I was supposed to run my first Leatherman’s Loop a year ago. Inspired by a friend of mine, I envisioned myself running through grassy fields, tromping over home-grown wooden bridges, carefully choosing my way across rocky streams, slipping through mud flats, huffing up a slick and steep quarry climb, padding through a soft pine forest, and splashing my way through a final river crossing toward the finish line of my first 10K trail race. But April came and went, another friend pinned my bib onto their running tank, and my slow and frustrating rehab from major foot surgery prohibited me from experiencing one of the area’s most established annual trail runs.
But not this year. This year, I lined up with 1,200 other nature-loving, life-embracing runners and stood in anticipation between the friend who wore my last-year’s bib and a best girl friend who continues to recover from botched back surgery. We positioned ourselves in front of the pack, in line with all the A runners and hopeful winners, knowing full well that every single one of our fit neighbors would quickly and easily bound past our fastest efforts, leaving us to settle into our own pace, own our own run. And that would be a beautiful thing. If there’s anything I’ve learned during the past 18 recovery months, it’s to relinquish my ego, to embrace the path toward beauty, to experience and savor every moment toward the finish, regardless of when – or if – I would ever plant my conquering flag.
There is a palpable vibe at the Leatherman’s Loop, and it gave me a slight sense of sadness, in wishing that I had discovered this race when it began, 30 years ago. This vibe felt like an old friend. Like someone I missed and wish I had known better, on a deeper, more intimate level. Maybe because it took place at the breathtaking 4,315-acre Ward Pound Ridge Reserve. Maybe because of the lack of commercialism – there were no corporate sponsors or branded drinks. There were no finisher medals for the masses or fancy prizes. Maybe because of the Peace Circle, created with thousands of little pink flags carefully pushed into the ground in the shape of a gigantic peace sign. “Take a flag when you finish the race,” said Tony, the white-haired Founder, who since 1987 has infused the race with a sense of poetry. “Take a piece of peace and plant it in your life,” he urged all who listened. Tony welcomed us to this “celebratory gathering in nature which includes trail running.” Maybe it was the 20-foot white canvas tee-pee that housed a model of the entire Loop trail, or the high-flying handmade flag embellished with a colorful and seemingly hopeful heart that symbolized each person’s dedication to why they were present. Maybe it was a by-product of the love, compassion and devotion of Danny, the Loop’s “spiritual adviser”.
“Beauty is the real truth that lies in the heart of everything, even if it doesn’t appear that way sometimes, “ preached Danny, perched atop a ladder placed at the starting line in the middle of the straw colored field overlooking the throng of runners. “We all experience things that cause us to doubt that truth.” My eyes swelled with emotion: I simultaneously felt elated and hollow. My arm arced across my friend’s shoulders, pulled her close to my side. It was her first race since failed back surgery more than a year and a half ago. She has crawled and clawed and fought her way to this starting line, every inch of progress steeped in pain, regret and a yearning so deep she’s afraid of it. She simultaneously was elated and terrified. During the past 18 months, we both learned that it is a privilege to participate in life’s beauty.
Moments before the bagpipes piped Amazing Grace, Danny’s Irish-lilted voice sing-sang the Leatherman Loop’s Celtic-Navajo Chant, in unison with those who had run this race before:
Beauty before me as I run.
Beauty behind me as I run.
Beauty below me as I run.
Beauty above me as I run.
Beauty beside me as I run.
Beauty within me as I run.
I see Beauty all around.
In beauty may we walk.
In beauty may we see.
In beauty may we all be.
And we ran. We ran through grassy fields, tromping over home-grown wooden bridges, carefully choosing our way across rocky streams, slipping through mud flats, huffing up a slick and steep quarry climb, treating our tired feet to a soft pine forest and splashing our way through a final river crossing toward the finish line of my first 10K trail race. It was a beautiful thing.