Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shaw Mountain

Incredible run up Shaw Mt.  I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of a trail, and my suspicions were met when I hit a completely overgrown dead-end about a half-mile up the trail that supposedly led part-way up the mountain.  However, on a whim I started up a trail that wasn't listed on the map, and amazingly, it was all snow-powdered and evergreen-chuted goodness that led to the top of Shaw with incredible views of the valley I had just run through, the surrounding mountains, and (on a clearer day than this) Katahdin off in the distance.  So much for maps...apparently random trails are where it's at. 

Looks like this will be my 'local' mountain run.  Having just recently moved away from some pretty great winter trails a bit further south, it is nice to find some gnar up north as well.  Plus, living within spitting distance of Katahdin (if you are a damn good spitter) is never a bad thing.

Shaw Mt Road

Clouds breaking over Baker Mt

Lil' Spencer, Big Spencer

Shaw Mt. Road x2

I pity the fool.

Not the greatest pic (my camera died about where near the top!) but I happen to live at the end of that snowy road twisting off into the distance.  Not bad.

Friday, December 2, 2011

City Life

It is great to be out of the woods and in a place where beautiful women, bikes, coffeeshops, and great pubs actually exist (believe me, they are few and far between in the North Maine woods). I am statistically more likely to be mauled by a crazed moose than bike to a coffeeshop, or have an interesting conversation with an attractive woman at a pub I actually enjoy patronizing.

Living in the middle of nowhere is great, but I am happy to be out traveling, visiting friends, and biking around the Philadelphia. As I write this I am sitting at a brilliant coffeeshop named Town Hall Coffee Co, drinking what is almost certainly the best cup of coffee I have since moving away from Portland about a year ago - perhaps that is why it cost me 4 dollars!

I am also enjoying the varied and interesting places to run. The shore of Lake Erie was incredible – like running next to the ocean. Early evening was the best time to go, when the sky was just beginning to darken and the tide was at its highest – up against the cliffs in some places. I can tell you that is impossible not to laugh out loud as you sprint through waves crashing against cliffs, timing your bursts of speed to coincide with the receding water, getting completely soaked all the way but not caring in the slightest.

This week I am in Philadelphia, and while I had a very nice 9-miler around Haverford College – a beautiful 2.25 mile dirt trail that circles the campus – the best Philly runs always happen in the Wissahickon Valley. The park is a 1,800 acre stretch of contained wilderness bisected by the Wissahickon Creek and full of trails that climb up to the ridge lines of the park, and drop back down to cross and run along said creek – often in confusing and unpredictable patterns.

Greg (the friend I am staying with in Philly) and I discovered just how turned around you can get in the valley earlier this week when we decided to go out for a 'nice' little run in the pouring rain before dinner. After pulling on our tights and running shoes, I led us down a number of random trails thinking that when the time came, I would be able to find our way back. This was not the case.

Thinking that we had already crossed the river once, I led us back across the river and up the trail that was supposed to lead us to the general area we had parked in. “I think it is just a little further down that way,” I said to Greg, who was beginning to look like a drenched goat being drug around in a thunderstorm against his will. He had his glasses stuffed in the back of his tights because it was raining so hard he couldn't see out of them, and visibility was starting to become an interesting prospect as the sun slipped under the ridge and the entire park began to darken considerably.

(this is where I steal The Oatmeal's thang and draw silly cartoons because its fun)

“Should I check out where we are on my IPhone?” he asked, perhaps with a growing awareness of my dwindling sense of direction. I pondered that thought and looked around, realizing I had no idea where we were in relation to where we wanted to be. “Well,” I said, “that might be a good idea.”

“Yeah, we're not even close dude,” Greg said, showing me the map on his phone. “Shit,” I replied. Not only were we in the wrong area, we were on the wrong side of the damn river. Turns out the initial 'river' we crossed was just one of the meandering streams that branch off of the main river, which is technically just a creek. But rivers are way cooler, so I'm promoting it.

Thank you technology, I thought as we negotiated our way back to the vehicle. Wissahickon isn't a huge park, but considering how lost we were, our lack of lighting options and a map, the run sans IPhone could have turned into a very interesting evening/night.

I like to think that everything is an adventure. Watch out, because if you come running with me, it is bound to be true for you as well. Sorry Greg.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Well, it has been some time since July 1st and my last posting. So much has happened – trips on foot and motorcycle, mountains climbed, jobs changed. There have been many twists and turns, and more infuriating moments than I care to recount. However, in the end, life goes on whether we are dragged behind it, or lead the charge with a lightness of foot and fire in our eyes.

As confusing as the world may get, I am always pleasantly surprised by the beauty and simplicity of running, and its ability to anchor me to some semblance of solid ground amidst the whirlwind of mental and social activity.

