Monday, August 9, 2010
6 Feet of Rocky Mountain High
Actions that bring exhilaration are not that common (and no, I'm not even remotely speaking of S-E-X). I'm talking about doing some sort of physical activity that is both exhilarating during its undertaking, and holds some sort of special place in the psyche for a long time thereafter. I've been lucky as an adult to have a few such experiences.
The first came in 2001 when several friends and I did a self-contained bike tour around Southern France. I had been suffering from pretty debilitating depression - probably brought on by leaving law school, a small business failure, and the winding down of what I had hoped would be a career in music. I'll always have a special place in my heart for every inch of les Alpines that I pushed myself over. I also hold near in my heart each person on that trip as we got to know each other through a shared struggle and adventure. The struggle also served to spark a years-long recovery from poor lifestyle choices and depression.
The next came relatively recently with my friends Chris and Marisa. Marisa and I were in Colorado for a trade show at Keystone. But we did manage a few days of crazy hikes that Chris had found. There was something really wonderful about these hikes. They were at extreme altitudes for a flatlander like me. But what made them wonderful was that the efforts invested in the hike yielded true rewards - both physically and in the most spectacular views I've ever seen outside of the coasts. The sharing of the experience was also something that the three of us will always have.
Last weekend I had another. My friend Eric and I have been doing 6-8 mile trail runs every Saturday we're both in town. I haven't been a huge fan of the trail in the past, but have gained a grudging respect for them as well as those who choose to run them on a regular basis. Trail running takes longer. It it hard to judge distance. You seem to be running at a 7.5 or 8 minute/mile pace, yet it takes 9-10 minutes to complete a mile. That has a tendency to drive me a bit crazy. I have also fallen into a ravine, regularly gotten covered in plant and soil filth, have had to spend a half hour cleaning my shoes after each run, and then have to stand in the shower with very strong poison ivy lotions as I shower like a slaughterhouse worker trying to get clean. So trail running has never really been my 'thing.'
Eric, on the other hand, loves the trail runs. He and I have yet to do a road run together. Since I'm normally a solo runner, I always like the novelty of running with someone else. If I want to run with him, I run the trails. And last week, he had suggested that we do a nighttime trail run called the Psycho Wyco. The run is a 10k that takes place over some of the roughest, hilliest, and muddiest terrain to be found in these parts. Friday night, Eric, I and about 140 other lunatics, slathered ourselves in bug spray, turned on our headlamps and took off on the run.
As someone who is not particularly graceful on trails, as soon as I saw the crazy loose rocks on the inclines, I knew I was going to be in trouble. The race quickly broke apart, with runners moving in small groups. I fell in behind a couple of guys in one of the first few groups. It was helpful to follow, because the mud holes were terrible (one guy lost his shoe in one, and literally never found it - dropping out of the race and hobbling back to the start), and the rocks were large, jagged, and loose. After a mile or two, I was the lead runner of my group. This didn't occur by choice. It happened because one of the two in front of me fell and took a break, and the other got stuck in mud. So I became the defacto leader of my group of 1. The race, was amazingly challenging as a mental test. I could only look down where the light cast its beam about three feet in front of me. Every time I looked up or around, I tripped and skidded (but did not fall). I put the hammer down as much as possible during the run, but the treacherous course continually called for added mental and physical effort, as I even had to grab trees to kind of swing around some of the mud pits. On the way back a man and woman were following me. I asked over my shoulder if they wanted to pass. They declined because they wanted someone in front to light the way. I did think briefly, of stopping and forcing them to pass for the same reason, but my pace was good, and I seemed to be feeling the terrain better.
When I came to the end of the race, there was about a 150 yard run down a hill across a field with two little streams that needed to be fjorded. What got me, however, was that everyone who had finished ahead of me was standing at the finish line cheering me on. I joined the crowd of runners, and we all stood at the end cheering on each successive runner as he or she crossed the line. I had never experienced that in a road race. True camaraderie through shared adversity.
When everything was over, Eric and I drove back to Lawrence, talking about what an awesome experience the event had been. Even though it was late, I could not get to sleep. I was too keyed up with thoughts of running blindly through nature with a goal that would yield a much more inward reward than t-shirts and medals given out at other races. I couldn't stop thinking about what a great tight-knit community of runners made up the crazy crew of trail types.
Now, several days later, I still feel the same way. While I'll still mainly run on roads, my race schedule will likely be dominated by trail runs. The effort is much greater, the pace slower, but I see the allure in making the journey (both mental and physical) the actual reward.