Posts by Chris Kaplan

I grew up a soccer player. A torn meniscus and MCL in my junior year ended my soccer career. My poor choices afterward set the tone for the next 20 years of my life. I Wasted my early adulthood drinking until I quit in 2003. After I quit drinking I dropped 20lbs. I decided to run my first marathon in 2010 after a college friend of mine simply said "dude - if I can do it, you can do it." This is all his fault. I hadn't done any regular physical training in 20 years so I started with about 6 weeks on the elliptical before trying to run - afraid I would re injure my knee otherwise. I trained for 10 months - from 1 mile at a time to 20, found a running family in the Annapolis Striders marathon training group and completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 2010. In the 8 years since I have completed 2 half iron distance triathlons, swam 4.4 miles across the Chesapeake Bay, completed 6 marathons, two 50Ks, and a few handfuls of half-marathons and Olympic distance triathlons. I dropped another 30 lbs along the way. I am still sober.

52 of 52: The End?

Happy New Year!

I like to start my goal setting – well – whenever I’m feeling particularly un accomplished. On the one hand I think this makes a fair amount of sense. Set some new goals to give yourself a kick in the pants, right? On the other hand it can be easier to ride the momentum of success and set some new ones. (I think this is called a positive spiral. Catch me doing this at the end of the post.)

Well – which one is better? Spoiler – whichever one works for you. Either way, you got yourself revved up and ready to tackle some new goals!

I’m getting ahead of myself though. I wanna revisit that feeling of being unaccomplished for a minute. I’m not sure why yet – but I think it’s going to be important and here’s a twist – when I finished this 52nd run last week that’s how I felt. Unaccomplished. Now I don’t know if its the usual post-event-now-what feeling or not but I remember thinking “was this really the best use of my energy? Did I help anyone but me?”

This feeling usually hits me the hardest in the Fall. That time of year when the sun does its thing and starts to show up late for work. Later and later every day. Then we do our stupid human thing and change all of our clocks at the same time to try to fool the sun into staying at work later the next day. We do this during the middle of the night I might add – while the sun isn’t even here to defend itself. Of course the Sun figures out what is going on and then continues to show up later and later and for less and less time. Not only that – it gets a little distant and starts slacking at work!

The fall sun is like my cat – he just needs a hug.

Oh sure – it still gives off the sunlight but it gives us that nasty harsh in-your-face-no-matter-how-hard-you-try-to-look-away kind of light. Not the warm gentle light of 8pm in August. But where it really slacks off is in the heat department. You know what I’m talking about. Big Science would have you believe it has something to do with the Earth’s axis blah blah blah… Let’s face it people – the Sun is mad because we all ganged up and changed the clocks while it was sleeping. What the sun really needs is a hug. Maybe then it would stay out longer and push through the winter months cranking out the heat like a champ and we wouldn’t need to move to Florida or California or …Sun City when we retire.

I don’t know if my facts are straight on all that. All I I know is that hugs work for me… which brings me back to my point. Goal Setting and the New Year.

You: “Finally – these rambly posts go on for days.”
Me: “Wait – was that my point? IS that a point!? It’s more like a pair of things, or not even a pair really – more like a collection of two things…”
You: “Dude – Christmas will be here before you figure out what you want to say! Speaking of Christmas it is NOT the new year so what are you even talking about?”

This pretty tree – you’ve earned it.

I know, it’s not THE new year but it is A new year. Technically, every day starts a new year and this little shift in thinking helps me sometimes. You see, fear plays an integral part in moving me to action – and the thought of a new day does not scare me. Why would it? It gives me a positive feeling – one where I’m free to start over and look at everything with new eyes. It reminds me that yesterday does not equal today and that I can let yesterday go – if I want or need to. And that’s important because that feeling gives me the courage to maybe try again but – it doesn’t move me to actually DO anything.

Fear? Pressure? Constraints? A time limit? Come at me bro. For those things I will take action.

Laying on the couch emerging from a bad food decision that lasted from Halloween to New Year’s Eve (the official one) is not where I want to be when it’s time to envision the next 365 days because in that state almost *anything* would look worth doing by comparison.

The Run

Like many of these runs, I did not have a plan for this one. I had a window of time when Sara would be at school working on some club projects so I used that constraint to at least set *when* I would run. (See – constraints at work…)

I dressed for the run, dropped Sara at school, brought my car home and then just started running. The neighborhood. Then South on Riva Road. I considered running over the bridge past Mike’s Crab House and into the old hood to check out the old house – but if I’m being honest – running past the old house still hurts.

I ran some side streets and then turned around near the bridge and headed back North towards the school. When I got there I ran towards the back where all of the youth leagues were in full weekend mode – scores of kids all decked out in uniforms. Moms and Dads socializing with one eye and watching the rest of the fam with the other. The scene, the Fall air, the sounds – it all hit me in the gut. I guess I’d be running past the old house after all – or at least it was running past me.

I spotted a trail head at the tree line and – squirrel! – thought to myself “I better get used to trails if I’m going to run that 40 miler next year” and popped into the woods.

I’ve been hearing about these trails for years but this was my first time. I like that on my last of these runs I still ran somewhere completely new. I also liked that the woods seemed to bring my head out of the past and into the moment. I saw a red mark on a nearby tree and thought “lets see where the red trail goes.”

It was well marked and not super technical. I stopped at one point when I caught a glimpse of water.

Mother Nature: “Hey – check out this water.”
Me: Stops and stares as if I have never seen a body of water before.
Mother Nature: “Made you look!”
Me: “D’oh!”

The red trail wound around and eventually made its way back to the athletic fields. I dodged a few dog walkers, pet some dogs, and re-entered the woods. Another red tree… ooh a blue mark! Let’s see where the blue trail goes. Now I knew that somehow these trails connect somewhere behind the Department of Agriculture buildings on Truman Parkway so I tried to nose my way in that direction. But the blue trail had other plans…

One of the friendlier parts of the blue trail.

It quickly dropped down into a ravine and then doubled back on itself… I was headed back towards the water. I didn’t mind. The blue trail was way more technical and not as well maintained but I welcomed the work and followed… and followed… and followed. Now going up I could sense I was coming back to the school and emerged near where I had started.

I felt good. I had about 6 miles to go so I explored my way over to Truman parkway behind buildings that I drive past every day. I finally made it to the local farmers market – but they were nearly packed up for the day. I needed to refill my water and felt I could use some food. Breakfast was… light.

I crossed Riva and ducked into the CVS. A bottle of water and a cliff bar later I was back on the road. I decided to head back home, run the new hood again and call it a day.

And then I was done. It felt good to be done. I felt free.

