New Starting Lines?

“How do you know when it’s time to hang them up?”

Over recent years, I can recall a couple of my far more talented running friends wonder aloud this very sentiment that has been quietly festering in the back of my mind now for the last several months, or perhaps even longer. Either way, I finally had to acknowledge to myself the presence of such a question, even though it’s the one that I think that any runner at any level who has relentlessly pursued any goal–however realistic or not–are all most reluctant to say aloud, because there is always the question of are you giving up, or simply moving on? The latter is acceptable, the former is not, but it can sometimes be so hard to tell the difference. And then there is the question of do you really, truly, want to move on? Besides, it’s embarrassing, for lack of a better word, to acknowledge that we might have found some kind of limit, whether physical or mental.

It’s not as though I have ever made a living off of this sport. It’s not, and has never been, a “career” by a long shot. Although it did get really close a couple of times. Mostly, I just like doing it, and that’s always been the primary motive. Certainly, over the years I’ve been lucky enough to always have my shoe/gear needs taken care of, and very often race expenses as well, but I’ve only ever really been “sponsored” by a job and my own debit card. But it doesn’t really take away the mental, physical, and emotional time that has been spent on toiling after goals that never really have a guaranteed outcome. As much as we all love the process, a great outcome definitely reinforces that love. When the outcome is the desired one, it is so worth it, but when it’s not, and often repeatedly not, especially when you start “getting on in your years,” it can leave you wondering if perhaps it is time for a new starting line.

There is an old FloTrack interview featuring Kara Goucher, when she wrestled with the question of retiring from professional running several years ago. The question that made up her mind for her was when she was asked, “How does it feel to think about life without doing this?” (“This” being running for a living) and her response was:

“It makes me sad.”

Although her situation is obviously much different from most runners’ given that it is much more for her than just a passion and the pursuit of goals for the sake of seeing how good she could get, I think the feeling is pretty universal if you care at all about what you’re doing.

“It makes me sad.”

Yes, it makes me sad to think of not having having goals to chase after and the gamble of putting in effort in the hopes of eventually having your day, and then having it. I have yet to find really anything that provides the same satisfaction, I think that’s why so many of us keep at it for so long. And it makes me sad to think of not having that race day nervousness of anticipating seeing all of your hard work–that, better yet, never really felt all that much like work anyway–hopefully come to fruition, and it makes me sad to think of becoming a NARP (Non Athletic Regular Person), and it makes me sad to think of that huge part of my life maybe no longer being quite so huge anymore, I can’t really imagine life without it. And also wondering if there really were stones left unturned along the way that might’ve made all the difference. But, no answers can really come to that last question, and in any situation, I guess you can really only ever do what you know how to do with the information that you have at the time.

But the other side of the coin, the side that refuses to let “it makes me sad” be the answer, is one of frustration and a general feeling of complete ridiculousness. Frustration at how much you might be limiting other opportunities in life just by obsessively wanting to maintain a situation that creates an environment so that you might be able to have just ONE more good go at what you want to accomplish, frustration with the fact that it is always a gamble, frustration perhaps with an annoyingly slightly less-than-durable body, and all enveloped with a feeling of complete ridiculousness that you’re no longer fresh out of college with the running world as your oyster, so why are you endlessly trying to recreate that time of life?

And mostly, frustration at not knowing when it’s time to move on, because this thing made you YOU, and it is hard to cultivate a whole new identity.

Shucks. I got so much better at not overthinking this running/life thing for a while there.

Maybe my melancholy musings have been brought on by post-mountain-season blues, maybe I left my mojo up on Pikes Peak a few months ago or something, or maybe there have been too many solo runs on dark and cold mornings lately, or maybe it was the loss of a wonderful job and this subsequent feeling of being adrift and perpetually anxious and uncertain about a future that I thought I was finally starting to figure out, or the somewhat worriesome niggle that cropped up a few weeks ago that’s begun to suck the fun out of every recent run, all amplified by frustration at bearing witness to so much unfairness lately that it has made me wonder if it’s really worth ever fighting for anything…but now we’re just getting way too dark, so we’ll back on out of that particular rabbit hole. I should just stop reading the news. These other things are, after all, all mostly fixable and temporary things experienced by nearly everyone at some time or another, and I know that I am lucky to have ways of fixing them, even if those ways involve one of my least favorite activities: being patient.

