May 10, 2015

Running is ...

Cleanliness of movement.

Seeing what few get to.

Time well spent.

Losing myself.

Filling my heart.

Finding pleasure in the simple blessing of effort.

Meaning.

Confidence.

Comfort.

Pain.

Accomplishment.

My place of peace.

Rich friendships.

Grandiose learning.

 Finding myself.

Contagious joy.

April 27, 2015

Times

There are times.

In those first few minutes of a run, feeling out my body with the pursuant stiffness borne of almost 54 years on Earth and almost 90,000 miles on my feet, I'm reminded that the best way through is often to relax and flow.

There are times.

Alone with my thoughts, skimming the ground, squirrels barking and late-morning sun gleaming through the swaying trees, I am at once lost in time and yet as full of life as seems imaginable.

There are times.

Under a blanket of early-morning stars, the soft cadence of my auto-pilot shuffle gives way to a special euphoria that is all its own.

There are times.

When I let it go — really turn up the heat and see what the legs have in them — I am for moments back in my mid-20s and completely engrossed in every breath, every push-off, every landing.

There are times.

Running with buddies and chatting up a storm, laughs become air and hours become minutes.

There are times.

Up in the mountains, when a beautiful leaf formation or a small creature will happily divert my mind from the intensity of the Pain Cave's second floor.

There are times.

Out for a short run in my little town, I get so involved in the cavalcade of conversation going on inside my head that I realize I don't know which street I'm on.

There are times.

Awash in the beauty of movement, I land on a clarity that satisfies my hope and makes every dream seem touchable.

There are times.

In the dark of a 24-hour race or late in any of the nights at Three Days at the Fair 72-Hour, I am moving along all by myself and yet feel strikingly close to whomever happens to be on my mind.

There are times.

Somewhere in the fifth hour of a long, long training run, fatigue takes a back seat, everything falls neatly into place and I am ever so thankful that running found me.

December 31, 2014

Lost and Found

Oh 2014, you have been something.

Some mostly running-related tidbits at the front of my weird brain ...

I found amazing joy.

I found my 13th Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run finish line in April, and I did so almost stride for stride with my dear friend and training buddy Jack Broaddus, who found his first 100-mile finish line after several previous attempts. We had our lows. We had our highs — especially that 7th loop when the incomparable Amy Surrette was kind enough to pace us — and we crossed the line together in 28:23. Jack was heroic out there. I know I'll remember this one forever. 

I found my way beyond the 200-mile mark at Three Days at the Fair 72-hour in May.

After other years of 183 miles, 189 miles and 167 miles, I  looked at this Sisyphean task in a new way. Thanks to a suggestion from my buddy Bob Ring, I marked each 400-meter chunk of the 1.00-mile loop and then walked one, ran one, walked one and ran one. The plan was 8 miles every 2 hours, then take a 15-minute, feet-propped-up break, repeat ad nauseam and take a continuous 4-hour sleep break each night. Bob said this would get me 72 miles each day. That  Day 1 15-minute break almost broke my brain. Until the end of the first day when I got 72 miles and about 100 extra yards. Oh. wow. Day 2 I totaled 60 miles because I needed 6 hours thanks to abysmal rain-soaked misery and a significant loss of desire. For Day 3, I tweaked the plan to take only 10-minute sit breaks. And I also stopped trying to do the math, opting to Think Small — doing what was right in front of me and ignoring all else — and damned if I didn't manage to knock out 73 miles for the final 24 hours. 205 miles. A dream come true.

I lost my brother.

Joe Gentry breathed his final breath in late-November. He had cancer for 11 years and, thankfully, that was only a small part of his amazing story. He was a remarkable teacher and coach who — as is always the case — had a unique way of caring and focusing on solutions. He touched so many. His reach lives on in all of us who were fortunate enough to feel his magic. My brother lived this secret: You can move mountains and achieve unprecedented results when you focus on The Now.

I found a finish line before everybody else.

In mid-May, I won the ColorBlast 5K in 19:42. A bit of a cherry-pick in that there weren't but 30-some runners in the competitive division of the 200-person field, but I still got to the end before everybody else did. The last W I recall came when in a 5-miler when I was 29 years old. Note: a W at age 53 is far sweeter now than I ever remember when they came more often.

