Sunday, November 6, 2016

Feel Gravity's Pull: Rim Rock Run 2016

Somewhere near the end it said
"You can't do this", I said "I can too"
(Finally an excuse for a song from one of R.E.M's greatest albums)

The Rim Rock Run started as a gate-to-gate, 37K run across the Colorado National Monument from Grand Junction to Fruita. Over the years, there have been times when the race was on the verge of extinction, but every year, various race directors and volunteers have kept it going. There has always been a passion to keep this beautiful and difficult race alive. I volunteered on-course for the last year of the original Rim Rock Run before the conversion to a full marathon, a decision that did not thrill all within the local running community. As a new runner, I recall thinking that the course was beautiful, and that these runners were out of their damn minds to run it. 

Fast forward a year, two marathons then under my belt, I found myself among the crazies at the start line for the inaugural Rim Rock Marathon. It began down the hill from the Grand Junction entrance to the Colorado National Monument, and followed Rim Rock Drive across and over the Monument, ending at the Charles Robb State Park in Fruita along the Colorado River. We whooped through tunnels, climbed uphill knowing that gravity would eventually reward us, gained some speed coming off the Monument, and then slogged down highway 340 into the park. As with the Imogene Pass Run, I felt a deep satisfaction in running from one place to another, and doing it with a little hill in the middle. 

I ran the marathon five times in to total before the 2014 Rim Rock Marathon. I was recently divorced, trying to balance many responsibilities, and didn't want to do the marathon if I couldn't give it the training effort it deserved. Enter The Bad Ideas Club. This was my first Rim Rock Marathon relay experience with my friend Tom, who said he'd only do it if he got to run the uphill. We signed up not after a heavy-duty, high mileage training cycle, but after a few post-run beers at a local brewpub when the race website announced the relay division was nearly full, hence our team name. This was good because I said I had no interest in the uphill, and just wanted to see how fast I could do the downhill without that 13.1 mile climb before it. We were the top Masters team and had a blast with it. 

The next year, my friend Bonnie and I ran it as team KAR-BON (she ran the uphill but BON-KAR just sounds weird). Again, we got it done, ran well, and decided to do it again this year. There was a brief conversation about switching legs, but when Bonnie gave it another moment of thought, she said "nah, just kidding. I'll stick with the uphill." We hadn't been exclusively running leading into this race. Bonnie was doing all kinds of running,hiking, and yoga, and I was had just finished my seasonal peaching job, squeezing runs in wherever I could. Still, our fitness levels seemed good, we'd run this sucker once as a team, and it felt like we had the fitness and right attitude to have fun, run hard and quite possibly run it faster than the previous year.

In the week before the race, there was a lot of unexpected, hard stuff in life that came up. One of my former co-workers at my regular full-time job lost her breast cancer battle. She wasn't that much older than me, had kids the same age as mine, and it's just not fair that this woman who was healthy two years ago is gone now. Two days later, I got a message from my oldest daughter that their high school was on lockdown after shots being fired. Her sister-my middle daughter-was still on campus after school for a team practice and quickly moved with other students and faculty behind the locked doors of a copy room. When finally released they learned that one of their classmates had ended his life in his car in the parking lot. It's the second suicide since school started. Two too many. Everyone has been left hurting and asking how to prevent another kid from deciding this was the only thing they could do. It made me hurt to hear my kid saying "I was so close, maybe I could have done something to change (the decision, the outcome)."  It feels selfish to say so, but I was relieved that we had Rim Rock on the calendar yesterday for a welcome pause from a heavy week.  My kids returned to their father's house for the next week, I did quick gathering of race-day clothing and shoes, and got to bed. This was not the impossible race I thought it was eight years ago. It was a welcome opportunity to do something hard, sometimes painful, but fun and satisfying.

My only worry had been doing a stupid sleeping through of my alarm, so I set about five of them for myself on my phone and asked Bonnie if she'd please give me a buzz when she got up in the morning. I just had to be on the bus in Fruita to the halfway point at 7:30. I woke up just fine, her call came, and I got to Fruita in a pleasant drizzle. Not too hot, not too cold. Rim Rock has had a history of some freaky weather but this was perfect. I was going to do a basic, bare bones gear bag but said screw it, I want to be warm and comfortable beforehand, take pictures, and have a really good time. I couldn't believe how many buses there were at the rec center in Fruita, and realized that this was due to the wildly popular decision to add a downhill half marathon. I found a seat on one of these buses with my friend Kevin, who crushes the "old guy" and overall divisions alike. I'd brought headphones to listen to music but instead we wound up chatting and joking on the ride up. 

Read the scene where gravity is pulling me around
Peel back the mountains peel back the sky
Stomp gravity into the floor

Cold Runners, Warm Car

Julie is smiling because we're about to have our own personal port-a-potties

In my extreme mellowness over the race this year, I didn't even look to see that they'd changed the relay hand-off point, and maybe they didn't tell the bus drive as he totally overshot the pull-off where we were supposed to unload. After trying unsuccessfully to make a tight three (five? seven? ten?) point turn into the lot, he finally gave up and said hey guys, just go ahead and get out here. Seeing where we were, I realized Bonnie was going to be running a longer leg than last year. I wondered if she knew she had a longer run in store as well. The previous relay exchange point was short of a half-marathon but made for easy vehicle and spectator access; this was the true marathon halfway point. She was going to have to do that climb with gravity working against her, and have a "bonus" stretch before reaching me.

The half-marathoners got off to their start at 9am, and this left a small handful of second-leg relay runners, including my friend Julie, a meterologist, who said yep, we're going to be rained on soon. We enjoyed having the port-a-johns pretty much to ourselves, and goofed off with the race volunteers. It continued to spit but never turn into a heavy rainstorm, and the temperature felt good. 

Runners began coming in for the relay. I hadn't seen Bonnie's husband, or her parents. I  wondered if they'd accidentally overshot this small exchange point, and were at the old spot. Julie's relay partner came through and she headed out. Expecting Bonnie in soon after-I wasn't sure where we were on time exactly-I stripped off my jeans and sweatshirt. I saw someone who looked like her coming over the hill near our spot and squinted up the road, seeing her husband Danny following along. I knew then that they'd missed our aid station. She came in fast, we high-fived off, I pointed to my ginormous duffle bag of stuff, and took off.

