IF YOU’D SEEN ME LAST NIGHT paying tribute to my cousin Brian, and avoided being struck blind, you’d have had good cause to doubt my sanity. But I was fulfilling an obligation and following some very sage advice.
Fortunately, there are no photos. But you’re welcome to use your imagination.
Brian was a sweet, good-natured guy with a broad and deep sense of humor. He was fun to be around. He enjoyed life, and at 51 was far too young to leave it. But his cancer was aggressive and incurable, and he passed away two weeks ago.
His memorial service was held yesterday in Wisconsin. My wife went but my biggest race of the year was this weekend – the 100K at Run Woodstock, which would start Friday afternoon and spill over into Saturday morning. So I offered to run my race in Brian’s honor, which the family thought was a fine idea.
Except that the 100K didn’t go according to plan. I overheated and dropped out at the 56K mark for my first-ever DNF. (More on that event, and what I learned, in an upcoming post.) I called my wife to let her know, and that I felt bad about it. By not finishing, I felt like I hadn’t really honored Brian properly. She set me straight.
“Brian wouldn’t have wanted you to kill yourself over this,” she told me. “You know what he would have said? Fuck it, and go get a beer.”
The moment I heard that, I knew it was exactly what he would have said. So my revised mission was to follow that advice. And I knew just how to do it.
In addition to the races, Run Woodstock offers fun, untimed trail runs of 5K or 10K on Friday and Saturday nights. There are two options available. The first is to follow the standard course on the trails. The second takes you to a secluded part of the woods where you can run a mile loop “the natural way”. You’re allowed shoes and a headlamp, and the rest is placed on a tarp at the starting point.
So which option did I choose for Saturday night’s run? Only the Natural option offers beer. Plus it fit well with the first part of the advice.
So I followed the flags to the tarp and made the necessary wardrobe adjustments. There was a group all ready to go for their mile, so I joined them. It was a perfect evening, dry and cool, and the loop flew by quickly and easily. After the sweltering heat followed by rain Friday night, this was pure bliss.
And unlike the first time I ran the natural mile, I felt completely at ease, even when we gave two fully clothed hikers a surprise. Everyone else seemed comfortable, too. “Liberating!” I actually heard someone say. Part of this, I think, is that runners tend to be easygoing and accepting. Awkward situations are nothing new to them and they pretty much take things as they come. It’s either part of what makes them runners, or what running does to them.
I finished the loop and picked up a cup of beer. As I was getting ready to salute Brian’s memory, I overheard a nearby group of women. They were doing the Natural for the first time and were a bit uncertain about where to go on the trail. Being the compassionate and chivalrous man that I am, I offered to go with them. “Oh, yes!” they said, so I put the cup down and off we went, two guys to about six or seven women. The evening just kept getting better!
That is, until we passed a woman walking along the trail holding a baby, nursing it while she walked. All the women stopped to ooh and aah over the baby and the other guy was telling the mom how great she was for doing this. So I was now by myself.
What to do – wait, or run? My body said run, and amazingly my brain agreed, so I went with that. Turned out to be a good plan. When I returned to the starting area, there was one cup of beer – the last one – on the table. In previous years, they’d set up a bar shack with more beer, wine and other drinks, but this year they’d kept that all in the main campground. So I’d arrived just in time.
I picked up the last cup, explaining that it was needed to fulfill a sacred duty. Naked in front of God and the other naked people, I raised the cup toward the heavens. “Brian,” I said, “this one’s for you.”
If he was watching, I hope he had a good laugh.