Regardless, lately running has not been the comforting friend it has always been, rather, it is shrouded by a pervasive feeling of “going through the motions” just to create some feeling of normalcy. I don’t recognize that in myself, and I don’t know why it’s there, and it’s made the question of whether or not to “hang them up” rattle loudly around in my skull. I keep hoping for some sign or some divine intervention, even if it’s in the form of a divine kick in the ass. I keep thinking maybe if I close this door, a million other doors might open in its place, it wouldn’t be the first time.

But the thought of closing that door makes me sad, so maybe that’s the answer right there.

IMG_3539.JPGThe “bright side” to those dark, early morning runs.

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Shades of Green and Gorillas

    Nearing the end of my 31st trip around the sun, I’ve found myself in possibly the most peculiar season of life that I have ever encountered. I won’t go into great detail here, partly because I try to make these things relatable for like the two or three people who read them by “painting with broad strokes” if you will, but also partly because, truth be told, I would have a great deal of trouble articulating exactly what I mean. Furthermore, a blog is for public consumption, and we all have to draw the line somewhere.

    I run nearly every single mile totally solo. Not because I’m anti-social by any means, but because I savor solitude, and that solitude is also part of what keeps me excited and willing to spend the majority of every day interacting with people virtually non-stop. It also affords an opportunity to mull things over, chew on things, or sometimes just “run away” from things altogether for a little while. You know, like going running with your demons, and then they have an asthma attack a couple miles in, so then they leave you alone for the rest of the run. It’s great. There are few things in this life that running through the woods or mountains can’t solve, at least for a while. Whatever whirlwind you find yourself in in your life, it’s rare that running can’t bring you back to center.

    But for the last several weeks, being out on the trails and spending that time in my own head, which is normally my favorite part of the day, has felt more like running with a 500 pound monkey on my back (I believe that is otherwise known as a gorilla) just chattering away and slapping me with his stupid banana peels until I pay attention to him. He even comes along for races like a big a**hole, somewhat muting the extra bit of “umph” that gives you that extra gear in a race or workout. I hope he leaves soon.

    I am generally able to look at situations in life that maybe didn’t pan out ideally or at all how I expected them to, but still be able to find the positives. No matter what happens, there are nearly always silver linings, or at the very least, something to learn, even if the lesson is a painful one. That’s life, it’s not a merry-go-round all the time, and that’s okay. But sometimes, albeit (and thankfully) very rarely, a situation or thing has no real positives, no matter how you spin it. Just watch the news to see numerous examples in action. Perhaps something that seemed completely benign, even beneficial, ended up impacting your life in ways that never would’ve foreseen, and not for the better, and you’re left reeling and trying to figure out which way is north, and now with a gorilla on your back slapping you with banana peels like a big, furry, bastard. What makes it tougher is when you get real with yourself and realize that, while you initially may have only been guilty of things like naivety and perhaps an idealistic view of people and the world around you, you created said situation, however unwittingly. It is so, so easy to excuse ourselves and take no ownership when things go wrong; you screw up in a race and it’s tempting to blame a coach, you screw up in life and it’s tempting to blame circumstances out of our control. But at the end of the day, we make our own choices, for better or for worse. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and realize that you dug your own grave, and that can be one hell of a bitter pill to swallow.

     We are all guilty of always looking for the very greenest grass. It’s human nature to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side, or that everybody else’s grass is greener than ours. But I am starting to think that’s hardly ever true. Sometimes the grass is greenest right where you’re standing, even if there are some weeds to pull, and even if it’s not the exact type of grass that you thought you’d have. It doesn’t matter, if you find yourself with a plot of that grass, you water and fertilize the s**t out of it and see what grows anyway. Roll up those weeds and smoke them if you have to. If a wonderful opportunity is given to you on a silver platter, even if the platter has a stain, don’t throw it away for a silver platter that looks shinier, because it’s probably fake silver. Don’t fall for it.

      We all make mistakes, some bigger than others, some longer lasting than others, some more fixable than others, and you have to make peace with them and move on. You can either move on in bits and pieces, or rip off the Band-Aid all at once and bleed for a while until there is a scab, then try not to keep picking at the scab. I haven’t quite figured out which way is better, and I’m not particularly good at either.

    Dear Lord, enough with the melodramatic metaphors already. Somebody slap me. Just please not with a banana peel.

