Why is it I always have to do the Frank Newman Marathon Relay? I mean, no matter how (bad?) I feel, no matter the (bad?) weather, no matter what else is going on. And it seems the local runners are catching on too. I’m glad Bob Wade and Kathy Brown continue to carry Frank’s torch. And there’s a reason we all start 26 miles away, up in the mountains, and arrive (after negotiating several mountain passes) down on the Yellowstone in a park in a town far away. It’s a journey – you really go somewhere - you get to see (dense fog and low clouds not withstanding) new mountain ranges appear before you. After it was all said and done last weekend, I started reflecting on what had happened. Didn’t we all go through some kind of a transformative process? Even that young buck who blew by me around mile 21, during the strongest downpour blowing in our faces – and wearing nothing but a pair of shorts!!! And he had this wide grin on his face, and gave me the strongest encouragement I had all day!!! It became so clear that all participants must feel their own sense of a “hero’s journey” – to use Joseph Campbell’s phrase. Even those who just run/walk just one segment of the 26 miles. You can feel everyone out on the course. I would venture to say that the more challenging the weather, the more one feels engaged in the true hero’s journey. Some of you might not be familiar with Joseph Campbell. I’m a regular Bill Moyer’s fan (PBS) and he interviewed Joseph Campbell many times – and produced a series called “The Power of Myth”. As always, I recommend it highly. So, here’s a version of my own “hero’s journey” on May 23rd. These types of journeys usually start with a deep, debilitating reluctance to actually start the journey. All the doubts, fears, and insecurities flood in, making it seem absolutely impossible. I was nursing a heel injury, had stopped being able even walk comfortably. I also knew I HAD to go on this journey. Why? A voice deep inside told me I had no choice, that it would not only be all right, but I would gain new, unknown strengths in the process. My rational mind said “Don’t listen to that stupid voice!” My inner Self said “You’ve been on this threshold so many times before, have I ever let you down?” So, I handed Bob Wade my registration and $3 at 8pm May 21st. Big sigh. I drove the course the next day, hiding my 3 caches of goodies and drink. Just like I always do. I would run/walk the whole thing by myself, early start (5:46am), and kept shaking my head on how stupid I was to even be doing this. Here’s a brief description Joseph Campbell gives of a typical hero’s journey: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” And, the 1st step is always filled with doubt…. “can I handle the challenges that always come with this journey?” There I was, all alone, standing at that white spray-painted line near mile #13 on Bridger Canyon Road. It was 5:45am. It was raining. Dark. No one around…but my thoughts. I started the stopwatch, and took the first tentative steps. Darn it, the pain was still there. “Why am I doing this stupid thing anyway?” I screamed. Oh, right… I’m on some stupid quest or something.” Well, my ride was long gone, I had already stepped off the cliff, and was starting to fall. Might as well make the most of it.” Off I went. And then something magical happened. I didn’t realize it at first. My mind was drawn away from the pain, the thrill of the actual journey flooded my horizon. An elk ran across the road and glided over the fence right in front of my eyes. Now, don’t go thinking weird thoughts here, but that elk became SO symbolic to me. He (she?) became my guide of sorts, my protector, my muse. I was in a different world where pain can’t exist. My 1st walking mile was a 13:45. Heck, I only had 25 more to go, and the goal would be achieved. No sweat. And so it went, mile after mile. I felt a gaining strength throughout the whole morning. And I had lots of help along the way. The 1st relay point arrived around 7am, and no one is ever there that early. But just as I crossed that painted line, a Subaru came around the corner, stopped, and out hopped a man I recognized as usually being there every year. He was my first human helper along the way. We exchanged greetings, shook hands, and I felt like a million bucks. The tone was set for the next many hours. Strong, clear, powerful energy just pouring through me. Ironically, this “high” seems to need to be tested. Cresting Bozeman Pass – and still way out “in front of the pack”, out ran Kay Newman to offer a refreshing drink in the rain. Thanks for being there Kay. And then the wind hit, with rain, most of the way into Livingston. At its worst as I neared the 3rd relay station – with rain blasting me in the face - out ran Darryl Baker to offer me a warm hat – I hadn’t thought to get mine out – I was having too much fun playing with the rain. That’s when I realized I was not letting the tough times into my world. I suppose I could have been miserable, but during my hero’s journey – no sirree!! And, as usual, the last several miles are the toughest, requiring a doubling of effort. In the context of the journey I was on, it only meant I needed to call on this boundless source within, and there was the finish line. Please permit me to quote Joseph Campbell one last time. This may seem over the top, but the FNMR is just a microcosm of what happens all the time: "The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world. Many failures attest to the difficulties of this life-affirmative threshold. The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life. Why re-enter such a world? Why attempt to make plausible, or even interesting, to men and women consumed with passion, the experience of transcendental bliss? As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and the prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes. The easy thing is to commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if some spiritual obstetrician has drawn the shimenawa across the retreat, then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided" The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real.” And so goes the journey. Sitting on a bench under the pavilion in the park, wolfing down my Subway sandwich, I couldn’t find the appropriate words to describe what had just happened. Best leave before I get all mushy. Before getting into the awaiting car, I turned around to look at all the people gathered in the rain, and realized every single person had just completed their own hero’s journey, whether they realized it or not. - David Summerfield
David Nutter Summerfield
The following blogs were first published in The Windrinker, a running newsletter published in Bozeman, MT (www.Windrinkers.org). There is a constant attempt at viewing the foibles of long distance runners in a humorous light so we don't take ourselves too seriously.