I was reminded of this yesterday after a 14-hour car ride from Northern Maine to Buffalo, NY. In John L. Parker's “Once A Runner,” Quentin Cassidy (a fictional miler and hero to runners far and wide) talks about how debilitating long car rides are to endurance athletes. Really, any car ride over 6 hours has the potential to turn into one of the worst experiences of your life – that is, after the last time you had to drive that far. Endless sitting, fitful sleeping, and a road full of (horror of horrors) other drivers is a surefire recipe for short tempers.

This is why movie theaters should include designated stretching and bathroom breaks, college classes should never last longer than an hour (at least in the typical classroom format they are typically found), and speakers far and wide should dispel with the majority of meaningless blather and adopt the “short and sweet” mentality. The human body, my friend, was not made for sitting.

So it was with an already well-developed fatigue and achy joints that I set off along the coast of Lake Erie for a 'shake-out run.' I began slow, listening to Bon Iver's aching melodies and watching the white-capped waves on the lake, picking a line through sand and boulders, driftwood and water-worn pebbles. Soon I was lost in the pursuit of forward progress, of one foot in front of another, of shoes digging into sand and skidding across rocks carved out by the edges of the lake, rain, and time's own unrelenting progression.

Miles later I climb up from the beach to the road, and have, at least temporarily, released the agonizing kinks of body and soul. Or perhaps I have caught up with whatever sense of self was left behind in the speeding cross-country traverse. However I frame it, it's real – solid and accessible, like a wise old friend that, regardless of weather or consequence, is really there for you. In my experience, that is a truth worth pursuing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mornings, Sunlight, and Growing Pains

Been enjoying these lately (mornings, that is). I recently bought a bug net for my hammock and have it set up next to Long Pond, where I can watch the sunrise from my bug-free sanctuary, sway in the wind, and listen to Bon Iver's new self-titled album (incredible!) before strapping on running shoes and setting off for a short run. This whole process seems to make the rest of the day that much better, and by the time 9pm (woah!) rolls around, I am completely knackered and ready for bed again. Sometimes I even throw in an afternoon nap (I mean, when you get up at 4:30am, by the time lunch rolls around you've already been up for 7.5 hours!). In any case, it is a habit I aim to continue.

There is also something beautiful about living with the rhythm of the sun (related perhaps, to circadian rhythms). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy darkness and stars and all of that jazz, but when it comes right down to it, I'm more of a sunlight kind of guy (which is obviously why I decide to live in places like Portland, Oregon, and the North Woods of Maine...sigh).

I am typically the one thrumming with incredible amounts of energy on the hottest days of the year, and go out for long bike rides and runs while everyone else is laying on beach towels or sucking down AC. Sometimes, in the midst of serious dehydration and the realization that I didn't bring nearly enough water, I mildly regret these sunlight-inspired decisions - but in reality, that moment is the spark of adventure.

After all, I don't go running because it's easy, fun, and great for fitness (though those reasons are certainly part of it). Instead, I run because it is difficult and takes a great amount of work and dedication. In pushing myself past supposed boundaries (created in the realms of the social, psychological, physical, corporate, and historical) and redefining what is possible (if only for myself) there is amazing growth: in my cardiovascular and muscular systems, and more importantly, my mind. Sure, there is pain involved, but as Roosevelt once said: "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty...I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."

In the end, I resonate most with Emile Durkheim's words, that pain is "a state of grace to be sought after...because of the powers and privileges it confers." Though difficult to see at the time, the pain we face is both inevitable and necessary to our growth as human beings - much like our physical body which needs to be broken down in order to grow back stronger and adapt to the new demands we place on it during physical activity.

So, may your mornings be filled with sunlight and pain? Not exactly. But perhaps, in the midst of our day-to-day rhythms, we can see the pain we face as a chance to grow and reveal the dynamic self in the midst of a tragically beautiful world. See you on the trails...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Running Fool

Five miles into my long run of the week, I find myself running with two yellow butterflies traversing the same trail. I expect this phenomenon to be short lived, but am surprised, and then joyful as they lead the way for nearly a mile. When I hit a rocky section full of mud and slow down to dance across the tops of dry rocks, I quickly sprint ahead to catch up with them. Amazingly they are still on the trail - flapping and gliding, flapping and gliding. This turns into a bit of a motif throughout this run that ends up being about ten miles longer than I was expecting for a total of 30 miles: my longest run to date.

My plan was to run a route Dan (my brother) and I discovered last week. If you take the trail the whole way it leads to the summit of White Cap, the highest mountain in the vicinity (at 3,654 ft - not incredibly high, but the trails are incredibly steep). Thinking I would only run to one of the creek crossings I remember from last week, I only brought a granola bar and six gels. However, plans changed as soon as I saw White Cap's bald top off in the distance. Blow it up or blow up trying? Something like that...