Not the Run

I thought maybe I would use this last run to think about what I wanted to do over the next year or consider what I had learned over the past year – but like any good plan this one fell apart pretty quickly. But I will say this:

At the end it feels oddly unremarkable… like it’s hard to see the forest from the trees and all that. There were definitely runs that I did not want to do – but as the weeks wore on the conversation with myself about if I felt like doing the run or not got shorter and shorter because it mattered less and less. After awhile the resistance just fades and you do it almost without thinking – like the later miles in a long race.

I know more than a handful of people who regularly run this distance, people who have run every day for over 10 years, people who have run scores of ultras… the list goes on. I mean – Will Turner completed 60 Full Iron Man Triathlons last year.

Pshh! 13.1 miles indeed! Do you even run bro?

Whenever I found myself comparing what I was doing to what other people have done it would take the wind right out of my sails and I would feel like doing it wasn’t worthwhile by comparison. Even though what Will did (and continues to do) quite literally inspired me to begin my own year long challenge – the journey itself taught me that I had to Run for Me and that the thing that made it worth continuing to do was remembering that I made a promise to myself – and keeping that promise is what truly mattered.

Next Week: I may have signed up for 5 triathlons and a 40 mile run next year. I better start training…

51 of 52: Hello Old Frenemy

I Know We Broke Up – But I was Desperate

You see, I was in Phoenix with Katie for a week. She was there for a conference. It was her birthday week. I thought it would be fun to tag along and work in person with a team mate of mine who works there. I also figured I could make this another destination run. I used to live near Phoenix as a kid (35+ years ago) so I even considered running to my old house and back. That is until I looked on a map and realized that would have been a 45 mile run.

That was a bucket full of nope for a ton of reasons. 13.1 around town would be fine thanks.

What I did NOT realize was how busy I would be at work this particular week catching up on work I should have done before “right now” but that’s not what I’m here to talk about (though I vaguely mention it tangentially in “Not the Run” – a prize if you can find it.) . The bottom line here is that mixing in a concert, a live comedy show and a birthday dinner with a very full work work week meant for three VERY late nights in a row for me. Like to bed at 4am, back to work at 7am.

Throw in some random germs from air travel and this Kid gets what you might call – “sick”.

So – we returned home around 1:30 am on Sunday. If you’re thinking “hey – this sounds just like when you came home from the Keys and whined about running the Metric Marathon” – you’re right this was the second time in three weeks and I knew it was gonna suck. I just didn’t know how much yet. So like I was saying, we got back around 1:30 am on Sunday…

Naptown Jazz Kids (the jazz education non-profit I’m involved in) was hosting our “Big Band Explosion” concert – that Sunday. This is our first year and this was our first Fall program. We had kids from the CYSO Jazz Ensemble, the University of Maryland Jazz Ensemble (my alma mater), and the Army Blues all playing one concert together. Trust me – it’s a really cool thing to do and see.

Anyhow – we had a 1pm sound check so doing the math I figured if I leave at 12:15 to get to the sound check, that means I need to be in the shower by 11:45 which means I need to be on the road running by 8:45. It’s 1:30 now so that means 7 hours of sleep. I can do this. Except…

I was SICK. Yes, it was that basic “just-getting-sick-but-a-man-will-stay-in-bed-instead-of-sucking-it-up-and-rocking-the-household-3-infants-and-a-full-time-job-like-a-real-woman” kind of sick. I got up and it was cold and raining outside. And I didn’t leave any wiggle room in the schedule which meant – I would need to run AFTER the concert UNLESS (as Katie suggested) “…you could run on the treadmill downstairs”.

Yes but – we broke up… me and the treadmill that is. I lay in bed thinking “surely there must be some other way” but no, Katie was right so I rolled on down to the basement and got ready to hit the treadmill. Except that… the treadmill was stuck in a software update loop! I was out of luck. I would have to run after the concert. Hopefully the rain would have eased up by then. I figured at least now I could sleep some more and keep from getting “Sick For Real”.

A broken treadmill. Update: As of this writing I have fixed it.

So I went back to sleep for a couple hours, woke up and hit the concert. I was not feeling any better or more rested and the rain was most definitely NOT going to be letting up.

After the sound check Emily (fellow NJK board member) and I were talking and looking out into the rain and I mentioned I still had to get my run in. She was like “in this weather?! AND you’re sick! ” and then something along the lines of it being dumb or crazy or something (but she was nice about it). I said it would be fine since I would be dressed for the weather… but deep down I knew she was right. But at week 51 what else could I do?

The Run

Spoiler – I did NOT go run outside that night. On my way home from the concert I was talking to Katie and she said “I wish I would have thought of this sooner but you could have gone to Fitness 19 this morning and run there.” I joined a gym near her place for just such an occasion.

Dammit.

I went home and slept. Katie in one ear suggesting I run on the treadmill and Emily in the other pointing out that running outside would be irresponsible. I woke up and realized what anyone reading this is probably yelling at me through the screen – and that is that I could drive back up to Columbia and run on the treadmill at the gym that night. So that’s what I did.

At 8pm on Sunday night I started my 13.1 mile run on a treadmill. I know -we broke up. I know I said I wouldn’t run another 13.1 on the treadmill but you see, I really was desperate.

It was easy to look at the bright side. It was dark, cold, and raining – but I would be warm inside and could watch a movie or catch up on podcasts. I decided to check out “The Game Changers” on Netflix. I ran for about an hour until I took a short bio break.

The movie had my full attention and weeks later I’m still trying to learn more about plant based diets and I’m finding there are so many opposing studies and views on diets. (Shocker) I’ve significantly reduced the amount of animal products in my diet to see how it goes (not that I was eating a ton of meat to begin with) but I’m almost to the point where I want to say “man – just use your head and don’t eat things that make you feel like crap.” Anyhow – I’m not a scientist. I don’t enjoy reading studies so I’m not about to make any claims here or anywhere else about nutrition. I’ll only ever say “this is what I do and this is how I feel.” PLUS – it seems pretty evident that livestock is a woefully inefficient food source when it comes to how many resources are required to produce the amount of animal products that we do.

After the Game Changers I started watching Ozark. I’m surprised I didn’t run an extra 2 hours! I was hooked and made short work of the remaining episodes over the next couple weeks.

Thank goodness for streaming. It made this next-to-the-last of these runs bearable. I finished up, drove home, took a hot shower and collapsed into bed.

Not the Run

Every day I take a minute remind myself to ask myself Jim Ryan’s 5 essential questions throughout the day. They are:

1. Wait. What?  (Make sure you understand)
2. I wonder how…why…if…  (Stay curious)
3. Couldn’t we at least…?  (Take action)
4. How can I help? (Be specific and effective)
5. What truly matters?

Some days it’s a going through the motions sort of thing. Other days I put real energy into it – but my current rambling comes from that last question. What truly matters to me? If I’m looking within arms reach…

How people treat each other matters.

