I am not a runner. I know many runners, including friends, colleagues and my dad, who find the activity zen-like and meaningful. For them it's a way to explore, to let their mind go blank, to exercise, and (especially for the ones who do races) a way to compete against themselves, to push themselves.
None of this has ever appealed to me. I haven't run since 8th grade, and while I work out most days and take that exercise seriously, the idea of running--to say nothing of doing any kind of race--held no appeal whatsoever. I don't do it, I don't think I'm particularly good at it, and so that was that, case closed.
And yet, this summer, I found myself running the "Chapel On The Hill Chase", a 5k race that takes place on Alumni Day at Camp Harlam, where I serve as faculty.
What on earth was I thinking?
This was not the first 5k at Harlam; there have been two others and the first one I manned a water station for the participants; the second I came home to do a wedding. But every year many of my colleagues participated, and this year one of us, Rabbi Ben David, an avid runner, proposed getting faculty shirts and having us go as a team.
Normally that wouldn't convince me. However, I felt compelled. Why? Because I believe in camp. And what I believe is that camp is all about stretching yourself, doing something new and different and maybe even a little bit scary, because at camp you can push that boundary safely while surrounded by a supportive community. And if this is true, then I had to live it as well.
So I registered. I got the shirt. I lined up with several colleagues, alumni, campers and staff, all of whom were way more experienced runners than I was; they had run for years for exercise, had competed since high school, and had run this course, which involved looping camp and going up the hill that leads to the Chapel three times. I was, frankly, terrified. But I felt strongly that if I believe in the ethos of camp and teach it to our students and my own son, that camp is a place to go beyond your limitations, then I would have to lead by example. Besides which, I'd already paid for the shirt.
As we began the race, a colleague lined up next to me and paced the race with me almost till the end, keeping me from falling behind or burning out too soon. The kids coming up from breakfast watched and cheered us on, including my son and the kids in his bunk. We even talked to various other runners along the way, half-jokingly talking about different Jewish values and doing a mini-teach. It was a slog going up that hill, and I definitely felt it in the hours afterwards. But I didn't die, I didn't get hurt, I don't think I made a fool of myself (much), and most importantly, I felt as if I was able to deepen my connection to the community around me and challenge some preconceived notions I had about my own abilities. I'm not saying I'm taking up running tomorrow, but there was a real sense of accomplishment, and a real sense of support.
Camp is all about going beyond your limitations, in the same way that Judaism is all about asking questions. The harder the questions, the more challenging the exploration, the more meaningful the connection and experience. And for that, I'm grateful.
(and for those who care about these things: my time was 35:51, running an average of 11:33/mile. Hey, I didn't drop dead).