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Girl Meets Bat

A lot of people in the long-distance running community like to share posts about their races. I’m quick to give a “like” or to add a cheerleading comment. I know how much goes into training and getting to the start line of a race, not to mention what it takes to cross the finish line. From the recently reformed couch-potato to the elite runner who seems to be a member of another species, these runners all teach me so much and I applaud them.

Despite my appreciation for runners and running, I don’t usually post on social media about my own running. I have a general rule of thumb for myself to only post things I believe add positively to the dialogue about our shared future on Earth. Random notes about my running tend not to fit that bill.

My feeling of not wanting to say much, publicly, about my own races was underscored further right after I ran the Chicago Marathon in October 2017. Not because of anything relating to the race itself  –  there was a lot I was proud of in terms of how I ran that race. But as I was making my way through Chicago’s downtown to find a post-race bite to eat, I came upon this dead bat on the sidewalk.

He lay there, partly dismembered and rather squashed looking, at the foot of a skyscraper. (Speaking of “foot,” I just couldn’t get over his perfect, tiny left foot – tucked beside his partially outstretched wing).

Meanwhile, my phone was pinging with various messages tagging me on social media – encouraging comments and questions about the race piling in. In response, I chose to post this photo of the bat on Instagram.

The truth is, I just didn’t feel I had anything noteworthy to share about my recent marathon run; but what’s more, the sight of that dead bat highlighted for me all the creatures (human and otherwise) whose daily “endurance races” made my own running escapade that day seem somewhat less than deserving of a call-out. I found myself imagining a conversation with the little dead bat that included him saying something like:

26.2 miles? Ha! Try traveling hundreds of miles on your own steam, from one continent to another. Every spring and fall. Then let’s talk.

Maybe this seems a bit weird. I mean, who imagines having conversations with bats? Also, if I did have a conversation with him, I would like to think the bat would be less judgmental. Still, I was certainly not in a self-congratulatutory mode, and I found myself wondering about this little one’s fate.

The responses to my Instagram post confirmed my instincts about the relative insignificance of my marathon effort, but they also provided me some context that I hadn’t had previously. For instance, my bat expert friend Cathy replied to the posted bat image, identifying this creature as a red bat. She reminded me that these bats migrate hundreds of miles in the fall just like many bird species do. And so, just like many migratory birds, it seemed quite likely, given the time of year and the position of this bat’s body at the base of a tall building, that he had the misfortune of having struck a glass window along his flight path way up high.

Apparently, migrating species such as birds and bats use the natural lights of nighttime – the moon, the stars – to guide them on their long journeys. However, our modern structures, particularly in cities, present misguiding lights which can cause airborne creatures to crash into buildings, often fatally. According to BirdSafe Canada:

“… it is estimated more than 1 billion migrating birds are killed annually in building collisions  –  residential and commercial  –  in North America alone.”

There is no mention of bats in that statistics, but frankly this just underscores the scope of the problem, which we misguided humans are only beginning to collectively comprehend.

In a deeply moving blog post, biologist and author, David George Haskell quite literally highlights the disturbing reality of birds being caught in the light of the 9/11 memorial here in New York City last year. The photographs are astonishing.  You might find yourself doing a double-take upon seeing them. Yes, those birds swirling rather confusedly up there are all caught in the light.

One billion birds annually. And uncounted bats. Deep breath.

If we fully understood and celebrated the endurance accomplishments of many of our fellow mammals, such as those wonderful little red bats, not to mention all the other amazing migratory species such as birds and butterflies, the potential to evolve our own abilities to move through space swiftly and efficiently, for sport or otherwise, could be significant. And our ability to protect and complement each other’s existence would also surely be enhanced. The feat of completing the Chicago Marathon was nice for me, to be sure, but it’s just a tiny data point within a much broader context of endurance among living creatures.

Don’t get me wrong: to repeat, I’m amazed by the accomplishments of my fellow runners and other athletes, and I’m proud of the fact that I’m a faster runner in my 40s than I was in my 20s, through training, learning from experts, and as a result of believing in my potential to do better. I am constantly inspired by some of the feats of my teammates at Urban Athletics, and by all the other runners I’ve had a chance to meet and run with. And as the 2018 Winter Olympic Games deliver the spectacle of athletes reaching ever higher, faster, and stronger, I am amazed and inspired once again.

Yet our natural world gives us all sorts of clues pointing to the possibility that we humans are capable of so much more than we typically even attempt, be it physically, emotionally, intellectually or otherwise. There are places I see this phenomenal potential emerging, from high-end engineering feats such as the first 100% solar powered round-the-world flight of Solar Impulse, to the humblest applications of ingenuity and determination, such as William Kamkwamba’s windmill made of scrap material that turned around the fate of his family when they otherwise faced starvation. I feel certain we are capable of so much more than we ask of ourselves on any given day, and that we are in some ways just at the beginning of understanding our potential.

Let’s face it: in the grand scheme of things, not a single one of the races I have run compares to that red bat’s attempted migratory journey last fall. If he could have shared on Facebook posts about what he and others like him got up to during last fall’s migration, we would see a whole new arena of inspiration and potential, and it would be worth an abundant future of infinite “likes.”

Even though you didn’t make it to the finish, little red bat, I thank you for sharing. I hope your buddies made it.

Photo information:

Banner image: The author during a morning training run in NYC. Luckily as one member of the species that designed all these shiny buildings, she’s less likely to crash into them on her various peregrinations.

Footer image: Dawn reflections after an early morning training run in New York City.

(Running photos by Christopher Foss. Bat photo by B. Lorraine Smith.)

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