I Love to Run

Over the years I have identified as a runner and despite my foray into other sports, running is where I return for my core exercise. This is not because it is convenient, it is not because it is cheap, it is not because it is comfortable, it is because running is what I love.

A few years ago, I wrote about a 50 mile race that I ran on the PCT. This race was a life changing experience for me as it was the turning point of recognizing that I run because I love it. It was also the race that broke me for almost two years, crippling my identity as a runner as well as crippling my ability to run. That experience, the two years of running doldrums, fighting my body, finding my identity, yearning for the health to get back out on the trails, those were learning years.

I learned that a love of running isn’t something that you just pick up and do. That love has to be nurtured, it has to be cherished, it has to be cultivated, it can never be taken for granted. And in return? I receive all the love that running can give back to me. I can soak in sunrise as I fly down a piece of singletrack. I can revel in the strength and focus it takes to summit a challenging climb. I can gush about the zone I found in the midst of a long run. I can be inspired by the train of thought during a track work-out. I can solve nagging problems as I meander through oak groves. I can celebrate amazing vistas and the awe inspiring playground we call this world. I can feel stress melt away as the miles pass beneath my feet. That is the love that running gives to me. But only if I love running back.

It’s funny, also, how our sports are interesting parallels for our lives. Sometimes shakabuku wakes us up to what is crippling us physically, emotionally, and mentally. Sometimes we realize that to really have love in our lives, we have to work hard for the things we cherish. Sometimes we reap the amazing rewards of completely committing to love. Sometimes that love can completely eclipse and put to shame the love we have for our sports.

And sometimes, just sometimes, you end up with the gold medal.

Soundtrack for This Post
Hipsters Lamb
Lick Gorecki
Wax Lamb

lets go streaking!

i was doing my normal thing of browsing rss feeds when i saw that good blogfriend, meredith, was going to attempt another running streak. her february streak was derailed by illness, and rather than do the smart thing and wait for a 30 day month, she stepped up to the plate and opted to try again in march. well, it just so happened that i was reading her blog on the first. i’d already run for the day and the thought occurred to me, “hey, i have a streak of one!” i decided to join her.

having had a few months of back-and-forth performance after recovering from the mcl injury, i thought that a full month of running every day would either kick start my mileage ramp-up, or kill me. so far [after day eight] i’m still kicking [although a little stiff today]. now, i have always worked rest into my training schedule and have always treated a ‘rest day’ just like i would an actual day of training. the rest WAS my training…an integral part of it. i think the most days that i’ve strung together in a row has to be a max of six. i can’t believe that i’ve ever run more than that in a row. so, sitting on day eight completed, i’m in a whole new realm. unexplored land. virgin territory. you get the idea.

i’m really curious, though, to see how my body responds to this. i’m not over-doing the mileage, so i don’t expect an overuse injury, but i wonder how i’ll be feeling after two weeks, three weeks or by day 30. will i be dying to stop? will i want to continue? will my family kick me out of the house? i’ll do my best to keep you posted!

long runs and narcs

i know, i know, i owe the blogosphere a recap of my february media fast.  march has only a day left and i don’t even have a draft for something that i did a month ago.  well, honestly, i think about it often, but i enjoyed the media fast so much that i just ended up continuing it.  the long and the short of it is that it is AWESOME.  lots of great thoughts came along with the whole thing…but that’s for another post.  today, i’m going to blog about the past weekend because i need to document some cool/funny running stuff and drop a tactical thunderclap bomb and then fade back into the ether.

i think i’ve mentioned that i’m pursing the idiotic dream of completing a 50mi race again.  this is a monkey that i have to get off my back and once it’s gone, i doubt i’ll revisit the distance as a race.  but, that, too, is a thought process best saved for another post.  the short story is that i’m putting in lots of miles these days and lots of long back-to-back miles.  the past several weekends have been an exercise in attempting to hit 60+ miles over the course of three days.  with several long runs in excess of 30 miles, i’m feeling pretty well prepared for the race next month.

this past saturday i scoped out a huge loop to run from home.  the route would encompass the aliso/wood canyons park, laguna coast wilderness, el moro and crystal cove state park, the nix center and the james dilley preserve.  running in a clockwise direction [and in the order of the parks listed], i headed out before dawn on saturday.  the run went off better than expected for the first 31 miles.  i ran all the hills hard, kept moving with the exception of a couple of water stops and exercised wisdom with my fuel and fluid intake.  everything was going perfectly to plan until mile 31.