    At any rate, I’m thankful for health and for running and for the beautiful place that I get to live and run in, and for the second chances that seem to always materialize in some form or other eventually. In the meantime, if you see me running around with a gorilla on my back, don’t panic. In fact, feel free to join…and by all means bring your own gorilla.

Post-Pikes Post

‘Tis the most wonderful day (in Colorado Springs) of the year!

Seriously, I always liken PPA/PPM weekend in Colorado Springs to what the Boston Marathon weekend must feel like in Boston. Obviously this is much smaller scale, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Starting just about as soon as the snow melts off the summit of Pikes, no matter what day you’re up there, you’re likely to run into dozens of familiar faces flying down or climbing up Barr trail, and it’s all that’s talked about in the COS running world. Yep, it’s one helluva season.
Last Saturday, Ascent day dawned bright and sunny and was the perfect late August morning, with just the tiniest hint of fall in the air (for like the first half hour of the race anyway), with an awesome sunrise over Manitou while we all jogged and pranced around nervously near the starting line, taking way too many nervous-pee trips, and generally doing things that would normally be looked at with puzzlement and maybe disdain in any situation besides that of preceding a race.
I didn’t come into the race knowing much about who would show up. I deliberately avoid looking at start lists and have done so since college, because I admit to getting overly nervous about basically everything, and that doesn’t ever help anything. But I knew plenty of talent was bound to show up regardless, and I never count anybody out or write anybody off (including myself). You just never know will happen, you never know who will have a great day, or who will have a rough go, and Pikes never seems to cease tossing curveballs.
Anyway, after lots of good luck wishes thrown around at the start line, the A wave got lined up, the gun went off and, wanting to not get bottlenecked in at the start of the W’s, mixed in with the men I ran with Anna Mae and Brandy Erholtz, slightly behind Addie Bracy and further behind the eventual winner, who I didn’t recognize, and we got out well but not crazy by any means.
It’s always fun running through the streets of Manitou with lots of spectators lining both sides of the street. It’s quite the electrifying environment. After we climbed Ruxton and hit the trail, we sort of lollygagged–but at a decent clip–up the W’s, since it can be a tricky section where you’re fresh enough to push hard, but its not a great place to go totally bananas and waste energy, because it’s steep and there is a looong ways to go. It was awesome to see Kim Dobson cheering at one of the turns early on, she had a baby in May, so she wasn’t here for us to chase this time.
I had set a goal of just being better than 2014. That is to say, I wanted to place higher than 3rd, or go sub 2:40, or both. But, turns out that I did neither. Interestingly, the ol’ lungs and ticker felt pretty darn good from start to finish (I mean, good for Pikes) I was working, but not down in the bottom of a deep, dark well, which sometimes happens up there.
Training and racing on Pikes is the only time in running that I ever experience any type of cramping. Generally though, if I’m running from base to summit, it’s right around A-Frame, and by that point, who even cares? Just suck it up for the last 5k. But today, it started riiiiight about…mile 4.5, shortly after the W’s. Which seemed early. Uh-oh.
First my calves got twitchy, then took turns knotting themselves up into Charlie horses every time I took a misstep, plantar flexed an ankle just a bit too much, or took a big step up onto a rock. It would last a few seconds where I’d hobble like a peg-legged pirate, and then would go away and then I’d run like a normal human again. It was more annoying than anything. And in a way, it took my focus off of the actual racing-hurt, because I was more concentrated on where and how to step to avoid making either calf decide to irritatingly spasm.
Oh good, only 9 more miles to go!
But whatever. Definitely manageable and aside from that, I was feeling good. Still, all I could think of was that at packet pick up the day before, I declined a free sample bottle of Hot Shot, like a big dummy. Soon, I watched the Salomon pink forms of Anna Mae and Addie gradually frolic away through the woods like tiny blonde forest-dwelling elves with flowing locks as we approached mile 5 or so, and I figured my goal of top 3 might not happen, but I wasn’t really worried, there’s still a ways to go so keep fighting the fight and never say die! Anything can still happen.
