Tag Archive - Running

Lord, Make Me Humble. But Not Yet.

The Holy Fathers say that, unless we humble ourselves, the Lord will not stop humbling us…Until you have suffered much in your heart, you cannot learn humility.

I read these lines. I even underlined them. I talked about them with my friends. Then, promptly forgot them.

The line I remembered is this:

Our holy Father Symeon says that a person who has attained humility of the mind cannot be hurt by anything in the world.

Yes, please.

Both quotes are from Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. It is a rather prickly book. The sort that gets all up in your business. Provoking, inspiring, humbling

I sit in Starbucks on Sunday afternoon with three lovely friends who are also reading the book. I say to them…out loud…that I want this. I want this humility that renders me invincible.

Then, on Monday, God obliges with a generous dose of humiliation…of suffering in my heart. How convenient! And I thank Him. Oh yes, I do! First I thank Him by being hurt. Grieved. Sad. The grief festers into bitterness. Indignity that wrongs committed years ago still cast a shadow across my life, despite the fact that I have repented and am striving to live honorably. I don’t deserve this! (See what I mean.) But the bitterness is short lived. It dissolves into despair. I will never move past this. No matter what I do. And this cloud hovers over everything. And nothing looks right. Nothing tastes right. My stomach hurts. And I cry myself to sleep…

Lord, make me humble.

But not yet.

The phrase is St. Augustine’s, though he prayed to be made chaste. Perhaps he and I both missed the point. To acquire either takes a great deal of practice. And the practice is very like the training runs I am currently doing for an ultra marathon. Painful. Dirty. Smelly. Exhausting. And, did I mention, painful. Very. Painful.

But, just like in marathon training, there is pain, then recovery. A chance to catch one’s breath before plunging back in. And, also like training, when the wounds have healed, I hopefully emerge stronger than before. A little bit closer to the goal.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from running is that you don’t quit just because something is really hard, or because it hurts. And sometimes it hurts like hell. So, I’m not quitting. Even though I have such a very long way to go. And sometimes it seems impossible. And I get angry at myself for not being better at this.

Lord, make me humble. But not

Lord, make me humble. But

Lord, make me humble.

 

*Bolds in the quotes mine.

Fringe Benefits…

July in Tennessee. 95 degrees in the shade. 127% humidity. Air like gravy. You could scoop it with a spoon. Put it on your biscuits. We walk around in it. Breathe it. Wear it on our skin.

And so….we crazy types who like to run (or bike, or hike, etc…) find ourselves setting the alarm earlier and earlier to catch those couple of hours when the temp will plummet to 84* and there will be pinpricks of night in the air, and the dark will create an illusion of cool, and maybe, just maybe, we can breathe. I’m not always happy about it, to be honest. But I do it. Because it makes me strong. And healthy. Because the running teaches me so much about life. About doing what is hard. About pain. About persistence.

And here is the other thing I know. That every time I go out there…every time I do the hard thing…there will be something I didn’t expect. A fringe benefit. A gift I could not have thought to ask for. For instance….

Saturday morning…fog lies heavy, like a blanket, on the cornfields. Slanting rays of sunlight refract through the trees making spectacular displays of light. Prisms. Colors sorting themselves into groups. I. Am. Dazzled. And I am only getting started…

I know the Natchez Trace Bridge. I watched it being built. I have biked over it. Sat on the edge of it. Seen it in sunshine and snow. But I have never seen it like this….

I become part of it. Part of the cloud. Part of the unknowing. The mystery. My heart is pounding. I am laughing. Out loud.

I could be in bed right now.
I could be missing
this….

And…

I could have missed the barred owl. Keeping late hours. Exchanging love songs with a distant sweetheart. He was so close I could feel the tremolo of his voice in my chest…

I could have missed the long, black ribbon, lazily threading its way across my path. Stopping occasionally to scent the air with his tongue. Majestic. Elegant. Beautiful. Black snake…

Wildflowers. Chipmunks. Squirrels. Rabbits. Birds…….

It’s not only in the running, though.

When Mike and I chose to do the hard work of rebuilding a marriage, we could not imagine all the ancillary gifts that would surprise us. They surprise us still…a little at a time.

My friends who have walked…are walking…the sometimes harrowing road of adoption…uncertain, costly, emotional…tell of unexpected graces…gifts they could never have anticipated.

My run was not without cost. One of those gorgeous slanting rays of sunlight blinded me long enough for me to miss a tree root. I stumbled and opened a nice gash in my knee. I had a few bloody miles ahead of me. There will always be a price. But it is a price well worth paying.

