The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I felt like a drop of water in the ocean, a second of time in history, a small piece of matter in the universe as I entered one of the oldest forests on the planet. I was engulfed by majestic trees. After running 34 marathons, I returned to the California Redwoods in 1997, joined by about 1,800 other runners for the 19th annual Humboldt Redwoods Marathon and Half Marathon.
In 1986, my father and I visited the redwoods for the first time. I ran the marathon while he volunteered to give the 10-mile splits in the middle of the forest. I always wanted to return to the redwoods after the 1986 race, but my schedule never permitted it. My father and I promised each other that someday we would return to the redwoods forest for another marathon. In October 1997, I finally went to that forest again. My father died in November of 1996, and I wanted to do this race in his honor.
Now it was time to keep my promise and run some miles.
The redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. They are as tall as the 39th floor of the John Hancock Center or taller than a football field is long. Some trees that were alive before the birth of Christ are still living and growing. Could this forest be as beautiful as I remember it was 11 years ago? I would soon find out.
Race Day: Sunday morning the weather was absolutely perfect; no wind, 50 degrees, and the cleanest air in the world, thanks to the redwood trees. The race started on time and we immediately entered one of the most beautiful forests on earth. There was a quiet stillness in spite of the excitement of the race.
It only took a few miles for the runners to thin out. You could feel the pure beauty and peace of the forest. I have traveled all over the world, including the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the garden valleys of Hawaii, and the brush of Zimbabwe. There might be places more beautiful than the redwood forests, but none more special. The trees seem to help me up the hills. I ran smoothly through the entire race until I encountered some difficulty between miles 19 and 21 (the only part of the marathon outside the forest). There must be real power and strength in those trees; once I re-entered the forest I caught my second wind.
I finished in 3:00:46, good enough for 12th place overall and third in my age group.
I felt small and extremely insignificant as I ran among those giant trees but I also felt their strength, their power, and their peace. The trees were supporting me all the way. Perhaps this is the only marathon in the world where runners encounter more trees than people along the course.
After the race, I headed for a special group of trees called the Honor Grove. In this grove, one can dedicate a tree to a person by making a donation to Save-the-Redwoods League, a non-profit organization founded in 1918 to preserve the world's greatest forests. I had a tree dedicated in honor of my father. I was fortunate to obtain the last tree in this grove, tree #35.
My dad's tree stood 16 feet in diameter and at least 200 feet tall. When I saw that tree I felt power and peace, like I was once again with my father. It felt like it would last forever. These trees seem like they live forever.
I had kept my promise. I had run my miles. I had returned to the redwoods.
Although my dad was not giving the 10-mile split at this year's race, I could feel him and hear his words of encouragement as I ran through the redwoods.
He had kept his promise too.