I snagged Gatorade from the volunteers (BLESS THEIR SOULS!) at the Barr Camp aide station, and it helped quite a bit for the climb up to A Frame, where my hip flexors were starting to join the party, which is normal for me at that point in the race, and I grabbed more Gatorade from the volunteers (BLESS THEIR SOULS!) at the A-Frame aid station.
Nonetheless, the crampage-rampage escalated a bit running through the “kitty litter” like sand that comprises the majority of the final 3 miles. I was lucky enough to catch up to Jesse Mascarenas and another gentleman who I didn’t know and ran with them the majority of the way to the summit, it would have been so much tougher in no (wo)man’s land, so I owe those boys big time. Still, breathing-wise I felt good enough (again, as good as one can feel up there), and my brain was actually decently functional enough to register a kazoo, a t-Rex, and Anna Frost. Brain functionality over the last couple miles was definitely not my jam last time I raced this. And while I was certainly tired by this point because this race is a real ball-buster, more than anything I was just frustrated that the legs weren’t on board with the brain, and I’m pretty sure the guys I was running with were slightly surprised every time my calf or quad seized up and I yelped out the F-bomb (probably 20 times over the course of the last 3 miles…sorry guys). Jesse, meanwhile, was high-fiving spectators right behind me like a champ. After all was said and done, it was a fourth place effort in 2:52-high. 
Afterward, while I was laying in the parking lot (yes I did) in Glen Cove down below with my friend and PPA veteran extraordinaire Simon, waiting for the ride the remainder of the way down and likely appearing strung out on those cool shrooms growing up by Barr Camp (what was really in the Gatorade at that aid station?), I picked apart some stuff. Rather than post-race in 2014 when admittedly my thoughts at this point were, “I’m probably not doing that again,” this time I was devising ways to do it again and better.
I wasn’t disappointed so much, I mean, sometimes there isn’t a whole lot else you can do, but I was still looking for errors. Maybe I didn’t spend enough training time on really steep stuff? Maybe I didn’t do enough long runs? Maybe I should’ve eaten more gosh darn bananas that week? Maybe it really was as everybody said: the barometric pressure! The impending eclipse! The planetary alignment! No, seriously I think maybe I had some training oopsies and/or shouldn’t just tank up on water for two days preceding the race. But who knows? It’d be cool if every race was a guaranteed great one, but that would eliminate half the battle, and that’s no fun.
So, like I said, Pikes is tough and throws curveballs and keeps you on your toes and that’s why we all love her. Although I seem to vaguely recall a friend asking me at the finish if I needed anything, to which I replied, “Yes. My soul. I think I lost it down near A-Frame.” Before that interaction, the first words out of my mouth to Tim B. after crossing the line were, “This mountain is a real son of a b****.” No but seriously, we really do love her in some twisted, maniacal way. Why else would we keep coming back?
So, maybe it wasn’t the day that I wanted. Truthfully, I really believed I could win the thing and went in with that intention, knowing it was anybody’s race. But you can only do what you can do and that’s just how it goes and you roll with the punches and be grateful for what went right and learn from what went wrong, and plenty of things have gone right. On top of that and maybe more importantly, having spent this season following numerous peoples’ “Pikes Peak Quests” if you will, I realize that my bad day would be many peoples’ best day. And I don’t mean that in a bragging sense, so let me explain. Running well takes a great deal of hard training, but it also takes a great deal of luck, opportunity, God-given talent, and, let’s be real, genetics. I don’t consider myself to be an “elite” in this sport, but I still know how fortunate I am to consider my day to be sub-par, because somebody else would be completely over the moon for it. I know so many folks who were happy just to finish, and I see their excitement and gratitude at accomplishing it, so I’m just gonna be amped that I’m healthy and running and thankful for another Pikes in the books. It was as amazing of an experience as it always is, podium or not.
Still, me and Pikes have some unfinished business now, so I guess I’ll have to have another crack next year.
Keep fightin’ the fight folks, it’s all you can ever do. Always better days ahead.