after leaving the james dilley preserve, i have to sneak onto some private land for the remaining two miles back to the house.  for years, i’ve used an old jeep trail to run through the land.  the trail starts right at the edge of james dilley and the access to the trail is squished between a lake and a large body of seasonal water.  an old road used to run between the two and when the road was removed to the other side of the seasonal pond, the road was dug up and a long trench was left behind.  i would run up the trench from james dilley, hop up the berm at the end of the trench and the gate to the jeep trail was right there.  easy peasy.

it has been a year or more since i’ve been through this route.

as i rolled through the james dilley preserve, i popped out through the brush above the trench and was surprised to see it completely filled with water.  i ran around the south end of it to the berm that paralleled it and began following a faint animal trail toward where i knew the gate would be.  i figured at worst i’d do some bushwhacking for a couple hundred yards, but i was confident that the berm would connect up with the section of land that the gate was on.

it took only a few seconds of running along the animal trail before it devolved into heavy brush.  i began climbing through the heavy branches and brush, making my way toward the gate.  the brush continued to get more dense and before long i was doing chineese contortion moves to get through the thicker sections and climbing thicker branches to get over impassable areas.  i found it funny that just prior to this change in activity, i was becoming physically and mentally tired.  i could smell the stables and i was beginning to let fatigue set in.  now that i was doing something other than running, i had plenty of mental focus and energy.

eventually, i reached an area where i could see the gate ahead.  the only problem, though, was that the berm ended about 30’ shy of the gate.  blocking my path to the gate, and on both sides of the berm were wide pools of water.  i began to realize that the trenches had been constructed to collect overflow from barbaras lake and most likely to provide wetlands for migratory birds.  i stood at the end of the berm and took stock of my options.  i could bushwhack my way back, but the only route i’d have back home included about four miles of detour up laguna canyon.  the other option was to wade through the standing water to the other side.  that gate was so close, yet so far.

the water didn’t smell stagnant and didn’t have any funky growth on it, so i figured i’d give wading a try.  with two steps i was up to my waist.  by the third step i would have been in up to my chest.  i backed up and grabbed a construction stake to feel the depth as i moved around the berm trying to find a more shallow crossing.  after several minutes of failed attempts, i realized i was either going to have to swim or run the extra distance.

i was right, and after three steps i was up to my chest.  i held my bottle high and waded in up to my chin and pushed off.  my feet found no purchase, so i dog-paddled and one handed stroked my way across to the other bank.  after climbing up, i took quick stock and made sure i didn’t pick up any unwanted visitors during the swim.  i ran through the open gate and into the fields beyond.  the shoes squished a bit, but quickly drained and the warming air had my skin and clothes comfortable after a couple of minutes.

what stuck with me, though, was how fresh my legs now felt.  the cold water on the muscles had rejuvenated my legs and the change of activity had kick-started my mind.  the remaining two mile run back to the house was easy and i just kept cracking up thinking about having to do a ‘river crossing’ in southern california; that was a first.  the renewed legs, though, made me think forward to my race and the handful of stream crossings that are on the course.  i think on race day, i’ll make a point of stopping for a couple of seconds to do a quick submerge when i come across them.  i’m hoping that the results will be similar.

well, i’ve babbled long enough so the narc story about thunderclap will have to wait for another day.  maybe next month, eh?

soundtrack for this post
hipsters foo fighters
lick new way home
wax the colour and the shape

running wild

when smsmh asked me what i wanted for my birthday this year, i easily responded with a desire to head out to death valley for some winter running.  january through march are really the prime months to run out in death valley and each year i try to head out there and plan something epic.  last year, i was able to pull off a great run through titus along with some running in the dunes and that experience was one of the most surreal experiences i’ve had.  i was hoping that i could repeat, if not better it, this year.

the rough plans for the weekend were to run a long, partially un-marked route through some remote sections of the park on the first day, and then try to summit one of the peaks on the second day.  i posted the proposed trip on the club website, but received no takers other than repete, who had previously agreed to join me.

so, birthday weekend came and with firmed routes and excited resolve, repete and i met up to get out of so cal and head into the wild california desert.  our enthusiasm was quickly squashed as we landed in the middle of three-day-weekend-escape-so-cal traffic.  the drive out of civilization normally takes about an hour and from there it’s a quick two to three hours of desert driving to hit death valley.  this time, though, we sat in crawling, bumper-to-bumper for three hours before we landed on the relatively traffic free 395.  the nice thing about the gridlock, though, was that it would just serve to increase the sense of remoteness once we started our run.

by 10pm, we arrived in furnace creek in death valley.  exhausted from the driving, and encouraged by the warm temperatures, we just put our mats and bags down on the ground and opted to forgo a tent for the night.  morning came quick and after a yummy breakfast of eggs and broccoli, we rolled over to the ranger station to pick up topo maps of our route and talk with the rangers about what we planned to do.