While I can control how I treat others, how other people treat each other is largely out of my control. It’s upsetting to see people not even try – in real life and online – but my biggest beef is with “entities” – political or commercial – putting power and profit over people and the planet. These entities are made of people so I don’t understand why this happens. Oh wait – power and money and probably fear of losing them. I’ve never had a significant excess of either so I can’t claim that I would be any better – but I’d like to think I would be. Anyhow…

These entities are made of people. I’m one of them. I’m a contractor at a Federal agency. It would be easy to say “how can I change anything?” I am not a fan of the tax code – but “how can I possibly change that? I make software training.” Well the short answer is that I can’t directly affect the tax code and yet – there are still MANY opportunities for me to treat people with kindness, with respect, to try to understand them and their needs.

Example? You know those incredibly boring computer based required trainings you take at work? That’s my industry. Wouldn’t you like it if the training was more human? Like if you felt that the people who designed the course actually gave a crap if you learned something? Me too – so I try to make that the starting point of my designs. I feel like the more a person feels heard or understood, the more likely they will be to listen to and understand others. Am I spitting into an ocean of a problem? Yes – but spit is what I have so spit is what I will do.

How I treat myself matters.

Suffice it to say that how I treat myself is a reflection of how I feel about myself. They are inextricably linked. Negative and positive spirals thrive in how I treat myself. If I’m not liking myself I won’t insist on the things that I know are good for me. Time with friends is the first to go, then exercise, then quality food in portions that make sense. Yes – I am quick to celebrate anything from a holiday to an excellent mood to just surviving the day – but that’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s important for me to remember how to deliberately stay out of the self loathing end of the spectrum and how to move myself towards the self loving end – and to do that I find relies on HOW I TREAT OTHER PEOPLE.

Well now that’s a very “snake eating itself” sort of arrangement I have isn’t it?

You see – if I make a mistake, or fail at something – I’m still okay with myself – but when I’m an asshole about it I am not okay with myself and I react accordingly. See above: become hermit, sit on couch, eat crap. Even more important and less obvious are times where I am apparently “crushing it” but I’m not really deserving of it. So that old classic- “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose but how you run the race” is really coming into focus.

Plus – being nice to people feels good and its the number one thing I know of that moves me from not feeling good about myself to feeling good about myself – but… It’s harder to be nice to people when I’m not feeling great about myself. Well it’s hard to do all kinds of things and we do them anyways so – just do it. (Thank you Nike) .

I’m struggling to put a bow on this one but I think I’ve gone on for long enough. Besides – the questions are always more important than the answers.

Next Week: The End?

49 of 52: Metric Marathon

Toto – I don’t think we’re in Florida Anymore

Have you ever gone on vacation and just got so relaxed and rested that reintegration into society was a little harder than it should have been? If you have then you know exactly where I was on Sunday. My feet were in Maryland – “running” – the Annapolis Striders Metric Marathon. My head? My heart? Squarely in the Florida Keys where I had just spent a week with Katie. Not a weekend dash out to Fenwick or up to NYC – but an honest to goodness convertible-hair-don’t-care vacation.

I did run once while we were on vacation – but mostly it was so that I could say that I’ve run to the southernmost point of the United States. I mean I did WANT to run also but the thought of missing that opportunity made me do it. I usually like to train a lot while I’m on vacation because it doesn’t take all day, I enjoy it and it helps me to come back home feeling good about how I spent my time – but minus a few Facebook check-ins, this vacation was a much needed near-complete departure from reality and that included running. (Not that I’ve been running during the week much anyways…but that’s another story all-together.)

We spent a night in Fort Lauderdale, three nights in Key West and two nights on Islamorada and we didn’t get home until after midnight on Saturday. I knew I would be tired. I knew I wouldn’t really be into it but I also knew that it didn’t really matter. This race was not my goal. It was just one step in this whole journey – and all I had to do was take it.

The Run

I have only run the metric marathon three times – including this one. I remembered it being a hard race and it’s a few miles longer than I’ve been running (a metric marathon is 26.2 Kilometers, or 16.28 miles) so I expected a pretty slow time. And it was. About 30 minutes off my PR for this race in fact. I didn’t feel great about the time but I felt good about finishing and it was nice to see a bunch of familiar faces at the start. It’s been a few weeks so I’m having trouble remembering specific encounters aside from the guy in front of me in line at the bathroom.

I was wearing my IronMan Maryland shirt from when I volunteered and the guy in front of me asked if I did the race the weekend before. I chuckled a little when I realized why he was asking and I told him I had not. I noticed he was wearing a hat from the race and asked if he had run it – which of course he had. This was going to be his first run since completing the 140.6 mile race so he wasn’t expecting anything near a PR. I was impressed that he’d be running again so soon but at the same time I could understand that when you’re that trained up, after a week of rest it’s actually good to get out and start moving again. I wouldn’t start with a non-flat 16+ mile course. But hey – that’s just me.

I can’t remember what he said his time was exactly but I remember that he was disappointed but not down about it. I also remember that it was very Fast – like under 10 hours or something. I congratulated him on the finish and silently reminded myself that everyone is on their own journey. Only 10 men my age and above finished IMMD in under 10 hours this year.

Dan and I ran together for the first 10 miles or so. I gave him the rundown on my trip to Key West with Katie. He peeled off course for a customary bio break and left me to listen to the three ladies behind us catch up and reminisce about last years run. Apparently two of the three were wearing what they wore the year before. Another one had been to brunch after last years race and their boyfriend snapped a nude of them while they napped it off.

Was I singing…?

No – I did not turn around to see which one it was. I didn’t even thank them for keeping me entertained. I mean, I didn’t want to add my intrusion to his. I decided it would be more prudent to just keep my mouth shut – a rule I mostly follow in life unless someone is paying for my opinion (rare) or I’m in the car with Dan on the way to work (not as rare – but I don’t get paid for it).

Darrell Mak and Nica Shields had been playing leap frog with us for a few miles so I settled in with them for a little while and congratulated Nica on her hard earned World Record for running 100.224 kilometers in 12 hours. Why 3 decimal places? The previous world record was 100.177! Holy smokes – .047 kilometers – that’s about 50 yards!!! More remarkable is that this was her third or fourth attempt (I can’t remember exactly) . Also she is going for the 24 hour record next.

Dan caught up to us (I still don’t know how he does it) and I filled him in on everything. MY stomach was reminding me how well I ate all week while on vacation and I knew I would need to stop soon and take care of it. I knew there was an aid station ahead with facilities but I couldn’t remember how far. My memory told me it was just ahead on the left but as it happens my memory is either:

  1. Bad
  2. An optimist
  3. A rotten trickster the likes of which make Loki look like a 4 year old who, having just learned to talk can ONLY tell the truth regardless of how embarrassing or inappropriate.

…because there was NO porta pot at the next aid station. So we continued on to the aid station at the intersection of Bayard and Sands Rd and finally – mischief managed. Dan walked while he waited so I was actually able to catch him but not too long after I did – I let him go.