‘Tis the Season

bighornsI remember my first trip up to train on the summit of Pikes back in the summer of 2014 one morning shortly after Mt. Washington, and glancing up to see my first bighorn sheep up close as I was picking my way across the Cog Railroad tracks up top to descend on to the trail below. On my first trip up there this year, there wasn’t just one sheep, but a whole herd, complete with baby bighorn sheep (bighorn lambs?). If I believed in omens, which I don’t, I would hope that would be a sign of bighorn sheep caliber mountain running prowess to come. Regardless, every trip up the Peak is always an adventure.

This season hasn’t seen quite the number of trips up Pikes as my last go-around training for this thing. Work obligations have often whisked me away to other areas. But hey, can’t run up Pikes Peak? There’s always Aspen Mountain, Vail Mountain, or even Sandia Peak in the event one finds oneself in New Mexico, and others. So, it’s easy to improvise wherever I find myself. Although the slightly more obsessive side of myself was initially annoyed at the fact that I might not know every inch of the course this year, I’ve found lots of solace in the fact that last time I raced this, the two ladies who trounced me (hi, Allie and Morgan!) spent minimal to no time up there. And having only raced it once, I’ve been told by numerous veterans that they in fact raced better the years they didn’t spend as much time training on the mountain.

But I figure I should make the most of the time that I do get to spend up there. I did a slew of workouts up there training for this last time, at least two a week for the couple of months leading up to the race, but I really don’t recall what all they were or what times I was shooting for or ended up running or what, so…blank slate to work with here. All I really remember is that I was a hurting unit starting at about 12,000 feet during the race.

I’m certainly no exercise physiologist, and I “coach” myself, for better or for worse. In an effort to avoid overthinking, I decided that I should just do a bunch of hard things at that elevation and above and see how it works out. I mean, at the end of the day that’s the name of the game right? Run hard uphill up high. I think I can already run uphill, but can I run uphill when there is no air in the air? I struggle. But don’t we all. So let’s work on that.

So there’s been a lot of things along the lines of: start at summit, warm up running down to A-Frame (during which time I acquire even more respect for those brave souls willing to tackle the Marathon. Running downhill is hard.), run hard back up to the summit, go back down to A-Frame, run hard from 3 to go to 2 to go, recover for 3 minutes or so, then 2 to go to 1 to go, recover again, and finally 1 to go to the finish. Or my other favorite: start at summit, run the 6 miles down to Barr Camp, tempo run the 3 miles back up to A-Frame, recover for a few minutes, then do second half of the previously mentioned workout to the finish. Whatever. Just run uphill hard at the elevations you struggle the most.

The same thought always crosses my mind up there:

“Can’t tell if suddenly really out of shape, or trying to run hard up a mountain at 14,000 feet. Eff.”

Another thing sort of messing with my head (let’s face it, is anything ever going to not mess with my head?!) is the overall less volume of mileage run this time around in comparison to a couple years ago. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of miles going into the bank, but in spending the last several months reassessing how to train a bit better without always winding up perpetually banged up, sometimes you have to think up other ways to skin the cat. In this case, running just enough miles–no “fluff” miles and no running for running’s sake just because I can’t control myself–and then spending several additional hours a week cross training pretty hard. I have no idea how this will translate, or even if it will, and talk is certainly cheap, but regardless, I feel darn good. But maybe too good. And what if I shouldn’t feel good? Oh crap. We’ll see. We are each an experiment of one I suppose.

Anyway, however much I love being on the mountain, my old friends the Sixteen Golden Stairs are as annoying as ever. Yes, scrambling over a pile of boulders a couple hundred meters from the finish sort of cramps my style (that’s really just a nice way of saying, “Help. I’m really uncoordinated and fall on things a lot.”), and I know on race day it will be even more of a booger given the added state of hypoxia combined with the 13 uphill miles that will already be in the legs by that point. I can always think of numerous adjectives to describe said stairs, none of which would be “golden.” Also, I still think the name is misleading and it’s a bit of a mystery to me as to how it acquired such a namesake. I believe one of the following would be more accurate:

  1. Stairs?
  2. Leaden Legs
  3. Elephant on Chest
  4. Rocks.
  5. No air, don’t care! JK yes I do.

I jest. I’m not really a big whiner. At least I try not to be. It just wouldn’t be our beloved Ascent without looking up to see the finish line (or in the Marathoners’ case, the turnaround) after conquering those Golden Stairs.

Yes folks, ‘tis the season! May the marmots keep on chirping and the bighorns keep on grazing. T-Minus-Less-Than-A-Month and it’s go time. I’m excited. Run on, fellow mountain goats!16 golden

On Super Mario and Mt. Washington

I really thought that I would have loads to say after Mt. Washington a few weekends ago. It was, after all, anxiously anticipated by me for weeks. And months. And to sort of a weirdly obsessive extent. There have really only been a couple of previous occasions where I was as nervous as I was on race day this go-around, given that the ultimate goal for the last couple years was to win it again, and one only has so much control over an outcome.

So pop quiz: what do Super Mario and Mt. Washington have in common? About as much as you may think. In other words, nothing really. But, descend with me for a moment, into the black hole of lunacy otherwise known as my imagination.

