By Christopher Cudworth
Many of us track the miles we cover through records in journals, online or through new technology such as Strava or other digital methods. But nothing tracks our existence like the immediacy of our own tracks, left behind in some soft surface.
Most of the time we leave them behind without thinking about them. They are memories untold. Yet once in a while, do you not turn around to see your own tracks in the wet grass, or on a wet or snowy path?
Tracking our form
Our tracks tell an interesting tale, if we pause to think about them. Each track is a record of our own foot plant, or the steadiness (or lack thereof) in the way we ride our bikes.
As a runner who has long cared about form and efficiency, I often glance back to see how direct and straight I am running, and whether my footplant is straight ahead or ducklike. Don’t like ducklike. Learned long ago in a Sports Illustrated article at the start of my running career that pointing your toes out is the least efficient way to run. It sets off all sorts of other biomechanical inefficiencies. So I glance behind me on days when the snow is newly fallen, or the rain leaves a sheen on the street so that I can check my own form, from the ground up.
Leaving tracks behind
There is also the transitory aspect of tracks to consider. On days when there is no trace of our passing, no tracks to consider, we run and ride without trace in the world. Usually the ground wears us out, not the other way around. The soles of our shoes wear away with each stride. The rubber on our bike tires gets thinner each second on the road or trail. The world is wearing us down, it would seem, except that running and riding make us stronger in many ways. We wear ourselves out to gain strength. That is the way of zen. Contradictions abound.
We run races as marks of our existence. Put ourselves through the attrition of marathons and half-marathons and 10Ks and Century Rides, then mark our efforts by placing stickers on our vehicles that say 26. 2, 13.1 or 100. Tracks, you see. Tee shirts. Trophies. Medals. Tracks. Tattoos. Tracks.
Yesterday during a mountain bike ride I came to a gate where the only way to continue on a road was to ride around the end of the fence. Based on the only track in the snow, just one rider had preceded me on this normally busy section of road. That is, since the snow had fallen. Of course there is also the fact that in the days before me, the gate would have been open to all traffic. So no one would have needed to go around the fence.
The rest of the world could have passed through unnoticed and I would have been none the wiser. That is the zen of realization. Our comprehensions are limited by our circumstance.
That is a wise thing to appreciate against what we often think we know about the world. Even our religions sometimes cannot help us know more than we humanly know. Christian services often end with a benediction, gleaned from Phillipians 4:7: “And (may) the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
There is a spiritual aspect to our running and riding, you see. An understanding of the world that comes from moving through it.
We see yet do not always know. Know but do not always understand. Understand but do not always comprehend. Comprehend but struggle to conceive. Conceive but fail to transcend. Transcend to find that our journey ends back where we belong.
That is the zen of running and riding. We are joined in this journey by many other transient souls. Geese flying through the air or walking in the snow. Graceful in sky. Awkward on land.
Sometimes our pets accompany us on this journey. Some run with us. Others lead us on walks, or follow along. If we are lucky and wise, we appreciate the company, just as we appreciate our training partners. We do not always run and ride alone.
At night we glance up to find planets in the sky, wondrous and fixed, it
seems, in some form of time. Yet they are moving too. Much faster than we can comprehend. They leave no trace of their movement in time or space, yet we know they are there. Moving with us. Away from us. Toward us.
Then a comet appears from somewhere out in the universe. It trails a tale of gas and ice, tracks in the sky, that dissipate and vanish even as new traces are created. It is the way of all passing. Tracks made and lost. Worth the journey, if only just a glance behind. To see how those tracks look, and to recall our own passage.