Saturday, August 20, 2011

Where My Spirit Roams, On Mountains, High

OK so I just stole a line from a Joe Cocker song and changed it. Bad form for a blog, I know. And yet, I wasn't sure what to call this post, exactly. On the one hand, I'm going to write about the race I'm in tomorrow-- about how nervous I am and how I wish I knew that I could do these things I sign up for-- and do them well. But I also want to write about the 18-mile trail run I did yesterday and the two subjects seemed so different, I needed a type of musical overture to link them.

But then, I sat here tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard, I realized these things are related, very closely, in fact. So closely I can't tell the difference any more. And perhaps it's about time I could.

When I first started running three years go, I made a habit out of doing my long runs on various trails around the Tahoe Basin. At first, this was for purely motivational purposes: I told myself "if you run X miles, you can do it in a pretty place whereas if you run less, you have to do the same old route you do everyday." I don't know if I would have gotten in those 2-4 hour efforts if it hadn't been for the trails I discovered.

I went back to one of those trails yesterday to do an 18-miler. As far as trails go, it's my very favorite. Aspens line the first four miles that, if you catch them at the right instant in the fall, are all ablaze in golden yellow and burnt umber. Then, there's the western shore of Marlette Lake you trace until you come to the Flume Trail-- where the timber that fed the Comstock was cut and put into a water trench-- the Flume-- and jettisoned to Carson and Virginia City where it was used to support the various gold and sliver mines there. Now, it's a trail that cuts into the side of the Tahoe Basin, offering panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and the wide Sierra sky, above.

Yes, it's beautiful. But it's also hard as hell. That first four miles is like a kick to the gut. You start at Spooner Summit (7,000 feet and change) and climb into the 8,000s. Then, down again (but not as much) to Marlette and finally to the Flume where you sort of bob between the high 7,000s and low 8,000s. And, if you do an out and back (like I was) you get the joy of climbing that glorious hill again-- only the second time around on legs that have 12-15 miles on them. In other words, it's a challenging run no matter how you slice it.

And slice it I did, yesterday. All I can say is "Oi!" That was HARD. 

Luckily, a group of collegiate runners joined me around mile 15 and lifted my spirits. A dozen glistening, shirtless and fat-free young men emerged from the woods as I rounded a bend, and I thought of that song, "Hallelujah! It's raining men!" For the final three miles, I had something to chase. :-)

Joking aside, back before I was racing, I told myself that mountains would teach me to run. At the time, I didn't know how right I was: mountains have not only taught me to run, but to live. If you've ever run up difficult terrain, you know what I mean when I say it's EFFING hard.

You can't seem to breathe enough and your legs-- once springy-- have turned themselves into motionless lead weights. But up you go. If you're anything like me, you might want to stop. Your brain will say: "Stop, fool. Your heart rate is at 190 and you might just keel over and die." But, you keep going anyway. Someone may pass you. Many people may. And you might tell yourself how slow you are and how pointless the pain you are in is. But you still keep going. You cheer yourself on.  You crest the summit.

And here's the thing: life is full of mountains. Maybe more metaphorical than actual ones. But there's always that challenge that hurts you in some way. And you will want to quit because you feel as though you aren't doing well. Those are the times you have to look within yourself for that firm resolve that tells you to keep on, no matter what the outside world says or does. That's how you accomplish dreams. You have to keep on trying despite the discomfort.

And so, tomorrow, I'm going to compete in an open-water swim race. I'm nervous--despite my current swim practice of 3 x week in the pool with a master's team-- I'm still slightly afraid of water. But, those mountain trail runs have taught me that there are mountains, too, in lakes and pools. Times you wish you could just give up.

Don't. Keep at it.

Keep at it.

That's my mantra.

Don't stop. Never, ever stop.

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