Tomorrow I will run my first Angeles Crest 100. And everything about it challenges everything I thought I knew about ultrarunning.
A few short years ago I was living in Boulder, Colorado. I had just started running ultras, and since I was relatively green, I was just fumbling my way along. To me, ultrarunning was a mysterious quest into the unknown. It was a solitary journey approached with reverence and reflection. I had no friends who ran. I simply went out into the mountains and ran, enjoying my weekend jaunts and races mostly alone.
Races were something you had to go out to seek. I traveled to Oregon, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, even Wisconsin to discover new places where I thought travels were supposed to exist.
And races were always an unknown mystery. There was so much planning and speculating and questions marks. What was that climb from Gold Hill to Deadhorse really going to be like? I don’t know what the weather will be like. Should I pack all six thicknesses of jackets that I have? What does it even look like there?
But here I am at AC. Tomorrow I’ll run a race where nearly half the field is a friend or at least an acquaintance. It’s a race right in my backyard. And it’s a race that is so dissected, so agonized over and so storied, that I can see the whole trail in front of me every time I close my eyes.
Does that mean the race will be easy? Just the opposite. I’ve probably never been more undertrained going into a race. But I’ve made peace with that. Tomorrow things will unfold just as they have for the 26 prior runnings of the race. The one thing I’ve absorbed from watching and listening to everyone here is that the race decides how it’s going to be. You just have to accept it, and let it wash over you.
So that’s why tomorrow as I toe the line in Wrightwood, with 100.2 miles in front of me to Loma Alta Park, I know it’ll be a rite of passage. It’s something that will induct me into a sacred circle arcing back over decades. Something I can’t hope to control. Something I’ll just have to flow with. And, most importantly, something that’s going to be hot as hell.
Welcome to my baptism by fire. See you out there.
As a totally unrelated addendum, I wanted to share an email exchange I had with Ken Hamada two years ago when I was fresh to LA, knew nothing about AC and was naïve and ignorant enough to ask about a waitlist. Things like this make me understand now why AC is such a special beast.
From: Ken Hamada
Hey there Ken,I’m going to go ahead and ask the question you probably hate. (Sorry in advance.) Here it is: Is there any chance at a waiting list?
I just moved here to LA from Boulder and was super excited to try my hand at the legend, only to find registration had already passed me by. If there’s any chance at getting, I should would love it.
SORRY, RACE CLOSED ON OCT 2, 2012
It’s been a long road here. And ready or not, I’m running the inaugural Grand Canyon 100 on Saturday.
Since the middle of March I’ve been slowly ramping up my mileage, bit by bit. And heck, while it’s only been two short months, I feel like I’ve already lived a million adventures.
It’s been a good couple of months.
While I’m nowhere near where I was last year, I realized in the past few weeks that I’m feeling confident, sometimes even, dare I say, strong. It’s a somewhat foreign and exciting feeling, but I’ll roll with it.
Only within the last week or so did I have another niggling issue in my soleus flare up. It has me feeling a little uncertain about the race. But any anxiety I would never feel has been tempered by the knowledge that I’ve done all I can at this point and the only thing left to do is run.
No matter what the outcome this weekend, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for good health. I’m grateful for moving through the mountains. And being able to do so without fear or hesitation. And perhaps most of all I’ve learned just how grateful I am to run with friends.
Over the past year, I’ve seen many of my running friends go through transformation. Some have seen their stars rising; others have been thwarted again and again. Some have dealt with terrible injury; others have gotten stronger every day. Some have experienced the depths of personal anguish, and others are found new forms of joy. Some have practically fallen off the face of the earth; others have grown closer.
But the funny thing is that we all eventually find our way back to the mountains. The mountains are patient. They’ve got nowhere to be. They just stand guard, waiting for you to come back. And we all eventually do.
You see, the great thing about the mountains is that they’re pretty hard to miss. Seeing as they’re taller than everything else, at some point, you’ll probably find your eyes drifting up to them.
And that’s where my eyes have drifted this weekend. It’s time for me to get back to the mountain. It’s time for me to run again.
A taste of things to come tomorrow:
The daily grind doesn’t get any better than this.
A nice bit of pre-race news: Apparently I ran the 99th fastest 100-miler in the US in 2013.
It’s been a long time since I’ve raced. Hell, it’s been a long time since I’ve truly run. I’m hoping that changes tomorrow at Gorge Waterfalls 50K. And that I can shave this beard too.
See, I started growing this beard while I was running across Spain in October. I wasn’t even growing it. I just didn’t want to carry a razor in my pack. Then I got injured and didn’t bother to cut it. And it kept growing. Eventually my plan became that I’d keep it for the HURT100 in January then shave it. But of course, I had to drop that race. So, the beard remained unscathed. It was now officially my Injury Beard. My protest against my own self. And now, Gorge Waterfalls is my next chance to be rid of it. At a minimum I’ll start the race.