the proposed route was a southwesterly jeep trail through cottonwood canyon for about sixish miles, followed by a tighter, vegetation choked version of the same canyon for another sixish miles with little to no trail.  cottonwood, at that point, would top out into a higher elevation basin with no trail or markings for a 10ish mile traverse over to deadhorse/marble canyon.  deadhorse would drop into marble for an eightish mile run back to the start point.  the canyons would be fairly straight-forward to navigate, but the basin, saddle and traverse into deadhorse were completely unmarked and required us to use terrain and compass navigation to find the correct route.  all told, the route would be somewhere between 26-32 miles [based on documents provided by rangers].

cottonwood canyon equipped with maps and skeptical comments from brook, our ranger, we headed over the heavily washed-out 4×4 route into the mouth of cottonwood canyon.  repete and i both packed about 120oz of water apiece [repete might have had quite a bit more, now that i think about it] and food for the trip.  the weather was looking like it would stay clear and sunny and in the low to mid 60’s.  and, off we went.  within the first mile we caught and passed the only people we’d see until the end of marble canyon; back packers with heavily laden packs.  the ranger had said that the route was typically done as a two or three day trip.  i think that’s why we got strange looks when we said we’d be doing it in a day.

the canyon quickly tightened up and was soon only a mere 20-30’ across at it’s base with towering walls of sandstone, marble and sediment blocking out large portions of the sky.  the run was comfortable along the jeep trail with a low grade elevation gain, easily marked route and mild footing.  without much excitement or ordeal, we reached the end of the jeep track and took a short break to fuel up and check the map for what lay ahead.  the ranger had mentioned that at this point, the canyon base would narrow and the route would become choked with vegetation.  from what we could see at that point, it looked like there were some scattered trees ahead, but nothing of significance.  the cottonwood spring must have been quite active at the canyon summit, because there was plenty of water flowing in the creek.

map readin' after double checking the map, we headed out on what looked like a faint trail.  within 100 yards, though, we realized that the ranger was right and that the route was, indeed, heavily vegetated.  the running through this section was tough and most of the time we were reduced to a shuffle, power-hiking or even the occasional heavy bushwhacking.  we crossed back and forth across the canyon, following what looked like a trail, constantly moving up the canyon, making slow progress.  every so often, the canyon would open up and we’d be able to run normally again, but within a mile or so, it would tighten again and we’d be back to more bushwhacking. 

about half way through this section, we hit a portion of the canyon that widened into a sandy wash with a depression where the spring was flowing.  along the banks, there was what looked like an established trail.  as we ran along following this trail, i noticed that someone, actually, something, had recently been on the trail as well.  with rain a few days before our trip, fresh tracks were easy to spot.  the dry soil would be moved aside to expose the moisture just below the surface.  fresh tracks would still show moisture, but after half a day or so, the track would be dry.  the tracks following this trail were very distinct and occasionally showed moisture.  they were fresh.  i bent to look closer at them and realized that they were indeed cat tracks.  no claw, four main toes with the m shaped pad.  they were big for a bobcat, but small for a mountain lion.  it was hard to gauge just what made them, but i was leaning to mountain lion and repete toward bobcat.  as we ran along, it became clear that there were two sets of prints.  one large set and a smaller set.  mother and cub.  we followed this obvious set of tracks for close to four miles.  we would lose the tracks as we bushwhacked, but always regain them again once we hit the ‘trail’ in the canyon.  it was good to see that we took the path of less resistance, just as the cats did.

that's what rabbit looks like comin' out as we neared the top of the canyon, we came across even more evidence that the tracks were recent.  there was scat on the trail and it still had a damp mucous on it.  the cats couldn’t have been through the area more than a couple of hours before us.  i was comforted knowing that the prints were smaller than my fist, so if it was a mountain lion, it was on the smaller side and probably not something that would take a chance with two humans.  we started a conversation about the similarities between domestic cats and wild cats, wondering if wild cats had a tendency to scrape or cover their scat like domestic cats do.  no sooner had the question been posed and we spotted more scat at the summit of the canyon, complete with scrape marks.  from this point, the tracks disappeared and i think the rocky summit of the canyon may have actually been the home for the pair.  in hindsight, i do think that the tracks were bobcat, simply because the cat evidence we found later during the run had to have been made by some big cats, and this pair were no where large enough to take down a horse, bighorn sheep or deer.