What is the hard thing you are afraid of? So afraid that you are paralyzed to move forward? I wonder what might be unleashed in the universe if you were to make the hard choice to plunge in.

“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~Goethe

Game Fuel

Whether we are mothers chasing small children or type A executives climbing the corporate ladder, artists or athletes, ditch diggers or pencil pushers, all of us make demands on our bodies. Yet, irrationally, not all of us give our bodies what they need to perform at their peak. Adequate sleep (my own personal challenge), exercise, healthy relationships, and good nutrition are all part of caring for these incredible machines that house our souls.

Participating in endurance sports has made me very aware of the impact on my body when any of these things is out of kilter. I work very hard to keep all in balance.

One of the easiest pieces of the equation for me is nutrition. Here are a few of the choices I am making about food as I train for the Grand Teton Ultra.

There are two distinct categories that must be addressed when fueling for training:

1. Lifestyle nutrition.
2. Fueling before/during/after events (including intense training sessions)

Lifestyle Nutrition

My number one goal here is to make every calorie count by eating foods that are nutrient dense. When I refuse to pile on a second dessert, friends sometimes say, “You are a runner. You can eat what you want.”. True enough if the scale were the only criterion. But I figure I owe my body a little TLC for all it’s giving me. My personal guidelines:

Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fish, red wine (for my heart), and dark chocolate (for SO many reasons) form the base of my diet. It doesn’t hurt that I love all these things, but that is partly due to being a culinary explorer. I also find myself craving these things when I am training hard. My body knows what it needs.

Meat and cheese are most often occasional splurges or adornments, not the foundation of meals. Though valuable sources of protein and calcium, these tend to be high in artery clogging fats. When you don’t eat them often, you feel how heavy they lay in your stomach after eating them. Observing the Orthodox fasting seasons, in addition to weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts, that require abstinence from animal products has provoked me find vegetative sources of protein (important for cell repair). Two of my favorites are Quinoa and Lentils, both of which offer unlimited culinary options. Click on either to find two of our favorite recipes.

Hydration counts. In addition to water…. Green tea is an anti-inflammatory, important for muscle repair. Rooibos is full of antioxidants and has no caffeine. Fruit and tomato juices replace electrolytes naturally and deliciously. (I ALWAYS dilute fruit juices. Too much sugar.)

Life is too short to live without bacon. I am a southern girl. Biscuits and gravy, bacon, and eggs are my heritage. They feed a place in me that has nothing to do with food. But I have them only VERY occasionally. Once a month or so.  Whatever fills that place for you…gooey caramel, cheesecake, ice cream…can be part of a healthy life-style if seen for what they are: splurges. OCCASIONAL.

What does this look like for me?

Breakfast:
Usually Kashi GoLean cereal with walnuts, light vanilla soy milk, and the fruit du jour: berries, peaches, nectarines, etc. Fresh when possible, frozen or dried when not.
or
A smoothy made with frozen fruit, vanilla soy milk, and sprouted chia seeds.

Lunch
Left-overs from the night before, or…fresh veggies with hummus, a salad, black beans with sour cream and salsa, a baked sweet potato, etc….

Dinner
We average five dinners/week cooked at home. Always vegetables, grilled, roasted or raw. Fish at least once a week (non-fasting). Lean meat probably twice/week. Leftovers or carefully chosen take-out fill the gaps.

Event Fuel

When fueling for an event you will mostly focus on carbs and electrolytes. If you are doing an endurance event, add in fats and protein for sustainable energy. You want foods that digest quickly and easily without stress to the digestive system.

Before:
Contrary to popular belief, carb-loading begins a couple of days ahead, and you do NOT need to eat extraordinary amounts of food. Avoid foods you know cause discomfort. Also, conventional wisdom says avoid high fiber foods the morning of, but I disregard this. My body is accustomed to lots of fiber and I want to begin an event…clean. If you know what I mean. 🙂 Fiber and a nice hot cup of coffee or tea make this possible.

During:
The most important thing here is to test foods in training before using them in an event. I’m a big fan of eating real food as much as possible, both during intense training and during events. Favorites include: Bananas, Cliff bars, Raw Unsalted Almonds, Hammer Head electrolyte replacement (all natural ingredients, less sweet, delicious), and Gardetto buffalo pretzels (hard, salty, yummy).

After:
Protein and carbs are your friends for cell repair and recovery. I always have almonds in my car (even when not training). I put iced green tea (unsweetened), Orange juice, and/or water in a cooler for during AND after. The cold is a huge gift. Sushi is a personal fav, as is the occasional hamburger. And…every now and then…a Guinness 🙂

Resources:

Runner’s World is the one magazine I read cover to cover every month. In addition to articles on training, events, and gear, there is invaluable information on nutrition, recipes, what’s in season, etc….

