“After traveling three thousand miles from home and climbing to almost seven thousand feet elevation, I finally figured it out. Every time I encountered someone with that distinctive “glimmer” in their eye, it was more than just a look. It was an energy, an aura with a captivating transference. It had nothing to do with age, sex, nationality, politics or interest—it had everything to do with passion. I’d found the key to detecting passion, and it held up every time.” – Twenty-four Years to Boston
If you want to see the spirit of a runner, step into the pack at the starting line of a marathon and look into the eyes of those around. Those eyes are a direct channel to the spirit; they are pure energy. I see it all the time at races, in the eyes of kids who look to be twelve, and in the eyes of seniors who have a decade or two on me. It is the glimmer of hope, promise, life.
What I’ve learned over the years is that runners don’t have a monopoly on that “glimmer.” I see the same look in they eyes of a musician, woodworker, mason, artist, writer. I feel the enthusiasm of a runner when I talk to people who are passionate about hiking, tuning an engine, or playing the piano. It’s all relative.
The reference in the opening paragraph of this post is to an eighty-one year old man I’d met just below seven thousand feet elevation of Mount Rainier. He pointed south into the distance, and said, “Rainier is the best vantage point to see why they call these the Cascade Mountains. Follow that string of mountain peaks. Do you see that peak sticking up way out there?” he asked.
“I sure do,” I said.
“That’s Mount Hood in Oregon. I climbed to the summit in 1981.”
That year struck a chord—it was the same year I ran my first marathon. The excitement in his voice was contagious. “Do you mind if I ask your age?” I asked.
“Not at all,” he said with a hint of swagger and that distinctive glimmer in his eye. “I’m eighty-one.”
The math was easy. I was in the presence of an adventurer who climbed an 11,249-foot summit at the young age of sixty-one. I reached out, firmly held his forearm and said, “Don’t mind me. I just need to hold onto you for a minute and get a transfusion of energy and passion.” His smile was ageless.
As I drove back down the mountain that day, I was lured to the side of the road by a spectacular waterfall. I no sooner got out of the car when a BMW motorcycle pulled into the parking space next to me. A couple who appeared well into their sixties dismounted and began to remove their riding gear. The driver had a silver goatee, matching long hair and a gold earring. His mate unzipped her leather jacket to expose a T-shirt decorated with a clown and the words “Clown Camp” inscribed. “Where did you folks travel from?” I asked.
“Orange County, California,” the guy answered. His face radiated, they both brimmed with enthusiasm as they described their thousand-mile journey up the West Coast. I was inspired by the two seniors’ zest for life, and couldn’t help notice they had the same look in their eyes I’d seen an hour earlier in the elder adventurer’s eyes at sixty-eight hundred feet.
Later that summer I was in Austin, Texas for a conference. Afer I ran Town Lake one afternoon, I stopped into a funky little blues bar on Sixth Street for a beer and to listen to some music. A band wailed as I made our way across the bar. A heavyset, middle-aged guy played harmonica and a tall, lanky drummer was in the background. A young lady on bass had a set of steel vocal cords that reminded me of Janice Joplin. But the lead guitarist grabbed my attention.
He was an older guy with a cowboy hat down to the tip of his nose and an eternal cigarette dangling from his lips. He appeared the quintessential lifer, committed to his craft and so completely in tune with the rhythm, that he was the music. He jumped up and down, though the tips of his cowboy boots barely left the floor, picked the strings with his teeth like Jimi Hendrix, played it behind his head, and when he took off solo the other band members followed his lead.
I stood at the bar sipping a cold beer, watching the guitarist, and thought about the similarities between a lifer lead guitarist lost in a solo and a runner absorbed in the Zone. It seemed to me that anyone who reaches such a state of being, whether a musician, runner, carpenter, or writer, transcends their vocation, or avocation, to a higher level of consciousness and fulfillment. The guitar player was in a zone of his own, but a Zone nonetheless. He had that same look in his eye that I saw in the old-timer on Mount Rainier, and in the eyes of the two seasoned bikers who rode one thousand miles from Orange County, California to Washington State. It was the unmistakable glimmer I saw in the eyes of bikers I’d pass on weekends on River Road in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I knew that look because I’d seen it in the eyes of so many runners after they crossed the finish line at long distance races.
Keep an eye out for that unmistakable glimmer in the eye. You will find it in the most surprising places.