Dan – finishing happy.

He was having a good day and I was struggling physically and mentally and could not find a reason to push myself. As I continued on I settled into the solitude and enjoyed my surroundings. The last time I ran this race I was angry. I had had a particularly bad evening the night before and was just using the anger to fuel me. I laughed at how far away that seemed but I wondered if there were something other than anger I could use to push myself today or even whenever I wanted. If there was, it fell beyond my reach.

I continued on slowly.

At the 13.1 mark I hit the lap timer on my watch. 2:10:56. Not terrible actually – but I remember thinking “OK, I can back off from here.” As if I hadn’t already checked out.

I knew it would be this way from the moment I decided it the night before when I went to bed. I was tired. I wanted to be on vacation still. Hell – I’d like to be retired, but as it happens I have another 25 years or so before that happens. I’m basically only half way there and I already want out. I’ll admit – that reality weighs on me regularly and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it aside from just keeping on. (Maybe I should follow up on finding that career coach?)

I ramble – there were some hills, I moved forward for another 38 minutes and eventually finished the race. Excellent – now I can go home and unpack.

“The Finish”

Not the Run

A lot of times I sit down to write these and I just don’t like what comes out. I don’t like the message – or there isn’t one – or I don’t like the tone. So I stop. And I think this is where I get behind sometimes. I could argue that it doesn’t matter if I like it. I should just write and whatever comes out, comes out and be done with it. But I also really want to like what I’ve written about. I want other people to like what I write – or at least feel that their time reading it was well spent. I want some good to come from all of this or at the very least for at least one person to think “yeah – I feel you bruh.” or “damn – I’m not the only one.”

I have no delusions about the quality of my writing. It’s – simple. Disjointed. A lot of times pointless. My kids are quick to ask me “did you proof read this?” or “is someone going to edit this – you know – for flow?” I do remember how much better the book I wrote on Flash was after an editor got a hold of it. So – yeah. It’s not that I’m going for “great writing” and get stuck so much as I’m just going for “yes – this is what I wanted to say about this run.”

And it gets really hard when I just don’t know what that is. What do I want to say? I feel like there’s a lot inside of me that I want to get out and I’m counting on running – or writing about running – to help me figure out what that is. Maybe I don’t get to let it out as words. Maybe I have to let it out as running faster. Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with running at all. Maybe there are things I want to do or accomplish. I just have this feeling like I should be doing better at staying focused on them and getting them done and out into the world.

Next Week: That Last Run with Dan

48 of 52: A(nother) Run With Hogan

Mornings Are for Suckers (and people who like mornings)

Is this 2 or 3 of these runs together? I don’t know. Neither one of us could remember. I remember writing about at least one run together. Heck, I even remember what I wrote – but hell if I can find the post. Regardless – on this occasion we ran in the early evening like civilized adults with aging children. Not in the wee hours of the morning like a couple of zombies (like I used to do after chasing around under developed miniature versions of myself all night).

I swear – I’m not really judging my early morning running friends as much as I am excited to be able to run with someone later in the day. Seriously.

Most of our texting involves negotiating a time to run.

Hogan: “What time are you thinking?”
Me: “Early but not dumb. 8ish?”
Hogan: “I like Evening. 6:30pm?”

See how he just goes from 8am to 630 pm in one declarative move? He wastes no time in steering the conversation his way. Not that I am surprised by this move, nor do I object. But…

Me: “Dang – I’m spoken for from the afternoon on…”
Hogan: “I’m spoken for in the am… by my bed!!!”

After a couple months of back and forth (we are apparently very busy people) we finally found a time that worked. He was looking at a down-week in marathon training and I needed to run on a Friday night. Scheduling magic occurs and we found ourselves on the trail around 5:15 last Friday night.

The Run

We ran 13.1 miles on the B&A trail.

Can I just pause a sec for a shout out to the Anne Arundel department of Recreation and Parks? These folks maintain the trail and I cannot gush enough about what an amazing job they do at ensuring it remains a quality accessible resource for all who use it.

Is it a long ass stretch of incredibly boring asphalt trail? Yes – but it’s ours and I love and appreciate it.

I have easily run 15 to 20 of these runs on the trail. I really can’t be sure – I mean see the opening paragraph where I can’t find a very specific run that I almost 12% sure that it happened. But even if I’m in the ballpark this trail has been an invaluable resource for me in providing a safe place to run this past year and I appreciate it.

– end shout. Back to the run –

We started at at Jones Station near the 3.5 mile marker on the trail behind a Rite Aid and Park and Ride. The plan was to head South until we hit some trail maintenance and then come back to the start, do some math and then run North for (half) the remainder and then come back. But like most plans, this one didn’t last long as we realized that the repairs on the trail were already done. SO we kept on running to the trail head. Mile 0.

3.5 miles to the head. 3.5 miles back. 6.1 miles to go.

This easy math was particularly helpful for me since I FORGOT TO WEAR MY WATCH on this run! I don’t know how to explain this lapse but maybe let’s chalk it up to being close to done with these and I’m subconsciously trying to make it harder on myself. Self sabotage and all that.

Lucky for me, Hogan had me covered with his trusty phone/Strava combo. Also lucky for me he was coming off of his last long run before a marathon so he didn’t mind going a little slower than normal. You can see I started my now usual “walk the first minute of every mile” at mile 8.

Not the Run

When I write about running with people I try to stick to the ideas and sentiment in the abstract of our conversation as much as I can rather than get too specific. Conversation on the run can be a sacred place and I never want to share what wasn’t meant to be shared.

You: “Oh my goodness – what in the world did you guys talk about???”
Probably you: “Whatever dude – when is this post going to be over?”
Also if you are a runner: “Amen”
Me: “Whatever dude – when is this post going to be over?”
Me: “Seriously – where are you going with this? It’s like long and boring like the trail.”

Anyways – there was one idea from this run that stuck with me and that is how we as individuals can be different things to different people at different times. Obviously we change over time – but even in the short term we can simultaneously hold different points of view or display different behaviors depending on the context of the situation.

Something that Hogan added that I had never considered before is (and I’m paraphrasing with that “gifted” memory of mine) that in some cases it isn’t necessarily who we chose to be in that moment but it’s about who the world needs us to be in that moment. Even in that case we both agreed that what the world “needs” us to be is largely dependent on how we see the world (in that moment) and of course – no two people see the world in exactly the same way do they?

So I guess more accurately – it’s who we think the world needs us to be in that moment that guides us. And still there will be times when you will be absolutely sure that you are 100% right about a solution to a problem – but literally NO ONE else around you will see it your way. What do you do?

There may have been a mile or so of lamenting the apparent fact that some people wander around without any awareness of who they are or who they’re showing up as.

Maybe they’re just waking up too early.

