When I started Crow’s Path back in 2010, I had a rough sense of what our programs would initially look like: kids running through the woods, playing games, starting fires, building shelters, making bows, carving spoons, and singing songs. But my bigger vision was always to create a strong, vibrant and supportive container that would help grow kids who were curious, adventurous, creative, quirky, and capable of confronting life’s big questions and challenges.
On Sunday night as I was driving home with my wife, and I was feeling that endorphin-fueled rush of overwhelming gratitude for everyone that came together to support the event. I was trying to articulate what made the 100km event – I’m calling it the Burly Burl – so special, why it seemed to be the perfect expression of that vision. I reflected back on the moment when I finished, when I turned around and saw this incredible community of people that had come out to support Crow’s Path, me, and the world record attempt. And while it’s not always so clear what a community is, as in different contexts it can mean different things, Sunday helped illuminate for me both what community is and why it’s so important.
I’ve written a full race report about the experience of setting the barefoot 100km world record, but wanted to write here about what community is in the context of Crow’s Path and how I experienced community through the 100km run. At Crow’s Path, we take community to be a fabric of interwoven pieces stitched together into a container that seeks to nourish connection to self, others, and the land through direct engagement with the natural world. Or, as one parent put it, Crow’s Path is a place where her “creatively weird kid found kids (and grown-ups!) just like her.” The ingredients we aspire to unify into community seemed to all be present at the Burly Burl:
Elders: those deep, sagacious wells of knowledge, story, and accumulated wisdom. Their roots spread deep and wide and they serve as a connection to the generations who have come before. From a life of experience, their reflections on path hold a different weight than those more youthful, and there is a humility in their appraisals. The elders in my running community, like Jim Miller, have provided an inspiration for and a depth to my training that I struggled to find on my own. These elders have and still are walking (or running, as it were) along their own paths in pursuit of their own questions. Hearing Jim’s stories on frigid long runs out in Essex about running the Olympic Trials in ’80 and ’84, going after a 400m PR in his late 50s, bizarre experiments in training, and conquering his own beasts has made the unknown looming ahead feel possible and even reasonable. Rather than telling me what I should do before VCM last year, he asked me for three things I’d done in preparation for the race that would give me confidence. Look inward and you’ll find what you need. His stories and questions are always spoken with a slow deliberate purpose, and I’m always left feeling a more fully realized version of myself. The real challenge is to hold that feeling after we part ways.
Mentors: Over the years I’ve sought guidance from many different teachers/mentors, but I don’t think I’d quite made the connection between teacher and coach until yesterday. But if there’s one thing my coach, the inimitable Sam Davis is, it’s a teacher. I’ve been working with Sam for a couple of years now and the more he gets to know me, the better he is at guiding me along my path to becoming the best runner I can be. Like all good mentors, he doesn’t tell me what to aim for, but rather works with me to draw out my gifts, passions, goals. When I called him to tell him I wanted to run a 100km barefoot on a track by myself, which in writing it out sounds like a pretty dumb idea, he didn’t describe how this was a stark departure from what I’d been training for. His response was, how can I help?
When I was down to about 25 laps to go, Sam got increasingly pumped up. Mind you, Sam had already been out for almost 7 hours counting laps and recording splits. And with each passing lap he got more and more emphatic calling out how many were left. I think he got so excited at one point he even skipped a lap! As much as Sam has been a guide, teacher, and mentor, he has also been an advocate, reminding me always that I am capable of accomplishing what I set out to do. He seems to not care about what I accomplish as much as he cares about helping me accomplish what I want to accomplish. And there’s a world of difference between the two.
Peers: Developing any skill relies most fundamentally on an individual’s commitment to putting in dirt time. Of course progress can be expedited by mentors, but without the motivation to practice, a mentor’s efforts would be all for naught. “Dirt time” translates mostly to lots and lots of hours doing mundane, repetitive tasks consistently over months, years, and even decades. I’ve been at this since I was about 5 years old, and it gets hard to find another reason every day to get out the door. And to be in peak running shape requires the motivation to get out the door every single day, often more than once a day, to spend an hour or two running whether it’s pouring raining, 10 degrees below, or 90 degrees and humid. Some people have that rare gift of finding that motivation deep inside, for the rest of us it helps to have external motivation, a peer group to share in holding that motivation over years of training. The GMAA community has been a vital lifeline in maintaining my motivation with weekly runs on the bike path, van trips to team races, Sunday long runs in the dead of winter, and just knowing that dozens of other runners are out logging hundreds of miles a year on the same paths I am. So many of my friends/teammates came out and logged many miles with me. They lifted much of the mental tax of running for 7 hours straight.
The Village: I was moved to tears when I crossed the line and realized just how many people were out there, each drawn there for a different purpose – Kath Monstream told me there were about 55 people there!! I expected about 10 total during the day. Something about the event seemed to draw people in to cheer, support, run, and help in whatever way they could. Some posted on Facebook telling friends and family to donate to CP or come out and support the run while others ran laps with me or took splits and counted laps. There was so much background support and energy that went into this that I’m not sure how I would have accomplished this without that hum buzzing in the background from all that support in all its manifestations. Matt Kolan pointed this hum out to me a bunch of years ago – he described the village hum as that strange sensation that occurs when all these independent parts show up and coalesce into something bigger and more beautiful without any real top-down coordination, every one gets to show up and do what they want to do. I had the feeling right around 12:13pm.
Kiddos: Part of the reason for trying to tackle this challenge was related to the fast-approaching birth of my first child!! There was some sense of urgency to doing something big and dumb while I still have the flexibility in my schedule and a string of 8-hour nights of sleep. We’ve all got egos, so I won’t downplay that it feels good to get attention for getting a world record, but I also wanted to use the record attempt to inspire kiddos to dream big. I’ve connected with many kiddos over the years around the Vermont City Marathon, and wanted to build on that by showcasing what it can look like to set out with a big dream and share the pursuit of that with others.
Two moments highlighted this to me. One was watching Kasie Enman’s kiddos race each other back and forth along the home stretch of the track while their mom ran laps with me. Nothing brings a bigger smile to my face than watching little kiddos run for the sheer joy of running. The other moment, was actually 21 miles worth of moments. I’d met the 15-year-old BHS harrier, Wondu Summa, before at the FirstRun 5k in Burlington, but only in passing. But something drew him out to the starting line at 5am. He jumped in at about mile 8 miles adn ran with me for the next 11 miles at 6:36-6:40/mile. The farthest he’d run before was 14 miles. It was incredibly to have company in the early stages of the race, but also just to see inspiration in action. He jumped in again and again over the next few hours, running about 21 miles in total. Smiling the whole time. I can’t wait to see where that kid’s feet take him.
Wildness: I started running competitively when I was 5 years old for some unspoken reason, a yearning in my bones to be free, to feel the soft ground give way beneath my fleet feet. When I discovered ultras in 2005, I found running to be a portal to the edge of what my mind and body are capable of accomplishing. Reading Bernd Heinrich’s book, Why We Run, connected me to the ancestral roots of our desire to just run. When I run I feel the facade of culture break down, I feel a feralness that delights my senses. And the farther I run the thinner the veneer of civilization stretches. It’s at the delicate line of our breaking points where the hidden messages of humanness lie. Or at least that’s what I think.
So the idea to run 100km in pursuit of a world record wound up being a transformative, community building moment for me. Thank you to all who came out to support me in the many ways you did.
If you’re interested in reading the full race report, you can check that out here. If you’re interested more in barefoot running as a primitive pursuit, check out the movie below.