Step up, step up, step up the sky is open-armed
When the light is mine, I felt gravity pull onto my eyes,
Holding my head straight (looking down)
This is the easiest task I've ever had to do

There was something about running downhill that made me want to squeal and yell "whee!" despite not doing this race in the middle of marathon training and tons of 20-mile runs, when this task was a much easier thing to do. It's just a beautiful course and it's not overcrowded with people. I let adrenaline be my friend for the first few minutes, and enjoyed the fun of going as fast as I could. Then, I tried to adjust my pace but not the cadence of my feet so that the pace was something sustainable for the duration. I've always enjoyed being competitive in a race situation, be that against myself or other runners, and my first goal became passing two gals running the full marathon. Yeah, they were running twice as far but it was a good, confidence-building first pass. They both had headphones and didn't hear me coming. I heard one of them say, oh, she's just running the half! We've already done 13 miles! I know she truly meant it in a positive way but I smiled on the inside and thought-keep moving fast enough that they don't ever have a chance to pass back. 

Three miles went by at a comfortably hard pace, and I tried to play that edge between being disciplined about pace, but also looking around, enjoying myself, and saying yes, these are my people and this is my place. The weather could not have been any better for running. Not hot, not cold, and overcast. I started yelling "woohoo!" and each mile marker. It was something to keep the mind busy and engaged. If doubt or worries about how I would hold up near the end, I would go back to my form, breathing, and making corrections that would keep me going at this pace. I'd sporadically come upon and pass runners, and tried to do it with control. We were heading toward the tunnels on the Fruita side of the Monument. This is my favorite part of the entire course. Two tunnels and then this long, twisting downhill off the Monument. I'd gotten really stupid here in a previous full marathon run, getting to a pace that caused glycogen depletion or "hitting the wall" around mile 25. While this was not a full marathon, I had learned from my stupidity and didn't want to repeat it. 

There was a gal in all pink, and I was pretty sure she was a full marathoner. I'd been eyeing her for awhile, and had been inching toward her for a few miles, but she was running a strong, even pace. I let out a "woohoo!" on both tunnels, deciding to push and see if I could overtake her. I was getting closer but not getting to her. Bad ideas be damned, I decided I was going to pass, picking it up and finally getting past her. Coming off the Monument, and onto Highway 340 with traffic and small shoulder to run on,  I was tired but feeling good. If my eyes allowed themselves to wander all the way down the road to Fruita, I made a point to look down about six feet in front of me. A couple were pulled off roadside to cheer on runners, and they yelled "So close!" They laughed when I yelled back "Yet so far," and the guy hollered "there's beer at the finish!" Yes indeed, that sounded good.

We were nearing the big ugly butthole of this beautiful course...crossing over I-70, going uphill and around the traffic circles, hopping on and off concrete sidewalks, and finally downhill into Fruita. I love that the race ends where it does in Fruita, and we have great traffic control from the State Highway Patrol, but this part of the run sucks. The only time I was passed by someone was approaching the overpass. It was a guy I'd passed coming off the Monument, and he passed me back here. I couldn't hang with him, but fought the fade. Finally, looked up toward the finish. The band at the finish line was playing Godzilla. I laughed and sang along for a few words...."Oh no...there goes Tokyo..." This was probably the weirdest song in my memories of finish line songs but it felt so oddly appropriate with the green dinosaur by the finish in Circle Park in Fruita. I got my first look at the time clock, too, and saw that a team PR was in hand. I got through in 4:15 and change, somewhere around two minutes faster than our team time last year. I saw Bonnie, Danny, and Bonnie's parents, and we all high-fived and hugged. 

Hello Fruita!

Part of the welcoming party..Bonnie, Danny and Max

Bonnie indeed was not expecting that bonus mile, making it feel even better that we'd still turned in a faster time. We hung out in the park, made an obligatory visit to the Hot Tomato for post-race stromboli and pizza, and came back to the park to hang out and get our free beer. One yoga class later today, I'm sore but feeling decent. Nothing that more running won't cure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Time/Breathe: Imogene Pass Run 2016

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day 
You fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way 

Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town 

Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

I've missed writing, and missed racing. I was racing myself, not others this weekend. A year from now, I'd like to be here racing others. This weekend, though, I was one of the faithful, being called over the mountain, from Ouray to Telluride, and what a glorious day it was. 

My first Imogene Pass Run was in 2008; it was my third race ever, and one that "they" said should not be done without many factors in place with regard to training, gear, and mountain preparedness. It's true; the mountains do not care. During my first run at this race, I was well-trained for my first road marathon, had never done anything as hard as this run, was carrying a huge pack of water, gloves, jacket, hat, and everything but the kitchen sink. I made a deal with myself that if I finished that day, I would never, ever, do this thing again. It's probably the last race I would expect to see as my longest ongoing running streak since then. A year later, race amnesia an authentic condition, I signed up for the 2009 race, and have been on the starting line every year since. Right now, slightly more experienced at life (I'm not old) and running, it makes perfect sense.

The weekend of the race came after a few months of inconsistent but focused training. I lost almost a month of time on feet due to the single stupidest and scariest running injury I've ever ever had. It was frustrating and made some of my first runs back feel kind of tense. Perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come that my first major workout after that was a Fourth of July Mt. Garfield climb with friends Cheryl, Mike and Dewayne. If I'd let myself be too safe, I might have couch-dwelled, but instead, we took in a glorious fireworks display across the valley under starlit skies. And there was a little bit of Fireball to commemorate the occasion. The few others up there had made the same effort to see the show, and that made it special. Imogene, in comparison, draws 1600 entrants and 1200 runners on race day, but the intention of most entrants remains the same. Do something that you're afraid you might not be able to do. Or, do something you know you can do, and know will hurt.

