The Bolder Boulder means many things to many people.
For the elites in Monday morning's International Team Challenge, it is a highly competitive race against some of road running's best, an attempt to take home part of the $110,000 (before bonuses) prize purse.
For the sub-elites, Bolder Boulder is a high-level test against peers, in one of the deepest and fastest top 100 to 200 fields of any race in the world.
For still others, it is an attempt to run a personal best, whether it's 40 minutes or 65 minutes. And for the rest of us, runners and walkers of all shapes and sizes, the Bolder Boulder is a yearly rite of passage, marking the long day's journey from winter into spring, a celebration of the Boulder lifestyle of health, fitness and community.
Most importantly, it is a time to remember a deceased loved one who served in the military and to honor Memorial Day, a chance to take a moment's reflection during the moving playing of "Taps" while the crowd remains silent.
Times do not really matter. You'll see tens of thousands run, walk, laugh and cry though 6.2 miles of city streets. Being part of this seething mass of humanity moving along together, with thoughts of politics, color and creed forgotten, just might give rise to that ineffable feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself, helping turn our separate selves into a connected whole.
I've had such experiences, most memorably years ago in Yaounde, Cameroon, where I was coaching and racing a marathon. A Russian had won the marathon the previous year, and I was sent to uphold our country's honor. I'm proud to say I represented the U.S. well. However, it was a hot and humid day and, gradually slowing, I was reduced to a marathon shuffle.
Nearing the 20-mile mark, a runner from Cameroon caught up and jogged with me for a bit, offering enough encouragement to keep me going. Soon, he ran off ahead. No longer concerned with my place or time, I shuffled on, following traces of blood from the cuts from the plastic sandals the runner was wearing.
When I finally finished — can there be any greater joy than crossing a marathon finish line when you've "hit the wall"? — my new friend was there waiting, with a big hug and even bigger smile. We were the same age and same size, and I gave him my pair of new racing flats.
From that marathon encounter sprang the Boulder nonprofit One World Running (originally called "Shoes for Africa"). Summing up my life in a sentence, I returned to Boulder with no job, no possessions, no money. In other words, I was free.
I ended up writing, and, with the debut of elite teams from Cuba in the Bolder Boulder on Monday, I recall what Alberto Juantorena, the great Cuban double Olympic gold medalist, said, when interviewing him for my first book, "Running with the Legends": "I look at you, and I see one head and two eyes — maybe they are green, maybe they are blue or black — but there are not four eyes. We all have two, and that's what makes us in common."
CNN was in town this weekend to film a segment on Shambhala's "Running with the Mind of Meditation" for its "Staying Well" program. Mindfulness is in part noticing, and noticing in the largest, most expansive sense is recognizing our connection, our union with the "ultimate mystery of being," as scholar Joseph Campbell put it in an essay in the recently published "The Mythic Dimension."
Campbell could have been referring to the experience some of you will be fortunate to have Monday morning, when he wrote of the "... wonderful innocence and the marvel of life when it recognizes itself in harmony with all the others. Everyone is somehow or other at one with everybody else."
If you get that feeling, you have all the philosophy and theology you will ever need. All the petty twittering that goes on will fade to nugatory background noise, of no real consequence.
You can then focus on the moment, perhaps full of gratitude and awe for the mystery of being alive and able to run in full form. Take that feeling of harmony and bring into all aspects of your life, and the true value of the Bolder Boulder, and running, will become apparent.
(This column dedicated to the memory of "Big Rock," who loved the whole Bolder Boulder experience.)
For details on travel to Cuba and elsewhere with One World Running: oneworldrunning.com. Contact Mike Sandrock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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