runnin' caveman the top of cottonwood signaled the beginning of our ‘unmarked’ section of the route.  our course had us transitioning to the north and running up the basin along the base of the north-running ridge until we hit a low saddle/pass.  the change in scenery was very welcome at this point.  the basin was nearly a mile across and several miles long.  it was wide open, remote and desolate.  the running was very different from what we had been doing up to this point.  we were now running wild, across the basin, through desert scrub.  there was lots of weaving through the brush and adjusting the route to keep heading toward what we thought was the pass.  every plant we came across out there was tough, though.  everything scratched.  everything had a ‘don’t eat me!’ defense or quality to it.  even the plants that looked soft would tear up our shins.  it was what you would expect of the desert.  harsh.

as we ran through the basin we would stop occasionally to take a reading on where we were.  we were quite confident that we’d mapped the pass correctly and knew where it was on the map, but deciphering that based on the terrain that we were seeing took some focus.  initially, we thought our pass was the second of two low points in the ridge, but after running several miles through the basin, we determined that it was actually the closer of the two.  this brought me great joy, as the pass never seemed to get closer for all the running we were doing.  after several hours of running through a canyon without being able to see your goal, having your destination floating ahead of you, taunting you, was a challenging change.  eventually we reached the wash that lead up to the pass that we wanted.  as we went up the wash, we lost sight of our terrain markers on the ridge and it was a reminder to pay attention to how far we were drifting to one side or the other. 

deadhorse saddle without too much effort, we gained the saddle, if not a little bit high on the north side.  from where we summitted, we could look down on the saddle itself and see a small cairn.  helpful, sure, but not visible until you were actually on top of it.  i had hoped that we’d spot cairns along the way, but without any place to build them up, they would have just been lost in the scrub.  repete added a couple rocks to the saddle cairn and we began to plan our traverse and drop into deadhorse canyon.  we had been warned not to follow the wash from the saddle too far as it would naturally lead you to an impassible dry fall.  our traverse called for following the wash for roughly over a mile and then doubling back to the north around a series of low hills on the ridgeline above deadhorse. 

the running from this point was no longer work.  sure we were still weaving through the scrub, but it was finally downhill and it was nice to let gravity help with our progress.  dropping down into the wash, it was easy to see how following it always downward would be an easy mistake to make.  we kept close tabs on the terrain features to our north and when we finally saw the series of small hilltops, we doubled back.  the map had a small saddle that should have taken us to the top of deadhorse, and as we ran up to where we thought it was, we were happy to see what looked like a footpath worn into the side of the canyon.  rather than zig-zag our way down the side, though, we opted to take the steep route and bombed down into the canyon like kids just released to summer vacation.  we had successfully made the traverse and the joy was palpable.  it felt so good to know that we could turn off the navigation focus and just run down the canyon.

shortly after dropping into deadhorse, we began to spot definite signs of cat activity.  we came across the remains of several kills as we ran along the spring: bighorn sheep spine and ribs, deer leg and even a complete deer skeleton.  deadhorse sported some more of the bushwhacking that we did in cottonwood, but it was much easier and the sections were significantly shorter.  after a few miles, we finally exited deadhorse and spilled into marble canyon.  at this point, the sun was beginning to set and down in the tight canyon, the light began to fade.  as if by instinct, as the canyon narrowed and the light began to fail, both repete and i began to pick up the pace.  we flew through the canyon at a very challenging, but fun pace.  the canyon got tighter and more twisted and the walls soared overhead.

marble canyon this section of the run was by far the most enjoyable.  flying through the narrow canyon gave an increased sense of speed and the sharp twists and turns required significant focus on footing to pick a line through the rocks and sand that wouldn’t impact speed.  we flew along for what felt like near an hour, but i know it wasn’t that long.  we both ran along in silence, just soaking in the experience.  with about six miles to go, though, i finally ran out of water.  with the cooler temperatures, i had figured that just the 120oz would last me for 30ish miles.  i had opted to leave an additional 32oz nalgene back at the car, thinking that i wouldn’t need it.  running up cottonwood, though, i noticed that i was perspiring much more heavily than i had anticipated.  i had begun slight rationing at the top of deadhorse, but satisfying my thirst ended up resulting in an empty water bladder well before the finish.

interpretive dance once i realized i was out of water, the joy of running fast through marble began to fade.  i knew we only had a handful of miles left to go and that the route was easy to follow, but something kicked in and made me feel the severity of the moment.  i was without water in death valley and miles from any source.  that freaked me out a little bit and i began to grow anxious to get back to the vehicle.  repete continued to enjoy this section of the run and flew, literally, the rest of the way through marble canyon.