A quarter of the way into the steep trail to the summit and I am bonking hard. I'm in 'gel conservation mode' as I am quickly realizing that getting back is going to be pretty rough, and this 'run' has the potential of turning into an 'adventure of epic proportions.' Gasping for breath and glaring at the steep trail ahead, I decide to let the future take care of itself and swallow a gel and half my granola bar. Though I've experienced it before, I am always surprised how fast my body responds to the much-needed carbs, and I reach the summit soon afterwards.

If you have never been to Maine during bug season, then you probably have not experienced what getting eaten alive is actually like. If you have, then you will have an idea of what I am talking about. I had just enough time on the summit of White Cap to mentally note that Long Pond (where I live and was about to run back to) looked really, really far away, before the wind died down and the bugs began their feeding frenzy. I was originally planning to take some time to rest and rehydrate, but decided I would rather run myself to death than get eaten alive, any day. Philosophical conclusions made, I sprinted back down the trail in a wave of black flies.

Things that motivate you to keep running when all you want to do is sit down:

1. Black flies and horse flies and mosquitoes. Every time I stopped to fill up a water bottle these buggers were all over me. I started prepping my aquamira drops before I reached creek crossings so I could scoop the water up, wet down my bandanna with cool water (it was about 80 degrees all day) and rock out before they realized their next potential meal had arrived.

2. Black bears. Yep, saw my first black bear in the wild, though I'm pretty sure he was more afraid of me than I was of him. Came around a bend in the trail and he was about 30 feet to my right in a small stretch of grass. I don't think he heard me right away, but he was really startled when he did and bolted in the other direction, of which I am incredibly thankful as he was going WAY faster than I would have been able to run. Needless to say, I got a pretty big adrenaline rush and sprinted down the trail (opposite direction of speeding bear) about .2 seconds after nearly having a heart attack.

3. Butterflies. Weird, but something about these guys brought a smile to my face (may have been more of a grimace after mile 17) every time they flew along the path in front of me. That mile at the beginning was the longest any one butterfly hung around, but there were a few more that I ran along with in the latter part of the run, giving me a much-needed mental boost.

So overall the run was a success, though there were about 500 times I sent out mental plea's for someone, anyone (please?), to come pick me up and give me a ride for the last five miles. Brutal. I got about a half-mile from Gorman (home) and my legs literally seized up and wouldn't let me run anymore, so I hobbled the rest of the way up the hill, looking something like death, much to the amusement of the trail crew who passed me on their way out to town for the weekend in their massive white pickup truck (plenty of room for me to lay down in the back, I noticed). I saw one of them the next day and he said, 'man, you looked dead tired yesterday dude! You are a running fool!'

After thirty miles, thats just about all I felt like. A running fool, hobbling my way back home.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"You know, sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."
-Itzhak Perlman

Flowing down one of the few "plush" sections of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, I find myself ruminating on the way that running has grown in my life. When I began writing this blog - seems like a long time ago at this point - and then subsequently stopped writing anything, I was really just beginning this journey of running. I suppose I ran for years before that, but never very seriously, and rarely more than sporadically.

Since those blog postings of long ago, there have been many adventures, many ups and downs, many struggles, hardships, a few injuries, and some juggling of geographic locations. I have since moved from Portland, Oregon, to State College, PA, and most recently to The Middle Of Nowhere, Maine. At some point this fall I will likely be moving again.

Somehow, through all of this (I can think of no other word for it) Insanity, running has continued to play a growing part in my life. I often catch myself thinking that it is the only piece of existence that consistently makes sense - no matter where I am or what is going on in my life, there is always a trail or winding road nearby that I can retreat to and invoke that oldest of human traditions.

More than 'a way to stay in shape,' running (much like any other discipline) is a way of art and spirituality. There is creativity in the movement, a great struggle and growth in the discipline. You will receive as you give, grow as you love, and find yourself stronger with each step into the mountain of experience - even those wandering steps that doubt if there is any courage or joy left, for these are questions that must be lived through.

On the trail, I am stripped to my core - the self without the expectations and disappointments of life, without the endless monologue of the mind. Removed from the spiderwebbed stories I weave through all of my relationships and histories, I am free to fully embrace the present moment: the rocky trail ahead, the gliding footsteps, the circling breath.

"I roamed the countryside, searching for answers to things I did not understand."
-Leonardo Da Vinci

Whatever your art, I hope that you pursue it with joy and courage.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Weekly training: July 26th-August 1st

One of the reasons I started writing this blog is to blather and philosophize about everything in my head. Some people go to a pub and do this after a few beers (and admittedly, so do I), but when your at a pub, people have an annoying habit of interrupting and interjecting their own thoughts and opinions, which may or may not be congruent with your own. This is what some civilizations refer to as 'conversation,' and some people even think this is an important part of "relationship" and "community." However, I have often found, after a relentless tirade on the evolutionary importance of Sasquatch, that a piping 'well, I think...' is nearly the last thing I want to hear. Particularly when I have spent the past half-hour manufacturing evidence on a topic I know nothing about. (If you ever need to manufacture evidence and don't know any high-up goverment officials, try going with a quick wikipedia reference. It won't hold up under tough scrutiny, but has been known to float in a pond or two).