I came into this race not well-trained, not well-rested, but experienced. I have high expectations of myself, and the idea of not performing to previous levels, or not finishing at all, was truly enough to make me want to not even start.  I think it was the thought of potentially not finishing that had my stomach in knots for the first time ever before a race that produced the early morning nausea I experienced for the first time ever-either that, or the head congestion that was draining into my throat that morning.  One year I came in with the goal of breaking four hours. This year, making the 7.6 mile Upper Camp Bird cutoff was heavy on my mind. My "long run" has been one ten-mile trail run. On the flip side, I've consistently been running and focusing on quality. I've returned to yoga. There was a great day on the trails with my friend Jen prior to my faceplant that reminded me why mountain time,away from phones,work,and daily shit, is important. And, although I can't say that my work schedule directly translates to running, it has taught pacing and endurance. All good things at Imogene.

Since the last time I've blogged, there have been some cool life changes. My Dad, also an Imogene finisher, decided to move to Colorado. That happened much more quickly than I think he expected, and it's wonderfully surreal to have one of my first running influences around and about. He decided to come down to watch the finish, and cheer me in, along with the many others coming over the hill.  I also got engaged to Andy, which is one of the most unlikely evolved friendships one can imagine. We're independent, we challenge one another, and we support the passions that drive each of us. He came in for the weekend as well.  Then, we all got to experience this beautiful weekend.

My morning began at "The Blue House" near the start of Imogene that has been a Grand Junction runner staple for the past few years. Andy and I came in late Friday evening. I picked up my packet, we had dinner, blew up an air mattress, and we turned in, my mind still racing about race day. The next day, I did something I'd never done-ever-in eight years of racing. I tossed my cookies. Not what I wanted going into things. Andy got me water and told me to stop thinking about the puking. I needed this in this moment, despite the gut feeling weird. It brought me back to my very specific plan. Run and hike aggressively enough to make Upper Camp Bird by 10 a.m., respect my lack of training and take things slow and steady to the summit, and downhill to the Tomboy Aid Station, and then gradually accelarate toward the finish. It's remarkable how finishing with a solid strategy felt more important this year than any of my faster goals here.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care

I started the run and spent a lot of the uphill pacing with my friend Conrad from our Mesa Monument Striders running club. He wouldn't tell you, but he's finished the Western States 100, Leadville, and a lot of other stuff that many people don't know a thing about. He gave me a great Leadville shirt when I trained for my own failed attempt at the race, and organizes the Run To Whitewater with his wife Kim. It's that kind, experienced and generous spirit that is one of many things about trail running that is appealing to me. This was his first time back at the race in twelve or thirteen years. I made it through to Upper Camp Bird, looked around and saw that Conrad was there too. I had been concerned about making it to this point, and it felt good to know that I'd arrived. It felt even better to see that Conrad was here too. Heading out, I was smiling to myself and thinking about how I had never learned to give up this race. 

The route to the summit was as it has been every year prior. A strange, joyful, oxygen-deprived march to the summit. This year, there were two gals in colorful wigs making noise and ready to give a hand for the last step onto Imogene Pass. I danced and smile as I saw them, and accepted two hands on either side, sling-shotting myself up onto flat ground. Finding my chicken broth, Gatorade and water (how is that for an unholy trinity?), I allowed a man in a baby blue tuxedo to take my picture at the Imogene Pass sign. All is well when you take in this kind of view. 

Andy had said he was going to hike up from the Telluride side and do that end of the race with me. I knew this would be a tall order for one from sea level, but knew there was a slim chance he might be meeting me there due to a similar love for this perspective, and this kind of athletic "play." As it turns out, he was one $16 breakfast burrito and two-hour wait away from actually starting early enough to make the summit when I did. I was following my race plan exactly to plan, and beginning to pick up speed, when I encountered him below the Tomboy aid station. He had no sun protection, hydration pack, or anything but an enjoyment for climbing the hill and coming up to meet me. It was truly wonderful to have this time, enjoying beautiful blue skies and sparsely populated trails, and move along together.  He's faster than me at any short burst but I've got endurance. And, eventually, I knew this was questionable finish was in the bag. I accelerated with purpose. Nowhere near as fast as other years, but as fast as I could in the moment. It felt good.

Hitting the road in Telluride for the last few blocks, I was smiling. I care about this race and I care about respecting the mountains, the weather, and those who make it possible for this civilized but extremely difficult run to happen. This was my gateway to things I couldn't have dreamed of years ago. Running fast, running far, and perhaps not making friends with pain, but knowing how to approach it. My friend Tess who owns our great yoga studio in GJ always says "suffering is optional." Never has this been more true than last Saturday on this familiar path from Ouray to Telluride. 

Nothing is ever to be taken for granted, but I know this. In two months, I plan to be running the Rim Rock Marathon relay with my friend Bonnie, reprising team KarBon. I still want to do the downhill if she's cool with that. I want to get back to the Winter Sun 10K in Moab, a downhill and ridiculously fast 10K. I'm probably not going to run a PR but I just need to run it, breathe,and not care about anything but running and racing in the moment. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's A Beautiful Day: The Moab RedHot 2015

The heart is a bloom 
Shoots up through the stony ground 
There's no room 
No space to rent in this town 

There's a little race in Moab in the spring that isn't so small anymore, but is still a favorite of mine. My friend Jen put this on my radar six years ago, and we ran the 33K together along with our third amigo Nick that year in snow and cold. I cursed the one-step-forward, two-slides-back in the snow on the slickrock. Then, I looked around at those gorgeous views, and that was it. People pay money to come here from all over the world. They jeep, they mountain bike, but I think there is truly no better way to see Moab than on foot.

  After that first go 'round, I returned to run my first ultra a year later. It had been an annual yearly event, but something that was not in budget this year. I'd volunteered with my good friend Tom at the final aid station of another race Behind The Rocks, though, and had a complimentary entry into the RedHot for that gig. Signing up ages ago, I was excited to have earned a ticket back. 

