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.