Scott Jurek is an ultra running legend. And he does what he does on a strictly vegan diet. Read about his adventures and find occasional recipes on his blog.

Cliff and Hammer make event friendly, nutritionally dense products that are real food. If you choose to supplement, you would have a hard time finding anything better.

Kashi makes products that are nutritionally dense, natural, responsible, and sustainable.

Franklin Tea sells my favorite teas. This summer I am enjoying Strawberry Breeze and Caribbean Sencha iced,  Gunpowder Green, Enchanted Forest, and Caramel Rooibos hot.

Being healthy is a lifestyle. A series of choices you make day after day. It’s not that hard. But, it does require intentionality. I hope this will provoke you to think about choices you are making. Give me a shout out with discoveries you have made. How do you fuel your body to do the things you ask of it?

 

Knowing When…to Say When

DNF

Did Not Finish

Three letters…three words…that make the stomach of any endurance athlete hurt.

I am told it is a character builder. I am told that anyone who attempts the improbable should expect a DNF at some point. Inevitable, they say………

When I began running, I couldn’t get my head around the idea of a half-marathon, much less a marathon. There was no hook to hang it on. No point of reference. I could as easily imagine flying to the moon. But, as I began piling mile upon mile, 13.1 suddenly seemed less… impossible.

Attempting outlandish things teaches one a great deal about life. It teaches you that when you think you have nothing left, there may be a strength inside you you have never yet found. It teaches you that the most overwhelming task can be taken on one mile, or one minute, at a time. And, it gives you the opportunity to feel the smile of God. To look at your feet in wonder as they keep on moving, even after you have gone further than you have ever gone before.

Not surprising that some of us become addicted.

Four half marathons, including one straight up Pikes Peak. Five full marathons. And now, the ultra. It seems like the logical next step. A new challenge.

So I choose an ultra that will give me time. A 50 miler that allows me 24 hours, in the glorious Grand Tetons. Even with altitude and 10,000 feet in vertical gain, 24 hours is a long time. Except, that this year they make changes. This year, there will be no 100 miler which means that they can’t be so liberal about time limits. Twenty-four hours becomes sixteen (or seventeen–the jury is still out on that). And suddenly I know that a 50 miler will be an inevitable DNF.

I could own the DNF right up front; sign up for the 50 miler knowing I won’t finish and just go as far as I can. I think about this for a long time. Finally, though, I decide a 50k with altitude and several thousand feet of vertical gain just might be challenge enough for now.

In the beginning it feels cowardly. Like giving up. I am embarrassed to tell anyone. But, as the days go by, I come to revel in it. I will have more time with my family this summer. I will have enough juice left to join my son in his first running event, The Franklin Classic, two days later. And, I will have time to inhale the vistas, take photographs, and drink deeply of the experience. It is the right choice for now.

And if, in the end, I still come away with a DNF, I will trust God to use it to grow me.

Grand Teton 5ok. September 3rd, 2011. Training has begun….

Few of us know what we are capable of doing…we have never pushed ourselves hard enough to find out.

~Alfred A. Montapert

Oil of Gladness

Last night I hit the wall.

All distance athletes have a healthy fear of “the wall”. For marathoners it usually comes around mile 18-20. An inscrutable boundary. Despite all the miles under your feet, you suddenly are convinced you can go no further. In 5 marathons, I have never hit the wall. Oh sure, I’ve hit my lactate threshold, where I feel like I have the flu: aches, chills, nausea. I’ve even had to let go of time goals and change strategy. But the dreaded DNF (did not finish) has never seemed an option. Last night it seemed like an option.

I sat in the parking lot at church and sobbed. Physically and emotionally spent. I had talked myself out of even coming more than once. But I knew this was the place where hope was. So I dragged myself out of the car, slogged through the rain, and stepped inside. I stopped to kiss the icon of the Bridegroom and held on to it for a moment. For dear life.

Just as the chanters and the priests began singing the service, a fierce, wild storm commenced out of doors. Ferocious claps of thunder made my body vibrate. Slashes of lightening hurled themselves at the windows. Something deep inside me exulted in this. Almost as if the turmoil inside me had been unleashed upon the elements.