Training for long distances, though, has been slim. On the flip side, I've finally found the flow of where and when to squeeze in the runs in a post-divorce life. There were plenty of regular runs leading up to the RedHot, but none of them were very long. I did have a good run at our local fatass, the Bangs Canyon 30K, which has a long, steep climb to end the second half. Honestly, I knew that I was probably looking at my slowest time ever. I came down to the race with a certain amount of happiness...giddiness at where I am right now, and all the good things taking place. 

I don't have a dream job but it pays the bills, and I get to utilize my talents reasonably well. I really love my little rental house, located on the edge of our local university, and in close proximity to all three schools my kids attend. My post-divorce dog who wound up being a cat. I would call him Awesome Cat, but he already came with the name of Schmink/Shpink. Being with my kids in a cozy space. And I (re)met someone, Andy, a barely-acquaintance from 18 years ago who came out (back) to Colorado from Oregon, and would then head over to Utah with me for this race weekend.  Sometimes life unfolds in ways that could never be predicted, and it's just a pleasant surprise. It was truly exciting to take a race I love on my own, and get to share that experience. 

Getting into Moab, it was clear that this was going to be one hot mofo. Everything felt very lowkey, though. I knew I'd be a back-of-the-packer. I embraced my well-restedness, though, and was relishing the knowledge that it was going to be a beautiful day by Moab standards out there. Andy and I picked up my packet from Jen on the way to the start, and it was almost anticlimatic when the start occurred. He was going to meet me out at aid station 1/3 when I returned to it at 17 miles. I'd slogged up that first hill in wind, rain, snow, and other conditions, but it was perfect out there today. Climbing the first hill, I took a good look around before riding the wave downhill and on to the split where the 33K and 55K divide took place. In my head, I realized I hadn't told Andy that when hiking, he needed to turn RIGHT to get to aid station 1 and 3. And, that the signs would probably be adjusted by the time he hiked through to direct 55K runners on to the remainder of the course. Damn, not much to do about that now.

You're on the road 
But you've got no destination 
You're in the mud 
In the maze of her imagination 

You love this town 
Even if that doesn't ring true 
You've been all over 
And it's been all over you 

I had no Garmin, and no measurement of distance other than my own personal experience on the course. This was as good as gold; I wasn't worried about spotting flags at all on the first half of the course. I knew the loop, and to where we'd return. There was no haste in my step, and I turned around every so often to take in the view. Climbing to aid station number two, I did that fun "look down to the cars" and felt that satisfaction of climbing on my own two feet. Slower than molasses but it didn't matter. I'd managed to have a signal out there, and I got two brief calls out to Andy while climbing to let him know that I was on track, near the back of the pack where I expected to be, and trucking along right on schedule. I'd been a little concerned about not making the one and only time cutoff but was still easily ahead of that mark. Given that this was not going to be a PR kind of day, I was invigorated to feel this good.

Trotting down to aid station three, I was somehow smiling. Andy met up with me there, and he'd had a bit of an adventure already, taking a left turn at the fork, which had an arrow pointing that way for the 55K runners at that point (the 33K runners go the same way, and had already come and gone). He reached an aid station where they told him, nope, you need to go back and up that hill. I laughed/groaned at that, realizing only after I'd started running that I should've remembered and told him about the sign flipperoni, He was no worse for the wear, though, and it was the best thing ever to just talk and chat down that bigass hill, and reach the cutoff where I'd head on for the second half of the course. We said good-bye and I headed off to do my thing.

Last year, there was someone who took great delight in celebrating/laughing at what we like to do out here on the trails. There was a sign at the top of a long stretch of slickrock that said "You are NOT almost there. HA! HA! HA!" He or she drew a few swear words and rave reviews for the signage. This year, they'd upped the game. This is what greeted me before the most difficult part of the race course. Truly the most inspirational and motivational steaming pile of poo I've ever encountered trailside.

What you don't have you don't need it now 
What you don't know you can feel it somehow 
What you don't have you don't need it now 
Don't need it now 
Was a beautiful day

There's not much to say about the second half. The slickrock was a challenge, as always. I was surrounded by first-timers, and I spent the entire second half of the race moving along with a fella who just wanted to finish. We barely said two sentences to one another the entire time but we kept our eyes peeled for the pink and black flags in the areas on the course where they became a little challenging to track, and waved the other onward if one of us didn't spot the flag right away. After beginning the gazillionth slick rock climb, I exclaimed "I LOVE climbing slick rock. I LOVE IT!" He laughed at my jackassery and we kept plugging away. Sign Person kept it going with his/her passive-aggressive support and taunts.

They'd once again run out of my favorite race treat, Coke, by the time I hit aid station four. I just didn't have it in me to be care, and I guzzled the Sprite they still had available with great satisfaction. Then it was onward to aid station five, and the finish. I wasn't going to make it in by the time awards took place-something that happened only once before. My right IT band started twinging a bit around mile 30, but I found that hiking eliminated that twinge.  In full Honey Badger mode, I truly didn't give a damn; there was never a point in the race when I thought I couldn't do it. This was a concern ahead of time, given my lack of long runs. I felt very light...not fast...but the steps weren't hard this year. Finishing the race multiple times prior, plus the Silver Rush 50 last summer, and my DNF at Leadville...this was progress to be able to just go out and run this sucker without thinking of 34 miles as something I could not complete. It wasn't the monstrously long thing I'd built it up to be in my head the first time around. It was just fun. 

I made it in about 45 minutes slower than previous slowest effort, and almost 90 minutes slower than my best effort. Time didn't matter today. It was beautiful out there, with people who all shared the same interest in doing this shiznit, and enjoy moving from point to point on foot in beautiful country. I was all smiles, "enjoying the course," as the expression goes. I enjoyed that hug from Andy at the finish-he'd had his own fun hiking around, and a bit of an exciting wildlife encounter (key words are "bobcat" and "cave" and "growling") while I was running. I entered that post-race state of "Must.Eat.NOW," and off we went for the post-race stuffing of the face. It was a beautiful day; it eventually came to an end with me being too tired to consider the post-race festivities at Eddie McStiffs. I was well-intentioned but sound asleep at a ridiculously early hour. Sleep has been challenging for a long time, but running for a long time helps me to right those cycles as much as anything. 

