Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hurts So Good

Shannon, me, Chessa, Nathan

This past Tuesday I did my usual round-trip 20k run up and down Mountain Highway. As it was post-Kneeknacker and pre-White River 50mile, it was a sparse group. We started our run at 5:15am, which is not a ridiculous time to a triathlete. To be exact, there were three of us - myself, Craig, and Shannon. Craig and Shannon are doing Transrockies Run 3, and are both excellent triathletes who have been logging some serious bike mileage, on top of other ridiculous workouts. However, I'd been doing a lot of trail running, and uphills, so I was feeling pretty confident in my ability to run well.

That confidence ended in the first 5 minutes when Craig dropped me decisively going uphill. Alright, well, Shannon was still behind me, still feeling good. Mountain Highway just goes and goes: an endless series or runnable and identical switchbacks. The first 7k is a steeper grade, then it levels out for a bit. At 5k, my head wandered: this was long, I was tired, my breathing was heavy. As my thoughts got less and less focused, Shannon blew by me. I tried to match her pace, but couldn't.

reality check 
As I trudged up the switchbacks, watching her blue shorts get farther and farther ahead, it hit me: this was how I'd been showing up in training the past couple months. Things hurt, I was tired, I felt slow: I thought this meant I needed to slow down more, was concerned something was wrong. The only thing wrong was perhaps my choice of hobby: putting in 100k week after 100k week of climbing and trails isn't exactly a relaxing exercise. My body was telling me I was fine, but it was my head that was trying to convince me that it wasn't. 

my warm up take as long as the second coming and need an equivalent amount of faith
I always take forever to warm up - well, forever to me is 45-60 minutes (redheads are impatient!). I used to be able to trust in my body at this point: it hurt, I kept going, the speed came, and I'd feel better. Somewhere along the way, though, I'd gotten soft. My long runs with friends had walk breaks, had gel breaks, had a lot of rests on the uphills. Which is fine - the runs also had great chats and amazing views. The issue was, the training didn't happen. The issue also was - I like pushing, too. When things get tired, when my breath gets jagged and my lungs ache, it's a choice: to stop, to rest, to feel safe - or to find out what's on the other side.

Mt. Hood 50
I raced a 50miler near Mt. Hood a couple weeks ago. I went down with my best friend Lucy, and my running partner Barry. The first 60km were enchanted: running along cruising, sun-dappled singletrack trail with views of Mt. Hood. I knew the course was flatter, so I ran pretty much every uphill. And then, with about 20km of mostly downhill to go, I started to feel very nauseous. I walked the last uphill – okay, it’s completely legitimate to walk an uphill. Then the trail flattened out, I tried to run. If anything, that made the nausea worse. I walked some more. The trail started on a lovely, gentle downhill. I walked that too. I remembered an article about throwing up – “stomach resetting”. That sounded promising – who doesn’t want a reset? I tried, and tried to make myself throw up in hopes of feeling better. Finally, it worked, kind of. I felt a bit better, and mostly still empty.

I finished the race in 8:20, 3rd place. Any race in a beautiful area where I finish uninjured is a huge blessing, and I am grateful. The final portion, though, was a struggle.

let's be honest
With every race that doesn’t go as planned, there are so many excuses: the heat, trying new gels, the longer climbs. In the end, for me, it was a couple things. I paced it wrong, going out hard and trusting my body to hold on. And, in my training, I had gotten soft. Where before, I had trained hard to have an extra gear in races, this time I didn't have one.

The rest of the weekend was amazing – in Portland with great company, spending hours in vintage record stores, clothing boutiques, and drinking in the lazy sunshine. Lucy took her first family-less trip to come down, and it was a huge honour that she chose to join our adventure! (Plus she was an amazing Portland tour guide and travel buddy).

Lucy and I in record-store heaven

I had some time to think about what I wanted out of training, and myselfIt made me respect that I need to actually take an offseason this year. It made me respect my body, and the strong bones I have. It also forced me to look at some uncomfortable things: I can only race as hard as I train.

