May 23, 2020

Good Bye Hard Rock - Time to Just Run Again

Start of the 2017 Hard Rock 100

          "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

                                                                                         Winston Churchill 


There comes a time when one should change paths. That time, for me, is now.

After following a certain path blindly for four straight years, I'm opening my eyes to search anew.

It was late July 2016 when, like a dope, I discovered the race I had just completed - the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT 100) - was NOT a qualifier for the Hard Rock 100. Why I didn't just look at the list of Hard Rock qualifiers before entering the TRT is, well, part of the dope designation. Maybe I wasn't really considering Hard Rock until after I ran TRT, or maybe I just assumed that TRT was a qualifier. Whatever. That was 4 years ago and I just don't remember the details.

But then I became obsessed. Probably because running Hard Rock is, in the ultra running world anyway, considered a right-of-passage. Why this is the case I'm not totally sure but it probably has something to do with 30,000 feet of climbing in the San Juan Mountains, altitudes that surpass 14,000, and a tradition of difficulty. The race makes the Leadville 100 look like high school cross country course.

Fast forward to 2017 when, unlike my inner dope, I did my homework on which races were qualifiers for Hard Rock and signed up for Bighorn 100. Notwithstanding the nightmarish conditions of that race, I finished it and promptly sent in my application to the 2018 Hard Rock lottery. The odds weren't in my favor. I recall something like 1 in 1000.

No dice.

So in early 2018 I started to prep for another Big Horn to qualify for the 2019 Hard Rock lottery. But, just as my training miles began to ramp up, I stumbled onto a nuance about Hard Rock qualifiers  -- they are eligible for two years. I promptly cancelled my plans (and training) to race Big Horn and entered the 2019 Hard Rock lottery. Again, no dice. Like a robot, I then set my sights on finding another qualifier in 2019. But then the 2019 Hard Rock was cancelled due to excessive snow. All 2019 runners were granted entry to the 2020 Hard Rock, which meant the earliest I could run this elusive race would be 2021, assuming I qualified.

So last year I signed up for the Tahoe 200 miler, thinking why not? If you're going to go long, why not go really, really long. Unlike the TRT 100, the Tahoe 200 is a Hard Rock qualifier. As the race approached, I was out on a training run high in the San Bernardino Mountains. From the corner of my eye I spotted a shadow on the mountain road. Only there were no trees or anything that could create a shadow. I stopped to look around. When I looked up I saw the silhouette of a hawk hovering between me and the sun high in the sky. The shadow seemed to be tracking me for several minutes along that mountain road. Surreal.

When I returned from that run I had a vision, and it didn't include running the Tahoe 200 mile. It took me instead to the Mogollon Monster 100, a beast of a run in the mountains of Arizona. This one turned out to be my worst performance in my less than stellar ultra running career. I finished, but it took me 30 hours. Yes, the course was absurdly difficult with more technical terrain than I've ever encountered, but it really had me questioning why. Why am I doing this? Why am I out on these trails, crawling up near vertical terrain when I could be actually running on a trail?

I finished the wretched Mogollon Monster and, once again, qualified for the Hard Rock 100, to be held in 2021. Then Covid hit, pushing the 2021 date to 2022.

I think it is time to change paths, find a new trail. One that doesn't involve toiling up and down mountains and always seeking vertical in training, just to get shut down by a lottery. Maybe it is time to just run again.

May 3, 2020

April 20, 2020

A Positive From a Negative


When I started my run today I was replete with anxiety. Being held up in the house for days and dealing with this "new normal" was getting to me. As I ran along I started to think about some of the positive things that have come from the current shut-down. For the first time I ran with a mask, through some pretty dense shrub where pollen was floating in heavy doses around me. It was then I realized I was protected from this airborne nuisance, so often an allergic trigger for me. No more wheezing! Would I have ever thought to wear, let alone run with a mask before? I’ll mark this one down as a positive from a negative. 

April 11, 2020

The New Normal


Now that major races are, or are soon to be, shutting down due to the Corona virus, its high time we appreciate things beyond running. I'm adapting quite well to this new normal. Just looking at the sky does wonders to the psyche. Try it, I think you'll like it.
  

March 22, 2020

Impermanence


"No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it's not the same river, and he's not the same man."

― Heraclitus

March 1, 2020

Pause, and Concentrate

  

Sometimes the most routine trails reveal the most interesting things. All you have to do is pause, and concentrate on what's right in front of you. It's amazing what appears. That's life, really.

February 9, 2020

Proof of Presence


Buddha is often quoted on the topic of being "present." He, by all accounts, wasn't one to dwell on the past, saying poignantly that "there's only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment." In other words, forget about the past, and just focus on being present in this moment.

My concern with this is that I have too many memories of being "present" in the past that remind me of how important it is to be present.

I remember, for example, pacing a friend during a 100 mile race. It was late at night, and it was starting to get pretty cold as we climbed toward the top of a mountain. I saw a glimpse of another runner's light above us. As I looked up, I noticed snowflakes falling gently from the sky. Yet, there were no clouds, just snowflakes. I remember being very present in that moment.

There was another time, during Western States 100, when I came into the Forest Hill aid station. I was really beat up, wondering how I was going to finish with 40 miles to go. Then I saw my family and crew, and my youngest daughter took my hand and walked with me for a while. I'll never forget that moment. Precious.

Yes, living in the present is indeed the best way to be "present." But remembering moments of clarity in the past, those precious seconds etched so vividly in our minds, are proof of presence, and not to be forgotten. 

January 26, 2020

Happy Birthday Mom



Dear Mom:

A few months ago you told me you were tired of walking around the neighborhood. You said it was boring, and that you and Eileen were going to start getting out on trails. I have to say, initially, I was a little nervous about this. Looking back, I'm not sure why. You've now tackled Buck Gully via the long route, the steep Bobcat trail, and now the full 2+ mile, 400' climb to Coastal Peak Park from the fire station.

Recently, after one of your hikes, you told me how beautiful the mountains were. That the recent storm had left them covered in snow. It's really hard to get up and out there so early in the morning, you said, but all you have to do is think about how good you feel when you finish, and that overcomes any doubt.

You recently sent me a picture of the trailhead at Buck Gully before sunrise. You guys were about to begin your hike. Most would look at this and say, what's the big deal? Not me. Understanding why someone would take a random picture of a dark trailhead before sunrise requires a special connection, a kindred.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm too old to keep doing this running thing, and if I should just turn my attention to more age appropriate activities, like golf, or tennis, or woodworking. Then I remember how you used to let me explore the hills and canyons around our home as a child. I can still remember those canyons like yesterday, and the pollywogs, and the lizards and the hawks over my head. Thank you for letting me loose back then. I don't think I would've done well in a cage.

Happy birthday, my kindred spirit.