Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Ungirt Runner

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful poem in a 2004 Running Times article ("The Poetry of Running" by Roger Robinson).

The poem was written by a 19-year-old English army officer, Charles Hamilton Sorley, during World War I. At age 20, a sniper's bullet took Charles Sorley's life shortly after arriving on the front line in France. [Click here] to read more about the author of the poem and his story.

The Song of the Ungirt Runners
We swing ungirded hips
And lighten’d are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.

The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
’Neath the big bare sky.

The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.

(The complete poem can be found in Robinson's book Running in Literature: A Guide for Scholars, Readers, Runners, Joggers and Dreamers [Breakaway Books, 2003])
This poem came to mind several times yesterday as I helped my running group (The BlueLiners) man a water station at the North Carolina Marathon in High Point, NC. Because of the location of our station and because of the design of the course, we got to see the half marathoners and full marathoners at mile 4. Then we saw the half marathoners again on their 10th mile and then we saw the full marathoners again as they approached their 23rd mile.

The first time we saw all the runners was amazing—a huge onslaught of happy, cheerful, energized runners with that racing gleam in their eyes. The title of the poem uses the phrase "ungirt runners." From Robinson's article, I learned that Sorley used "ungirt" to refer to moving ungirt or free. Robinson explains that in War War I, "the British army then wore coarse heavy khaki, encumbered with belts and cross straps, and bound their legs in tight wrap-around 'puttees.'" Sorley was dreaming of a time when he could run freely not marching bound in his uniform.

Somehow the hundreds of runners I saw yesterday reminded me of "ungirt runners." They were running freely not bound by life's stresses. Some serious and steadfast and others happy-go-lucky, but all with the same determination to finish.

That's what running is all about. Each runner may have a different short-term goal, but we all have a commonality—the love of running.

Although, I loved having the opportunity to give back a little to the running community by helping at the water station on an unusually warm day, I couldn't help but want to jump in the pack and experience the thrill of the being an ungirt runner.


Heather @ Side of Sneakers said...

That poem is wonderful :) Thanks to you and your team for volunteering during a race- volunteers are what makes races possible!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Heather! Awesome job on Tobacco Road! A friend of mine ran his first marathon at Tabacco Rd. this past weekend and also had a great race. I'm gonna have to check it out next year!!