It's a week post-race and everything in the body feels pretty good. Oh, and I got into Leadville again. Taken a bit by surprise, expecting the race would be full with better and faster runners, I know I have to take my second chance at the 100 and go for it. That, too, will be a beautiful day; but for now I've got this one. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wonderful World, Beautiful People

Take a look at the world 
And the state that it's in today 
I am sure you'll agree 
We all could make it a better way 
With our love, put together 
Everybody learn to love each other

2014 is coming to an end and 2015 shall come to pass soon. I finished racing-not that there was much of it in 2014-at the only race I've done every year since starting to run, the Winter Sun 10K. I'll cut right to the end result-fourth place in my age group, first time off the podium in five years. If I measured things only that way, the race kind of blew. Measured it terms of doing what I love to do, showing up, being with some wonderful and beautiful friends, and doing what I could that day, it was outstanding.

My racing has been at a minimum this year and I took a fair amount of down time this fall. I had my wonderful travel experience in October, and great time with the kids and in my new place upon my return. I had some good runs in the weeks leading up to the Winter Sun. The weather was perfect, riding down with friends in the morning, I felt miserable, napping in the back of my friend Heather's car while she and Hannah chatted. Feeling kind of like a schmuck for being that sleeping passenger but feeling too lousy to care, I did my best to get a game face on.

Warm-up felt lethargic and my gut was turning. If you want to unintentionally clear a path for yourself at a race, gagging and wretching pre-race, and during a run will certainly do it. I gave serious consideration to saying screw it, I'm not running. There's no better way to get back into racing, than racing, though. I knew that was the chicken way out, too. Only racing if I was 100% confident I'd succeed. 

The first half was pretty ugly. Making nasty blerching sounds most of the way, I felt like I was moving slower than last year in the snow at this race. And I was. I kept my friend Rochelle in my sight, though. We run together sometimes, she's had a year of getting better and better. A lot of people race just for themselves but I'd be dishonest if I said I'm not also there to race other people too. And it's fun, a cool thing-to play with that good energy with others, many of whom are friends met at various races through the years. Some of my best memories are getting to mix it up during the race, then hang out after, talking about how it went, having a beer and a bite to eat. Beautiful people enjoying this wonderful world. So I hung in there and picked it up in the second half, slowly picking off a few runners. I was pretty far back so it didn't make much difference, but finishing strong and not fading away was what was on the brain now. I finally caught up with Rochelle, and worked to keep momentum in my favor-forward, and onward.

The time on the clock didn't quite register a personal worst but it was crummy by time standards. Still, when I hit that last track lap, I vowed to be strong going around. There were wonderful friends who hollered my name, and the names of other friends, as I hit the track. And, given the runs other people turned in, what my training looked like, and how I felt, 4th out of 57 was exactly where I was supposed to be today in the rankings. It's pretty rad, too, that my friend Cheryl won our age group, and Rochelle came in 5th. I'd had this dream that the three of us somehow did a 1-2-3 in age, which didn't quite happen, but we all put it all out there. There were a bunch other friends who made the podium, some regulars and some for the first time. With nearly a quarter of the race participants being from Grand Junction, and a number of other regulars and friends attending, it was also exactly where I was supposed to be. 

 Met all three of these crazy cats at races over the years.

Not even close to everybody, but we did our best to round up all the local townspeople. 

This is a year that really came down more to the people who helped one another through good times and bad.  Difficult life transitions and struggles and unexpected events dotted the calendar.

 Conversely, there was a lot of good energy out there. 

Friends helping friends through tight spots. Calling up or texting one another for runs or hikes. Helping one another with mundane, everyday tasks, and bigger projects alike. 

Being human to one another. Open. Seeing the best in others and forgiving the flaws and shortcomings. Sometimes challenging the opinions of others, even if it was uncomfortable. Telling someone what they need to hear, with compassion. Hugging the shit out of people. New and evolved friendships, and friendships that changed or ran their course. I'm glad for it all.

We have a semi-regular "Margaritas" hangout with a group of local gals. We get together, and, yes, margaritas happen. We visit, though, celebrate and toast things that have gone well. Sometimes we're coming together as a distraction in rough times. But, we're there. Present in one another's lives. Our next hang is going to be screening Wild, the movie adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's autobiography about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. And then, yes, margaritas. I'm looking forward to being there with those who can make it for this go 'round. I couldn't get enough of her writing; the book had been recommended by several friends and this is going to be icing on the cake to see the movie. Among many things she's written, this rings truest of all right now. 

“You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all.” 

Sure, it's not all. Kindness, and paying the bills is a good start.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lost In My Mind

How's That Bricklaying Coming?
How's Your Engine Running?
Is That Bridge Getting Built?
Are Your Hands Getting Filled?
Won't You Tell Me, My Brother?

'Cause There Are Stars
Up Above

We Can Start
Moving Forward

I am out of the new music loop. This "new to me" music is about five years old now.  My discovery of The Head And The Heart was in a true moment of zen. Exhausted after a long day on last summer's peach gig (feeling free, accomplished, but...utterly exhausted), I'd lay down for "just a minute" on my bed, window open. In no time at all, I found myself in a deeply relaxed, but alert state. Okay, so yeah, I was drooling on the bed, semi-catatonic, I think.

 Some lovely music started playing, and I picked up on the soaring "loooooooost" over and over, from somewhere in the neighborhood. The breeze and the music were washing over me, and I committed that "lost in my mind" to memory, and determined the next day, thanks to the googles of the interwebs, that it was "Lost In My Mind." I now associate it with being focused but content in the moment, and asking myself, how's my engine running?

 There's no race report to write here. But, the joy of running is back and here to stay. It's not fast like it used to be, but it feels good. It's my freedom. I've run roads and along rivers that are familiar, and hit trails that are brand new. The bricklaying, so to speak, and my new house-the first that has truly ever been mine and mine alone-is coming along. I'm  renting, but it's my name alone on the lease. It was freedom to travel alone to Mexico and really enjoy being lost in my own thoughts, and it's freedom to write that rent check. I think, but don't worry all the time about paying bills.