For months this race loomed in my psyche in much the same way as—bear with me for a moment here, I’m trying real hard to convey the feeling adequately—the inevitable duel that Super Mario knew that he would eventually be subject to with King Bowser in level 8 of the original Super Mario Brothers. Mario spends level after level fighting small fry mariovillains: those little turtles and evil mushrooms (I’ve never understood the recurring mushroom theme in that game) and Venus fly traps and whatever else (I really don’t remember, I mean, this was the 90’s folks, and I was like 5 years old.) all so that he can take on Bowser and rescue the Princess!

Now to complete my weird analogy: I ran a bunch of workouts and local races (that is to say, I fought evil mushrooms and winged turtles, metaphorically speaking) for several months, with some good ones in there that buoyed me up like an Extra-Life, and a few bad ones and occasional bumps in the road that necessitated going back and starting the level over again, all in the hopes of ultimately defeating King Bowser (Mt. Washington).

And I did, and I didn’t die and get a Game Over, and finally I rescued the Princess instead of being thwarted by a diaper-wearing toadstool:princess

Forgive me. I really had to reach for all of that. But that is what it felt like.

No but in all seriousness, let’s talk reality for just a sec, even though I suck at that. Although I promise to spare everyone an actual mind-numbing race recap.

Race day was a wonderful day accompanied by the usual abundance of wonderful humans who always seem to be a part of that particular race, though with a  notable few missing (Kim Dobson and Peter Maksimow to name a couple from the usual crew of Coloradoans). Times were a fair bit slower across the board for everybody, likely attributed to the warm and somewhat muggy conditions of race day. I’m also told there was an “inversion.” I don’t know what that means. For a mountain that boasts the highest recorded wind-speeds on earth, there wasn’t a puff of wind to be found either above or below treeline. Still though, it’s always easy to say you could’ve run faster if this or that, and that might be true, or it might not be. Because really, if it wasn’t hot and humid, it could’ve been hurricane-caliber winds, or snow, or who knows what else. Everyone fights the same conditions, all you can ever do is show up and throw down. Bowser don’t care.

Cool. So now I just said all of that right after I began this post with the claim that I didn’t really have anything profound to say regarding the race. Super Mario analogy aside, I suppose the reason I feel that way is because I anticipated it so much for so long, and felt like I had so much to prove to myself (namely, to prove to myself that I still had “it.” Whatever “it” actually even is.). I suppose I thought that accomplishing what I had made a pact with myself to achieve about this time last year, would somehow be a total game-changer. And I did feel pretty good about it, it’s always comforting to find in this sport that yes, you can have a crummy year or two or five, but you can always get back on the horse and keep fighting the fight and you’ll be A-Okay, and maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising when it happens.

While I enjoyed it, and was happy about it, and thankful for it, and I appreciated it, and I fully intend to do it again, I went back home afterward and it was business as usual. While I’m sure Mario’s winning the heart of Princess Peach following his epic battle might have altered the course of his pixelated life, a much-anticipated race followed by an equally anticipated outcome does not. At one time, a good race result certainly would have dictated how I felt about life, but now it doesn’t. Perhaps that sounds like a bad thing? It’s not. Hooray for personal happiness and self-identity not being inextricably intertwined with a race outcome. That’s how I see it at least. So, I suppose that there was at least one slight epiphany that resulted from the experience.

But, for anybody else who was a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s, we all know that Bowser just never really seemed to die and he just kept popping up in every sequel to kidnap the Princess again.

And sometimes, more often than not, as it turns out, we find that we are our own “Bowsers.”

Onward to the next level!bowser.png

Heroes and Tweets

“If you ever catch yourself describing someone’s effort in an optional running competition as ‘heroic,’ consult a dictionary.”

This sentiment jumped out at me one day as I mindlessly perused the social media time toilet (except, isn’t all social media a time toilet?) that is Twitter. I stumbled upon this aforementioned Tweet the same night where, earlier, while eating dinner with two work colleagues, the subject of Tiger Woods’ recent DUI came up, along with the topic of Michael Phelps getting busted for pot a few years ago.

“We really put all those guys on a pedestal,” one of the guys I was with remarked.

And it’s true, we put them on a pedestal, make them our “heroes”, and then they can do no wrong as far as we’re concerned. And if they do, all of our minds are blown and it’s like this huge scandal. But it got me wondering, and certainly not for the first time, but why? Why do we make any athlete or athletic endeavor out to be somehow heroic? Sure, most athletic feats—whether it’s the outrageous ability to endure prolonged extreme discomfort and the endlessly repetitive training that comes with endurance sports, or the astonishing agility and precision acquired from years of honing the proprioception and hand-eye coordination necessary to succeed in many other sports—are really impressive. But, at the end of the day, what does it really do for anybody else? Why do we laud people at the top of the game, any game really, as supposed heroes?