After zero progress with rehabbing my Achilles and soleus, Michael Chamoun was kind enough to start working with me. We’ve been doing a lot of work on my left leg along with a daily regimen of calf raises, stretches and squats.
Over the last month, I’ve cautiously built my runs up from 3 to 4 to 5 to 7 to 10 to 15 to 20 miles. In fact, last weekend I was able to throw down a 20-miler and 15-miler on consecutive days. And everything felt good until the last two miles on Sunday. But hey, I only need to run 31 miles tomorrow, not 33.
So, if I can make it all 50 kilometers tomorrow, in soaking 45-degree temps rain on a bum leg and on slippery rocks while in road shoes, this Injury Beard will be no more. I’ll have a razor waiting for me at the finish line. Here’s hoping I get to use it.
Went out for a light morning yog yesterday
As frustrating as the last few months have been with my very slow recovery, it’s been interesting to step back and look at what’s important in my running and why.
I’ve noticed something recently. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that my weekend runs have been taken away from me, my week has shifted. Everything revolves around Thursday. Specifically, Thursday morning and the Coyote runs.
It’s because running is inherently social. There’s an energy that blows off people when you run with them. It’s why we have pacers and running clubs and races. It’s something so engrained in running that’s it’s practically primal. And when you strip the running itself away, the thing I crave is just being around other runners.
This morning as I ticked off my measly few miles shuffling up and down San Vicente, I felt it. I had just finished stretching and snapped back to my run. Unbeknownst to me, I’d jumped in front of another runner by about 30 feet. As I ran, I could hear him breathing in the distance behind me. It felt like I was being chased. I was suddenly transported into a race. I had to manage my speed, not let him catch me. I suddenly felt electric. I was coursing with energy. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in months.
And that’s when I realized it was because I was running with another human being. Running is spectacular and wonderful and rewarding, but it’s only been recently that I’ve learned how human a sport it truly is.
Let’s go for a run.
Yep yep yep. More like this please.
I went to the first Tuesday Morning Boys Only Club at Temescal in quite a while this morning. Even if I kept things a little flatter than the rest of the dudes, it was still a pretty spectacular morning. Amazing sunrise over LA. A full 8 miles to boot.
I’ve got to say, it was pretty faaaabuloooooous!
Tomorrow I’m going to be sore. Because today I ran.
It felt good. Real damn good. It felt good to get up early. It felt good to bound down singletrack. It felt good to breathe heavy. It felt good to watch the clouds spill down the mountains. It felt good to see friends. It felt good to laugh about stupid running nonsense. It felt good to feel my glutes and hyper flexors and thighs feel sore again. I realized I hadn’t felt that sensation since running the Camino three months ago.
But now I must be cautious too. This morning I felt the little devil on my shoulder telling me to “Just spend up a little.” “Oh, look, they’re so close. You can catch up to them.” “Ah, yes, speed, that feels good.” I feel like I have a little Fast in my rearview mirror.
I’ve never been so acutely aware of my tendencies to want to do more as I have today. Now, I have to be patient and keep myself in check. Low, slow mileage until I’m strong again.
But man, does it feel good to be sore.
I hadn’t planned on running today. Really. I haven’t run a step really since before Thanksgiving. But when I got out there on Westridge this morning in the dark morning fog, the incline suddenly seemed a lot flatter than I remembered. And my new New Balance 1400v2s took all the strain off my calves. After walking a mile, I took a few short strides and then a few more.
It’s amazing how sweet it feels when you’ve been away from it for so long. Like when you haven’t seen your significant other in months and then suddenly there they are. Holding them feels better than you ever remembered. Rusted pathways and connections suddenly spark to life.
I took it slow, but it just felt wonderful to move. Two miles up, two back down. Fresh legs, happy heart.
This is just the slow beginning, but I’ll take ever step I can get.
Reputante - Deep Set Eyes
I may not be running yet. But I’m definitely thinking about running yet again.
At the danger of wearing out this whole 2013/2014 brain-planning thing, I have one more meditation to help bridge the two years.
Coach Jimmy Dean Freeman just posted a killer mental exercise on his blog. It’s something he has us Coyotes think about during our first run of the new year. Perhaps nothing is more effective in getting your head right than doing this. And it’s simple. Just three questions.
First answer two questions about 2013:
1. What is one thing (only one) that you accomplished in 2013 that you’re most proud of?
2. What is one thing (only one) that you failed at in 2013, most powerfully, what was your biggest failure?
And then answer the tricky question that opens 2014 with hope and promise:
3. What is one thing (only one) that you’d like to accomplish in 2014, that if you achieved this single thing, no matter what else happens this year, it would be impossible to declare the year a failure?
(Read Jimmy’s whole post here.)