I lost my will.

Epic fail during my August try at four loops and 104 miles of the famed Wild Oak Trail. I had my boys Jack Broaddus, Dave Frazier and Quatro Hubbard lined up as pacers. I had my boy Vince Bowman out there crewing for me. I had some pretty peachy early-August weather. I was in some of the best physical condition I've been in. I had a sweet set-up. And then  I made a huge tactical mistake — leaf garbage bags do not critter-proof containers make!! — that resulted in doing a tough 11-mile, mid-day stretch sans fluid. The ultimate result: I dehydrated so badly that my lower back locked up and it took me 4 hours to "hike” the final 6 miles. Thank God for Dave's patience with me and for being my dear friend as I did what seemed like 5 million repeats of walk-100-rocky-ass-yards, sit-down, cry, stand up." Also, thank God for Vince, who stayed out all night driving around and crewing for us, cooking amazing soup, making us hot drinks and being a fresh, happy face that gave me profound hope and joy. Also for Jack, who paced me that first loop and who pushed himself well, well beyond the brink after my drop-bag blunder cost both of us. My friends, man.

I found my gold.

Yes, gold. As in way more significant than a distance or a time or an amount. Way, way more. Several times — a handful at various races and a whole buncha times in training sessions — I came face to face with that daunting specter I think of as The Big Quit. And at least for these times that I'm thinking of here …

• In the dark and pouring rain after 40 hours into 3 Days 72;
• multiple times doing the TRX 40-40 Challenge;
• the final 200 meters of a recent 1.5-mile time trial that I pushed myself so hard through that I puked afterward;
• going back out twice during the frigid night at Crooked Road 24-Hour when it woulda been so easy to just drive away …

… I stared The Big Quit right in the eyes, took a deep, deep breath and then kicked its ass.

I grew.

I shrank.

I laughed.

I cried.

I won.

I lost.

I found. And found. And found.

October 30, 2014

A Thousand Times Over

Sometimes, you just know.

When it came to Blake Norwood, I knew from that first March 1996 handshake that I had a friend for life.

His quick smile, big personality, booming voice and comfortable manner set my fairly overwhelmed-at-the-100-mile-distance self at ease from our first conversation. The friendship that ensued grew over the coming years, bringing me back for a total of 17 Umsteads -- a stretch that includes 13 finishes at 100 miles and another four of at least 50 miles.

Umstead was Blake's brainchild, a gentle 100-miler created to give everybody with enough want-to in them a legit chance to finish. The original 10-loop course and its later and current 12.5-mile sister both turned out to be the perfect catalysts for me to erase my earlier hundo woes. The confidence I scored at Blake's annual party slowly, surely changed my life.

When I learned earlier this week of his sudden and unexpected death, my mind when blank. No. Please no. Not long after, however, the memories refilled it. So many laughs. So many times we flipped each other off at first sight (boys WILL be boys!!). So many encouraging words from him shot my way during some low point late in one of his races that kept me going.

Two stories rushed back to me almost immediately.

1998. Blake, multiple toilet paper rolls in hand,  tried to pace me, D.J. Reyes and Ben Clark as we headed out for our 10th and final loop because he needed to refill some porta-johns. Yes, we dropped him. And yes, I made sure to give him shit about it for years after.

The hurricane year. Blake at the halfway point screamed at me to put more clothes on. I, being totally my stuboorn-ass self, told him that I'd be fine in my polypro hat, cotton gloves and trash bag ... only to have the temps drop 38 degrees in the next hour, the rain blow sideways and me drop out 4.5 miles later.

So many, many stories. And Blake is somewhere near the center of almost every one.

Late last year, current Umstead 100 RD Rhonda Hampton put the call out that she and friends wanted submissions for a tribute book they planned to turn over to Blake at this year's race -- his pre-planned U100 swan song. I jumped at the chance and kicked her what appears below ... I am so glad that he got this and that he appreciated all our submissions.

----------------------------

Dear Blake,

How do you thank someone for giving you the opportunity to prove yourself to yourself?



That's what you have done for me with your Umstead 100-Mile Endurance Run.