I want to feel uncomfortable
Running fast to me can’t be about doing well in races – I want the clean hard hurt, the faint metallic taste and the shake that comes with riding the line of my abilities. I want to keep going when things get tough, and I want to chase faster people uphill, downhill. I want to do this as a way of giving thanks for the gorgeous area I run in and the power in my body. For the amazing people that get out of bed too early to do this with me.

So since the 50miler, I made a choice: on the right days, to find that joyful hurt and commit. And, on Mountain Highway, as I watched Shannon disappear, I reached inside myself. I remembered - I like doing this. I exhaled, I pumped my arms, I said a little prayer for the luxury of being out with friends, surrounded by trees and mountains with the beginnings of sunrise. And I worked, and worked some more, to catch her. And together, both of us finished the 10k uphill.

Power couple - they even colour-coordinated! 
let's do this
This past weekend I did two back-to-back runs. Saturday morning the thought of even one run seemed beyond me. I wanted to bail. Then, I showed up anyways. I turned off my head, and let my body go. We ran / hiked Coliseum on Saturday. The views were amazing, and the downhills were a joy. On Sunday, I ran the Garibaldi traverse (point-to-point, Helm Creek to Rubble Creek trailheads) with my Transrockies teammates Shannon and Chessa. The climb was hard, and
Chessa and our friend Nathan disappeared ahead. I didn’t get discouraged. Shannon and I took turns leading, and after about an hour, caught back up. After that, surrounded my far-off glaciers, a looming Black Tusk, and huge meadows, how my lungs were feeling didn’t really matter. I trusted my body, and my body trusted me back: I warmed up, and had an amazing run chasing two very fast ladies down to Garibaldi Lake, then down the trail to the parking lot. None of us had Garmins, and none of us really knew our time – we just knew the sharp joy that comes from jumping over logs, on top of rocks, and being on the edge of our limits. We finished dusty, sweaty, and excited for the next time. 

And the beauty is - I don't need a race, don't need a medal to feel this way. I need a clear head, some trail friends, and a beautiful place to explore.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Sea Change

"....a sea change / into something rich and strange."

This past Friday morning Matt and I went out running in the North Vancouver forest. It's my taper week, so I told him I wanted an easy run. To his credit, parts of it were easy, and parts of it we were even able to run. He wouldn't tell me the route beforehand, just that we were going to see two really cool parts of the North shore.

We met up like we always meet up - at the highest legal parking area on the base of Mountain Highway. Matt gave more information: there would be some uphill, and it would be quite technical. I mentally cursed wearing my most lightweight trail shoes. We started to jog up mountain highway, as always, me gasping for breath and wondering how long until the grade felt easier. Then, suddenly, we took a side trail and were completely alone, surrounded by trees and pre-dawn quiet.

The trail was visible, but overgrown: littered with fallen logs, rocks, and deadfall in parts, and barely hikeable, let alone runnable. Other parts had us running on old cedar planks, half-covered by pine needles, with the milky pre-dawn light filtering in through gaps in the trees.

If there were birds, I didn't hear anything - it was just us and our footfalls. Matt looked like Spiderman, scrambling on top of deadfall, while I took the safer route - squeezing myself under the logs. At about 40minutes into the run, we were there: admidst the second growth forest, a huge old-growth cedar, looming quietly above us.

We kept going: across debris chutes, weaving up the mountain side following flagging to the sound of rushing water. Then - I could feel the temperature drop, and the sound of water became a roar. We had reached Kennedy Falls.

The cedar planks we had followed, 100 years ago, had been a logging road - we were definitely not the first ones here. However, surrounded by forest and water, it felt like we were so far away from the quiet residential road where we had parked only an hour before. It made me feel, a bit, like my normal life was just a skin: work and errands and cooking and seawall runs. Underneath, on the other side, only an hour away, were places like this - remote and wild and a bit terrifying with the aloneness and only the trees and water and sky to answer to.

We negotiated slippery rocks to the base of the falls. Matt, experiencing what I like to call "male hiker syndrome" scrambled up a steep, slippery rock on the opposite side, to reach the top of the falls. He stood at the top, looking down at me. I had a race in a week, and I wasn't moving. He yelled, and it got lost in the falls. Then he gestured and disappeared.

similar to one of the Lea family cats, Matt is good at climbing up but has issues getting back down

I was left alone, with the first shafts of morning light filtering through. The falls continued to roar, and there was no sign of Matt. I waited, and waited a bit more. Just as I was visualizing Matt lying somewhere with a broken leg, and mentally calculating how long it would take to get North Shore Search and Rescue involved, he popped back out of the bushes.

