Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play."
- Mike Singletary (Football player and coach)
So, I just got back from running the trails at Oak Mountain and I can't think of any running that I enjoy more than strapping on a water bottle and romping down the dirt single track around rocks, roots and mud puddles for a couple of hours. Miles become less important. It's time on my feet and time up and down hills and time dodging gremlins that lurk to grab my feet and throw me hurtling into the bushes. But, the gremlins have been caught sleeping lately and I haven't had a good header in quite a while. Couple of stumbles here and there where I catch my foot on an immovable object, do the quick two-step off the trail, yell "whoa-whoa" and surprisingly still find myself on my feet when the inertia subsides and I'm not exactly sure why I'm not lying under some bush.
But, today was sort of an unexpected milestone for me. For several years, I've been cursing my cranky ankles that have kept me from going fast (that's my convenient excuse on that one), going long (pretty accurate there), and going on technical, hilly, rocky trails (absolutely true there). Slowly, mostly since I've been running in Hoka shoes, things have been getting better. I still can't run fast (must be something to do with age too!), but I've been getting pretty consistent with putting in one weekly middle distance run that takes a couple of hours. Now, granted, these runs are slow as Southern molasses, but speed is not even close to a top priority these days. The goal is to finish the run and still be able to walk and not hobble. Then today, here I was at Oak Mt doing a solo run, and I came to the, not only figurative, but literal, fork in the road. Left, the easier Red Trail...right, the hillier, rocky Yellow Trail. I have not ventured successfully on the Yellow Trail in probably 3-4 years. Tried it about two years ago and almost was stranded because I couldn't go up OR DOWN one of the hills. That was a super-downer of a run, mentally and physically. But today, I took the right fork and although I wasn't bounding like Killian Jornet up and down the rocky hillsides, I was able to traverse the terrain. Several of the hills are killers and I would walk them even in my heyday (I think I had a heyday...I barely remember, but I'll make one up). Did a good bit of walking, but if a clam could be happy, I was happy as a clam because I was running when I could, walked when I had to, but mostly, I was coming back to what I love to do. A true runner understands that, and I can't explain it to anybody else, so we'll leave it at that.
The important thing to me was that it was another step forward and not backwards. Kind of like going on a diet where you lose 2 pounds, yell "yey", gain a pound and scream at the stupid scale, and lose 2 pounds again. In a few months, you realize things are really a lot better than they were. I realize my "racing" days are over, so it's a real stretch to call my daily runs "training" runs, but a few years ago I made a deal with God that if I could run at all, I wouldn't complain. I'm certain I haven't held up my end of the bargain 100%, but I think I've done OK. I'm thrilled with a 5 hour marathon, when I used to do close to 3 hours...I'm ecstatic to be able to finish a 50K, even if the time is an hour more than I used to do 50 miles... and if I can do a 10K in under an hour, well, look out Kenyens!! But the Yellow Trail...ah, now there's something I can be proud of. A stepping stone to who knows where. All I know is that it's forward - a few hills thrown in, but definately forward. Now, where's that Blue Trail? And then the White Trail! Yes, the colors of Oak Mt are not off-limits anymore.
A couple of paragraphs ago, I mentioned the Hoka shoes. These anti-barefoot shoes have been a life saver for me. They have a ton of cushioning (something like 25% more EVA in the sole), but are very light (10 oz) and stable. They also have only a 4mm drop (the height of the heel compared to the forefoot), which is the big seller for all those minimalist shoes. Most traditional shoes will have a10-14mm drop. BUT, they are expensive...retail is about $170-180. But, if you search around, you can find an occasional deal. Last night, I found an 18 hour sale on The Clymb for $89. This is a good site to join (free) for great deals on all outdoor sports stuff. I follow their Twitter feed to keep up with their deals.
Finally, today is the Western States 100 Mile Trail Run. This is the Boston Marathon of ultras...not the hardest, but the most well known. I don't personally know anybody running, but in looking at the entrants, there is an Andon Briggs from Trussville running, so I'm following him. What bothers me is that how can I be so far out of the loop that I don't know somebody in the Birmingham area that is doing WS? Well, good luck Andon, and maybe we'll meet up on the trails someday. Now that I don't do 100 milers anymore, I cannot fathom how you can run for 24+ hours straight. Yes, I know I did it several times, but I still can't fathom it (there, I used "fathom" twice in two sentences!). And on the hilly trails to boot.
Well, time to get this day rolling. I hope you all stay cool (98 degrees today and tomorrow). Drink early and often. I'll put ice in the cooler for tomorrow morning's run, so there goes your excuse not to be there. As God said on a hot day... "and then there was sweat". And as I always say...I'll see you on the roads - AL
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