Running Provides Tangible Connections to the Past
The Kentucky History Half Marathon is one of my favorite new traditions. Now on its third year, the race has established roots and promises to continue growing in the future. As a long-time runner, I've completed hundreds of races, so I know a good one when I stumble across it, and the Kentucky History Half certainly fits the bill.
The course is challenging, but not torturous. Veterans of our first two years might disagree and remember the cemetery hills, which include hundreds of feet of elevation gain and loss. But I'd point out that the hills are all in the first half of the race and the latter stages are all down on the relative flat land near the Kentucky River. Front-loading the hills like this makes for a much more enjoyable race and is easier mentally than having the prospect of hills looming over the second half of the course.
To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of a race is the time it gives me to think. The solitude of the exercise allows me to chase my thoughts farther and they can lead in surprising directions. Last year during the race, for example, I was struck by how rarely we focus on the physical realities that shape people’s history. The immediacy of the physical sensations that come with running created a sense of connection to those who had come before me. The burning in my legs felt the same as that experienced by Daniel Boone centuries before as he ran after bison or elk while on the hunt.
The refreshingly cool water volunteers passed out at the rest stations tasted much like the water drank by dusty and parched soldiers who marched across the state during the Civil War. I beheld the same the views of the Kentucky River and the state capitol buildings as those Kentuckians who preceded me in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Kentuckians who came before me experienced and shaped everything that I encountered. Experiencing history takes on a different meaning when you focus on the similarities between our physical lives and those of our predecessors.
The entire world bears the evidence of our history. Our lives unfold on the same stage that was occupied by Kentuckians from Isaac Shelby to Martha Layne Collins, from Laura Clay to Muhammad Ali. Yet, this reality fades from the forefront of our thoughts during our day-to-day lives. We can feel untethered and disconnected from our past, which can make us feel powerless to affect the future. But carving out time to think about our history and feel our connections to it can have the opposite effect.
Might I suggest a run or a walk?