Next Week: The Annapolis Striders Metric Marathon

47 of 52: A Run Out of the Darkness

I Don’t Know What to Say

Sometimes there is so much to say I don’t even know where to start. Like I used to feel when I’d go grocery shopping and the fridge would be so full of food I couldn’t decide what to eat. “I dunno – this olive loaf looks interesting…” That last example is a lie – I’ve never bought an olive loaf before – but it’s a safe bet that I will, now that I’ve written about it. One Hundred percent guarantee that I’ll look it up and at least find out what it is.

Is it bread? Is it meat? I love olives… questions answered here. …but I digress.

I don’t usually have that problem anymore – with the food I mean. I buy what I need, what I like, and what I plan to eat. I limit my choices so I don’t have to think about it. It doesn’t matter – this post isn’t about food or nutrition.

You: “Really? Because so far that is literally *all* you’ve written about. Assuming Olive loaf is a food. IDK. I haven’t clicked the link yet.”

You’re right. I’m stalling. I’m stalling because this past weekend was the Out of the Darkness Walk – a walk to prevent suicide and there is just so much to say about it that I’m not sure how to get into it. Like with the food, I try to limit my difficult topics in life so I don’t have to think about them – and this…This is the mother of all “Olive Loaf Topics” if there ever was one.

My girlfriend Katie introduced me to the Walk 6 years ago. Her cousin Kim and Husband Wayne had lost their daughter Morgan to suicide in 2009 and started a foundation to help others affected by suicide. She has lost friends to suicide and has close friends who have attempted suicide.

Katie and I went camping after the walk. Getting away from the world to slow down and connect.

I only know one person (I think) who has died of suicide. I know only a few people who have attempted suicide and still more who suffer from depression… but – I don’t have the first clue what to say about it. I don’t choose to talk about it in everyday conversation. I am not practiced in talking about it and for those reasons I tend not to say much – which leads to less talking about suicide and prevention – which does NOT help people who suffer. It is a negative spiral. Many forms of human suffering are all affected by this same spiral.

Why? I have to guess that we’re afraid of it? We don’t understand it? We are ashamed that we are not taking care of each other? Deep down we know we could be nicer, more connected, more concerned? Or maybe we don’t believe this particular form of human suffering is part of our world – that it does not affect us.

Until it does. And then we are utterly alone.

But if we’re lucky, someone like Katie’s cousin Kim will be there to help us. Someone who truly knows what loss is – and who can prove to you that living on is not only possible, but essential. She will not blink when talking about suicide or when she asks you to ask her about her daughter Morgan – who ended her 16-year old life by suicide in January, 2009. She will not apologize for talking about how she feels or for reminding us that suicide is a terrible thing that is happening in the world and that there is more we could – SHOULD – be doing to prevent it. She will not look away when you tell her your story. She will understand and stay with you until you know that you are not alone. (Learn more here.)

I am not Kim Beverly. I don’t have that kind of courage when it comes to loss of any kind. So I don’t say much in real life. But I am not all together afraid to write about it online so here I am. This walk – raising awareness and money to fund research around suicide and resources for prevention and people affected by suicide – is my small way of trying to break the spiral. (If you’d like to help by way of donation you can click this.)

The Run

I ran alone. Thinking about the day ahead and what it meant to me personally. More on that later.

The walk starts at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium – within running distance from my place. So that’s the direction I started. I planned on timing it to run 13 and meet up with Katie before the walk, but (bonus points if you saw this coming…) I decided to sleep an extra 45 minutes knowing that I could run 10.1 and then finish my milage with the 3 mile walk.

I ate a rockfish reuben and sweet potato fries, Brussels sprouts and buffalo wing cauliflower the night before. Not exactly “night before you run” food so as I got close to the stadium dinner was doing a number on my stomach. I remembered Kim (not Katie’s cousin) lives near there… Her van was in the driveway but I thought better of dropping in to use the facilities. I’ve known her awhile and we’ve logged some miles but… it did not seem like *the move*. Plus – Dan lives *right* across the street from the stadium so I would just swing by there.

But he was not home. (Yikes!)

Fortunately for me, the stadium bathrooms were open because of the walk. I took care of that and thought I’d check in with Kim and Wayne who were there early to get the Team Morgan tent set up. I said my hello’s and went on my way. I was only about 5 miles in at this point.

I had hoped to run over the Naval Academy bridge and on to the trail but I knew without too much math that I didn’t have time. I told Katie I’d meet her at 11 for the 12pm walk so to play it safe I ran “the big loop” in West Annapolis and then back around the stadium. I knew Katie would be there by then so I decided to take a break – I mean – say “Hi”.

After a quick hello I set off for a couple more laps around the stadium and got my 10.1 miles.

The Walk

Before the walk there is a ceremony. The AFSP talks about their mission and the specific actions they take with the money raised in order to research, advocate, educate and communicate in the community. After that, different people are called up to stage and their story is read as they pour colored sand into glass jars. Each color represents their story:

White – Lost a Child
Red – Lost a Spouse or Partner
Gold – Lost a Parent
Orange – Lost a Sibling
Purple – Lost a Relative or Friend
Silver – Lost First Responder / Military
Green – Struggled Personally
Blue – Support the Cause
Teal – Friends and Family of Someone Who Struggles

It is heart-wrenching but it is their reality and as sad as I get watching it and hearing their stories I know that I have not suffered. Not through cancer. Not through Alcoholism. Not through depression. Not through divorce. Nope. I’m… ok.

We also wear beads of the same colors when we walk so others can know why you walk without having to ask. Without you having to say. But people do ask and others do say. Because this is a safe place. During the walk sometimes you talk to someone who wants to talk or listen and it helps. I feel like it helps even more when it’s a stranger. We can see how possible it is to care for one another.

I don’t say much. Because I’m not practiced at it and I don’t have a story to tell and because I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to cause other people pain. I’ll get better – if I keep trying.

I wear Blue and Teal and Purple.

The walk starts at the stadium and goes into downtown Annapolis, loops back around and comes back. In years past we have gone as far into town as City Dock, but this year we turned around at Church Circle. I think we are too large now to clog up DTA for an hour midday on the weekend. I have mixed feelings about this.

One hour and 3 miles later I have my 13.1

Not the Run (or the walk)

So here’s some more about me that isn’t really about me. Something that brings me closer to suicide prevention. I’m the father of an AFAB non-binary gay trans kid. (definitions here) . What does that have to do with anything in this post? I’ll tell you – In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. (From the Trevor Project)

Which means… well it means I need to remind my kids Every. Single. Day. that they are loved and they are not alone and that if they need me I am here for them. No Matter What.  And I know that may still not be enough. I am already touched by suicide. I’m moved, saddened… terrified. I’m already affected because I know – while I’m not completely powerless – I understand how little control I actually have.