I remember the 1996 Umstead like it was yesterday. My first 100-mile finish. 24:44. Moving through the night with the late, great Aaron Goldman, who was also chasing his first successful 100-mile finish after a decade of trying. Getting passed with one mile to go by my friends Andy and Shelley Wunsch as Shelley was about to become the female champ. Them asking me if I wanted to share the finish line. Me asking Aaron if it was be OK. Aaron saying sure. Me running five steps with Shelley after having walked for 10 miles straight and realizing that -- you know what -- sometimes you really can't run even one more step. But you can almost always walk one more. Ah, the first of many, many lifetime lessons U100 would dole out to this remarkably slow learner.

I have been fortunate enough to cross a total of 12 Umstead 100-Mile finish lines so far. Some a lot faster than that first one. Some a lot slower. Each journey has been worth every single step. I've made so many friends, had so many laughs, taken so many sleep breaks (hah!), eaten so many of your Myra's coveted finisher omelets and created so, so many lifetime memories.

My life is a much more rich existence because of Umstead 100. I owe you more than I will ever be capable of repaying.

Thank you a thousand times over, brother.

Bill

October 22, 2014

Why?

So many reasons.

Camaraderie.

Blessed stillness.

Precious focus.

Overwhelming peace.

The fire of inspiration.

The other-worldly calm that comes about in those self-directed moments of supreme effort.

Accomplishment.

The promise of power that unfailingly manifests itself on the other side of every single low spot.

The resounding sense of wonder.

The smile that lasts the rest of the day ... week ... month.

The gentle, easy joy of exertion. 

Why do I run, you ask?

To go up. And over. And through. And on. Again and again.

Why do I run?

Simple.

To chase — and some day, hopefully, catch — my very best me.

October 12, 2014

You Are Here

I hear you.

I hear you in the rustling of the leaves on a breezy climb up Little Bald. I hear you in my labored breathing whenever I'm pushing really, really hard on that nasty uphill near the top of Hankey Mountain. I hear you in the non-rhythmic click clack of loose rocks on a steep technical trail – especially after dark. And I hear your silky voice nearly every night just as I drift off to sleep.

I feel you.

I feel you in a calming quiet of an early morning run. I feel you with each footfall on a dirt trail. I feel you in the strain of those first several steps on the way to going really, really fast. And I feel you in the wash of joy that happens the glorious moment a finish line first pops into view.

I taste you.

I taste you in that metallic tingle that invades my mouth almost every time when I'm really jamming the accelerator to the red-line edge on a run. And I taste you with that first ice-cold post-run IPA.

I see you.

I see you in every on-the-run sunrise and sunset. I see you in every fog-covered on-the-run sky. I see you in each on-the-run fall trail. And I see you in nearly every dream.

Oh how I hear you.

You are that peaceful melody that urges me to go one more mile, one more race, five more pushups, two more planks. And sometimes as much as two more hours, even when I truly don't feel like it at the time.

With all my senses, I know that you are here with me. That you are my whisper of forever. And you never, ever disappoint.

Sweet, sweet Satisfaction.

August 25, 2014

Lessons

Man, did I have this one wrong.

And man oh man did I pay the price for it.

I went into my Wild Oak Trail 100-Mile solo supported adventure thinking that it was me vs. the mountains. That if I trained right, tapered well and drew myself up to my most full bad-ass stature at the start,  there would be no option other than the full four loops. My psyche was "Damn the details and full steam ahead!!"

That approach got me just two loops, with the final four hours washing away in the worst suffer-fest of all my running.

Some observations, a mix of erroneous and otherwise ...

• I'm not THAT bad-ass. It would have been bad enough if the critter who destroyed my FS96 drop point aid had just eaten the Fritos, but that critter also punctured the gallon of water I had there. So Pacer No. 1 and dear buddy Jack Broaddus and I did Miles 16-26 in the steamy mid-day temps on half a bottle of water. Oopsie. Didn't seem all that bad at the time. Didn't seem all that bad largely because I have a remarkable ability to ignore any signs my body is sending me (such as that slight burning sensation in my lower back) that things will be getting really, really hard in the not too distant future thanks to this boo-boo. Interestingly, the critter left my Ensure untouched. No need to dwell on the ramifications of that. Next time: A more critter-challenged container sans critter-attractive food. Plenty of room in my pack to carry bars and salty snacks and such.

