mike walsh | Runner’s High: Religion in Running, Getting Lost on a Long Jog | Sports
I don’t go to church much anymore. And I guess that’s a bit sad. I grew up going every Sunday with my family, took CCD classes, and was confirmed in high school. There were times when I dreaded it and times when I was excited about it. A lot of it was really interesting, but a lot of what I now see as the benefits of religion was lost to me in my youth.
For confirmation, we had to seek out and identify a saint with whom we shared something and whose identity we would assume as the confirmation name. Looking back on it, it was a really introspective process, or at least it probably should have been. Anyway, I chose Saint Andrew. Along with Scotland and many other people, places and things, Saint Andrew was known as the patron saint of fishing. As a young teenager, I thought that was a pretty deep choice. Because, more than when I sat next to my siblings and parents on a hardwood bench, under ornate stained glass windows in an old downtown apartment building, I always contemplated weighing good against evil and to have the best conversations with God all alone on a pier or fishing by a lake under the sky.
A few years later, when it came time for another more secular rite of passage, I chose to revisit this theory in my college essay. So, I wrote about fishing. Nobody really knows what exactly that means in terms of whether or not to get into a specific college, but given my current career path, I like to think that I wrote a pretty poetic essay and the person in charge of admissions to Marist College was seduced. enough to grant solid B- student acceptance.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Or, the story until last Monday morning when I went out for a jog aiming to hit six miles and ended up making a 10 par.
Because, here’s the kicker that may or may not confuse 15-year-old Mike Walsh. I don’t fish much either. Honestly, I’m not sure I ever really did.
But, at some point during Monday’s long run, less than two weeks away from the steel rail half marathon on May 22, I kinda got into my head and gave what my current idea of God or the Karmic Universe is a quick download on How Things Are.
It’s so hard to disconnect these days, whether you’re on the toilet Instagram scrollers, typing pop-up ads on the iPad recipe website cooking dinner, or answering to work emails, well after you quote-without quotes.
But, if you choose to spend a few kilometers in commando (without earphones), it can become much easier.
About 2 miles into my long run, the sights and sounds of downtown Pittsfield melted into my subconscious. A crosswalk button to push here, a smiling mum pushing a stroller by Dottie is there. Mostly it was sunshine and heat, rhythmic huffs and puffs, and the quick strides of those brand new cloud-like Brooks Ghost 14s I picked up last week at the Berkshire Running Center.
I thought of good things – I almost finished this book which takes forever, and E has his grandparents helping him all week. He will love this. And I drifted off to not-so-good stuff – I was a jerk to that nerdy kid in Mrs. Naze’s third-grade class, and should I do more in reaction to this whole Supreme Court situation?
As I stretched at the boat launch on Lake Onota, 5 miles from the race, I prayed. Or, at least, what passes for prayer these days with a non-practicing Catholic.
I had this great-great-aunt Mary, I think I mentioned her before. She passed away late last year and I went alone to Cape Cod on a Tuesday night for her funeral on Wednesday. I woke up in a hotel room in Hyannis, put on a few diapers and jogged until I found the harbor so I could look at some water and thank Mary for everything. she had done for me and my family. I got lost on my way back to the Marriot and was actually late going to church for mass. I like to think she would have found it funny.
I thought back to that December day of Monday as I grabbed my toes and tensed my right calf. There is much comfort in faith and belief in a higher power. There is also comfort in communing with nature when you give your body and mind nothing to focus on but itself.
I didn’t have a route mapped out for this long run. I knew I wanted to go down the drain – the part of me that wants to claim “Walden” and “Siddhartha” are my favorite books (when it’s really Stephen King’s “It” or, more currently, “The Pout- Pout Fish”) is still quite strong. But from Onota, I went back to Lakeway Drive and headed south on Onota Street until I felt like turning around downtown. I laughed at my old self, thinking that I was acutely aware of the meaning of life as a teenager who hadn’t yet lived a fraction of life.
So here is this, a de facto redux of my college essay and confirmation reasoning, CTRL-F fish and replace with run.
While covering a track competition on Monday at Great Barrington, I ran into longtime Cookie and Chocolate Bowl Race Director Gary Miller, who joked with me that instead of age categories for prizes at races, there should be categories of living situation. A singles division, a married division, a toddler parents division, etc. A brilliant and humorous idea, I thought.
If only because I’m sure in 10 more years I could look back on this column and this experience and laugh one more time at how immature I am now and how little I still have lived.
I hope so. And I hope I’m still able to go out for a long time and let my spirit melt and laugh with the divinity I attribute to at that time.