In preparation for Western States, I hit the road south this past weekend to run the 26th edition of the classic Zane Grey 50 Mile in northern Arizona. Heading out of Boulder on Thursday morning, I am filled with excitement at the prospect of a short, impromptu road trip through beautiful country. Barely out of town, my enthusiasm already starts to wane as I run into construction and heavy traffic on the U.S. 36 highway.
Driving for me, much like running, is a patience game where it can be detrimental to focus too much on the final destination, rather than surrendering to the process of getting there. I spend the first six hours to Santa Fe intently dissecting entire music albums, distracting myself from being tempted into frustration at the density of other cars on the road.
I find that when I let go of the utilitarian notion of just getting to my destination, I can redirect my attention to the quality and enjoyment of the process, making for a more fulfilling experience.
In 2012, I ran Zane Grey, only to go off course about halfway, venture up to the Mogollon Rim, run out of water, and tear the top of my shoe off on my way back to the correct trail. I dropped shortly after, but still enjoyed my time there. This year, a few weeks before the race, I fell and badly bruised or broke one of my ribs. This caused my back to get very tight from compensating and left me feeling pretty miserable. I still wanted to make it down to Zane Grey as I knew regardless of how the race goes, the trip would be memorable.
I roll into Santa Fe early evening, a good halfway point to break up the trip. After a plate of enchiladas, I circle town searching for an inconspicuous place to park for the night. Despite the numerous quiet and dimly lit streets and alleyways that would be perfect for stealth camping in the back of my truck, Santa Fe has what seems to be unreasonably challenging parking restrictions for the vagabond. I do finally come across a decent low-profile spot, in a nicer neighborhood with tall, adobe walls surrounding the homes.
I am woken in the morning by the sound of heavy rain on the truck roof. Chilly and wet conditions are also forecast for the race, which is not quite what I had hoped for Western States preparation, but certainly more in line with what we have recently been getting at home.
I head to the Santa Fe Baking Company for breakfast. At the table next to me, four men are playing chess. They discuss anything and everything from politics, to sports, to expensive truck repairs, and they banter constantly back and forth over their chess tactics.
“Ron, take your time to play, you’ve already obliterated one side–if Gene keeps complaining and you feel rushed then just get out your clock.”
The waiter brings over a large burrito covered in red and green chili for one of the men while commenting, “This guy knows how to handle real chili…” The other men simply roll their eyes, smirk, and keep playing.
A distinguished-looking gentleman, dressed in a suit and wearing a top hat, peers over to the game and remarks nostalgically, “This reminds me of when I used to play in New York, in Central Park, back in the ’70s. I have great memories of that time.”
There is a familiarity in this scene I can relate to in running–the community, the camaraderie, the banter, a common point of interest that draws in people from all walks of life. There is excitement in getting together and sharing over an activity of mutual relevance. Our diversity and our various backgrounds bring a broader richness and texture to the experience and that is why I still love going to races.
Zane has a nostalgic kind of feel for me and reminds me of when I first got into racing ultras–camping at the start, sipping coffee with friends at 4 a.m. on the tailgate of my pickup, low-key vibes, and racing in wild and remote places. It does not really matter how well I do or how the next person does in the race, it just leaves an impression, a feeling I like to carry with me. There is something natural, authentic about the collective gathering in these types of events that stays with me–something good.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- What was the last low-key race you attended? What qualities made it feel natural and authentic?
- Do gatherings of like-minded people seem to amplify individual energy into a collective movement for you? Do you feel this at some ultramarathons?
- Did you run the Zane Grey 50 Mile this past weekend? What was the experience like for you?