Walking With Spirit

A few days ago, a friend asked me what I do for exercise. My answer: nothing. Oh, I used to do some things. Weight training, biking, yoga, walking. I loved walking. I really liked the long events, usually charity events, the walk-a-thon type that were about 10 miles long. The most memorable of them was in California.

Even though I had a friend along from Indiana for the trip, I walked alone in the event. This was part of the Big Sur Marathon that was run on Highway 1 along the coast of California from Big Sur north into Carmel. The walkers were bussed in to our starting gate at Rocky Point. I clearly remember this scene. There were hundreds of people all standing around eating bagels, sipping water and chattering excitedly. A hush came over the crowd as the first runner started to come around the bend. Out there in the morning mist, the sounds of voices stilled and the surf's pounding faded away to reveal a single sound - that of those first runners' feet barely making contact with pavement. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. These were magnificent humans. Focused. Strong and lean. Rhythmic. The sight brought tears to my eyes as I was moved by their sheer spirit. Even in relating the story to my friend, 14 years later, I was once again moved to tears.

Soon more and more runners appeared around the cliff's edge. Men and women of all colors and ages. I even saw people in specialized wheel chairs - and people who had shed their shoes so they could keep running. No shoes. Miles and miles on pavement. I felt both chagrined that I was merely walking 10 miles and honored that I was allowed to participate in an event with these dedicated souls.

Finally we walkers were cut loose on the course. As I walked along and enjoyed the breathtaking scenery, I occasionally shared space with runners who were painfully pushing themselves to finish. Individually, a few runners stopped to walk with me, asking me where I was from and what brought me to the marathon. We'd share a few cups of water from the roadside volunteers and then my momentary friends would say goodbye and run off to finish their race with themselves.

What I learned is that, for the most part, these marathoners aren't racing each other. They are racing themselves. I'm sure they all have different reasons. I imagine some of them don't even really know those reasons. I'm quite sure it was the same for us walkers. Regardless of the why, it was a transcendent experience that I will never forget. It was a moment when I was fully aware of my connection with a higher part of the collective human spirit.