Tuesday, March 31, 2015


While in the throes of running my hill circuit back in the Carolina Beach State Park Saturday morning, the thought kept popping into my fritzing brain "don't give up because it's hard."

I'm out there by myself. No one will know if I take the next one easy. No one will care. No one will question me. But I'm there. I will know. I will care. So I don't give up because it's hard. I ask God to help me get up the next hill and I go. I wail. I let it out. I gasp for air. I sometimes dry heave.  I have spittle all over my chin. I think about wiping it off but I don't. It's momentarily funny in a sardonic way that I should be concerned about appearances. I flash back to the end of a 5K six, seven years ago... a friend gently telling me I might want to wipe my chin.

I give thanks on the down hills as I count them off. I attempt to regain a brief semblance of control. But as I come back through the circuit a 2nd, and 3rd time...the periods of calm, the breaches in the storm, become less and less and less...

But I still don't give up because it's hard. Not today. Tomorrow?  I'll face those tests when they come.

I know what it's like to want to give up because it's hard. I nearly did and nearly gave away my life. I couldn't stop it. Not for a day. Not for an hour.

Close to ten years have passed. I'd like to think I've hardened a bit. At least in the running sense. Maybe it's all just one big test, broken into a series of smaller exams.

But they shape us. They shape us as people, and as runners. And hopefully make us stronger as both.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giving Back

Was fortunate last night to meet Ronald Kurui, past member of the Kenyan national XC team. He was invited by the Cape Fear Flyers Club to speak at a pre-season parents, kids, and coaches meeting. Mr. Kurui talked about sacrifice, unity, and the goal that societies should have to continue to make the world a better place for each successive generation.

Just to be in the same room as a 3:56 miler, and 2:13 marathoner, is a thrill in of itself. But to be inspired to strive to give back more to the sport I (and we) love, is icing on the cake.

Sunday I was blessed to volunteer at the 6th annual Wrightsville Beach half and full marathons. I always gain such a deep appreciation for running, by watching fellow athletes endeavor to reach their goals. Goals that perhaps six months, or a year or two ago seemed implausible. The myriad of emotions painted on their weathered faces tell a thousand stories...which all hopefully climax at the same destination...the finish line.

And on a humorous note, later in the event my co-volunteer directing traffic was complaining of leg and lower back pain. Two runners came up from behind her and were incredulous to hear any of us non-participants...at mile 24... fussing about any discomfort! Though they were laughing about it at the time, and perhaps such a moment of light-hearted levity carried them through to their respective finishes.

It's truly a miracle some days to be a part of all this. Keep on running my friends.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lo Tide Race

As runners we need to be prepared for the unexpected on race day. And be able to adapt quickly to whatever changes that may confront us. We also need to be reminded too of the big picture, and have a little levity as well.

Participated in the 11th annual Lo Tide Races in Carolina Beach, NC yesterday (Saturday March 14th). One of my favorite races for the year since it raises tens of thousands of dollars for local families currently afflicted with cancer.  And I can walk to the start/ finish line.

This year over 2,000 people ran or walked in either the 5 or 10K events.

Ran a 2+ mile warm-up with my friend Ron from the Wilmington Road Runners Club. Started to rain fifteen minutes or so into.  Was told by another friend that the 5K start had been bumped back ten minutes until 8:40... so after a last bathroom stop and some strides and I got over to the starting corral at a few minutes before 8:30. But quickly realized the race was starting in about 3 minutes.

So during the national anthem and traditional Irish blessing (St Paddy's Day theme race... a human sea of green) I was trying to get my Garmin to pick up satellite reception. Which as we counted down 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 ... I thought I had connected, but after the starting horn and me hitting start on the watch I quickly realized I did not have pace data.

Hence... I was flying blind. Like most runners I've become reliant (perhaps overly) on my Garmin for pace info especially early in races. I like to script the 1st mile time/ pace wise.

But today I was back to running it old school by feel. Decided about half mile in to race the field, and not worry so much about time. Systematically I moved my way up into 4th place by about the half way point... and spent the next mile trying to reel in a local high school kid running in 3rd.

Did have elapsed time on my watch and hit the 2 mile mark in 11:50 something. Started counting off blocks... on streets I've run a thousand times it seems, and know intimately. Reeling, reeling. Trying to stay mentally engaged with the task, yet distancing myself from the attendant pain. Flying past people in the middle of the 10K field.

Which then led to the next unforeseen circumstance. 2 of the 3 top runners missed the turn where the 5K course branched off from the 10K. I missed it as well until someone told me... I doubled back which cost me maybe 15-20 seconds, and a bit of energy processing what had just occurred.

Nonetheless I was able to keep it together the last half mile of unadulterated agony...the proverbial "bag of nails in the chest" time as described with sadistic eloquence by Alan Sillitoe in The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Which was good enough for what I'll term an asterisk by 2nd place in 18:52.

