My first Leatherman’s Loop, by Chris Jaworski

My first Leatherman’s Loop (2006), by Chris Jaworski

To help enhance your experience today—to appreciate the beauty all around you—here is a simple meditation/mantra adapted from the Navajo and Irish traditions. Say it as you run—it will give strength to your legs and courage to your heart.

imageBeauty before me as I run
Beauty behind me as I run
Beauty below me as I run
Beauty above me as I run
Beauty beside me as I run
Beauty within me as I run
I see beauty all around
In beauty may we walk
In beauty may we see
In beauty may we all be

This starting-line blessing from Danny Martin, a former priest, brought a sense of veneration and quiet celebration to a cloudy, rainy Sunday morning, April 23.

But then 800 blessed runners responded with a surprisingly intense roar and whoop—a groundswell of spirit that seemed to come from somewhere else, from the earth, and travel up into our feet and legs, up through hearts and lungs, over tongues and lips. At work was something primitive, deep, large, inspiring. We weren’t visiting Nature; we were part of it.

In the days leading up to the Leatherman’s Loop 10K trail run, I had checked the weather reports. Rain, heavy rain, several inches of rain had been forecast for the hours preceding our morning on Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, New York.

What about the two river crossings on the course? I heard race codirector Tony Godino say that the water was high and that a ladder might be needed for one crossing. Yikes!

At the start, Wayne Carlson, Rick Pingitore, and I were quickly separated in the torrent of runners surging over a field of thick, sodden grass. On hitting the trail, we quickly discovered some serious mud and puddles. So soon? So soon! After hopping around to avoid getting dirty and wet so early in the game, many simply gave in to the inevitable.

Beauty before me as I run. Parts of the path were covered with one downed tree after another. I saw these trees not as obstacles but as elements to be integrated into my run. Some I crossed with an unbroken stride, others with a leap, still others with a jumping on and off. Other parts of the path were carpeted with red pine needles, which welcomed me with their startling color and muffled, cushiony crunch.

Beauty behind me as I run. The couple times I slipped or fell, I heard an inquiring voice at my back or felt a helping hand on my arm.

Beauty below me as I run. As for mud, the Loop put Pennsylvania’s Ugly Mudder and Mt. Penn Mudfest to shame! Think thick, slippery, shoe-sucking mud. (Some runners wrapped duct tape around their shoes to keep from losing them.) Loss of friction made some hills hard to climb, but on one downhill it also allowed me 15 feet of mud-surfing! Later, in swampland, we could galumph through mud, splash through the puddles in between, or try to avoid all that by keeping to the trail’s narrow, grassy, thorn-lined shoulders. What to do? Keep moving!

Beauty above me as I run. Not another hill to climb! Most often I avoided looking up and dug in to reach the top. One time was different. Leaving the low-lying swamp, I heard a man calling from up ahead, around the four-mile mark. As I drew nearer, I realized he was yodeling. Finally I saw our yodeler at the top of a hill, a 75-foot sandhill, the steepest hill on the course. His voice showed us the way and, I swear, pulled us up. Thank you, John Lawrence.

Beauty beside me as I run. At points, the trail ran along Stone Hill River, and a glance at one in relation to the other left me feeling that I too was in the flow. Once I stooped to get, trailside, a whiff of evergreen in April. After the sandhill, the path widened, and I was side by side with other runners, each dealing with the terrain differently—some seeking solid ground, others plowing straight through mud and water. Here I got one of those remedial life lessons …

Beauty within me as I run. After silently chuckling at other runners’ messy but minor falls, I myself became better acquainted with Mother Earth. I slipped, levitated, and landed face-first in a huge mud puddle! All I could do was laugh at myself and my muddy baptism …

… and then rinse off! I had managed the early water crossing, a knee-high stream, just fine, but there was still the deeper one near the end. Would I have to pull myself across, rung by rung, on the ladder? There was no ladder. For safety’s sake, I watched and followed another runner. The water was waist-high, but cold, and it dipped down precisely where the current was strongest. I kept moving, toward cheers on the far bank, and was soon on terra firma again.

But now what? Oh, yeah, don’t stand around—run for the finish! With my legs flash-frozen by the water, however, the final quarter-mile was a real struggle. (Usually I’ve got a sprint in me at the end, but no way that day!) We finished in the middle of the same field where we had begun, near a large, lone oak tree, under a sky dwarfing runners and land.

Visit for photographs and more information about this annual event and its course, a “foot-boggling array of obstacles strategically placed by nature to impede forward motion of the swift and sure-footed kind.”


Chris Jaworski is a trail runner who lives in New Jersey and runs with the Essex Running Club. He maintains a great constantly updated list of upcoming trail races on their website.