Thanks to the Ovenbird, Notes on the Pineland Farms Trail Festival and what’s really inspirational

As I suspected, I haven’t gotten a huge response to the formation of the “Trail running and Auditory Birding on the Go Society”. Perhaps the name is just too off putting. Should we try “The Ancient Order of Trail Running Bird Hearers”? Or perhaps “The Birding By Ear Trail Running Guild”? Thanks to those of you who DID express interest. Maybe some day…in the mean time, rest assured, there are a few other weirdos just like you out there.

Pre race-hair down, sweatshirt on.

Pre race-hair down, sweatshirt on.

In the mean time, birding while running saved the day again. On Sunday I participated in the Salomon Trail Running Festival at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, running the 25k race. 25k is 15 miles to us using Imperial Units, and is my longest race in 8 years. Its also the longest distance I plan to run this season. The day started overcast, gray, damp and cold. I stayed the night before with my friend S and her family; we were both running the 25k and spent the morning fretting about what to wear and how not to be cold, which is sort of a pointless endeavor when it is damp and foggy. I knew I didn’t want to over dress, and that I wanted to trust in my body’s ability to care for itself, so I went pretty minimal. My plan was to leave my heavy sweatshirt on until minutes before the start (my plan worked by the way!), and run with the barest essentials. When you look at the people who win these races, they aren’t encumbered by fussy nutrition belts or hydration packs, gloves, hats or arm warmers. Usually, they are wearing shorts, socks and sneakers. Maybe a shirt or a sports bra if they are female. That’s it. They live in their bodies, and whatever anxiety they have, it doesn’t manifest itself in external doodads, bells, whistles or worrying about exactly the right shirt. I admire the animal nature of this and sought to embody that a little bit. I only wished that I had brought a thin but warm hat to wear, but instead I made due with the rather thick and unruly head of hair I’ve been given. I wore it loose at the start of the race, thinking it would create a large zone of warm air around my head (I was right). As a bonus, the feeling of running with my hair flowing free is the definition of liberation.

I love this picture because I actually look like I know what I am doing!

I love this picture because I actually look like I know what I am doing! Photo by Bryan McCarthy

By the end of the race, all the worrying about the cold was for naught, as the sun came out and warmed us up quite nicely. In the open fields it was almost too much (almost-but after this past winter I am still a long ways from complaining about the sun or the heat). I was thankful I hadn’t over dressed. I was thankful for the unexpected challenge of the “relentlessly rolling” course. I was thankful for the most amazing aid stations I’ve ever seen (gummy bears, watermelon, ibuprofin and pickles to go along with the standard gatorade and water–it pays to race on the same course at the same time as an ultra marathon). Mostly though, I was thankful for the Ovenbirds I heard calling the entire 2 hours and 38 minutes I was running. Ovenbirds aren’t particularly special and their call isn’t particularly melodious, but they mean a lot to me because the call of the Ovenbird is the first bird call I learned. They are warblers that look like thrushes, building dome like nests (ovens) on the forest floor; their call is the one that goes: “‘tea-Cher, tea-Cher, tea-CHER, Tea-CHER, TEA-CHER’”. I heard many birds that day, birds who’s calls I recognized but the only one I can remember, the only one I kept hearing, every time my mind strayed or the running got hard or my feet hurt was my old friend, the Ovenbird.

Downing the post run green smoothie recovery drink.

Downing the post run green smoothie recovery drink.

When I finished the race, I dutifully posted some photos to social media, and basked in the praise and admiration of my friends and family (isn’t that what social media is all about? Getting other people to pay attention to us, making us feel better about our selves?). One friend remarked “You inspire me”, and that comment hit me hard because the friend who had made the comment is a working artist who runs her own gallery, some one who is actively in touch with and expressing her truths through her art, and sharing that truth in the world. In my value system, this is essentially the highest ideal. She inspires me, and I aspire to that kind of psychological/intellectual integrity some day. I felt a twinge of shame: Seriously? You make the world a better place through your art, I just ran a foot race.

I realized though, in preparing for and doing the run I am exploring my own kind of integrity, physical integrity. I have a window of opportunity here, a period of good health, and just enough youth to really explore what the human body can do, or at least, what my human body can do. I believe that humans evolved to be active, to live fully in these all too frail lumps of flesh, maybe we aren’t all exactly born to run, but we are all born to move. All this running of mine is just probing the boundaries of what I consider to be a normal and perhaps fundamental human experience. So in that sense, no one should really be impressed by a 15 mile run, pretty much anyone can do it, with enough preparation. By the same token, I also believe humans have evolved to seek the truth and express it in whatever way they can, through their actions, beliefs, communities, and art. So perhaps what my friend is doing is pretty normal too. I think we are both lucky to have touched something essentially human, and to have the integrity and opportunity to pursue those things to their fullest. We agreed to be co-inspired. I can live with that.

white trillium close up

Sarah O'Malley

About Sarah O'Malley

Sarah is a science educator, naturalist, writer, tide pool fanatic and burgeoning obsessive trail runner. From personal experience she believes strongly in the restorative power of contact with nature, especially experiences that make your heart beat a little faster or get your hands and feet dirty. She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula with her husband and two dogs.