For those though who will benefit from mine and hundreds of other runners, walkers, and volunteers efforts... times and places are irrelevant. It's merely names and numbers on sheets of paper, digitalized to the internet. Hopefully what we did can ease their burdens just a little bit today, tomorrow, and on down the long, arduous roads they travel...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fog and Magic.

Some days we lace up our shoes and go for a run and expect nothing in return. An average run, distance, pace... familiar route, time of the day. Then somewhere along the way the magic occurs...when we least expect it. And we are rocketed into a fourth dimension.

Running on one of my favorite trails in the Carolina Beach State Park yesterday, I heard a low moaning bellow coming from what seemed like somewhere down the Cape Fear River. A few moments later I heard the same sonorous bawling again, this time a bit louder. I recognized it then as the sound of a fog horn from a ship... apparently out on the river.

I continued along a section of the trail that cuts through the woods and periodically kept hearing this fog horn, gradually getting louder as I made my way southward, towards the part of the Cape Fear River that eventually widens into a larger bay before entering the Atlantic Ocean.

Then almost as if in a dream, I saw a wispy white wall of fog rolling thru the trees like smoke from a raging wild fire. From the ground up this apparition like tide swallowed up the trees by the dozen as it continued to advance unimpeded off the nearby waters. All the while the ship's horn kept up its eerie bellowing at regular intervals which pierced the air, demarcating her nautical position someplace out in the atmospherically birthed void.

As I crested Sugar Loaf Hill and gazed to where the river should be, I could only see a chalky white colossal mass... looking like it was discharged from the heavens. And suddenly it was all wildly lyrical... like Jack Kerouac wrote about when he was aboard a freighter ship coming into the Port of Seattle in Dharma Bums. As if the immensity of life was almost too big at that moment for him to fully grasp...like I was feeling myself right then and there. Really, really alive.

I lingered for a few moments longer on top of the hill...just so I could take it all in.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Victorious on the Hills.

Sunday morning I set my alarm clock early and headed back to the Carolina Beach State Park. Ran my hill circuit 3 times, decreasing the elapsed loop time successively from 8:00, to 7:45, to 7:40. Counting off the hills not only mentally, but physically as well on my hand.

Telling myself as each step up the sandy crests got tougher, "push through it push through it push through it push through it."  Reminding myself to take it one hill at a time. Finding brief comfort zones between, where the searing in the legs would abate and breathing became tolerable.  Doing the math. 5 of 12 hills completed is about 41%. Runners love Math. Equations. Calculations. God is in the details. So is the devil.

When I was done with the hills I had that wave of exhaustion wash over me like an anaesthetic drip we runners are familiar with after intensely concentrated outputs in effort. I reveled in the chance to run slowly back Sugar Loaf Trail to the visitor's center parking lot. My own personal victory lap. For today I didn't back down. I pushed through. I won.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Run for Ray

The 7th annual Run for Ray trail races took place at the Brunswick Nature Park in southeastern North Carolina Saturday, February 21st.

Proceeds from the race support the Ray Underhill Foundation which focuses on chordoma cancer research. Ray was a pro skater who passed from planet Earth way too young. Before the start of the races each year, Ray's former wife Kerry addresses the gathered trail runners about what our collective efforts help do, and tearfully thanks all of us for being there.

It's one of those moments in running and in life that I don't want to miss. It's one of those days of the year that as a runner I feel like I'm a part of something much bigger. It's also one of the most fun, and challenging races of the year that I compete in. And the race awards artisan made skate decks to the top 3 overall M/F in each race, that are some of the most coveted racing prizes in the running community.

One year the Elvis of the skate boarding world Tony Hawk showed up and ran.

I ran the 9 mile course this year. The race starts on an old logger road before plunging into the woods onto some fairly technical single track about a 1/2 mile in. As many of us are wont to do, I went out a bit too fast (6:20s pace on my garmin). After some brief moments of panic, and a bit of disorientation, I settled into a steady low to mid 7 minute per mile pace on the undulating trail. Which allowed me to get my breathing back under control, and my races senses back more in tune with the task yet at hand.

The next few miles I ran by myself until I latched onto the tail of 3 other runners. We chatted amicably, while also maintaining a keen focus on the terrain. The trail is rather root strewn, and a mix of dirt and sand indigenous to the terrain closer to the ocean. And seems to be continually going around turns. In fact it wouldn't be hard to take a turn too fast and whack into a tree. (Several runners DNF due to some nasty spills.)

The two men were running the 18, (a double loop), and the woman the 9. Me and her knew each other from the Wilmington Road Runners Club of which we are both members.

The two of us running the 9 eventually bid farewell and pulled ahead. Later I moved in front of her and ran the last mile solo again (6:05)on much more benign, yet muddy single track that meanders thru some meadows.I finished in 1:00:15, good enough for 3rd place in the Male Open division. And after several years and several attempts, my first skate board deck.

What a wonderful morning spent out in the wilderness.