It has been a very long time since my last confession…oops there goes the recovering Catholic seeping out. I have been in quite a rut this year in many ways. I guess I would call it a period of transition and redefining myself. As for the running, well, not so noteworthy. The truth is that my body has felt like it is on the verge of spontaneous destruction, a true case of entropy if ever there was one. Every run feels like the wheels are going to fly off or a joint is going to skip out of socket. Mentally it has been a roller coaster ride of varying degrees of stress, with most of it borderline red-zone. Nothing short of adrenaline overdrive where no amount of meditative practices seem to alleviate it.
I finally jumped the ship of serfdom and started my own business as my state of employment was unhealthy and untenable. Things have been so much better since starting my own business after a decade of being too afraid to make the move. Still, things are a bit out of sorts. The few races that I have done have been lackluster at best. Sean O’Brien 100K in February ended up with me dropping down to the 50 miler as I couldn’t handle the high temperatures that the day brought. Southern California races seem to be a test in heat exposure year round now. The fact that I did not run another race until my annual Wild Wild West race in Lone Pine seems to highlight my state of mind. This race is always a favorite of mine due to its old school simplicity and beautiful scenery. My performance was not horrible nor was it great.
I decided to go back to San Diego in June to do the San Diego 100 mile race but this time with a slightly different approach considering the lack of motivation that I was feeling. I made a proposal to my friend Pete, who would also be running it seeking redemption from a previous DNF in this race. I proposed that we work together with the sole goal being to get one another to the finish line. Understanding that our energy levels would not be in synch throughout the day with my low points quite possibly occurring during his moments of feeling energized, we would react accordingly and provide a bit of cheerleading for one another when necessary and not allow each other to drop for any reason barring serious injury or possible organ failure. Pete seemed to be perplexed by this approach worried that he might slow me down. I assured him that there would be times during the race when I would most likely be slowing him down. The point of this little experiment was to drive on through all of the ups and downs that occur in any 100 mile endurance run and embrace the discomfort and glory of the journey together.
Looking back I have zero regrets and look at the experience as one of the highlights of my year. It was an experience that encapsulated what is most meaningful for me personally when doing these long runs. It is not only about me, but about all of the support provided by the people who selfishly boost your spirits along the way and the other runners who help to brush you off when your toe catches the tree root that you were too tired to see. Even when you are all alone out there for hours at a time you are not truly alone. You are accompanied by thoughts of your loved ones who give you incentive to finish what you started. Watching another runner progress through the course while processing through many different physical and emotional adversities is an enlightening experience.
Pete and I successfully completed our journey and I believe we are stronger having taking part in our little experiment.
Still floating on the endorphins that come with finishing a 100 mile journey Pete and I coaxed one another into signing up for the local Angeles National Forest trail race, or what used to be referred to as the Mt. Disappointment trail race. It was the inaugural 60K this year, so even though the 50K would have been more than sufficient for us I pushed for going all the way and taking in the extra 10K. I don’t think that Pete will ever forgive me for that. It was an exceptionally hot day on race day even for Southern California in July. Triple digit temperatures made for quite an oven run especially with the extra 10K out and back section being a meaty exposed climb happening in the hottest part of the day. The air quality in Southern California in the heat of the summer is quite offensive as well and on my return trip down from the out and back turn around I came upon Pete who I could tell was wishing he had stuck with the 50K course. For him to finish the race given the lung issues that had been plaguing him since San Diego was nothing short of spectacular.
My race was pretty acceptable especially considering the close proximity to San Diego and lackluster energy levels. I didn’t get too much time to feel any kind of satisfaction; however, as I woke up early Monday morning with a horrific case of food poisoning. It probably came about from some fruit that had basked in the sun for a little too long and this is always a risk with aid station food combined with a body that is run down. I have had food poisoning a couple times before and it is never fun. This bout took me down a couple notches and I really look back on it as the end of any effective training for the year. With temperatures and air quality being as offensive and stifling as they were even my pacing duties for my friend Christopher at Angeles Crest in early August and friend Johnathon at Kodiak in late August were taxing for me.
Needless to say, going into the IMTUF 100 in September I was feeling a bit of trepidation. So, I changed my approach to this race as well. I had to back out of this race in 2017 due to lack of travel funds and a not so flexible work schedule; additionally the race director was kind enough to roll my registration forward and I didn’t want to squander the chance again. I decided that I would drive to the race as opposed to flying. This enabled me to take my four-pawed training partner Tanner with me on a road trip that would make for an unforgettable adventure regardless of my performance on race day. I felt bad because Tanner does not get to run with me much in the heat of the summer and this would give us some quality time together and a bit of a respite from the heat. The most stressful part of the trip was having to leave Tanner at a kennel while I ran the race, but he was in great hands with people who knew how to love dogs from all walks of life.
