Why Did the Runner Cross the Road?

Why did the runner cross the road?
To get to the grass.

That’s what I found when I took up training for my first cross country meet in 35 years. I signed up for the USATF Club National Championships, held at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA in December. I’m writing about the training and the race for an upcoming article in Runners World.

But before I could write, I had to run. That means dialing back some of my time on the pavement and shifting my miles to dirt, gravel and any uneven surface I could find. And most of all, I had to get on the grass.

What we see is a reflection of us.

Picture that in your mind for a moment: The Grass. What do you see?

For what that word summons in your mind tells us acres about you.

Was it a sprawling suburban lawn, with leaves of grass supercharged and densely maintained by fertilizer-juiced soil and sharpened by the blades of a riding mower? Or the naturally sprouting tall riparian buffer along a rolling stream?

The curbed patch of play area in a busy urban park? A field for cattle to graze? A golf course? Massive ornamentals?

A safe place to play soccer. A dangerous place to land a plane.

Just more freaking work that I have to do in my yard.  A source of hay fever. A knoll in Dallas. Easter basket detritus. Dandelions. Medical marijuana.

For me as I run, grass means relief and restoration. Relief from the harsh demands of running on roads– and restoration of the strength and complex mechanics of my feet and legs.

Yet for a few runners I spoke with, it means something else– the fear of injury. Running off road comes with its risks, but so do the repetitions of running on the road. Luckily for me, the grass-covered dirt not only hasn’t exposed me to injury (yet, knock on moss-covered log), it is helping me build my immunity to injury by making my body adjust to its contours.

The more I think about it, and talk about my training on grass with other, the more the truth of this thread became clear.
Even something as common as grass– or perhaps even because of its ubiquity, can divide people into different camps. Not intentionally (grass doesn’t have an opinion on this matter), just by how we can take the same word and put it in much different places in our minds.

Is it even grass at all?

Those multiple meanings is what we see in the news and in our communities and our friends and loved ones– two of us can see the exact same thing, the same person, and yet see two completely versions of them. It’s tempting to believe our view is right, but is it? Or is it just different? Can there be only one view that is correct? Or is the right answer merely the one that agrees with our preconceived notion.

We can be so emotionally attached to our version of grass (or race, or gun ownership, or wealth distribution or how a kid should behave in a restaurant, or how a woman should dress, you name it) that we dig our heels in and find it unnecessary to understand another’s point of view. We seek our own truth in the kind of media (and people) we surround ourselves with.

I’m as guilty as anyone, and I can see this bias come out in how I look at the grass. Are you like me?  Does It makes you wonder– “What else do I see this way?”.

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