I’ve been on some runs where folks have questions about it. (The long runs are for talking) “What’s it like for you as a parent?” or “just what is this gender stuff all about anyways?” And maybe I just have amazing people as friends – but not a single person has ever been anything but respectful and curious and it makes me feel so good to know that we can be like that. Humans. We can be curious about something without fearing it. We don’t need to understand it to accept it. I am hopeful that this is what they encounter in the world also.

When they were a baby, I didn’t have any “plans” for them. Sure, I wanted them to become an astronaut because at the time I just wanted someone to take me off of this planet – but ASIDE from that – I didn’t have any idea who they would become. I just wanted them to be happy. I didn’t see a doctor or a lawyer or a musician. Of course I *could* see all of those possibilities (and more) in them but I just wanted them to be happy. To feel that they belonged and that they were loved and that they matter.

And so when they began to transition it was never hard for me. Sure, there have been some awkward weird moments but no one escapes the teenage years without some of those. And… now when I look at them I still don’t see a doctor or a lawyer or a musician. I don’t see a girl and I don’t see a boy. I see a wonderfully beautiful human being who can be an asshole sometimes (like their old man) but who cares about others and who wants to use their intellect and talents to help people.

What else is there to say?

46 of 52: Summer Dash Half Marathon

A Better World Running

This is the name of the group that put on the Huntington Beach Summer Dash. From their web site:

“We are offering a friendly, fun racing atmosphere in Southern California.  There are no hidden motives, everything is straight forward.  We offer the pure essentials of racing. “

And that they did. Imagine any race you’ve ever done – but scaled way back. There were racers – but like 100 of us. 27 doing the half marathon. There was water and nutrition at the turn around – but like a six pack of water and a box of GU. There were start and finish flags – but small ones – like just a hair taller than me. There was an entry fee – but a very modest one.

And it was perfect.

If it sounds like I’m making fun of this race it’s just because I’m doing a bad job of expressing how I felt that everything was in perfect alignment with their mission.

The pre race communication was good. Directions were good. Check in was fast and easy (although here – even with a small race they could have benefited from signs or matching t-shirts for the volunteers.)

Why Huntington Beach? I was in town to drive my oldest, Mikey to College and I just searched online for any Half Marathon happening within driving distance during the time I would be there. And this one came up. I wasn’t super thrilled with the web site (but I rarely am) as it’s a little dated and I was looking at it on my phone – but I liked the name and I liked the mission so I signed up.

“We believe in keeping costs low so everyone can enjoy the experience of participating in a race, achieving personal goals, and making new friends in the process! “

I had a 630 am flight to CA on Thursday which meant no sleep for me on Wednesday since I didn’t want to risk missing the flight. My Sister Sherry (who lives there with my grandmother) and Mikey (who was crashing there for a couple weeks before college) came to get me from the airport on the way to Sherry’s coaching session. (Professional singers have coaches too!) . We had time for breakfast but once Sherry went into her session Mikey and I found a shady tree and took a nap. For an hour.

After the coaching session/nap we headed to Gram’s house where I was gonna be crashing over the weekend. I had a couple more 1 hour snoozes during the day and then a few solid hours from 10-2am when we got up to get ready and load up the car. Wheels up at 3AM. We were driving from La Mirada to San Luis Obispo. It was supposed to take 4.5 hours – it took 3.5. I guess we could have left on Thursday and got a couple hotel rooms in SLO – but where’s the fun in that? Also this was low key a road trip for me and my siblings on the way back.

So we were a little early for breakfast – but that was fine by me. We had time for an extra cup of coffee before dropping Mikey at school. We ate at a tiny diner type restaurant in SLO called Louisa’s place. Service was pleasant and the food was good. Will go again.

I blinked and then we had dropped Mikey off and were on our way back home – though here is photographic evidence of me napping and also getting one last hug.

Then we drove back – which did not go as quickly as the trip up. I mean – my brother and sister and I had planned to take our time coming home so it took about 5.5 hours all together. We stopped to drive my brothers new Jeep on Pismo Beach, then we hit Solvang and grabbed a bowl of Andersen’s split pea soup. I prefer my mom’s soup but we had been here a bunch with my grandparents growing up and wanted to get a little nostalgic so we all got the soup – even though none of us were really all that hungry.

I write all this – well because it happened and I wanted to share – but also to say I was really frickin’ tired for this race! We rolled in around 930 or so and I had to be up at 530 to get to the race in Huntington Beach on time.

The Run

The race was held right on the Huntington Beach bike trail and started at Bolsa Chica State Beach. I had pictured running next to the water under a blue sky listening to the waves crash – like the opening to Bachelor in Paradise (not that I have *ever* watched it 😉 ) – but that’s not really how it went down. It was hazy and the beach is huge so you can’t really see the water all that well from the trail.

Still it was pleasant and there was plenty of iconic beach culture and scenery to take in along the trail. VW bugs, countless people surfing, a veritable neighborhood of RVs camped out along the trail with people cooking eggs and bacon on the grill. There were also numerous groups camped out on the beach including birthday parties, class reunions, and what looked like a volunteer group picking up trash.

A Better World Running boasts taking a ton of pictures during the race and again they delivered – by way of a facebook gallery. No fancy web site or expensive prints. Just “hey man, I took some pictures of the race and posted them on Facebook. I hope you like it.” There are way too many of me but a couple turned out OK.

The race itself was preceded by some really quick announcements and a review of the course – run to the cones, turn around, come back. Unless you’re running the half marathon – then keep running till you hit the other cones, turn around and come back – three times. Each out and back for me was 4.4 miles.

The first lap I swear I was asleep for. I sheepishly ran out, mentally taking notes of some things that might make good pictures… later. I wondered if the sky would clear up. It did not – but that sun in CA is no joke so I was actually a little happy about that. The California sun brings heat like the Maryland humidity brings suffering. I may try running in a completely new state to avoid them both. Alaska is looking good.

By the second lap I started to feel a bit more alive. I had tried to count how many of us half marathoners were out there so I could explain away all the faster people as running shorter distances. It’s funny – I know I’m not a super fast runner but I still like to joke to myself “oh – they’re only running 5 miles” or “yeah I remember my 20’s” just to take the edge off how I feel about my pace during a run. It’s easier than track work I guess.

When I came in from my second lap the guy at the turn around joked that the gal in front of me told him I would never catch up to her. He was pulling my leg, trying to wake me up and have a good time. It worked and I replied – “I bet she’s right!” I *did* catch up to her but mostly because I was just running how I felt and that’s the way it happened. It also happened that at the final turn around she dropped me again. I was running out of steam so I decided to make some intervals out of the last two miles to pass the time.

It was a nice simple race and as much as I loved running in the woods of the mountains last week, I loved running next to the ocean this week. I bet if I lived in the area I would do a lot of their races. I had planned on sticking around to meed the Better World people but I wanted to get back home.