IMTUF100, or the Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival, in McCall, Idaho is known for being a very difficult but stunningly beautiful 100 mile endurance run. I had been looking forward to this race for some time but I also knew that my training over the summer months had not been anywhere close to what was needed for a successful day in any 100 mile journey, especially not one that was a Hardrock qualifier. The Hardrock 100 in Colorado is considered to be one of the most difficult of the mountain ultras and so to be a Hardrock qualifier race has to show it has those things that make it worthy of such an association. I was not disappointed. This part of the country is especially breathtaking. Lots of freshwater lakes and streams with abundant fall foliage and mountainous landscape. Along with the beauty comes a raw grit that dares you to jump in and see if you have what it takes to play for a day in the dirt.
The day started with temperatures that had me not wanting to get out of my truck. This is pretty pathetic considering it was only around 30 degrees, which for someone growing up in Upstate New York is a typical fall day. But having called Southern California my home for almost 25 years now I am pretty much a shivering idiot below 45 degrees, especially with skimpy running clothes as my only defense. Eventually I worked up the courage to exit the truck and move quickly towards the start line where there was a good sized bonfire going to sooth me until it was time to start. I found myself looking forward to the start as every step forward would get me closer to being done and hopefully I would warm up. I do not think that I ever warmed up that day.
For the early portion of the race I just ran fast enough to stay warm but kept the pace dialed back to preserve my energy knowing that it was going to be a long day and certainly not going to get any easier. Overall my movement was pretty consistent and I didn’t feel horrible but also realized upon reaching the first significant climb that I did not feel so great. I remember having an “oh shit” moment thinking that if I was feeling so drained on the first climb with only 25 miles behind me how was I ever going to get through the next 75. It didn’t help that I rolled my ankle pretty good only 20 miles into the race just about the time I was starting to warm up. Things only got worse from there. I felt wiped out on the first climb and then the ensuing downhill made me question my ankle stability.
As the pain in my ankle increased and my pace began to decline the weather changed bringing on a bit of precipitation that essentially sealed the deal for me mentally. I was barely approaching the mid point of the race. My energy levels were not good and my pace was such that staying warm with the now wet conditions was a big challenge. I also realized that I was not prepared for the long, slow, wet, and cold night that lie ahead having packed “California cold weather gear” that was not going to keep me warm. All things combined I made the very difficult decision to take off my bib and receive my first ever DNF. It seemed to be the final notch in a string of events that made this year a year in which I have questioned my pursuits in this sport.
When I had signed up for the Cuyamaca 100K earlier in the year I remember thinking that it was probably foolish as it was only a few weeks after IMTUF100 and I would still be pretty worn out. Well, when Cuyamaca actually came around my logic was that I had only done about 48 miles so I could use another 62 to at least not feel so crappy about my DNF and get some closure for my race season. I also really enjoy the Cuyamaca race and felt that it would do me good to participate in it regardless of the outcome. It is always a good crowd and a beautiful course.
Turns out that the weather on race day was perfect for a day on the trails. Not freezing and not sweltering it was the kind of weather that I had been longing for all year. Even though my body was not feeling great my mood was good and it ended up being a very satisfying day and a great way to end the year’s race calendar.
I have not felt great since the race. Just continually plagued by an overall soreness and hips that feel like they are perpetually locked up. One blessing of my line of work is that I hardly ever sit down which is good because commuting to and from work has me on my assbones plenty. The downside is that working in construction is its own work out. Starting your own business in construction also means that you will be doing most of the labor yourself until you become established enough to be able to afford a couple of employees to lighten the load. So, whereas I am no longer feeling the mental stress of working for someone else, I am feeling the physical stress of wearing my bags daily like I was when I was a framer in my 20’s. Problem is, as much as I want to be in denial about it, I am not in my 20’s anymore.
As the end of 2018 draws near I have a lot to think about. How will I restructure my training and my life in such a way that I can be successful in my business and also successful in my running. These two things need to be able to coexist in such a way that I am not eternally broken and fatigued, otherwise both will suffer. In the same regard my well being has to have both. I know that I can also hop on the bike or go hiking but these don’t make me dig as deep or bring me to that point where I feel like I am literally sweating out my demons and cleansing my soul. I know that when I do not run it does not take very long for my warped frame of mind and negative self talk to start resurfacing.
I have found a true bliss and satisfaction in being able to build for people in a way that I can feel proud of and also hopefully make them happy with the end result. This is not to say that being a general contractor in Southern California is without challenges and stress. There is plenty of stress and I very much need running in my life to help me stay balanced emotionally. What I need is to find a way to tweak my running so that it is not becoming an additional source of stress. For me this may mean fewer races and more time on the trails running at whatever pace feels good for that day even if that means hiking most of the way. Being out there with Tanner makes any amount of running fun and that is what needs to be the main ingredient in my running. It is very true when it is said that when the running ceases to be fun it is time to reassess and find a new approach.
I look forward to the coming year as a year where I rediscover balance with those few things in my life that have true worth and meaning and discard those things that are hindering the achievement of this balance.