Sunday, February 22, 2015

Inspiration. Trail Racing.

Myself, Matt Whistoff, Jason Adams. Top 9 milers

I got some text messages last week from my friend Ryan back home in Pennsylvania about how inspired he's been to run after reading a copy of Born to Run that I gave him last fall. He told me that he ran a half marathon on a treadmill... and is designing routes on and off road to run once the weather breaks. Was talking to someone on Saturday about a friendship his young daughter has made with a fellow running competitor. So I told him about how me and Ryan ran track from elementary up through high school (later cross country too) and were still close friends decades later. And how Ryan's daughter now runs on the same team (Army Track) that we did.

The magical beauty of Time is that she can sometimes fuse seemingly disparate parts of our own lives into one continuum, revolving around a fixed theme... in this case, running. Yesterdays long forgotten, and buried by the sands of time... can suddenly leap forth and greet us with cheery memories... that float for a few precious moments on our hearts. Or like friendly ghosts passing through the chambers of our minds... lingering just long enough for us to question whether or not they are real.

Competed in the Run for Ray trail races yesterday. I opted for the 9 miler this year. Was again brought to an emotional pitch listening to the former wife of Ray Underhill (he was a pro skater who died young from a rare bone cancer) address and give thanks to us runners for being there and supporting the eponymous foundation. Perhaps as a result of which I went out too fast (and damn it Rick reminded you 20 minutes ago of your comment early in the CBSP Trail 4 miler "what are we running the mile?" ).

But sometimes it's advantageous to get out faster. And beat a lot of the congestion that likely occurred once the 9 and 18 mile fields entered the single track trails which knife into the woods about a half mile in. Though I did strangely become disoriented twice, unsure momentarily of where to go. So I took the next few miles to regain my composure and settle into the feel of the snaky, undulating, and root strewn trails.

I was running by myself then, but kept hearing voices up ahead... yet for the longest time could not get close enough to actually see anyone. Finally about four miles in I made visual contact with these seemingly merry bunch of chatting trail dogs... and within a few hundred more meters I latched onto the back and made it a foursome.  And I was asked to introduce myself... and was subsequently introduced to my new companions.  Trail running/ racing can be so different from the roads. This is not to say congeniality and good conversation doesn't occur on the asphalt... but on the trail its more par for the course. There's just more of this unspoken, general feeling of  "we are in this together" when one is navigating constant pratfalls, and adjusting continually to changes in terrain.

I fell in love in my first real ultra when a guy climbing a steep, rocky trail behind me asked if I needed any of his water. Something was a bit different out here.

But back to yesterday, I ran the last two miles or so again alone... enjoying the last section through more of a meadow like landscape on a much more benign section of damp single track trail. As the sounds of human activity at the start/ finish area gradually became more audible to my ears. Finished strong in a low six minute per mile pace, for a total elapsed time of just over one hour. Which placed me third overall, and got me one of the coveted skate board decks that just may be the coolest thing I've ever won at a race.

Today (Sunday morning) I was back in the Carolina Beach State Park running one of my favorite trails... watching a low bank of fog seemingly suspended over the Cape Fear River by invisible threads... cutting the visibility across the water to almost zero

I hope and pray the Gods of Time can grant me just a little more of this... 

Thank you Ryan for the T-shirt

Monday, February 16, 2015


Trail I've run in Colorado

A guy at work asked me the other day if I had ever figured out what I was running from? 

I chuckled and responded "not yet."

Truth be told I don't have that answer. And as I've written about before in response to the question "are you running from something or towards something?" ... I'm not sure if I'll ever have some answers.

Around the time I was nineteen or twenty years old something cracked inside of me. I think about the Genesis song 'Tonite Tonite Tonite'... Phil Collins signing "you keep telling me I got everything, you say I've got everything I want." 

Maybe it doesn't make sense to anyone else but me. And maybe that's the way it ultimately should be. I tried for more than a decade to fill in that crack...and narrowly averted my own death.

That was pain. Not the good kind we runners get when turning sub 5k pace quarters...

No this cut much deeper.

But maybe some scars never fully heal. I don't know. I may never know.