Now, this “pedestal phenomenon” I suppose I will call it, is perhaps a post for another day given that although it’s related, in this case it’s slightly off topic (me? Off topic? Never!). For now, the question remains: is there anything heroic about any athletic pursuit?

It would seem so, as much as we hero-worship the most successful among athletes. You don’t have to spend all that much time in any sport, at any level, to catch of glimpse of this. But none of this really entered my mind until a few years ago when, following a good mountain season, Joe Gray, Allie McLaughlin, and myself were awarded the “Spirit of Colorado Springs” award, and by the mayor no less! And I remember standing there after awkwardly (awkwardness in social situations is to be expected from me, naturally) shaking the mayor’s hand, holding this super rad glass plaque, and thinking it was all pretty cool and all, but also sort of thinking, “Um, what?” I mean, we all ran up a few good-sized hills pretty adeptly, but none of us could boast of saving babies or kittens from burning buildings. Unless there is something about Joe or Allie that I don’t know. They’re both pretty great, so there very well might be. So maybe I should just speak for myself there actually. No rescued babies or kittens or otherwise noble deeds on my end, sorry.

Anyway, that incident is obviously quite miniscule and nowhere near the scope of the athletic accomplishments of many of those whom we slap the “hero” label upon after their latest and greatest seemingly inhuman feat, but you get the idea.

In any case, circling back around the present and my mindless perusal of Twitter. It’s possible I took this particular Tweet a bit out of context, but regardless, stumbling upon it immediately following the previously mentioned dinner conversation got the gears turning upstairs, and I decided to follow the instructions conveyed within said Tweet, and consult a dictionary to perhaps better grasp this word, “heroic,” to better determine if any of us who voluntarily subject ourselves to self-induced suffering in the form of running, are really ever deserving of such a description.

He-ro-ic

Adjective

  • Having the characteristics of a hero or heroine; very brave.

This definition then necessitated that I look up the word “hero”.

He-ro

Noun    

  • A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.
  • A submarine sandwich.

Sandwiches aside, for the most part these definitions do indeed aptly describe a lot of seemingly inhuman humans who dominate the sporting world, and even those who don’t but who maybe broke through a bunch of their own barriers to achieve something great they never dreamed of, even if it was something as humble as breaking five hours in a marathon, or the one time pack-a-day smoker who now runs 100 mile ultra-marathons in respectable times. There is, after all, something about being willing to very intentionally step far—very, very far–out of your comfort zone to see what you’re capable of doing, that brings the word “courageous” to the forefront of my mind.

IMG_2625

Heroic? I think yes.

But nonetheless, I still absolutely get what Tweeter McTweety is getting at. To be quite honest, there is a certain something that bothers me to some extent, to see this or that Flavor of the Week athlete being hoisted upon a pedestal, thrust into the limelight, and touted as a hero for doing something like running far or swimming fast or hitting a ball. Heroic? Regardless of the level, is it really? I mean, back in the day, a hero was the knight that saved the village and all of the damsels in distress from the fire breathing dragon, not somebody who ran fast around an oval quite literally going nowhere fast.

But conversely, and I can only speak of the running world given that’s all I really pay attention to, there is also something that makes your hair stand on end just a little bit seeing somebody battle it out and win at the highest levels, where you can tell that the battle is just as much internally with themselves as it is externally with the rest of the field. There is something, yes, heroic about their efforts.

IMG_2627

Tonia Smith…look her up. Heroic? You better believe it.

I do however, tend to see more real heroism down the ladder a few rungs, not always necessarily in the realm of the super-elite, but in a lot of folks who’ve successfully run from (or perhaps with) their demons, slayed their dragons, and conquered their mountains, so to speak. I know a number of folks like that, and I’d absolutely say they’re my heroes. This is however less because of their running feats, even though they are in and of themselves quite impressive, and more because of the platform that they’ve inadvertently used their running for, which is, more often than not, essentially to give a big “F*CK YOU” to some circumstance or other that has effectively stacked the odds against them and rendered it so that perhaps they really don’t have all that much business doing what they’re doing, and they have shown that, come what may, you can choose to frankly not give a damn and go for it anyway, letting the chips fall where they may. Oftentimes, bearing witness to those feats is all the impetus that’s needed to get us through our own rough patches in life.