I’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about this questions. (I suppose I’ve had the time since I’ve been injured.) Without further ado, here are my answers:
1. My running accomplishment of 2013 that I’m most proud of was learning to gut out wild, fast finishes thanks to my new mantra “Run long, finish strong.” In some ways I’m more proud of the ways I finished Ray Miller, Zion and Pine to Palm than of the actual races themselves.
2. My biggest failure of 2013 was not training and cross-training enough. I was probably too arrogant in my own abilities and spent months out of my year injured as a result.
3. The one thing that if I accomplish it in 2014, I can declare the year a success is being healthy and trained well enough to run a sub-21 at Angeles Crest 100 in a crazy-competitive field. (Edit: Guillaume, made me change this to sub-20. OK, fine.)
I can see immediately how answers 1 and 2 feed directly into answer 3. And it’s already affected how I’m approaching my year and how I’m training. So go ahead, try it for yourself. Get your goals on.
I’m excited about this year. A few months back, as I sat around watching the New York Marathon on TV I got supremely inspired. Right then and there, sitting on my couch in my boxers, I wrote out a list of goals for the year. It’s important to have a concept of what your year will be about. What’s your theme for the next 12 months?
My #1 goal for this year has nothing to do with racing at all. It’s to get and remain injury-free. Up until last year I was essentially injury-free for my entire trail/ultrarunning life. In fact, I got into all this after finally overcoming years of chronic patellar tendinitis that kept me from running. But starting eight months ago, I’ve dealt with injury after injury—Achilles tendinitis, a Soleus strain and a pair of weird spills on my knee. It’s been unbelievably frustrating to feel ready to take on bigger and bigger challenges but instead not even being able to do even morning runs with friends. If nothing, I’ve learned the importance of full-body fitness and cross training from this past year. I’ve been doing yoga almost every morning and will continue to do it often as I slowly return to running.
Consistency is another key component of this. I felt like I spent a good part of last year either tapering for a race or recovering from one and ended up running surprisingly little. I need to have a healthy, consistent year. If that means dropping a race at some point, I’ll do it.
Goals #2 and #3 smaller but related to goal #1: drop a weight once I’m back to running again and do more focused training—hill repeats and lots of speed work. I saw the dividends last year and will continue pouring even work into them on a consistent basis this year.
With those macro goals in mind, here’s a look at what’s on tap for 2014:
HURT 100 – Honolulu, HI – January 18
Sadly, I just had to drop from this because of my nagging Soleus/Achilles. I wrestled with whether I should just go for it anyway. But the more I thought about it and thought about my #1 goal for the year, the more I realized the right, responsible choice was to let it go. I’ll be ready for you next year, HURT.
Goal: Make it back next year for a sub-25:00.
Gorge Waterfalls 100K – Columbia River Gorge, OR – March 30
This race looks gorgeous and has amassed a very competitive field in its short lifespan—fourth year for the 50K, first for the 100K. There are a ton of SoCal friends going up for this one so I’m looking forward to it very much. Also, it’s a 100K so that’s weird.
Leona Divide 50 – Lake Hughes, CA – April 26
Seems like I have to do this since I live here and all. Should be fun to have a local course to run. Feels like forever since I’ve done a 50 too so I’m looking forward to a fast day.
Grand Canyon 100 – North Rim, AZ – May 17
I loved running RD Matt Gunn’s Zion 100 and Bryce 100 last year. He does a great job with his races. This new one is sure to be a fast one, plus you spend 36 miles skirting along the rim of the Grand Canyon so what can be bad about that? The downside: it’s actually two loops of a 50-mile course, but that’s just mental training for HURT, right?
Tahoe Rim Trail – Lake Tahoe, CA/NV – June 27-29?
The patent-pending Stupid Things™ series continues for a third straight year as Stewie, Bryce and I will take on all 165 miles of trail circumnavigating Lake Tahoe in three or four days. We’ll be praying the snow melts off by then.
Goal: have fun
Angeles Crest 100 – Wrightwood, CA – August 2
This is going to be one hell of a race. Two-time champion (and unicorn) Dom Grossman will be back along with essentially the entire LA running scene and a ton of friends. It’s going to be fast, fun and hot. This is my big one for the year. I’ve been looking forward to it since I helped Jimmy Dean Freeman cross the finish line last year.
Mogollon Monster 100 – Pine, AZ – September 27
I love this race and love the fact it’s so gnarly. I wanted to return last year but didn’t feel ready just two weeks after Pine To Palm. Seeing as this race falls just two weeks after my wedding this year, I may not be able to attend this time around either. But I definitely want to come back and break 24 hours. Only two people have so far. I’d like to be the third.
Rio del Lago 100 – Granite Bay, CA – November 8
This will be a back-up 100 if I can’t do Mogollon and feel a late-year itch to race again.
Hope you’re as excited about the year as I am. I’m ready for more adventures. Let’s get out there and run some miles, shall we?