The door opens, the bell rings, and a runner appears. “How was the run?,” I say for what seems like the millionth time. And just like that the pages start turning. Not the pages of the newspaper that Pete hikes up each Sunday, nor the pages of the many books sitting on the shelf, but the pages of the runner. She (or he) has journeyed several miles to get to my tiny cabin in the woods. Be it eventful or mundane, such a journey is bound to have some sort of story. Sometimes they flow freely. In the midst of an endorphin rush and air thin enough to make the brain a bit loopy, runners gush over their 6-mile ascent.
“It’s such a beautiful day. I saw a few people on the incline, but after that, not a soul.”
“There are moose tracks around mile four-and-a-half.”
“I fell on the ice last week and the trash bag you gave me to carry down broke my fall. It saved my life! Trash saved my life!”
“I got to the trailhead when it was still dark. I put on my boots, but halfway up the trail I looked down and realized that they were my wife’s boots. My wife isn’t hiking today, but her boots are up here! I’m wearing my wife’s boots!”
Other times the cover is harder to lift. It takes a bit of prodding. Questions help.
“What’s your name?”
“Where ya from?”
“Where ya headed today?”
“What are you training for?”
That last one tends to lead to something. Sometimes a lot of somethings.
In the most extreme cases the story comes at a price. It needs to be bought. Not with money, but trust. Oftentimes it starts with a lot of silent presence.
Little is said, if anything at all. Perhaps a dollar is exchanged for a hot cup of coffee. Sometimes less. Warmth from the fire and a place to sit and rest the legs. A smile, a blank stare, a quick glance and an even faster departure. To the trail the runner returns. Alone with their thoughts. Alone with their story.
Some days, I want to hear the story. Other days, if I’m honest, I’m a bit storied out. But that’s why working at Barr Camp is so great. You don’t get to choose. Stories walk through the door all the time, and chances are they are going to be told whether you want to hear them or not. As difficult as that can be, it’s great because it gives me ample practice in being present, in paying attention.
Just the other day I was reminded of this when I re-read Running with the Amish by Bart Yasso and Steve Friedman. Published in Runner’s World Magazine back in 2012, the article tells the story of the Amish runners in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Having grown up in Lancaster, the article really hits home. Sure, it depicts a group of people who like to run, but if you pay attention you’ll see more than that. You’ll see a community of people who don’t just run, but run together.
Whenever I go home to visit my family in Lancaster, I always enjoy getting together for runs with my Amish friends. One of the great things about running with them is that you never know who might show up. Sometimes, it’s just Amos and I. Other times, it’s a whole gang, some of whom I’ve never met before. The last time we ran together it was around 4 a.m. on a weekday and there were ten of us. I knew all but one person. At the end of the run I found out that many of the others didn’t know him either. Apparently, he had shown up to a group run/workout the night before and one of my buddies invited him to come along. His newness didn’t matter. He was more than welcome in our little running community.
As we ran that morning, the pages turned. We spoke of a recent tornado and how members of the Amish community banded together to help with the restoration efforts. We spoke of family and, most likely, jobs. And before too long someone, likely Lonnie (he always wants to hear my race stories), would have said something like “So Zach, tell me the story of your race in Spain.” And just like that I would start rattling off the details. As the miles passed and the sun rose, I found myself bouncing up and down our line of runners, talking to different people. Sometimes my story got repeated, and sometimes I listened to theirs. Perhaps not everyone shared a story that morning, but they all created one. One run. Ten people. Ten stories. All different.
And that’s exactly why it’s so important to not only write your story, but to share it. Because you’re the only one who knows it. Sure, someone else may partake in the same experience, but they won’t come out of it with the same story. The general sequence of events may be the same, but the little details, personal reflections, and lessons learned are almost guaranteed to be different. This doesn’t mean that you have to share every single experience that you have. Trust me, we don’t all need to know what you ate for breakfast and how many pit stops you took on your morning run (although that could be entertaining if your name is Alex Varner and the number exceeds the mile markers). Laughing aside though, you never know how your story will impact someone else. What you write could be just what they need. It may motivate them to embrace a healthier lifestyle, tackle a new race distance, get rid of an unhealthy addiction, spend more time with their family, or stick it out in a less than perfect job so that they can fund the pursuit of a more desirable one. The list goes on and on.
To be honest, I used to struggle with the thought of sharing my story. I would hold back. Not so much because I didn’t want to share, but because I didn’t want to look or be conceited. Well, that and the fact that I just like being old school. No smart phone. No Twitter. No Instagram. Just a Facebook account (which I didn’t want in the first place. My friends set it up for me before I left for college.) and an infrequently updated blog that I started when I worked on a cruise ship and figured people would like hearing about my world travels. If there was a social (media) norm, I was happy to buck it!
In a sense, I was New Hampshire’s Tristan Williams. I read an article about him in Trail Runner the other day and kind of kicked myself. We are very similar in some ways. We both run and work in the mountains. I as a caretaker on Pikes Peak and he as a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s construction crew, maintaining huts and shelters in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The difference? He’s where I used to be. Old school phone. Lack of social media presence. Hard to get ahold of. OK, that last one might still be kind of true for me. Just ask my Mom.
When I realized that, I kind of kicked myself. I thought man, I want that back! Let’s get rid of this phone and social media. Let’s just run on the mountain and hide. But, then, I think about all of the people that I am able to reach and the impact that I have on them. I’m not trying to sound cocky, but over the past couple of years I’ve come to realize that my presence in the sport of MUT running really has an effect on people. With this realization came a new thought. The thought that not sharing my story could be a selfish act. It’s kind of like that line from Spider Man, “With great power comes great responsibility.” My ability to run is a true gift and it would be foolish of me to keep it to myself. So, I’m doing what I can to use my gift. I’m pounding the trails, climbing the mountains, and running the races. I’m putting pen to paper and scrawling out my story. Then I’m wrapping it up and shipping it out. Because as much as I want to hide, I feel that I wasn’t gifted with all of this just so I could sit in a corner and smile.
That being said, the story telling isn’t reserved for the elites. In fact, some of the greatest and most inspiring stories are found not on the podium, but at the back of the pack. Stories of people who are kicking addictions, saving marriages, losing weight, and doing all sorts of things that defy the odds. So on the days when the sun won’t shine, the mercury won’t rise, and your friends won’t join you, go out and do it anyways. Pick up your pen, write your story, and share it with the world, because the book that you write just might inspire a sequel by another slinger of ink (or mud).
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
- What are the favorite stories you’ve heard or read of late?
- How open are you to sharing your stories with others?