Luckily, these annoying interruptions never happen in blogs - except in the comment section, which as sole administrator and writer, I have the power to ignore, delete, or rebuttal at my own convenience and discretion. And, since I am apparently techno-illiterate, I have no idea how to reply to comments, or even create my own (believe me I tried). But, thanks for your comments guys, they have not been ignored, and contrary to what this post is making apparent, I really do care. And I love conversations, and pubs. Really.

Another reason I started this blog is to keep track of my training for the Autumn Leaves 50k, a race right outside Portland, Oregon, the city that I currently call home. As it happens, a weekly training summary is the topic of this post, which will hopefully be interesting even if you don't like running. But, I guess you couldn't really interject or interrupt even if you wanted to - right?

26th July, Monday
AM 1hr24m run, Mt Tabor; 9.5 miles; 1400ft
I usually start from my house, which is nearby, and approach Tabor from the East-side, on Harrison St. I take the Green Trail nearly to the top, until it passes the bathrooms, and then charge straight up 'the summit.' After a lap around the top, I go down the super-steep trail that starts opposite the statue of Harvey W. Scott (didn't make this one up, I swear!) and flows straight on down, sort of like a dirt and rock waterfall. Up the green, down the waterfall - 4 times this go-around.

PM 30min barefoot session with Noel (roommate) and Matt (brother); 3.5 miles

27th July, Tuesday
AM 48m run, NW23rd and Washington Park with Brett; 5 miles; ?ft
This is the Run Tour Route, starts on NW23rd and winds up into Washington Park, and then back down. Amazing how you can be running one minute in the middle of the city, and the next minute in the middle of the woods - one of the many great things about Portland. I bought a pair of New Balance MT100's about 2 minutes before this run at Fit Right NW. I'll probably do a more proper review later, but for now, all I can say is: rad.

28th July, Wed
AM 1hr6m run, Tabor loopX2(with some variation..); 8miles; 800 ft

29th July, Thur
AM 25m run around town, 2.5m; 5ft (kidding! but it was basically flat)
I've been mostly trying to run exclusively on trails, but this was on concrete, and I was not particularly loving that aspect of it. The more I run on concrete, the more my left knee and right ankle hurt - but on trails I'm good to go. However, this was a shortie...

30th July, Fri
PM 2hr39m run, Larch Mountain; 13.6m; 3800ft
This was incredible - starts at Multnomah Falls and rocks upward for about 7 miles with 3800ft elevation gain. Beautiful views, and then a technical, rocky, 7mile descent. I drank the two waterbottles I was carrying (one handheld, one 'fanny-pack-type-bottle') on the way up, and luckily found a nice lady with a few nalgene's full of water who was more than happy to share when she heard that I'd run from Multnomah Falls. It would have been a pretty crappy downhill otherwise - there is no water available at the summit. I also went through four gu's on this run - three on the way up, and one on the way down.
I don't usually listen to music when I'm running trails, but I treated myself to a rollicking uplift with the White Rabbit's 'Percussion Gun' at the summit, and then some select tunes from two of my favorite mountain biking movies: The Collective, and Seasons (both made by The Collective). Nothing like gu, water, and music to keep you going!
Final note: I (somewhat ill-advisedly) used my new MT100's on this run. Typically you want to intigrate minimal shoes carefully into your running diet, but these shoes have felt amazing since day one and some of the pain I was experiencing in my pair of Asics is completely gone now. This can partly be attributed to running on trails all the time, but I've also noticed that I run with much less impact in the NB's - you don't really have a choice when there isn't a lot of padding between you and the ground. Hopefully this trend will continue, but I'd like to think all of the barefoot running I've been doing helped a little with this transition.

31st July, Saturday
REST (usually I'm not very good at this, but this time around, believe you me, I rested up. Thank you Larch Mountain).

August 1st, Sunday
AM 55m run, tabor loopX2 with Brett; 7 miles; 700ft
*Brett has a fancy-dancy watch that measures miles and pace according to your footsteps (one of those crazy garmins), so we were able to determine that my loop (Up green, down the waterfall) is 2.3 miles.

7,200ft (I estimated the run tour route at 600ft elevation gain...)

Thats all folks. I'd like to get a small digital camera soon to tote along and take pictures, some of these runs are just beautiful, but until then. And I really do love your posts. Really. I'm going to figure out how to reply soon, and then we'll have great conversations. Although, I'd really just prefer to go to a pub - as long as you don't interrupt my drunken tirades.