Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Black Bear and the Blue Bear

Two points: 1) I love words.  The ability of pastors, politicians, and poets all depend upon the ability to convey ideas dressed in words; and 2) you may wonder why I use the symbol of a blue bear.  It’s because of the wonderful story The 13 ½ Loves ofCaptain Bluebear by Walter Moers.

In Captain Bluebear’s adventures, one of my favorite parts is where he finds himself in a society that sees the ability to tell lies as a sporting events.  Stadiums are packed to listen to liars weave narratives.  I love the idea of people listening to oral fables, the way the Iliad and Odyssey were originally passed along. 

Work has taken me to the UP several times this summer, and I’ve had the chance to do a few trails runs up there.  One tail run was on the North Country Trail, or more specifically one of the wings of the trail that goes along the Black River (and through the Ottawa National Forest), and which features several beautiful North flowing falls.  I decided to take this 8M out and back from one of the falls as a little mini-trail practice. 

After reaching the beaches of Lake Superior I turned around and made my way back.  Now, one thing about trail running is that it requires a lot of looking down at the trail, or you fall.  So, you can imagine how my heart stopped when I looked up, so I could look down the path, and saw a black bear. 

I froze.  It rose up.

It looked down the path at me.  Then away. 

Then back.  And then it turned and ran off of the path. 

I’d say I was terrified, but it all happened so fast I didn’t have time to be scared.  By the time I realized how huge that bear was, it had already run off back into the woods.  So, I can say it wasn’t a near death experience, but I can distinctly remember feeling and hearing my heart begin to race after that moment of absolute stillness. 
Later, while retelling the story to the Redhead, she asked if it was a male or female bear.  I informed her, I didn’t look, I was being modest. 
In retrospect, after my somewhat-close-to-an-almost-near-death-situation, my favorite part is the idea of a black bear and a blue bear quietly crossing paths in a National Forrest—perfectly natural if you think about it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On Quite Roads

I’ve trained for enough marathons that the idea of a 23M long run causes no serious angst about my ability to finish it. I’ve run enough marathons that the threat of running 25M raises no concerns.  But there is something to be said about being in the moment of the marathon, and digging deep to bring you into mileage you have never covered before—or rarely cover.  Being in the moment, in a race, automatically puts you into a different place emotionally than any training run. 

Still, there was a time when training for your first longer distance race, that you silently crossed a distance you have never covered before.  The first time you hit 10M, or 15M, or 20M, is noted—at most—by a beep from your Garmin or perhaps a simple ‘Whoot.’  The motorists which may happen to be around remain ignorant of your personal achievement.  Best of all, these moments carry with them an emotional weight that lingers.  They become monuments which are forever erected FN1 as testimony of your ability; places you can mentally return to and draw strength from.    

As I prepare and train for my 100M race, I have this reoccurring thought: “Do people who have never run a marathon and who just easily finish a 5M run think running a marathon will be no problem?”  Because when I ran a 22M long run and I had that exact thought.  Later I got a lesson on the trails.  The two contrasting runs stood as pillars between which I needed to navigate my first ever longer-than-a-marathon run. 

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things I’m most excited about when it comes to training for an ultra is that I get to eat ‘real’ food while training.  This is something you have to experience to fully appreciate, and I was little prepared for it myself. 

Loaded with several Gus and my Camelbak I headed out.  After 11 miles, I sweatily walked into a McDonalds.  The unsettling thing wasn’t that some people stared, it was that everyone stared.  Families out to enjoy a Sunday meal before/after church…and Spike smelling like a long run.  My order was simple enough, but my request for a cup of water was apparently too much.  The “Team Members” were more concerned with yelling at each other about who should get my cup of water than actually getting my cup of water.  Whatever, I still incorporated eating McDonald’s into a long run.FN2

Deeper into my run, I went past a carwash.  Several weeks prior the Redhead and I were at this same carwash, one the Redhead often frequents, and we noted a magnetic 26.2 sticker.  The Redhead noted that is looked like hers and wondered if it was (we were in my car).  Later that day we confirmed it was, in fact, her missing 26.2 oval magnet.  So, because I’ve a loving and kind runner, I swung by and picked up her magnet, only to continue my journey. 

Where I’ve struggle most in my initial ultra training is dealing with the highs and lows.  Specifically, running through the ‘lows.’  I was in a low from miles 16 to 20, as wave after wave of the rolling humidity kept draining me and making every tenth of a mile linger.  I did whatever I could to get myself to mile 20, my next scheduled walk break. Starting my walk mile, the humidity finally broke, the sky opened up, and I was caught in an extremely hard downpour.  At mile 21 I stopped at a gas station and grabbed a Mt. Dew and some water to refill my pack.  At that moment, I seriously considered calling the Redhead and telling her to come and pick me up. 

I’d hit the bottom. 

Fortunately, a bell then began to ring in my head.  “You love running in the rain;” my head reminded me.  This is a disaster so you might as well have fun.  And I did.  Were it not for the downpour that lasted the next seven miles, I doubt I would have made it. 

By mile 26 I had run through the ‘low’ and began to approach the ‘never before’ limit of my running.  Then, as I rounded a corner I’ve run countless times before, my Garmin let out a soggy beep and crossed to mile 27.  The cars sloshing through large puddles thought noting of me other than: “What is that moron doing running is crap weather like this?” But I continued, doggedly working towards the moment when my Garmin finally hit 30M. 

One more monument.  One more memory.  One more “I can” stacked away. 

FN1: That was for you buddy.

FN2: McDonald’s you say?  Yes.  It was early and the Taco Bell next store wasn’t open.  Plus, I figured I’d ease my way into eating more adventurous foods.