Not The Run

I just dropped Mikey off at college. First kid. First year. I joined a couple Facebook groups for their school so I could get details about check-ins and paperwork deadlines for parents and stuff like that. I did get that info – but what I also got was a lot of parents posting about how hard it was for them to let go of their child.

I get that I guess but some of them were really over the top (for me) and look – if you’re having a feeling, you’re having a feeling. Who am I to say it’s wrong? No one – that’s who. But I WILL say I could not relate in the least. It’s not because I don’t love my kid – because I do. It’s not because I won’t miss hearing their voice – because I will. It’s because I am *way* more excited for them than I am sad for me.

This is true of both my kids… Being their father is just one of the many things I *am*. Yes, it’s a HUGE part – but in the way that being their father has influenced (and improved) every other part of me not in the way that diminishes all of the things I was before. (I don’t believe in that sort of thing.)

So I was feeling pride. This kid has been amazing me and challenging me in ways I never could imagine along the way. They’ve been preparing for this for a long time and – as their dad – so have I. Looking at where we are I’d say we did a damn good job. Nothing left for me to feel but really really excited for them. There are good times and shitty times, huge wins and dumb mistakes waiting for us in the future but that-is-what-it-is-all-about.

Is my apartment quieter? Yes. Is the group dynamic here different now? Yes, of course. But you know how I love to embrace change – so embrace it I will.

Next Week: A Run Out of the Darkness

45 of 52: Odyssey Trail Running Rampage Half

I Like Running in the Woods

I’ve had this race on the books for a long time – just about a year actually. Dan recommended this race to me. – I know. Shocker. He was planning to do the 40 miler as he has off and on (mostly on) for the last 10 years or so and I planned to run with him on the final lap.

“OK”, I said. I really enjoyed running the Rosaryville 50k and other trail runs so I thought this would be a great way to get out of town and see something new (which I’m also a fan of). So… yes. I’m IN.

I am not a “trail runner” – historically. Though I think I find it a lot more enjoyable than running on the street. Or the track. (Obviously I don’t like the track – look at my pace!). Except bugs – I don’t like running in bugs. Ticks and spiders specifically. So I don’t get out as much as I should.

I do love nature though. I love being in it. It makes me imagine a world where, instead of making meat out of plants we would just, you know, eat less meat. Or a world where instead of always trying to do more with less – we just do less and enjoy what is. Where what we expect out of the planet is more in line with what we actually need rather than… what we think we need.

I could really let my inner hippie out right now but I won’t – I mean I started to but then I deleted it. Right here – in this spot where these pixels are, I rambled on about living off the land, etc. – but maybe I’ll save it for “Not the Run”. Or I won’t – because like probably a lot of people I’m more hypocritical that I’d like to think I am.

Before the Run

You: Oh. It’s one of those posts. Where he just adds new heading willy nilly. Ignoring the arbitrary three part formula he usually uses.

Me: Damn right. This was a good time and it spanned the weekend so I want to share more of my experience than I usually do in case anyone is interested in doing the race themselves.

The race is set on Saturday in Douthat State Park, in Bath County, Virginia which is a four hour drive from Annapolis (without traffic) but before I roll straight into logistics and what not, let me back up and try to wrap some context around this…

This was a family affair. One of the things I really enjoy about Dan is his family – and his commitment to it, his wife Katie and her commitment to the family and Dan. They are often out of town, camping, exploring, racing, visiting…living. All of them. Two young boys, one dog and a puppy. That’s right – not “two dogs”. One dog and a puppy. It’s different. Not only that – Katie’s parents arrive at the park a day early, secure the campsite and then help with the kids and the dogs (plus their dog makes two and a puppy…)

OK – so back to logistics… With traffic it takes about 5 hours to get to the park from Annapolis give or take and since we were getting up early the next morning to run we didn’t want to be rolling into the park at night. So the move was to leave Annapolis around noon. The boys have school so waiting to put the whole gang in the van would put us dangerously close to missing the packet pickup window between 8pm and 9 pm.

Dan: Katie says we can leave before rush hour and she’ll follow with the boys after school – but we’ll need to take Highland.
Me: Silence. (Highland is the puppy.)
Dan: We can cover up the back seat. I know you love that car.
Me: Right…Well we can just take Mikey’s car! (I said as if I had just solved world hunger. Mikey just left for college and left their Ford Focus hatchback with me.)
Dan: Oh that’s better than taking your car.
Me: What? Is my car in the woods a little like putting on makeup before a run?
Dan: Kind of – also, there’s more room in the Ford.

I worked a half day from home and then met Dan at his place to pack up the car and hit the road. It’s just like commuting – but longer, and with a puppy. I half expected Highland to be up the entire trip. Bouncing from one window to the next. Back and forth. Back and forth. And he did that – a little bit. Every once in awhile he’d poke his nose up front – “Hey guys. What’s up. I’m Highland and I’m super cute. I’ll just be back here in case anyone wants to pet me.” But for the most part he just chilled out in the back seat.

Glamping

Before I knew it we had made our way the four hours plus one stop for essentials and were pulling in to Douthat State Park. We pulled into the visitors center and Dan went in to get a parking permit for the car while I held on to Highland.

When people see you standing with a puppy they want to talk to you – about the puppy. Everybody wanted to know how old he is – I had no idea. “He’s my my buddy’s puppy – I don’t know” was my clumsy answer. He’s 6 months give or take. I know this now – because it’s the first thing I asked dan when he emerged from the visitors center.

Parking permit in hand, we made our way to the camp site.

My parents were active Girl Scout leaders so I camped what felt like a lot when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because I was much younger then but it felt a LOT more like roughing it than this. I can remember hiking for MILES (at least 100 miles, probably more) from the car to the camp site when I was a kid. It was probably 100 yards but you know how it is when you’re a kid. Everything is bigger and you feel so much smaller. I think that’s why kids are so amazed at and excited by everything.

Here, we just pulled right onto the camp site. Very convenient. Bathrooms? Why yes – a 50 yard walk to the bathrooms (and separate showers) complete with hot water and electricity free from the influence of the elements – which is my fancy way of saying that the walls and doors were floor to ceiling keeping out the weather and the bugs.

It wasn’t long before we had the tent up and the car unloaded. Katie’s parents were there so we set off for some dinner.

The Run

The Odyssey Trail Running Rampage includes a 40 miler, Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, 6 Miler. You can read all about it and Oddessey Adventure Racing here but here’s the excerpt from the web site that caught my eye…

The loop will have a total elevation gain of 2700 feet over 13 miles, the majority of which will be gained in the first four miles.

The first four miles?! Yikes – that’s a little bit of climbing! I ran the half with Dan (one loop) and he ran the 6 miler with Katie afterwards.