One of my kids has been really sick, and will be healthy eventually. It's been difficult to see your take-no-shit, strong, intelligent, and active child reduced to a few hours of low-level homebound activity a day, and desperate to have a normal energy level. But, it's stripped things down to a very basic, day-to-day, and moment to moment existence. How are you feeling? What would help right now?  And, this amazing kid has taken her shitty hand of getting sick, and used the time when she's felt decent to do things I never asked for or expected, but helped me tremendously around the house. And filled her hands with something that mattered to her-freedom to make our space what she visualized. I'm beyond thankful for it, and pleasantly surprised that it all came from a 15-year-old I've told to stay in bed, to rest-but wants to do things that let her get lost in her mind and feel normal when she can't go to school or dance.

 Winter has come and hit "hard" so far this year, but I know we still have it pretty good. I've run in colder weather, at the buttcrack of dawn, and am ready to take another "crack" (ha, had to go there) again. I signed up once again for the Winter Sun 10K, knowing that it is extremely unlikely that I'll top my best effort at this race in 2010. Moving forward doesn't constitute sitting scared, waiting for the perfect scenario, though. It's on a day that flows easily for me, so I'm going. And the first ultra I ever ran-The Moab RedHot 55K-is the next race up after that. Volunteering at another Grassroots Events race, Behind The Rocks, punched my ticked for this one. It's another no-brainer in moving forward. There's also the "free" monetarily, but punishing, Bangs Canyon 30K/60K. The race directors for all of the above events-Ranna, Chris, Kevin- are true stewards for our sport, and make it fun while managing events we all return to, year after year. They make it seem low-key when in fact it's a major undertaking to get it done right. It's up to me to move forward and show their kickass runs some justice.

 I want to take another swing at Leadville, but am not going to force the matter. Instead, I am keeping eyes and options open to different 100 mile races-ones that I can enter if I feel trained up, and can reach easily from Grand Junction. My current job was a slight step up from the last one. With this one comes more responsibility, more use reasoning, planning, and a combination of my head and my heart. It leaves less flexibility, though, to vacation time. This may move me forward to opportunities I can choose without needing permission-things like The Grand Mesa 100, or possibly Run Rabbit Run. Or, I may say, forget it (nah, this isn't true at all. I want to complete 100 miles on foot, and experience all that goes with that journey). And, then, a chance encounter with a good friend who doesn't live here anymore opened a great conversation about a run that would be fun, long, beautiful, and entirely about getting out there. Like Rim To Rim of the Grand Canyon, but closer, and not something I would have come up with by myself at this time. The fires have been stoked. In Zion.

 In the meantime, I am content to get lost in my mind on a run, come back with some clarity, extra energy for my family, and build bridges toward better things.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Banditos: The 2014 Rim Rock Marathon

And everybody knows 
That the world is full of stupid people 
So meet me at the mission at midnight 
We'll divvy up there

Our region has several great races and runs that started as bar bets, impromptu treks, or other circumstances. Things that seem like bad ideas, if you look at things from an entirely analytical perspective. Stop and think about things too much, and the things never happen. Action never occurs.

 Thought isn't a bad idea; I'm a great proponent for it. Some things are truly stupid and bad ideas. Sometimes, though, the mind can limit what the body can do. Or, one can convince himself or herself that doing things the same is always the way to go. That the same is good enough. And, the brilliant thing about a bad idea is that you don't have any illusions about what you're getting yourself into. If things go well the expectation has naturally been exceeded. And, there are times when you just have to try something to know to never do it again-at least not the way you attempted it the first time around.

 So, it was one day in early October when my eventual teammate for the Rim Rock Marathon relay, Tom, and I were having a beer in a Grand Junction watering hole after some run, and decided to jump into the fray at this great local run. It used to be gate-to-gate across the Colorado National Monument, or 37K. Five years ago, it became a full marathon, and starts off almost immediately with a 2000 foot climb. Runners get to enjoy spectacular views, though, and what goes up must come down. I'd run the marathon every year it had been a full, and volunteered at the final two Rim Rock Runs (37K). A month out, though, I remained uncommitted to anything racing.

 There were only four team slots left out of thirty at that point. I hadn't done any speed work in a good six months and really hadn't run much of anything since Leadville. I'd actually blanked out on running the Imogene Pass Run this year, it was such a pisstastic race on my part. This, though, sounded pretty awesome. Tom was only willing to do it if he could run the uphill. He had a bunch of other adventure races, running and ski club obligations, and, you know, work and stuff. I said screw that uphill stuff, I only want to do the downhill. And I had two jobs, one position brand new, a new place, and four kids every other week, Perfect. What could be a worse idea than signing up for a race now?

 I was energized, though. More energized than I'd been in many months about doing a race. Some people hate road running, and a bunch really hate downhill road running. This section of the Rim Rock course was one of my favorites, though. I could see in my mind that amazing, panoramic view out of the second tunnel on the downhill. The full marathon was a great race, but the Colorado Marathon in May had not been my finest effort. I didn't want to do another marathon out of habit, and turn in another subpar performance. Tom was jazzed to do the uphill. And good at uphill running. The team name came quickly: The Bad Ideas Club. We were in, and about two days later the relay was full.

 Race weekend rolled around, and I'd  not thought too deeply about Halloween being the day prior. The week had been incredibly busy. Somehow, though, everyone in my family got where they needed to go. My youngest and I trick-or-treated with our friends, the peach farmers, and their daughter (sounds very Sopranos; I really do have James in my phone as "James Peaches"), and it was great. Probably much better than sitting around and trying in vain to go to bed. My friend Carrie was willing and happy to get my kids to the finish line on Saturday. The kids were down with the plan. I didn't push or worry, but things just flowed after bouncing ideas back and forth with friends. Tom and I had some excellent "Amigo" shirts I'd gotten from INKnBURN to wear for the race for fun. We were dialed in for awesomeness.

