all learned everything we know physically—from walking to running a marathon—by trial and error, so there's no reason to become our own worst enemies when we suffer a setback. From time to time everyone falls short of their goals. It's an illusion to believe that champions succeed because they do everything perfectly. You can be certain that every archer who hits the bull's-eye has also missed the bull's-eye a thousand times while learning the skill.”
As I’m finding (once again!), that’s so, so true. And now that I’m recovered — fully, I hope — I’m starting back up the hill again.
How is your own running going? As always, feel free to give me a shout back in reply or leave a comment below.
Races you might love running
East Glacier Village, Mont. | Saturday, June 26, 2021
Words fall short in describing the beauty of Montana’s Glacier National Park, where you’ll get to run this point-to-point race along the edges of the park boundaries next summer. The race begins just outside the park’s eastern border, near Lower Two Medicine Lake, and from there heads north along Highway 49, one of the best scenic drives around the park (and also known as “Looking Glass Road,” for the historic Nez Pearce leader named Looking Glass who lived here in the mid-1800s). While the first five miles lead gradually uphill, almost all of the last eight miles are downhill or flat, allowing you to take in expansive views of the wide-open prairies and especially the awe-inspiring mountains.
$129 and up | Sign up here
Snoqualmie Pass, Wash. | June, August & September 2021
What began as a small, almost all-downhill race that starts near the Summit at Snoqalmie ski area near Seattle has become three summertime races, all of which unfold along the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail, along a former railroad that has been converted into gravel hiking and running trails. Before you get to those trails, however, you’ll run through the 2.3-mile-long Snoqualmie Tunnel, which inspired the name of the race. You’ll definitely want to bring a flashlight with you, either to carry or wear on your forehead, as there will be light at the end of that tunnel but it’s farther away than you think. Once you make it outside, you’ll run across old train trestles near the tops of trees, where you’ll be able to look out onto stream beds below as you make your way down the mountain.
Registration TBA | Sign up here
New Rochelle, N.Y. | Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021
Inspired by the author of Common Sense, one of the most influential Revolutionary-era pamphlets in American history, this looping trail half starts at the Thomas Paine Cottage and then takes runners into the woods of five area parks. You’ll spend most of the run on dirt trails, trekking over rocks, roots, stumps, mudholes and fallen trees — and you’ll run across a number of wooden catwalks scattered throughout the trails, which may be in disrepair, slippery or damaged by other runners crossing over them. In fact, organizers say, there are “plenty of risks of running this event that we like to consider features of the trail and the race.” You can read about all of them here.
$50 and up | Sign up here
Amherst, N.H. | Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021
A night-time run along the trails that wind through Freestyle Farms, an equestrian boarding and training farm, where you’ll start the race in the twilight of the waning sun and end up running on trails lit by “fluorescent light sticks, ground flags and signal fires.” The race consists of a 2.62-mile-long loop that half marathoners will run five times, full marathoners 10 times — and those running the ultra will simply run continuously for 6 hours, until an hour before midnight.
$30 and up | Sign up here
Bristol, R.I. | Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021
A beautiful run inside Rhode Island’s Colt State Park, whose 464 acres along Poppasquash Neck feature curving shoreline roads that look out onto stone walls along the waters of Narragansett Bay. Most of the race’s 13.1 miles unfold along the water, as you’ll run two loops starting from the park’s headquarters, which lies just a short drive from nearby Bristol. From there, the race makes two clockwise loops around the park, taking you over bridges and past ocean piers, along bike paths and paved roads, and past ponds and wide-open lawns.
$58 and up | Sign up here
Nashville, Tenn. | Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021
Lamenting that ours is “an age of flat and fast marathons on city streets and in urban jungles, with more focus on times, course certification, gadgets, charities and putting on a big show than on running,” the organizers of this very challenging race through Nashville’s Percy Warner Park want you to know one big thing: this race is meant to be an antidote to all that. This race is about “running hard. Running over big and memorable and painful rolling hills through dense woods,” they add, on a course some would call “beastly,” with more than 7,000 feet of overall elevation change. One more thing: they’re not kidding about the flying monkeys; though rarely seen, the park is one of their last remaining habitats.
$90 and up | Sign up here
A running read I loved this week
How Running Changed One Woman’s Life. This article, on a Canadian woman named Fiona Savage, will warm your heart — especially the photo of her as a single mother, crossing the finish line with her baby in her hands at the Toronto Marathon. An avid runner as a child and teenager, she would go on to run marathons in the Arctic before experiencing a panic attack in mid-life, when she came to grips with a lifetime of sadness.
“I was drinking too much, I was eating poorly, I was bringing my daughter up on my own. There was a lot of time in there where I was absolutely lost. I don’t even know who that person was.”
Words to run by
“If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.”
— Emile Zola