with close to a mile left to go through marble canyon, the light finally faded enough that we needed to break out the headlamps.  by the time we were birthed through the mouth of marble canyon, it was pitch black and the jeep trail connecting to the cottonwood jeep trail was actually quite difficult to follow.  we finally met back up with the cottonwood canyon jeep trail and started heading north toward the vehicle.  we lost the trail due to the highly washed out nature of the canyon floor.  knowing that we had parked next to one of the walls made it easier to home in on where the vehicle was.  as we got closer to where i thought we had parked, i pulled out my key fob and started mashing the unlock button every couple of minutes.  eventually, the orange parking lights blinked on along with the dome light and like moths to a flame we made our final approach.

we were both pretty exhausted by the run, both physically and mentally.  a good deal of our discussion as we drove to the wild rose campground for our second night, was how taxing that sort of run was compared to running a regular trail, or even a race.  in both cases you have the luxury of putting your head down and just following where the trail leads.  keeping the head on a swivel to keep alert of your location and scanning the surroundings for any wildlife takes quite a bit out of you, too.  but, the bonus to running a route like that was the sense of immediacy that follows you.  the need to constantly be on, constantly alive, constantly surviving.  it was a brilliant change from the well traveled paths i am so accustomed to running.

the best part of the adventure, though, was the company.  it’s rare that you come across a running partner that doesn’t need any managing or maintenance.  having to support a weak link on a run like this would have been a huge drain on available energy.  i can only imagine what calming someone’s mountain lion fears would have done to the experience.  what a drain it would have been to have to listen to someone complaining about the bushwhacking or how painful the scrub was.  repete managed all of that on his own and just ran what was set before us.  along with the low maintenance, we were completely in synch as far as pace, effort and reaction to the environment.  we seemed to speed up together, bonk together and show enthusiasm together. 

for the weekend, i actually received two birthday presents.  the first, from smsmh, was the freedom to head out to the desert for a full weekend.  the second, was from repete for his company and perfect companionship.  gifts don’t get any better than that.

check out the rest of the photos from the weekend:

urine luck, valentine!

 

soundtrack for this post

hipsters sky larkin
lick geography
wax the golden spike

bust out the ochre, baby, i’m on day 14

so, this caveman thing has been a hoot [for the most part – dropping this bombshell of a lifestyle on smsmh and a cupboard full of pastas, rices, crackers, chips and a fridge full of bread? not such a good idea]; both the “wwcmd?” hilarity [that thunderclap is starting to pick up on; “hey daddy?  cavemen like applesauce?”] and the fun of meal planning and prep.  i’ll admit that i was a hungry beast for the week plus, but this past week it seems i’ve hit my stride.  i’ve nailed down some go-to foods that seem to satiate well and have begun experimenting with different recipes and types of food.

this past week we had some epic [for california anyway] weather; water spouts, a tornado, snow down to 2,000’, multiple inches of rain in a day.  good stuff, and good weather for a caveman to run in.  hunger waits for no weather.  so, out into the deluge i headed every day.  by day four i was ready for some dry running, but still having fun with the idiocy that is heading out into the weather for some exercise.  each run this past week had me feeling stronger and stronger.  tempo with repete on thursday am was tough, but had me feeling great the rest of the day.  friday’s trail run had me scoring some blood oranges along the route.  yummy, nutritious, and with a side benefit of making the eater look like they just slaughtered an animal.  caveman currency, right there!

sunday dawned without a cloud in the sky and i was up early for a longish run around back bay.  i opted to run on an empty stomach and see how i fared.  unfortunately, i had just purchased a case of gu, so with that sunk cost, i might as well use them up.  i decided to use them sparingly, though.  i met up with special k after a first loop around the bay and ran the second half of my run with him.  the miles just flew by and before i knew it i was done with 21 miles.  the surprising thing was that i had only consumed three gu’s in the space of three hours.  that’s roughly 300 calories and i didn’t feel hungry at all during the run.  my legs felt wonderful and ready to tackle many more miles, if i so chose.  no joint pain, no real fatigue, but instead i was feeling excited and alive.

i was hungry by the time i got home, but not so much that i was going to drop into that hunger headache state.  hours later the legs felt wonderful, too and i was still full of energy and quite alert.  a day later, and there’s no doms going on.  i don’t know what the deal is, but i’m feeling like a million bucks.  i’m running un-injured, healthy and with boundless energy.  the high that i’m on from this week has me wanting to grab some iron oxide and head to the local cave to document the hunt on the walls.

soundtrack for this post
Boomerang lick:
hipsters:
wax:
Strolling Wolf
the creatures
Boomerang