 Getting up early on Saturday morning, I stepped outside. The temperature was perfect, but shit, that was lightning. Tom swung by early for me, and we headed out to Fruita. This was my first time catching the bus; in prior years, I'd gotten rides to the start for the full marathon. This time, we headed to Fruita in the dark, parked the car at the finish, and divvied up into buses headed for the start, and the halfway point. On my bus were two local doctors named Andy who are also strong runners, Kristin and Kathy, who are also rock solid regulars, and various folks from around the state and region. Someone got on the bus and told us there were bananas, water and snacks for us while we waited. This was great news to me; my stomach had been a little funky and I wasn't hungry early on. Now, I was hungry. A banana, water, and pretzels sounded perfect.

 The weather had really cleared up. It was brisk, but sunny. I asked Kristin if she wanted to trot up to the port-a-johns; if we'd been on the trails we would have just ducked off in the brush, and part of me wanted to do this anyway. It just would have been really uncool, bad mojo, a bad idea, when the park police, rangers, and volunteers were out there being cool and taking time to make sure things were done right. We trotted easily up the hill, did our thing, and came back. We sat on the bus for a bit, had to go again, and ran back up, deciding it was a good time to start watching for the first marathoners. Sure enough, they were on their way.

 The first dudeman in the marathon trotted along in no time. He was young, springy, shaggy and smiling. I didn't even get my phone out in time to catch him until he was past.

(too fast for my camera)

Our friend Julie, on a team with fellow meteorologist Paul, got dropped off by her fiance. It felt weird that I'd be racing soon, but with no idea when I'd go. Friends Angela and Kelly showed up to spectate. More and more runners were coming along now.

Two of our local first-timers who turned in outstanding runs, Alex and Ezzy

It was almost anti-climatic when Tom appeared, and we high-fived (the official regulation move to carry on with the second leg). I was guessing he was about the tenth relayer up the hill but wasn't sure. Perfect; we were kind of in that fun/competitive sweet spot. But first, I had to do the only little uphill stretch on the downhill.

 Ever had a decision validated immediately? I knew, heading up the hill, and passing a runner right away, that this Bad Idea to enter a race while sitting in a bar had been a great one. I hadn't run close to a half-marathon distance in the past two months but I'd run enough to feel like pushing. Relaxed and focused, relaxed and focused, I told myself. This is what worked in my best race here, and really any good race I'd done. My friend Kathy had tagged off earlier, and I couldn't see her, but the fact that I had a stretch goal to catch her was a rush. Whether or not it happened, just wanting to race, and thinking strategically, felt good. I wasn't about to let anyone pass. Tom ran a strong leg and that team obligation was a good thing; I wasn't about to give less than my best. And, MUUUUUAH. I just felt MUUUUUUAH for the first time in a long time in a race.

 It was around Artist's Point when I first noticed that strong side- to tail-wind. Tailwinds are great, but it was not consistent; kind of a random hard shove. Quite a first world problem, yes, but finding a rhythm was sort of a challenge. Since we were switching back and forth, it occasionally became a headwind. Keeping the mind in "patience and persistence" mode, I found that pace that was uncomfortable but felt like something I could maintain. Passing another runner or two, I eventually saw what looked like Kathy ahead. Running further down the Monument, through that big, favorite, stretch after the tunnel, I was confused when I looked upward and could see that Kathy was behind me now. I figured she must've made an emergency stop, an unfortunate turn I'd had to take at the Colorado Marathon. Pushing on, I passed another runner who I believed to be on one of the relay teams. This put us into first in the Masters (over 40) relay spot. Just in time for coming off the Monument and heading down the road. This has been a mediocre to average stretch for me in past years. Getting my ass handed to me several times in the past here kept me moving in manageable chunks, finding the sign or driveway a quarter mile away, not looking down the full stretch of road.

 Turning into the park, I was pretty sure I didn't have anyone close, but didn't turn back and didn't let up. This wouldn't be remotely close to my best second-half effort in previous years, but that wasn't the point. Hitting the finish, I knew this had been a fantastically bad idea. My kids, my friends, being outside, all of it. No self-imposed performance pressure. I'd wanted to be out there for every moment of the race and even told myself once or twice, hey, good choice to not run the full marathon. We wound up winning Masters and placing fifth overall in the relays.Even better-we didn't get struck by lightning at any point. It would have made for an exciting story, but any time you don't wind up in the ER is winning. The wind was pretty insane at the finish; it reminded me of the days during the summer, selling peaches, when we had to stake down our tent with as many heavy things as possible to keep it from launching. Runner after runner came in, and we cheered them on, whether a PR, or a struggle from beginning to end. I was glad the weather was pretty beautiful for my girls chilling out at the finish. I know it's not fun to spectate when it's pouring

Not banditos, we paid for our entry

The friends. The fam damily

 Today, I'm stupid sore. The day after the race brought a yoga class, my first in months. It brought balance and consistency to my lower body soreness, causing everything in my body to feel perfectly sore. The yoga was a challenge but I could tell that I'd moved beyond my fatigued and burned out state. Poses weren't perfect but I tried everything. When I couldn't hold it, oh well, but at least I gave each pose an honest effort. And that seems fair, that seems fair, to give everything, good or bad idea, an honest effort.

Monday, October 20, 2014

You Can Call Me Al: Not A Race Report.

If you'll be my bodyguard
I can be your long lost pal
I can call you Betty
And Betty when you call me
You can call me Al
Call me Al

I have a feeling I was not the only kid in the mid-eighties who looked forward to this video every time it popped up on the fledgling VH1. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo. Wait, I know that I am a weirdo. The song came up comically to me, again and again, as I arrived to a beautiful spot in Mexico during an intense thunderstorm, staying for a week with a friend I hadn't seen in two-and-a-half years, but "see" every day on the Facebooks of the interwebs.

 It's not a unique phenomenon to have everything happen at once, but boy, did I, leading up to this adventure. I moved. I was in a very burned out state, and I knew it. It feels strange but honest and freeing to admit that. I wanted to run but needed to sleep. Have two great jobs that make the difference between making ends meet, and not. If you knew me this time a year ago, or if you don't-my first job experience with my current employer was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I try to find the good in everything, and I struggled to find anything. Fast forward a year, and sticking out that difficult road led to the recent upgrade into a position that isn't everyone's cup of tea, but challenges me in a way I enjoy.