And they sang on. The service of Holy Unction. Anointing. Seven Epistle passages. Seven from the Gospels. About those who were sick being made well. About those who were lost being found. About those who had been restored being sent out into the world to carry life, like bread, to others. One epistle in particular lasered itself to that profoundly weary place in me…

Brethren, we do not want you to be ignorant of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers.  ~II Corinthians 1:8-11

When all seven candles had been lit and all seven passages read, the priest held the Gospel book over each of our heads and blessed us. Then we came forward to be anointed with oil.

The blessing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God (your name here) always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I kissed the Bridegroom again as I left. And again I lingered, this time with gratitude. Then I went out into the rain with the oil on my forehead and hands. Bandaged. Fed. Ready to run on…

We haven’t far to go, best beloveds. Keep running!

 

With All Due Respect…An Apology to the Treadmill

I see you looking at me. Those sad eyes. Full of accusation. You say to me, “Why do I not see more of you? I have provided you a convenient alternative. Why do you not love me?”

It’s nothing personal. Not exactly. It’s just that…

While it is true you offer protection from the elements, you have never taught me the smell of rain. Or how it feels when tiny drops of it fall against hot skin. From you I did not learn the silence of snow, the trickle of thaw. Or the sweetness of shade when the sun burns fierce and unguarded. You insulate me from brooding skies and from the tiny particles of cold carried in sultry air that portend rain. From the breeze that dries my sweat and creates little piles of salt. You do not lead me underneath a sapphire sky with pinpricks of diamond, where the lowing of cattle is the only sound.

You do offer me the chance to read if I am willing to move slowly. But you never carry me past gurgling streams, spring buds just gathering the courage to unfurl, unexpected fields of cornflowers or violets. Not once have I been accosted by the delirium of honeysuckle or of wild roses when I was with you. And, it has to be said, you are not much of a conversationalist. Nor do you give me the opportunity for serendipitous encounters with friends. And, while we are on this topic, you are quite exclusive. No squirrels, chipmunks, red tailed hawks, herons, or bird songs are ever to be found when I run with you.

It is true that I have taken advantage of your incline for hill training more than once. But tell me this, if the same effort could take YOU to the top of Pikes Peak or to the…end of the treadmill. Well…you see my point. And, I hope this doesn’t come across as critical, but you have a bad habit of promoting injury. That whole lack of surface change exacerbates poor technique and abuses the body. Sorry. It’s true.

Running is a discipline, to be sure. But running is also an adventure. Discovery. Dilemma. Drama. Dream.

Thank you, dear treadmill, for being there when I need you. And sometimes I have needed you. But don’t try to guilt trip me into spending more time with you. With all due respect, you are not an ideal date.

Thanks to @JeffHolton who provided provocation for this post. It was such fun to write. It took a whole of about 15 minutes…which might be obvious. 😉

In Which Granny Runs an Ultra

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. ~T. S. Elliot

The Idea

When I began running almost 5 years ago, the idea of doing a marathon would not fit inside my head. I didn’t even have a clear enough picture of what it would mean to be properly terrified. It was like contemplating astrophysics. I had no hook to hang it on. But as I slowly built mileage, I began to flirt with the idea of a half-marathon. Still daunting, but possibly attainable. Once I had three of those in the bag, I discovered I could think about a marathon without my head hurting. And so it began…

I vividly remember those mystical Saturdays when one week after another I ran distances I had never run before. It was like magic. Sometimes I looked down at my feet in awe. I could hardly believe they were sill moving. In between the running, I read about running. Books like Ultra-marathon Man and Born to Run began to seduce me with a new challenge: The ULTRA. An ultra-marathon is any race longer than a marathon; from a 5ok (31 miles) to obscene distances well in excess of 100 miles. Last year I decided to use 2010 to make a go at a Boston qualifying time, and designated 2011 the year of the ultra. Little did I imagine then the irony that I would attempt my first ultra in the same year I became a grandmother.

The Event

I have researched events off and on for over a year. I ultimately settled on the Grand Teton Ultra for three reasons. It is beautiful. I know myself. If I am going to be on my feet all day, I want my eyes to be filled with wonder. It’s a trail event. Piling up mileage can be hard on the joints. Especially for old people like me. 😉 Trail surfaces, though challenging, will give my joints a break. It has a relatively generous time limit. I am strong but not fast. Even though choosing Grand Teton means running at altitude plus a vertical gain (and loss) of 10,000 feet, it is worth it to have more time to finish.

Unfortunately, the time limit for the 50 mile event has been shortened this year from 23 hours to 17 hours because they are doing away with the 100 miler that used to keep aid stations open. As a result, I have not yet decided whether I will still attempt the 50 miler or back down to the 50k. Either way, it will be a new and significant challenge.

