“I knew what the loneliness of the long-distance runner running across country felt like, realizing that as far as I was concerned this feeling was the only honesty and realness there was in the world.”

-Alan Sillitoe, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

As a kid, starting around age 10, I would run full-speed up the eight vertical acres of my father’s farm in Brookville, Indiana, then come tearing down. In my head, I was training for a race between cousins, neighbor kids, and family friends. I was to be the race designer, director, and ultimate champion, of course. There would be no prizes except for the glory of being the fastest kid around. I knew some of the competition could beat me on the street, but no one would have put in the training for this hill race.

Our hill was part of a power line cut, a clearing of about an acre across at its widest and perhaps a quarter acre at its narrowest. It was a scrubby, thorny, rocky thing with horse paths that zig-zagged in a switchback pattern to the top. I opted to forego the sure footing of the paths and instead zipped straight up. This route was steeper and more difficult, but it was shorter. Spikey thistle, loose limestone, and sundry thorn bushes and brush scraped my stubby legs, the scratches my battle wounds. It was a small price to pay for the victory that was sure to come. Lungs burning and legs shaking, I would reach the top and not even take in the Whitewater river valley, with its bottomland farms and rolling verdant hills spread out before me. Instead, I touched the telephone pole at the peak and made my way back down, flying with the reckless abandon that only a ten-year-old knows.

I’m not sure how long this training went on, but I regret to report that the dreamed of race never came to fruition. Perhaps I ran the idea past my father and brother and they laughed at the idea? Perhaps I couldn’t convince anyone else to toe the start line? I can’t really say. All I remember is the sense of urgency I felt during this training. I remember those runs up that hill and the drive to be the fastest runner to attempt it. This bramble-riddled hill was my place, my home. I don’t know that I have ever felt a stronger connection to a piece of land. This foot race might have been one way I imagined forging a stronger bond with it. Not to conquer it, but to show how rooted I was to it.

This race turned out to be a race of one, but it must have planted a seed that lay dormant for decades. Twenty years later, I would run my first trail race and find my calling. A few years beyond that, the grip of this hill moved me to toss my hat into the ring and register for The Barkley Fall Classic. In hindsight, it must have taught me that I will always run a race of one, against myself, and for myself alone. I can only hope that, come September, I can channel the love of that hill to propel me up its Barkley big brother,  Rat Jaw.