Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Penny Race

I used to do a lot of trail running races. I did decently well, finishing in the top 3 in my age group a few times. During a half marathon in Marin County I crested the final hill and was about to descend through an lovely second-growth redwood and fir forest. I was again doing well enough, well inside the first ten finishers. I was exhausted and in some pain, but thought I could probably soldier to the finish and drop only a spot or two. But then I looked around; early morning fog had settled into the grove in front of me, the giant evergreens morphing into ethereal specters, a familiar but wondersome transformation I have grown accustomed to after running through hundreds of redwood groves.

And my thought was this: I am in the midst of the best place I will experience in weeks and my goal at the moment is to get through it as fast as possible?

After that I took a left turn, away from the race and along a creek, jogging slowly. I've not done a trail race since.

Perhaps we should reconsider what it means to race, to compete. Races are easy things, simple to grasp because they are so easily measured. But what if we went after a different, more complicated metric? Something like flickr's "interestingness". Perhaps Dillard puts it better:

The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny? But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

The Penny Race. Teams of people bring their mobiles and set off to capture photos and videos of interesting things within a given period of time. Explore as far or as close as you wish, but return to the start by a certain time to show off your compiled multimedia document. Teams vote on a winner: the best is treated to a round of frothy ales.

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