 I came close to saying, screw it. I'm not going on this trip. Oh, what a bad choice that would have been.

 It was a bridge from a what was a good transitional state in many ways, but a leap of faith out on my own. Time to not be rushed. Time to back up and be less critical of myself. Just time.

 I had smooth sailing on all of my flights to Mexico, but realized that due to my poor initial Spanish-speaking skills, the weather, and really having no idea where I was after riding the bus from the airport to Playa Del Carmen, I was a little freaked out about not knowing what to do next. Instead, I chilled out and just waited. After all, I'd made it this far. Lots of people travel all over, and this is, I'm sure, quite laughable. But, this was my first time traveling solo internationally, with my other trip out of the states being to the UK with my dad when I was a teenager. (He says I gladly accepted a glass of wine on the flight over when they mistook me for being older than I was...I do not recall this event.) Somehow, I did manage to get a text out and soon enough, my friend was there. It's pretty cool that the randomness of being at the same race (the Imogene Pass Run) a few years ago ultimately led up to the trip. You meet cool people running, and most are pretty kindred spirits.

 There's not much to the next week, but oh, so much. I was going to be very happy just to couch surf. The space I had was my own space...above and beyond what I'd ever expected. And we had communal space to chill out, eat, talk. That was great. And then it was just amusing when the place across the street...."un secto" as one of Elizabeth's friends called it-started their "show" and a frenzied pitch several nights a week.

 I also got my own photo opportunity, my shot at redemption. I didn't bring my "real" camera but did what I love to do, observing, taking pictures on my phone of things that interested me. We ran at sea level with 100% humidity. Really, it was there because of the daily rains, much like my days working for Disney World on their college program (20th anniversary trip was this weekend...IamnotthatoldIamnotthatoldIamnotthatold). I watched E play with two different bands. She trained classically but the girl has found her niche with rock and blues. It's good stuff. The guitar player in each band was quite Anton Krupicka-esque. I declared it a future requirement that any new bands contain one guy who vibes my favorite trail runner.

 I took a yoga class, open air, en espanol. I sheepishly admitted to not being a Spanish-speaker when she asked, and then, much to my relief, she did teach it nearly entirely in Spanish. I was surprised how well I "understood" without understanding each and every word. I was a little intimidated to try to spend pesos and be understood in the "Mega," which is pretty much like Wal-Mart or Target, but with motorcycles for sale, and an ice cream parlor, merchant stands, and ATM underneath. I finally realized nobody was judging me, or gave a shit what I was doing, and came to embrace trying to put myself out there. Speak in Spanish no matter how terrible it sounded. Ordering from the most amazeballs open air quesadilla shop, where I got as far as ordering everything competently before I blanked on how to say "to go." Then it poured rain, I sat down to eat there, and it didn't matter as I enjoyed just being.

I found the best spot on the beach, loads of Mexican families, kids burying their siblings to their necks in the sand. Guys going in the water in jeans. I could use a big word but it was just damned nice.

 Sometimes, I thought about nothing. Or read. I got all the way through "Wild," which I'd started several times but, like a lot of other things, just didn't take top priority until now. Here, I had nothing but time. Damn, that was good to read. I'd see kids who reminded me of my kids. I was missing them a ton but knew this was a rare opportunity to be where I was. My favorite race, The Other Half, was this past weekend, and it was big that I was able to decide, hey, the race will be there next year. I was just looking forward to seeing my kids and sitting in my new house with my kids, and my new cat. Hear that? That post-divorce dog I was going to get is a motherfucking cat. He picked me long before I picked him. And I wanted to hang with the cat too.

 I decided, some time during the week, that I am going to take another swing at 100 miles. I'm over the "failed at Leadville" mentality. I went out at the toughest spot, not because I quit, but couldn't move fast enough. It'll be something in the spring, in the place of a spring road marathon.

 I thought about school, doing something different that what I am doing now. Uncannily, I started Aron Ralston's "Between A Rock And A Hard Place." True to my impatient nature, I skipped ahead to some stuff at the end-where he's recovering from his 127 Hours here in Grand Junction, Colorado, at St Mary's, where I've worked since last summer. He's describing the view from the hospital roof (the "old" hospital, not the top of the tall, modern tower that was recently built), in my neighborhood, I read thank you's, the recreational therapist I know from the Life Center whom I'd refer to as "The Yeti" the way he stealths in and out from the pool over there. I laughed at how damned small the world really is, and that hell, you only go around once. Working at the Life Center, I'd started seriously thinking about going back to school to be a PT assistant or recreational therapist. I'd watched what they did. Talked to a few of them about their jobs. It would be a major undertaking. I enjoy my job but don't want to be in central scheduling forever. I also laughed that when Aron thought he might not never get out of there, he was thinking about talking to friends and having a big, salty margarita. Yeah, that's a good focus rather than your arm being pinned to a rock.

 When I came back, one of the first things I did was sleep a lot. And then I easily gave up my yoga cleaning gig-on a permanent basis. I'm still on as a sub but letting one thing go that wasn't a top priority was big. So, the yoga studio owner suggested it, but it was a good idea. She's right, I have about a million class credits there. I just need to go in and practice again.

I hung out with my kids and my cat, who went on a big wander right after we moved him. I know cats don't want to be found if they don't want to be found, so it was with great joy that my youngest kids spotted him and coaxed him inside. He's going to get to resume indoor/outdoor lifestyle soon, but he's also sleeping off an adventure. So, that's that.

I was sad to not be at The Other Half this weekend, but also not, when I woke up at 7am on Sunday after ten hours of sleep, knowing that I needed it, and that my friends had boarded the bus an hour prior. Oh, my competitive side is still there. I did look at results and see where my 2013 time would've landed me,'s just a race. It'll be there next year. It was much better this year to be seeing angels in the architecture, spinning in infinity and saying hey, hallellujah.