Running naked can be illuminating.
Earlier this month I ran the Oktoberfest Half Marathon in Leavenworth, my third half marathon since spring. I’d already met my time goals for the year so I decided to run this one naked. That’s runner lingo for stripping the watch. The rest of me was fully clothed.
While I’ve read race reports about running in the buff, I prefer my natural running to include views of rocks, trees and water, not expanses of fast moving flesh. I also prefer to have my softer parts held snuggly in place and out of sight while on the run, without unnecessary bouncing, jiggling or chafing.
Not wearing my watch was hard enough.
I’m not a casual runner, though I’m also not particularly fast. I wear my watch on every run so I can enter my distance and time in a spreadsheet where I also track pace, mileage and a few other statistics. Some might call this obsessive, but looking at that progress gives me a sense of accomplishment and hope.
I’ve come a long way. I have a long way to go.
Since the race was measured and chip-timed, I knew I’d still have an entry for my spreadsheet. The only thing lost by doffing my watch was the ability to figure out my pace during those 13.1 miles. What I gained was worth it.
At first I kept instinctively looking at my wrist. Naked. Numberless. I wondered how fast I was running. I’d positioned myself between the 8- and 9-minute pace groups at the start to match my last two race times but knew from experience my first few crowded miles would probably be faster. The adrenaline always gets me. It’s like driving on a congested freeway. You just want to pass people.
After a few miles the throng thinned and I settled in to enjoy the view, still glancing at my empty wrist from time to time. My watch is simple, without any satellite connection, so usually during a race I do a lot of mental math at each mile marker. Without those calculations to occupy my thoughts, they drifted.
I looked up, noticing a few orange trees sprinkled among the evergreens and the rocky peaks towering above me tipped in white. Was that an early snow, I wondered, or last winter’s slow-melting snow.
My mind wandered to the children’s book “Heidi,” mountain goats and how glad I was this race didn’t go over that crag. The rolling hill I was ascending was enough to make my quads ache and my breath come in shorter gasps.
That made me notice the clear, crisp mountain air, which made me thankful we’d chosen to run this year instead of 2012. Last fall, forest fires filled the sky with smoke that didn’t dissipate quickly.
Then a runner in a dirndl passed me, the dress barely resembling the authentic Bavarian dirndl my daughter owns after a year studying in Germany. Emily’s dirndl is an exquisite garment that comes to the knee and includes an apron that shows you’re single if you knot it on the left.
This woman didn’t need an apron to broadcast availability, I surmised, averting my gaze. Her costume was so short she didn’t need to stop and stretch to show her stuff.
With my mind occupied by a continuing stream of distractions I missed a couple of mile markers. Usually when this happens I figure out how far I’ve gone by time. Since I couldn’t, I started listening to my body better. I noticed my breath, my muscles, the swing of my arms and placement of my feet.
Adjusting my stride, I loosened my hands and leaned forward. I didn’t need a watch to know my pace picked up. Before long I spotted another dirndl ahead, long, blond braids bouncing on the runner’s back. This dirndl hit just above the knee, and as I gained ground it drew my gaze down to two very, hairy calves. It was a dude in a dirndl.
This made me laugh, then remember the young women in Bavaria I’d seen this spring wearing lederhosen hot pants, a fashion trend I hadn’t seen in Leavenworth.
That triggered a flood of memories of my month in Germany and a couple more miles passed in thoughtful gratitude. Over the rest of the race my thoughts meandered between the sensations of my body and the scents, sounds and sights around me to the memories and musings they triggered.
This is what I love most about running.
It clears the cacophony in my head, creating space for reflection. It strips away rationalization and all the other ways I choose to hide from myself. It makes the run’s destination an epiphany rather than a finish line.
In Leavenworth I crossed the finish line at mile 13.1 a mere 18 seconds slower than my last race. But I found my epiphany around mile 11.
That might not have happened if I’d worn a watch. I think I’ll run naked more often.
This post is my Front Porch column in the October 26, 2013 issue of The Spokesman-Review.