December 28, 2015

My Apathetic Confessional. Sort of.

It started out as it usually does, 180 degrees from where it is now.

This post, that is.

Yes, it started as an apathetic confessional. The year 2015, the first year since 2007 I haven’t run an official ultra. Then it swerved off topic when I saw a picture of my two daughters standing in front of the White House, a short stop we took during a college trip in February for my oldest. Would I see her much next year after she goes away to college? I wonder. Is this why I chose to spend less time grinding out the miles on trail this year? Could be.

I ask myself, after being away from it for over a year, will I ever go back to running ultras? The thought has crossed my mind. But then I came upon a picture at the finish of the Catalina Marathon in March with my friend Mike F. I remember meeting Mike a long while ago on St. Patrick’s day at the Harp Inn in Costa Mesa, California. I’ll never forget that night because Mike told me about the South Coast Road Runners. I went out to run with the group the very next week and met some interesting peeps. Some of them told me about ultra running, and I’m still running with these characters to this day. Would I be running ultra’s if I never went to the Harp Inn that night? Hmm….not sure about that.

Taking time away from running (or from anything) is good for the soul, or so I’ve written in the past. But is a year too much? I started to answer this here, but then I came upon a selfie I took this Spring wearing my Western States jacket with San Gorgonio Mt. in the background. I remember telling myself to never lose this jacket and, no matter what, to be careful when I use it. I received the jacket for winning my age group at WS 100 during my Grand Slam journey last year. Where it is now will be the subject of a future anguished post.

What is the big deal about racing anyway? Isn’t just being out on trail what counts the most? The thought was solidified when I scrolled to the picture of Cracker and Rob M in Cracker’s ’92 Toyota Forerunner. We were on our way back from our road trip to run rim to rim to rim in May. The trip was a highlight for me and a reminder that it isn’t just about starting lines, aid stations and race times. It’s about watching Cracker blow up on us because we forgot to remind him we would be in the bar at the top of Bright Angel Trail when we finished.

I’ve heard it said that taking time off from running can preserve your legs. This is a concept I started writing about until I saw the picture I took of my family on bicycles in Berlin with my wife shamelessly checking her emails. It was a long summer, and the first summer I can remember I didn’t run a single mile. I’ve since learned that magnesium depletion and the Achilles tendon are a dreadful couple, and can cause major strife to a runner’s tranquility.  Fasting on coffee and wine doesn’t help much with this matter.

When I really think about it, I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t a runner. I think I would be drowning in a sea of narcissistic tsunamis. The thought continues to linger, until a grin sweeps across my face when I see the picture of Bino M’s white ass move into full view of my virgin lens.

No, I don’t know what I would do. But as runner, at least I’ve got a life raft to hold on to during these turbulent times.

Happy New Year Runners!!

December 22, 2015

Yucca Psychology

I wasn’t aware of this until I walked through a forest of Joshua trees yesterday, but it turns out there is certain moth that spreads the seed of yucca plants. It’s called, surprisingly, the yucca moth. What I find interesting is this moth lays its egg in the flower of the yucca. It is here where the larva feeds on the very seeds that the moth delivered, but leaves enough seed behind for the plant to reproduce and the species to perpetuate. I guess this moth knows something?

Now, when I was walking through this forest, I noticed how incredibly sharp the bayonet-like leaves looked on these plants, and I grimaced at the thought of how painful it would be to fall on top of one. I mean those shards could do some real damage.

Ok, enough of that. I’ve never fallen on a Joshua tree before, or even a yucca plant, so I'm wondering why the thought even crossed my mind.  I know some runners who’ve been stabbed under a toenail or fingernail by a yucca shard, but I haven’t. I guess the thought was passed on from an ancestor who fell on one way down the line.

Poor guy.    

December 19, 2015

The Circuitous Route

Thing is, when I walked out the door today, I knew where I wanted to finish my run, I just didn’t know exactly how to get there. What the hell. I figured I’d figure it out along the way. What good is a run without some form of doubt lingering in an anal retentive state of mind. Let’s just call it therapy.

I tried to keep the gear basic. Old school hand-held with water only, ball cap and headphones. The shorts with no pockets were new for me, but I was able to stuff the wad of TP under the elastic belt around my waist. Emergencies? Not a problem. All good until I glanced at my shadow on the trail and saw the TP flickering like a five foot birthday streamer from my ass. Why were those people laughing at me?

Ok, I have to admit it. I hate being passed by other runners. I don’t care if I’m doing an hour-long tempo run, or a five-hour long run. I just can’t let it go. So when this portly guy and his yellow lab ran by me on the way up the climb out of Buck Gully, I told myself to remain calm, to not get worked up. To consider this just a form of therapy.

As soon as he stopped to walk, I seized the moment and sprinted by him and refused to look back. Therapy assignment blown.

It wasn’t more than an hour later when I was startled by the sound of more feet seeking to dethrone my appointed pace. I know the term neurotic might be entering your mind now, but give me a minute here. There were three of them, two men and one woman, and they blew by me like a freight train. It happened so fast I just shook my head and told myself to ignore it. Why ruin my long run by chasing them, I thought to myself.

Then I looked up and noticed two of them were wearing Hoka’s, and now I was just a couple of feet behind them. None of them were carrying water. They surged ahead again, but I stayed with them. Next thing I know I’m running next to the lead runner complementing him on his pace. This, I assume, provoked the hammer to be thrown down by him, which meant the race was on. We quickly dropped his friends and continued to pick up the pace. I guess my training is working because, again, I refused to look back. Now that was therapeutic.

By now I realized I’d blown my goal of going easy and long. Today was, well, just long. And I still had not made it to my destination! Turns out I had to hit some city streets to make it all the way to this gem. But when I arrived, I realized all the neurosis was worth it.

From Newport Beach to Swallows Inn, San Juan Capistrano, 26 miles via the circuitous route.  Try it sometime, you just might obsess on it.

Keep it real runners.  

December 7, 2015

The Window Opens

I can't say how many times I looked up and saw it right there. Sometimes blanketed in snow, other times covered in clouds. Its prominence is the signature of the landscape I've come to appreciate in my own back yard. Yet, until now, I had never been there.  

Travis C hiked quickly. Being just a few feet behind him, I stared at the back of his shoes and didn’t look up. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just knew it would be futile to do so. Being an hour late for this run/hike, I was resolved to just keep my head down and not think about what was about to unfold. The top of Mt. Baldy is exactly 10,068 feet elevation, a scant 6’000 feet above us, and 6 miles in front.

The window opens, just enough for the truth to sneak in. It starts as just a passing thought. Then it recurs, and returns again, more formidably. Images, memories, an understanding, they all connect the dots. Revelations are just that way. They are what we see when something is revealed to us that has always been there. 

We reached the summit of Mt. Baldy and I looked across the horizon. I saw Saddleback Mountain to the south, and San Gorgonio just east. High clouds buffeted the sky, but made way for a glimmer of sunlight that cast a purple haze upon the horizon.

Jung said that routine breeds boredom, which leads to discontentment and, potentially, a loss of meaning during life’s journey.

Running towards Saddleback - 8'000 feet. 
If there is one thing I've learned along the way, it is to just run. Because it makes me content. It breaks up my routine. I use it to squeeze a little more out of life. To defeat boredom, even bring a little meaning through diversity. I realize, too, that if I'm looking for answers (which I always am), I'm more apt to find them on a mountain looking down from 10,000 feet on the Pacific Ocean.

The window opened, and then it occurred to me. It was just a passing thought, but more formidable now.

Cat (aka Mountain Kitty) far right.