The Inventor

The story of what went down at last Saturday’s Bigfoot Snowshoe Race up north actually begins many moons ago in Ann Arbor, on an Aikido mat.

Class had started like many others, stretches and basic movements leading into the techniques to be taught that day. Then Sensei called me to the front, named a particular technique, and asked me to demonstrate it to the other students. I was a brown belt and senior student, and teaching practice is part of training for black belt, so it wasn’t unexpected. Still, it was my first time.

My assignment was the third variant of this technique. I called up an Uke (partner) and walked through it step by step, then did it at full speed. After that we practiced it as a class.

Driving home afterward, I began to think I hadn’t taught it quite correctly. When I got home I loaded up the technique DVD and checked the video. Well, not only had I not performed the technique correctly, I had created an entirely new one. Variant four, in effect. And Sensei had said nothing.

After getting over that shock, I thanked him at the next class for the opportunity to teach and said I hoped I’d do the correct technique next time, instead of inventing one. He just shrugged and said that was part of training, too. And that was the end of it.

That episode sticks with me because it reflects so well the mindset that underlies Aikido. Mistakes are inevitable in training, because we are learning. And so we embrace them and let them go. Next class, fresh start. Now replace “training” with “life,” and “class” with “day,” and there is the real value of that mindset.

This just never gets old. (Please note that he is NOT doing Aikido, although I practiced many times with a staff, or “jo”.)

Now fast forward to last Saturday in Traverse City, at the starting line of the Bigfoot Snowshoe race. I was doing the 5K, which is plenty enough for me.

I have run this race ten straight years, with several top 20 finishes and even a couple in the top 10, so I lined up with the front runners and went out hard from the get-go. It followed the usual pattern; out of breath a quarter-mile in, agony for the next quarter-mile, then recover and settle into an uncomfortable, but sustainable, pace on the singletrack.

But something was different this time. Apparently the course had changed, because we were running far more on groomed ski trails and access roads than singletrack through the woods. And I hadn’t seen flags for some time. On the upside, I was really rocking it, with hardly a runner behind me.

We’re lost, but we’re making good time.

Yogi Berra

You have figured out by now that I took a wrong turn somewhere. I wish I had figured that out as fast, because I went nearly three miles of the 5K before I realized I was way off track. And I wasn’t the only one. Others joined me as I backtracked, and eventually we found our way back to the correct trail, which was now jammed with the back of the pack and walkers.

What had happened? I had committed a cardinal sin of runners. To quote race director Randy, “Follow the flags. Do NOT follow the cute butt in front of you.” Well, my eyes had been on some runners ahead of me, because I assumed a) they were part of the race, and b) they knew the correct route. They were all in winter gear, so I couldn’t really tell how cute their butts were, but I’d followed them anyway. And others had followed mine.

So much for a top 20 finish, then. By then all our group cared about was finishing at all. And we eventually did. And you know? I was able to relax and enjoy the last part of the race for once. Instead of trying to pass runners on the final stretch, I jogged along and appreciated the crowd around me, the sun peeking through the clouds, and feeling warm outside on a winter morning.

So what did this have to do with Aikido? Well, I ended up running an extra mile and a half on top of the 3.1, or in metric terms, I’d run 7.5K, smack in between the 5K and 10K distances. I hadn’t gotten lost, I’d invented a new race! Can’t decide between the 5K and 10K? I got your back! (Or butt, maybe.)

I’ll reserve judgment on whether my butt is cute, although my wife says it is, and who am I to argue with her?

So that’s my angle on what happened. Can’t wait to see what I invent next? I’ll be sure to write about it here!


One thought on “The Inventor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s