So in the meantime I run. At times I run a lot. I push myself to see how much can I run. How far. How fast. I add up the numbers. I calculate the splits. I dream big dreams. I make plans. I continue to search for some God I know is out there somewhere. I run. And hope and pray that I can continue to keep on running.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

More Winter Running

It has been cold lately. Real cold. But also beautiful. Nature discloses her secrets when she's living on the margins. Those brave enough to accept her non-negotiable terms, get to share in the experiences first hand.

Coming back from a run one evening last week I looked up at the sky and it's a palate of pink hues wrapping underneath billowy gray/ purple clouds that stretch deep across the Western sky. I can see my breath streaming out of my mouth in puffy, wispy like white bursts. I breathed out a few times more times in exaggerated bigger breaths just to watch it.

It was dark Wednesday night when I went out so I decided just to run some laps around the Carolina Beach Lake... on the grass beside the cement walking path. Broken twice per loop by the wooden bridges that go over the small spillways. I like to look at the reflections of the faint nearby lights in the water as I cross. It's my favorite part of the run.

A solitary great blue heron stood alert at the water's edge every time I passed by. An elegant, stately creature. It puffed its body up beneath its wings as I approached... but it never took flight. I wondered how cold the water was.

Friday evening and I put on a heavy hooded sweatshirt to run (normally I layer with long sleeve T-shirts). I passed the same two women walking dogs twice on the Carolina Beach State Park trails as daylight waned. One asked me if I made it up Sugar Loaf Hill. I told her yes, and that it is a good workout.

Set my alarm early Saturday morning and headed out to the North End of Pleasure Island... all the way out the two mile stretch of sand on the narrow strip of land buffeted on the backside by one continuous dune. The ocean's waves rolled in a static rhythm... the sun as it slowly climbed up all magnificent in the Eastern horizon, cast shimmering flecks of light which danced atop the unfurling waters.

I ran all the way to the northern tip where a small bay forms between the land I was on and the next small barrier island. Here the waters are more still, and a few small stream like channels form in the sand which creates a marsh like landscape. A large flock of seagulls have gathered... I say good morning to a few of them as I run by.

We are blessed to be spending a chilly morning in paradise.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Early evenings... and some Rage

Trail running back in the Carolina Beach State Park several evenings this week. Put together my own hill circuit the other night near Sugar Loaf Hill.  Charging up the sandy, dirt, and pine straw covered hills with the insouciance of a man who refuses to accept any limitations on what his body, mind, and spirit can do.  It's rapid gasps for air in the lungs and lactic acid burning in the legs on the short, steep climbs...then letting gravity take over on the down slopes... like off Sugar Loaf as she pitches toward the icy waters of the Cape Fear River. Ran the circuit twice that night for a total of ten hills.

After which I headed down a trail spur that shoots out to and parallels the river. As I came out of the woods to the section of trail closest to the water, I caught a full view of the sun all fiery and magnificent in its late day grandeur... a blazing orange ball about to descend on top of the westward horizon... a tree line on the opposite side of the mile wide river. It sent out radiating bursts of broken up oranges and yellows that crest the rippling waters in a narrow inverted V pattern towards my shoreline.

The wind blasted strong and whistled thru the scattered trees on the river's a cold front approached with more chilly winter air from the North. One older, dying gnarled tree made a deep croaking sound as I ran by. I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Field of Dreams when an old ball player asks, "is this Heaven?"

Later on the run as darkness crept slowly downward I heard the high pitched chirping of cardinals, and the friendly warbled calls of some chickadees. I headed back to my home and left theirs for the night.


Ten miler back on the roads and back in the machinery of civilization as the work week closed. Daylight slipped again seamlessly into the night time...but I didn't take off my sunglasses. Maybe I was too cold to. I hit the pavement in the center of town and ran past a girl and a man out front smoking in front of one of the bars. Both of them looked like they were attempting to take selfies with their cell phones... as me the bundled runner with sunglasses on in the dark whooshed by. A few buildings down two guys were standing in front of the kayak rental place with a radio playing... it's Rage Against the Machine.... "and now you do what they told ya, and now you do what they told ya, and now you do what they told ya...($%#$ you I won't do what you tell me!)."  I thought of my friend Corey, and damn near burst into laughter right there in the intersection.

This is why I do what I do.