The power of dirt

Running in the mud is something Iwish I got more of. Of course, if I got a lot more of it I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. As it is, I think it’s fun.

So when we got that big 4” rain a few weeks ago, the one that dumped more water on Midland than we received in all of 2011, I couldn’t wait to get out on the dirt roads near my house, even if I knew there was a risk I would get into a big mess.

This is a booming town and someday all that open land will be developed into residential neighborhoods and I will lose the dirt roads, so I run on them as often as possible. I don’t want to waste my turn.

I went running Saturday afternoon while Cyndi and Kevin when to the fair. It had stopped raining by then, but the air was still damp and smelled wet. I hoped it would start again while I was out so I tied my water-resistant jacket around my waist just in case, but no joy.

However, my mud run was great, anyway. It got tricky in a couple of low spots because the boys in their mud trucks got there first and tore up the road, but I just bushwhacked my way through the adjoining mesquite and yucca and prairie grass.

Here’s the deal. When running, I will almost always choose dirt over asphalt.

I started running on dirt years ago because it was softer and less damaging to knees than asphalt or concrete. Before it was love, it was therapeutic. It seems ironic, now, that God would put that love in my heart yet plant my life in West Texas where there are few opportunities for trail running. My first experiments were down dirt alleys in the neighborhoods between the gym and the par course. The uneven surface took getting used to, but it strengthened my feet and ankles. And it made me happy.

What happened once I started running on dirt is what happens to me often - a simple mundane choice becomes a spiritual adventure. Each mile on dirt spoke to my heart. It made me softer, and more alert.

There’s power in being a free range runner, but before you join me, I should mention the risk. I’ve had some spectacular falls. Unlike Cyndi, I have never fallen in the street on asphalt, but I’ve skinned both knees and hands numerous times running on dirt.

One bad fall was on the northwest edge of Kelly Park before it actually became a park, when my feet tangled with loose wire from the nearby fence. I went straight down, landing on face and hands.

Another fall happened near the Scharbauer Sports Complex. It removed three square inches of skin from my left knee and led me to discover magic bandages (Johnson-Johnson Advanced Healing Adhesive Pads). At least I was able to maneuver my landing to a spot between two giant yucca plants and avoid impaling. I also managed to roll to the left and land on my shoulder and back, saving both palms.

Another time, I fell in the median on Esplanade Boulevard in New Orleans, when I jammed my toe on a rogue tree root. I bloodied both knees and had to limp back to the hotel to clean up and recover. I was a pathetic image working my way through the hotel lobby, full of women attending a cake decorating convention.

But it isn’t all about falling. Some of my most profound spiritual encounters have come while running on dirt trails. The most memorable was on the Colorado Trail above Buena Vista at about 9,000’. That particular run was a reward, a gift from God, following a difficult spiritual battle. It was Nov 2003 and it is a great story in itself.

I don’t know why having my feet on dirt is so important, or how it became a spiritual connection. To help understand the connection I decided to do a Bible search hoping find the perfect verse linking mud and dirt with spiritual insight, but all I found was a story about the time Jesus spit on the ground to make mud so he could heal the blind man’s eyes (John 9:6). It is a good story, but not what I was looking for.

So I turned to another deep resource: Jimmy Buffett’s book, A Pirate Looks at Fifty. He called his time spent on the water, “hydrotherapy.” He wrote, “The ocean has always been a salve to my soul ... I made the discovery that salt water was good for the mental abrasions one inevitably acquires on land.” I wondered how I would phrase this for my life. How can I describe the healing that comes from running on dirt? Maybe, “terratherapy?”

I once wrote an essay about the five things I could not live without, and the fifth item on my list was dirt. I need to get my feet on dirt fairly often. Whether I am running or hiking or dreaming, I have to have my feet on dirt. Terratherapy is a powerful thing.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


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