I’ve only got a couple of longer trail races under my belt but from what I’ve read and in my limited experience they tend to be small laid back affairs. This is not to say that they aren’t well organized or that we’re kind of on our own out there in the woods just that I guess everyone knows that they’re going to be out there for a long time so no one seems to be in a hurry. (That’s race irony in case you missed it.)

Safety and planning were evident during the race briefing. The race director was super nice and was sure to explain the course, course marking and some of the hazards – including a fallen tree on the way up the mountain. He also warned us that since the trail was dry that there were a lot of downhill sections where the ground was loose.

“You’ll want to be real careful on your third lap ‘cus you’re gonna cramp up when you try to go under that thing…” (the tree) He wasn’t kidding – I only did one lap but that tree was a pain in the ass the first time – I can only imagine trying to get by it after running 26 miles…

Pre-race briefing

This run provided a variety of terrain and beautiful views. I tried to capture as much as I could but nothing is quite like being there especially in hurried moments with a cell phone camera. True to the description there was a LOT of climbing in the first few miles. We were eased into it with a fairly wide but rocky trail. There was a slight incline but the loose rocks really helped to set the tone of the race and remind me what level of focus would be required. The field separated pretty quickly with the faster folks out for time getting out ahead of folks who were there to admire the woods.

Then things got really steep really fast. If there were people still running – and I’m sure there were – they were ahead of me and Dan. I didn’t take a picture of it because – safety first – but this is the part of the trail where that tree had fallen.

The climb felt like it went on for forever. I tried to imagine doing all three laps and I quickly realized that I would need to train very differently than I would for a road race. I’d need more time on the trails and more time building strength. As I approach 50 the reality is that I have to work harder to maintain my muscle mass and strength. Not impossible but certainly a challenge. I mean – 40 miles to start. Then throw in this climb…

After the initial rocky section there were switchbacks to help us up. I started to catch a glimpse of the view through the trees.

The single track turned from a rocky mix to almost sandy at times. Dan had struck up a conversation with a couple folks in front of us who had run some of the same races he has in the past. I stared at the ground and tried to listen in so the time passed easily for me until finally we reached the high point. This wasn’t the scenic overlook at aid station 1 but I had to snap a picture.

After this the trail got VERY narrow and thank goodness the ground was firm otherwise I would have just slipped off the side of the mountain! We emerged from the tree cover and the vegetation changed as we ran along the ridge line. It looked very steep but Dan assured me that I wouldn’t fall *all* the way down – but I might roll my ankle so I should stay to the right. I did. I did not roll my ankle. (yay)

After some time we started a gentle descent and re entered the woods. People started passing us going the other direction as we approached the first aid station of the loop. We were about 4 miles in at this point. The station was at the end of a little out and back lined with a tall grass of sorts and the trees had thinned out again. After no time we came to the end of the the trail where there sat a small log cabin and a handful of volunteers with water and runners taking in the view. I took a few pictures of the runners that had been in front of us and they reciprocated and took a picture of Dan and I. Everyone was really nice.

There is no easy way up to this cabin but the volunteers had CARRIED water up so that we would have some hydration. Carried. Water. Up. A. Mountain. I’m not sure how many gallons of it but enough for all of us. It had to be a lot. I had a cup and thanked them for being there. After a minute or so of admiring the view we went yet again into the woods to begin the descent. This is the part of the trail we had been warned to be careful of the loose rocks. The rocks here were large enough to look solid but none of them were. Every step moved beneath my feet. My mind and my ankles were taking a beating – but it was FUN!

Coming down the mountain felt almost like dancing – no two steps being the same, falling at different times and in different ways created a complex never repeating rhythm. The variety and focus helped the time pass. I only wish I could have spent more time looking into the woods and not at Dans feet! The trail changed again from those large loose rocks to a smaller packed trail and we descended long easy switchbacks picking up the pace a bit. Nearing the bottom we came to these beautiful tunnels formed by rotodendrons.

The next several miles were pretty uneventful. The rotodendrons gave way to sparse woods and the fast descent was replaced with some nice rolling trail covered in a mix of sand and rock.

We left the trail and were delivered onto a fire road that took us right past the camp site! In another couple hundred yards we arrived at the second aid station – manned by a local boy scout troop – where we were greeted by Katie and one of the boys. This stop was NOT at the top of a mountain so they had the usual assortment of food. Potatoes, candy, cola, etc. I had some potatoes and cola – completely unnecessary for a half marathon – refilled my water bottle and we took off.

I hardly ever drink soda these days – but when you’re on the trail… it just tastes so good!

At this point we had about 4 miles and change to go. We ran for a really short time on the road and past the visitor center before turning back into the wilderness. I was just starting to think how nice it was to be on flat course and then, as if on cue, a shortish but VERY steep hill appeared. We walked a little. To avoid walking the whole time, we started picking landmarks to run to. I’m certain that if we were doing the 40 miler we would have walked more but we agreed that since we were doing the one loop we shouldn’t be as easy on ourselves.

After a couple miles we found ourselves on the road again running through campgrounds set up for folks with horses. I have never seen such a thing. Aid station number three was at the end of this campsite, manned by more boy scouts. I had some more cola and immediately regretted it. Maybe if I had put in a few more miles in between it would have been a better decision. Dan asked to pet one of the horses and they said sure!

And then into the woods we went – this time being careful not to step in any of the “road apples” left by those pretty horses.

The last few miles passed quickly. Well – in my head anyways. We followed the trail around a small lake and aside from me tripping on a foot bridge and almost falling into the water it was pretty uneventful. Before I knew it we were done. 13.4 miles in the books.

We didn’t stick around too long after we finished since we needed to get back to the camp site. Dan and Katie had an hour or so before the 6 miler would kick off and I… needed a shower before I hit the road.

Not the Run

I dropped Katie and Dan at the 6 miler and after the race started went back to the camp site to pack my things and get on the road back to Annapolis. As I was loading up I noticed people running past the camp site. It was the six milers! I did some quick math and realized if I waited a couple minutes I would catch Dan and Katie coming out of the woods – so I did.

Just a few weeks before this race I took a road trip in California with my kids and saw the Giant Redwoods and Half Dome and I told them that being there made me want to just take three months and do nothing but wander around in the wilderness.

I couldn’t help but wonder – Am I trying to escape from something or return to something?

Looking back on this race report and these pictures I think it’s neither. I think I’m just realizing how big the world is and how little I’ve seen of it. I want to see taller mountains and bigger canyons. Different cultures and ages of architecture. I know I probably won’t have time to spend truly learning any of it enough to do it justice but I think being exposed to it is important. I want to be in that state of wonder, of felling small in a big place – or a new place, to remind me to approach people with understanding. To be better. We’re all small in a big place but we have this tendency to forget that when we spend every day in the same place, doing the same things. We don’t grow living that way.

I’m lucky enough to have the first few couple of Maslow’s needs met, I have the time and energy to spare on being better. That’s how I want to spend it.

Next year I’m doing the 40 miler.