On our way back we forded Lynne creek, swatted away bushes, then popped out on the flat, groomed Lynne Canyon trail. It was so familiar yet so surreal at the same time. We ended the run in silence, at our usual parking spots, and made plans to co-ordinate our runs the next week as usual.

impromptu ice bath

get while the getting was good
The "run" we did was everything I like about trails: going to new places, sweating uphill, and the quiet of the forest, which sometimes causes the quiet in my head. It was great to have Matt to navigate the trail (he "found" the falls originally by running to the old cedar, then following the flagging until the end. At the same time, it was bittersweet - Matt is leaving at the end of the month to move across the country.

Matt has been a great run partner, and my Tuesday mornings will be that little bit emptier without him. He is the only person who could manage to convince me not only to race Seek the Peak (16k, 1300m) , but to then turn around, at the top, and run back down. And then, on the way down (20k, some "detours"), when both of us have no food or water and it is hot and we are tired, he is the only person who could charm two lovely female hikers into giving us not only most of their water, but a Godiva chocolate bar as fuel. He also gets recognition, after talking me into doing this thing, for grousing, 6km from the bottom: "Whose idea was this? Nobody else who raced is doing something like this." (for the record, it was his idea, and arguably not the best one, but we made it!).

walk through a door and keep on walking
Later on Friday, after I was showered, I headed in for my last day at my old job. My office was cleared of files. After four years there, my to-do list was finally done. My co-workers organized a goodbye lunch for me. Like usual, we all grouped by the elevators, waiting for the stragglers, to head down together. People ordered their usual drinks, and we talked about sports teams, clients, upcoming vacations. Then it was done, and most of the staff headed back to the office. One of the other partners, the senior manager, and I had one more drink. We joked about what we always joke about. And then it was really done - the bill signed, the other two guys heading back to work. My keys and passcard were already handed in. I said my goodbyes, walked out of the restaurant, and kept on walking.

Jobs come and go. Vancouver is a city where people move to, and move away from. Several of my close friends are contemplating moving away in the next few months. Some days it feels like my life is something that I woke up to, one morning, slipped on, and forgot to take off. It feels too new: sharp corners, awkward creases, and needs wearing in. The thing is: even if my life stayed the same, everyone else, around me, is changing. My friends are looking at new jobs in new cities, or moving to new places in this city, or having new athletic goals, or new relationships.

On Friday evening I went for a walk along the seawall in the warm light, with the water an impossible blue. I remembered, 10 years ago, coming to Vancouver with my parents. It was another sunny day, walking around a seawall with the ocean on one side, the lushness of summer on the other. I felt like a pain in my chest how much I wanted to live here. And now, I look out onto the ocean as I write this. I was on a run, earlier, with a good friend, running up the familiar route to Cleveland Dam and back. It could have been the conversation, it could have been the sky and stiff breeze or the flowering blackberries, or the view of the eddies and currents from the Lion's Gate bridge, that made it seem like this was the only place I wanted to be.

And the other side of beauty comes with that sweet ache of loss. Every day and every choice is a type of loss. In the end, I think of the old cedar planks - years and years ago they were were rocked by the weight of trees rolled on top of them, men sawing, with noise and metal and the shake of falling branches. Now - it's all quiet again, and the forest has reclaimed it. No matter how vibrant, how immediate or permanent life seems, in the end, every experience fades. That's not a loss - that's making space for something new to grow, for the saplings to sprout from trunks and for vines to twine over deadfall. It shows me - life, like the forest, remembers, and things circle back.

And for a few days, it was beautiful and sad to carry that ache with me, to make the rest of my life sweeter:  time with the people I care about, the fading glow of sun over the mountains, and, stretching out in front of me, this new life to break in. I believe in having a couple days that can break hearts - hearts are worth breaking, and often, so that there is space to let in all the world.