So I suppose that after chewing on this for a bit (a “bit” being about 1,200 words now), I’d conclude from my own ridiculous musings that there is absolutely a certain degree of heroism that you see, at all levels, in the athlete realm, regardless of the fact that any suffering experienced as a result is definitely voluntary and sought out.

I don’t necessarily deem somebody who just *wins-wins-wins* all the time as being “heroic” just for the sole reason of notching all of those victories. As much as I admire their consistency and hard work, I certainly don’t see them as worthy of being idolized and placed on a pedestal, although it seems to be human nature to do that to anybody achieving seemingly impossible things, even when they didn’t ask for such admiration, which they very often don’t. Ultimately, they’re just another person with a God-given talent that they discovered, chose to hone to a fine point, and then got some luck and opportunity along the way. I think it’s more what they end up conveying to the world through this particular ability that determines “heroism.”

That said, I do see truly genuine heroism in people who, often unintentionally, use their athletic achievements, regardless of how great or humble, as a platform to convey a much larger, and often unspoken, message. Those are the people whose success I like following the most. Flowery as it sounds, there often isn’t enough inspiration out there nowadays, and there aren’t a lot of literal dragons to slay, so we have to take what we can get where we can get it. In any given race, you usually don’t have to look far.

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Mic drop.

Oodles of Uphill

The latter half of May heralds my favorite season of the year: Oodles of Uphill Season!

Yes, on the docket for Oodles of Uphill Season this year are the Black Canyon Ascent, which was last Saturday, Mt. Washington in a bit over three weeks, Vail Hill Climb in early July, followed by the Rendezvous Hillclimb in Jackson Hole later in the month to, um, warm up for the Pikes Peak Ascent later in August, then Mt. Baldy in California on Labor Day, followed by the Boulder Mountain Marathon (the 10 mile ascent part of it) at some point in September.

Told you there was oodles of uphill. Yay.

Black Canyon was…a surprise that maybe I shouldn’t have that been surprised by. I managed to work the race into a work trip on one of my (many) favorite loops in the territory: Buena Vista to Salida to Gunnison to Crested Butte back down to Montrose then out to Grand Junction then back down through Montrose out to Telluride and Ouray. I like to use Montrose as a little hub to do trips out to Telluride and Ouray as well as Grand Junction if I’m not coming from the Vail direction, and Black Canyon sits right on the outskirts of town, so it worked.

Tech rep or paid vagrant? It’s a toss-up!

Ouray

Just outside of Ouray: this is why Colorado is neat.

Anyway, despite the warm spring weather in the weeks preceding the race, we got a nice little spring blizzard of sorts the couple of days before, and even though it cleared off, race day was a chilly one. I always like going out to Black Canyon because it’s like little reunion of People Who Only Like to Run Up Things. I warmed up with Simon Gutierrez, Mary Baldwin, Josh Eberly, and CJ Hitz, and unfortunately Brandy Erholtz was down for the count with a stomach bug, Kim Dobson had a baby three weeks ago, Neal and Amy McDonagh also had a recent visit from the stork, and Peter Maksimow is nursing an injury. So the reunion was smaller than normal.

After all was said and done, I finished a measly four seconds off of my best time there and well, it buoyed me a up bit and was even sort of a relief in a way. After sort of just lollygagging around for the better part of 2016 running-but-not-really-training, I got pretty amped to learn that “it” may just still be in there. A great many of my battles are mental ones (do we even need to go there? No sir, we do not.) and I always wonder if I’m doing enough or not enough or straight up doing it wrong. Doing the ol’ lone wolf thing as far as training goes–which I’ve always enjoyed because it takes a certain sort of stress out of it and also really appeals to the introvert side of myself–definitely comes with the caveat of having to keep yourself honest, and you only really have yourself and your own feelings and experiences to gauge off of, for better or for worse. So, to know I wasn’t too terribly far off the mark made me pretty happy.

BCA

The “podium.”

But, I’m not really into talking a good game, anybody can do that. Talk is cheap as we all know. It was one race after all, and just a little guy. Mt. Washington will be a lot more telling, with my only goal being to bring my very best A-Game and let the chips fall where they may. Whatever happens, it will be a great day on the mountain, it always is.