• I'm not THAT bad-ass, either. Having the option to take the old-school portion of the trail that crosses North River or take the newer Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition spur trail that adds about a mile to each loop but that keeps one's feet completely dry, I chose old school. An extra four miles might be an extra 1 hour plus across the entire four loops, right? Wow. An extra hour. I mean, that could mean the difference between 38 hours and 39 hours. Never mind that my feet would be completely dry the whole time and not as susceptible to blisters and ... (if you want to stop now and look up "stupid," I bet you find my mug nearby. Hopefully it's a flattering shot ... ). Next time: Take the bike spur. Keep the feet dry.

• It's just night running. Whatever. My Petzl Tikka 2 is A-OK for Umstead 100 and Crooked Road 24-Hour and Hinson Lake 24-Hour. It's not even close to OK for Wild Oak. Loop 2 pacer Dave Frazier (aka one of my dear buddies and also the Cold TWOT course record-holder) fired up his Princeton Tec head lamp and -- BAM -- now that's a head lamp. That thing emits more light than one of my Honda Element headlights. Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking that I wouldn't have put myself in such a fix with my back if I had been able to see better and hadn't slipped 423 times during that foggy stretch after midnight. Next time: Use a real light system. And go practice with it.

• Back spasms suck, but not as badly as a 100-percent pain beat-down all the way across the lower back. I think I've only cramped up twice on runs in my life before this weekend. The third time back on top of Big Bald when I pulled up short after realizing that I was going off trail. ARRRGH SCREAM LIKE A GRADE-SCHOOL KID CALF CRAMP. No problem. Sat down. Stretched the toes. All is well. No way that's gonna happen again on this run ... until the final four hours, when my back essentially decided that it was gonna play a little game with me and see how many times it would make me throw up and sit down, in no particular order. Good news: I only threw up once. Almost within sight of the finish. Other news: I sat down a bagillion times. It never really helped, unless you consider that it made Frazier and I go so slowly that the sun actually came up as we were finishing the second loop. Next time: See above for critter-proof fluid placement.

• Four hours to go 6 miles in the dark and fog is a special kind of beat-down. I once ran an entire Wild Oak loop in less than 6 hours. I regularly ran one in 6:15. Thanks to the dehydration and the sleep factor and the remarkable Left Lean (yes, it does deserve initial capital letters!!), I took me 4 hours to go the final 6 miles. (Did I mention that Dave Frazier is a saint for staying with me? He is. And then some!)

• Hellbenders and Orb Weavers are amazing creatures. Thanks to my night out on Wild Oak with Dave, I can now identify both Hellbenders and Orb Weavers. I apologized to both Orb Weavers on the climb up Hankey for taking out their hard-earned work, although I was still pulling those sticky webs from parts of my hydration vest some five hours later.

What the hell is THAT over there? Fog-covered Lookout Mountain area. 2:15 a.m. Dave sees these eyes peering out from the left side of the trail. None other than a bobcat. Lying down. Watching us watch him. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.

• All I have to do is taper for Wild Oak, and I'll be fine. Haha! HAHAHAH! AHAHAHAHA!! I am at times a remarkably obtuse ultra runner. There is so much more to one of these back country ultra runs -- even with fabulous support crew Vince Bowman and pacers Jack and Dave -- than showing up to the starting line in tip-top shape. Details matter. Next time: Put out extra water. Lots of it. In thick containers. Without food in them. Get a real head lamp. Buy some hiking poles and practice with them.

• It sure is special out there in those mountains. While I am still stinging from the indignity of falling so miserably short of my goal, there were so, so many hours of pure, unfettered one-foot-in-front-of-the-other joy being out there. I'll be forever grateful to Jack, Dave and Vince for helping me chase this dream of mine. This time, I came up massively shy. Yet oh, the stuff I learned. Next time: Plan some better. Be less aggressive. Take what the mountains give. Respect the place a bit more.

Will I dance with The Wild Oak Trail again? Yes. Yes I will.

And next time, I'll keep all the Fritos in my pack.