Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Running In the Dandelions

 Quite a few years ago I used to a do a lot of road running.
I made the transition strictly to trail running when age and injuries started to catch up with me, and I trail ran for many years and loved it very much.
My favorite place to run was a series of trails immediately outside a military base not far from where I lived in Tennessee.
I mountain biked there frequently and also trail ran there frequently.  
And many times did both right after each other - a training strategy called bricks - where you transition from one activity immediately to another without rest as a way to build endurance.
It was a very popular mountain bike venue but I never saw anyone else run out there.
I ran in all kinds of weather and my very favorite time to run was during those periods when the weather was the worst - pouring with rain, freezing rain, snow, freezing cold.
Because on those days I knew that I would always have the entire trail system to myself - endless miles of double track, single track, gravel roads, jeep trails, horse trails.
I hated running in the summer out there because the high heat and high humidity exhausted me, but I did it anyway because life was out of balance if I didn't.
If I forgot to spray down for ticks I would come home and sometimes pull ten of those nasty buggers off me.
I tried not to forget to spray down.
I saw many white tail deer out there.  
Sometimes a skunk would cross my path and when those little things walked across the trail I picked another trail.
By the time the year moved into late fall I would rush like a mad woman from work directly out to the trails trying to get a run in before it got too dark to be out in the woods.
Sometimes I made it and sometimes I didn't.
Sometimes I remembered to bring a head lamp with me just in case I got out there and misjudged the oncoming darkness.
Sometimes I didn't and it was a dicey proposition barely following the barely tree lines on each side of the trail as I made my way back to my truck.
It took me years to get to know the lay of the land and the complex trail system, and when I first started running and biking out there I would often have to ride or run the paved road back to my truck if I was running out of time and needed to get going.
Sometimes I found myself so far from the truck it would take me a couple of hours to get back.
But the last few years I knew the place so well that I could always find my way back via trails whether I could afford to spend one hour or four hours out there.
It wasn't of course, but it was so quiet and I spent so much time out there that I always felt like that special place was mine.  
My very own adult playground............
 While still road running quite a few years ago I ran the same marathon two years in a row.
As I crossed the finish line the second year I looked up at the official race clock and was instantly disappointed.
I had just run 26 miles and was disappointed because I ran it two minutes slower the second year than I did the first.
As I sat in the post-race area recovering and eating and drinking and limping from very very tight legs I knew that I needed to find another competitive activity to do.
Road running marathons was not for me.
I needed to find something that would allow me to not beat myself up over two lost minutes..........
Fast forward and I had been adventure racing for a couple of years.
I had also been trail running consistently for a couple of years.
After a tough year of serious illness, serious injury and divorce I decided to run a trail 50K.
I had never run that distance before and although I had spent a lot of time on trails it had been too sporadic.
I was under trained for that distance and weak mentally from too many hits that had happened in my life in such a short period of time.
And in reality that was why I needed to run the 50K.
Because I WAS under trained.
Because I was still sick.
Because I was mentally weakened.
Because it would hurt.
And I wanted to know if I could find the mental and physical energy to dig dip enough to finish the run.
Was I tough enough to finish it?
Or wasn't I?............
It was a little scary how good I felt.  
I was making good time and felt solid and strong, but kept trying to hold myself back anyway not wanting to go out too fast.
Not wanting to implode.
I was totally in the zone, enjoying the run, life was good.
 I was fine for the first 18 miles.
By the time I hit 19 everything in my lower body began to cramp.
I was on medication and could not take anything for the cramping and everything only continued to tighten up more and more with each passing mile.
Running became shuffling became limping became walking.
Everything in my lower body was one continuous tight muscle and my good and solid run was a thing of the past.
People passed me and I continued to struggle to walk.
One step in front of the other one step in front of the other one step in front of the other...........
 Runners had eight hours to complete the course if they wanted to be counted among official finishers.
I had to cross a field, maneuver across a shallow stream and then hit the final section of single track to the finish.
I made it to the single track, looked up and through the trees I could see the very large digital clock at the finish line counting down the time.
With alarm I saw that I had 1:47 left to go.  One minute forty seven seconds to make it an official finish.
I started to kick it in and something that I could only call magical happened.
I started to run faster and then faster and then faster still until I was sprinting.
I was running just as fast as I could and I saw people at the finish line clapping and cheering me on.
I crossed the finish line, slowed down, stopped and then leaned down and put my hands onto my thighs, trying to catch my breath.
I had no idea if I had made it or not.
As I was still trying to breath a guy came running down the hill yelling at me so excitedly you would have thought he had just won the lottery.
"Do you know what your time was??  Do you know what your time was??"
I looked up at him breathlessly and said "No - what was it?
True story...........
 I am not exactly certain when the last time I ran was.
There were a few occasions while living in Juneau when I made it to a trail and ran.
Awkwardly and inefficiently because it was so hit and miss.
And without a lot of energy because Juneau sucked out a lot of both physical and mental energy.
I am not exactly certain when the last time was.
Maybe just about this time last year.
I have done a good deal of bike riding and walking recently.
I could walk all day.
Mountain biking is one of those things that helps with both leg strength and overall endurance but it is not weight bearing.
And if you have a decent enough bike it is light enough and you have gears enough to be able to travel the distance and cover the terrain.
Running is different.
It is high impact.  
It is just your body, your brain, your heart and lungs, your motivation to keep moving one step in front of the other.
Running takes no prisoners.
Running either loves you or hates you depending on how often you tie up your shoes and head out the door. 
It punishes you if you do not visit it regularly.
Right now running hates me.
And I hate it...............
I laced up my shoes yesterday and headed out onto BLM land.
Wearing clothes that self-consciously hid the fact that I have gained 15 pounds in the past year.
Within the first few minutes my left knee hurt.   
Within a few more minutes the left knee pain disappeared.
But for the remainder of my run-walk everything else hurt.
Too much walking.
Too much heavy and lumbering running.
Too much sudden awareness of soft legs and soft arms and soft core. 
Too much awareness of lack of stability, lack of strength, tight hip flexors.
Too much chest sucking wind sucking doddering wanna-be running that wasn't really running.
I spent an hour doing this and resolved that I will do this every day until I no longer hate running.
Until I remember that one day in the past in a land far far away this woman used to really love to run...........
 This afternoon I laced up my running shoes again and in the same lumbering and heavy footed and soft and overweight way, shuffled back out to BLM land.
It was very very tough.
It still sucked badly.
I was still reminded of how much I have lost, but it was not........quite as bad.
But almost as bad.
I am resolved to going through the motions for one hour each day until it gets better.
As I walked back into the driveway overheated and dismayed at such dismal performance I looked up to see a smiling LC.
As I sat on the porch banging mud off the bottom of my shoes I told him of my second run and that it was very tough and that I was disgusted.
And he looked at me and told me how proud he was of me.
Proud of me??  I suck!!  It was a second horrible run and I dismissively waved his comment away.
And then he looked me square in the face and told me that he was proud of me because I had been through so much in the past year and that finally I was ready to begin becoming reacquainted with something that I used to love to do.
And he was proud of me for finding my way to that place.
I'll take that...........

These are pictures that I took this afternoon out in the South Fork a few miles south of Cody.
With all of the unusual rain that this area has had everything is very green.
And now the fields are filled - absolutely filled - with carpets of bright yellow dandelions.
They may be considered weeds by many but I love them and the beautiful color makes everything around me look beautiful.............

The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.......John Bingham

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