As all of us go through life, we inevitably hit that phase where it get’s “real”. I find myself there this year. It seems I’m not alone either, as many of my friends who love the trails are also in the same general spot. Maybe it’s a “getting older” thing, or maybe it’s because people like us relish in experiences, and look for a deeper meaning in life. I’m really not very concerned how well decorated my house is, or where my couch came from, but I sure as hell am focused on what place or trail can I go explore next, how am I going to get there, and what will it be like?! I also find a strong desire to spend more and more time on the trails, maybe running away from problems out there, maybe doing some healing, probably a bit of both. It’s in light of that, that I wanted to just share a few experiences from over the summer and to be a reminder that all of us struggle with life from time to time, but we can’t forget to look up an appreciate the scenery – because life is beautiful, even when it’s tough.
Run 1 – Tahoe Rim Trail
In early Spring of this year, I organized a few training runs for the Miwok 100k, a popular trail race in Marin County that covers some of the best trails we have to offer. I enjoy these trails regularly, and have run the Miwok a couple of times myself, so I’m happy to take others out for a preview of the course before race day rolls around. During one run I met Juan who I’ve become friends with. He told me that he’d be running the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler later in the year. I needed an excuse to get up in the mountains, so I offered to pace him at TRT100. He accepted, and thus my first jaunt into the mountains for the year was set.
It turned out to be a great event (top notch, totally awesome, best race organization and volunteering I’ve ever experienced!), and of course the trail/course is beautiful. I ran with Juan from miles 50 thru 80 which took us from afternoon to sunset, and well into the night. I had it pretty easy since he’d already run 50 miles in the heat of the day, but I can still attest to the difficulty of that course (in part due to the heat) which demolished several very strong runner friends of mine. They all finished, but wow! I’ve never seen so many capable athletes so wiped out (and salty!) at the end of a race. It was only 100 miles, c’mon guys! Ha! This planted the seed of running 100 miles in my mind, but it also gave me the fear!
Run 2 – Speedgoat
Welp, I was totally unprepared and not at all trained for this one. The Speedgoat “50k”, in actuality is more like 33 miles with about 12,000 ft (~3660 metes) of elevation gain, and tops out at an altitude of 11,000 ft (~3350 meters) in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. Karl Meltzer designs this course to be punishing, beautiful – but punishing. In some cases we’re running on baby-head sized boulders for miles, other times on hands and knees going straight up the mountain with no trail. Type II fun, to be sure!
I went into the race with a stress fracture in my left tibia. My ortho was not excited about this to put it mildly, but I planned to mostly hike and promised not to run the downhills (not too hard anyway). The first climb to 11,000 ft went ok, the subsequent two climbs to 11,000 ft left me gassed! It’s probably a bad idea to come from sea level and do this without training at elevation. I did finish in about nine and a half hours, which honestly was only about one hour slower than I expected to. Not too shabby for a 40 year old guy with a broken leg!
Run 3 – Evolution Basin
This was an abbreviated 36 mile route that I cobbled together from a longer ~55 mile route that I was pondering about a year ago. Starting from South Lake, my buddy JV and I would go up over Bishop Pass, down into Le Conte Canyon, up Muir Pass, into Evolution Basin, then off-trail to Darwin Bench, up and over Lamarck Col, finally scrambling down to North Lake. JV is strong with the berserker spirit, and he had just run the Angeles Crest 100 miler, plus about half of Tushars 100k (before thunder storms and mudslides shut it down) in the weeks leading up to this. His legs were not exactly fresh and I was not exactly in the shape I wanted to be in either, but when life gives you lemons, jump out of the plane and hope your chute is packed properly!
We had a long day. JV is “not a mountaineer” and was not thrilled about the “bouldering” that we had to do off trail, which in actuality was a lot of boulder hopping and scrambling over large talus to get to Lamarck Col, then up and over that beast. A couple of people camping at the base of it couldn’t believe we had run 30 miles to get there and were now about to climb it just before sunset. Our legs ached, but the spectacular sunset at the top was worth the trouble. With a lot of snow, and the off trail sections, this was a long ass day, but definitely one of those life experiences you can’t have without blood, sweat, and tears.
Run 4 – Tuolumne Meadows
I was able to sneak up to Tuolumne Meadows with my pal David for a couple of nights. I forgot to mention it, but on all of these trips I have been sleeping soundly in a Warbonnet Blackbird on loan from my friend Ken… hammocking is the lifestyle! So anyway, David and I hung our hammocks in a nearby campground, and I got to do a 30 mile run while he day hiked, meditated, and napped. I started and finished at Tuolumne Meadows Campground, heading out towards Vogelsang High Camp, then turning South towards Merced Lake. I did not go down to the lake but rather looped back around to Vogelsang Pass, making a lollipop shaped route.
The weather was great and I beat the thunderstorms as the first drops just started falling when I finished my run. This was a great loop, and one I would high recommend for anyone wanting to dip their running shoes into the deeper end of the pool. The navigation is straightforward, the trail surfaces are mostly good, the scenery is great, and the effort required is only moderate (relatively speaking).
Don’t Forget to Look Up
Unfortunately this thought was inspired by something that was said to me, by someone who’s close to me. I don’t know why they feel the way they do, but there’s some animosity towards my trail running. When I go out to run trails, it’s to enjoy being there, in that moment, and in that place. It’s to enjoy life and the feeling of being free to run, hike, or explore places however I choose to. Looking at the photos above, I think it’s pretty clear why I’m inspired to be out there. So when someone says to me “Yeah that’s a beautiful place you were running in, too bad you had to look down at the trail the whole time while you run.” I can’t help but feel a little hurt and also sad for them, that they need to get in a dig like that. Life is just too short for that kind of negativity. I think I have said the words “wow, whoa, awesome, rad” more times in the last year of running than the rest of my life combined. I am, quite literally, always looking up!
I know most of the people that I share trails with are always looking up too, whether running or hiking. Sometimes it’s difficult, like that low moment in a long race or run when you’re pushing hard with nothing but fumes in the tank and your goals to keep you moving, but even then being able to “look up” and reflect on how lucky you are to have time to run, and enjoy being outside, is important. During the hardest times is when we need to remind ourselves to look up for perspective and to be reminded how beautiful life can be. So, don’t let anyone get you down, keep doing your thing, look up and be appreciative, and think of all your trail friends who are doing exactly the same wherever they may be! Hike It. Like It.