San Diego, Ca. — Driving home from yesterday’s Wild Duck 5K in Vista, the opening race of the 2013 Dirt Dog Cross Country Series, we came upon a group of folks walking out of Qualcomm Stadium after completing the Color in Motion 5K, one of the 18 such fun runs staged around the country.
And so here was the sport of running in its full, current arc. Beside me was a salt-crusted racer, fully given to the task of training to run full speed ahead from point A to point B, now hungry for a hearty breakfast and a following nap. Out on the crosswalk was a young family still drenched in the colors of fun and frolic, as if modern-day members of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters – minus the hallucinogens.
Once upon a time, racing used to be so simple, so elemental: one foot in front of another, beginning with either, counting neither. A sport of fools bent on making the connection that critic Edmund Wilson once ascribed to Hemingway in 1927.
“…all that seems to him most painful is somehow closely bound up with what seems to him most enjoyable.”
If ever there were a definition of racing that would be it, which is why it has always been so difficult to explain the sport to the uninitiated. The concept of the difficult pleasure is simply beyond the grasp of most. It’s one reason why those who do embrace such struggle tend toward smug condescension, viewing themselves as avatars of a special world only the tough can gain entry to. Needless to say, not every man seeks such entry, and many are, in fact, equally smug in their disdain for the caved-chest devotees.
Which is where events like the Color in Motion 5K come into play. While not challenging in the same sense as an all-out foot race over rolling terrain against an uncompromising clock, the Color in Motion 5K, like many such new-age fitness-based events, serves as a much needed bridge over the gulf separating what had previously been the only two alternatives, race or relax, Running Nut or Couch Potato.
This has always been the preferred technique in getting kids active. Don’t make things stern and rigid. And for Godsakes don’t turn it into an ‘eat your vegetables’ endeavor that’s ‘good for you’. Heaven forbid. First make it fun, a game, then once it takes root it can be transplanted onto the field of competition.
Over thirty years ago we saw the advent of all-women’s races like the New York Mini 10K and Boston’s Tuft’s 10K (nee, The Bonne Bell) that offered women the opportunity to come into the sport with less of the intimidation that mixed races engendered. After all, who wants to stand on the starting line afraid to come in last? But that is exactly how many people feel in their first races, and it’s what stops more than a few from signing up in the first place.
For a long while there have been Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trots to help prepare for the holiday onslaught, and other holiday-based fun runs. But these days events like the Color in Motion 5K, and its cousin events like Muddy Buddy, are giving people the opportunity to get off their asses and into a sense of motion throughout the year.
Who knows if any of the color runners may eventually graduate to standard road races much less cross country where that age-old question, “who’s number one?”, is still most important? But as the nation yearns for both real bridge-building to replace its aging infrastructure, and a symbolic bridge-building as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, color me sanguine that such new fitness-oriented bridges have been constructed in this one little corner of the country.