A 10K, A Ghost And A White Horse

My first experience at the locally-famous Leatherman’s Loop 10K trail race can’t be described in just one word, but if I was forced to do so, the word that most comes to mind is ‘heraldic.’  And the sense of the word that I mean to invoke is the one that speaks of pageantry, of rich tradition, and of something that is a spectacle to behold.   The Leatherman’s Loop is all of those things and much more, and for as long as race founder Tony Godino and the amazing group of race organizers that surround him are in charge of this event, it will be nothing less than a thing of beauty.

Yes, that’s right, this event is beautiful.  Without a doubt.  Everywhere you look, there’s something going on that makes it so, from the young children playfully climbing on the giant dead-and-downed tree branches near the finish line to the looks of marvel on runners’ faces as they wade thru waist-deep water out in the distant reaches of the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.  Even Mr. Godino himself is a beautiful man, wearing his gratitude on his shirtsleeve, and making each participant and each volunteer feel like they are something special.

It isn’t so much that you want to run the Leatherman’s Loop as it is that you simply want to be a part of the experience.  Virtually everything about the event is unique, and welcoming, and you can tell at even the most casual glance that great care goes into each and every part of the effort, as if each piece is a finely-detailed swatch in some grand tapestry.

The 25th edition of ‘The Loop’ was greeted by beautiful weather, with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low 50’s at race time.  The race start was preceded by a Native American reading, and while our orator spoke, you could almost sense that somewhere out there in the woods the Leatherman’s ghost was quietly listening, waiting for runners to pass him by and touch each one of them with his gentle spirit as they did.  When the runners all began to move across the grassy field at the start, it was 1100 people moving as one, all at different speeds, but with the same goal – to commune with the Leatherman and perhaps leave a little part of their own spirit with him in the process.

Joining in the event for the 2nd year in a row was Micah True, known more broadly to runners as the character ‘Caballo Blanco’ from Christopher McDougall‘s well-known 2009 book “Born To Run.”  The Caballo’s involvement in the Leatherman’s Loop seems only a logical development in the evolution of the race.   Tony Godino takes immense pride in the fact that his event eschews sponsorship (it is 100% runner-supported), and Caballo’s grassroots approach to the sport makes for a natural symbiosis between the two men.

The race course is traditionally a muddy one, and this year was no exception.  Almost from the first entry into the woods, broad and gloppy stretches of mud were the rule rather than the exception. In places, it seemed almost unnatural, as if race officials had brought in truckloads of it on purpose and grievously dumped it at inopportune spots along the route.  And that is not to even mention the several stream crossings that are demanded of runners, with the last one coming a mere 500 yards from the finish, a point when all of your gears have been used up and you’re starting to think about how nice it’ll be to change into clean clothes!

The only notably dry places on the course were the hills, of which there were many, with the most memorable one being a devilishly steep sand hill at about the 4-mile mark.  To make runners smile before having to attack this hill, an authentically-dressed mariachi band happily blared traditional song at the base of the climb.  It was so enjoyable to hear them that for a moment, I forgot that this was a race. 

As runners enter the final segment of the course, they’re treated to a long stretch of pine forest, with soft needles underfoot and (thankfully) a minimal amount of mud.   Amid this little bit of trail runners’ joy was a cleverly placed pair of violinists, situated on either side of the trail, and playing their instruments in such a way as to remind us of Jethro Tull and the late 70’s album “Songs From The Wood.”  I could almost hear Ian Anderson singing “Jack In The Green” as I gleefully and almost blessedly ran past this entertaining musical duo in the middle of the most ethereal area of the forest.

In fact, the album title may be a pertinent metaphor for the experience that is the Leatherman’s Loop.  Just as the Wikipedia entry of this well-known Tull album describes, The Loop is rife with “folk and fantasy imagery, and ornamental folk arrangements.”  To run the race is to combine reality and fantasy, and to do so in a way that that makes it difficult to tell one from the other.    It is a treat for the senses, and a soothing and centering experience that you will take home with you and revisit again for a long time to come.

{photos courtesy of Kate Stoker and Frank Colella}

About Todd Jennings

I am a runner, a father, a philosopher, and a writer. I am also a seeker. Among the things that I seek are beauty and truth. From an external perspective, I've found both of those things when I run in the woods or on the quiet trails of the mountain tops . With each new run, more truth and beauty reveals itself to me. And so I keep running....
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