The Training

So what does ultra-marathon training look like…for a grandma? 😉 Ultra runners are a breed of their own. Training is widely individual. Some runners log 120 plus miles a week in training. Others do one long run and some cross training. In between are a myriad of options. Here is what it will look like for me:

  • A tandem long run on Friday and Saturday. This is a popular approach. A long run followed by a moderately long run teaches your legs to run while fatigued, but with less stress than one super long run. These will begin the first week in May with a 12 mile followed by a 6 mile and build quickly to peak in August with 26 and 10.
  • On Sunday I will stretch, do yoga, or walk for recovery.
  • Monday through Wednesday I will primarily cross-train, though I may sometimes work in a moderate run of 6-10 miles. Cross-training will consist of plyometrics, core work, swimming, biking, kenpo, weight-training and yoga. Cross-training is crucial for trail running because balancing, jumping and hurdling creeks require a whole complex of muscles. Equally important is the fact that cross-training allows for conditioning without piling more stress on the joints.
  • Thursday will be a rest day in preparation for the tandem run.

Like everything else in my life, I will live this out here. Feel free to follow along if you like.

P.S. I use the term granny because it makes for an ironic title. However, I do not intend to be called granny by my grandchildren–or by anyone else if you know what’s good for you! 🙂

A Letter to Laura

I have a new hero. Her name is Laura. On Sunday, Laura will run the LA Marathon. This is pretty exceptional all by itself, given that less than 1% of the population will ever complete a marathon. But Laura has traveled farther than most to get to this place.

She has surmounted a great many obstacles in her young life, not the least of which is a debilitating disease. Laura has chronic rheumatoid arthritis. There have been times over the past few years when even walking was nearly impossible. And now she is going to run.

26 miles.

Unfathomable!!

For this courageous woman, pushing her own personal boundaries is not enough. She is using her odyssey to help others. She has raised nearly $4,000.00 for C.A.T.S. (Center for Assault Treatment Services).

Running to help heal the bodies, minds, and spirits of the countless sexual assault and sexual abuse survivors, one step at a time…

I am, quite frankly, in awe of her.

As a fellow endurance runner, and as one who holds this brave young woman in the highest esteem, I send these words today to Laura. Feel free to eavesdrop.

Dearest Laura,

To even dream of running a marathon requires a great deal of daring. It is not for the faint of heart. But, it seems to me that you have been preparing for this moment for years. Life has asked a lot of you. You could have allowed this to defeat you or make you bitter. Instead you are burning it as fuel.

As if that were not enough, you have allowed your own pain to make you a valiant defender of the broken. Your gift to C.A.T.S. will provide freedom and healing to many. It will give them the ability to breathe again. Thank you for that.

As a fellow marathoner, I have a few words for you as you go into your first:

You have already done the hardest part. Getting out there week after week and running farther than you have ever run requires exceptional fortitude…and a wee bit of magic. 🙂 It is not glamorous. It is sweaty and hard. This you have done.

Like you, I usually only train to 21 or 22 miles. In my first marathon this messed with my head a little. Would I be able to find those extra 5 miles on game day? The answer to that question is YES!! Event day will bring an energy to you you didn’t know you had. And all those miles you’ve logged have developed in you the physical stamina to do more than you have yet asked of your body.

The most excruciating part of any race for me is the couple of hours before start. Nervous energy, which will serve me later, just makes me a wreck…like a race horse pawing the dirt in its stall.  I wonder if I’ve eaten enough. Or too much. Should I go to the bathroom one more time? But when the run begins, I’m home. This I know. This I’ve done.

I know you are running with friends and you probably know all the standard wisdom. Don’t go out too fast. Run YOUR pace. Don’t do a lot of needless weaving in and out of people. (It adds mileage!) Walk when you need to. Stay hydrated. etc….

Drink deeply of this day. Listen to the cheers. They are cheering for YOU! People who have never dreamed of doing what you are doing…people who can only imagine what it has cost you…are in awe of you. You are a hero to them. Take it in. High five the little kids who will line the path. Notice all the beautiful things along the way. This day is gift.

Laura, you are an extraordinary young woman. I wish you could know how you have inspired me. Your story will inspire countless others as well. I will be praying for you on Sunday morning from the time I wake up and anxiously awaiting news of your finish. You can do this.

Blessings to you, dear one.

GODSPEED!

Dear friends, will you also pray for Laura on Sunday morning? The run begins at 7:20 Pacific time. Also, if you are interested in helping her reach her goal of $4,000.00 for C.A.T.S. (she is almost there), leave a comment and I will send you donation details. Finally, if you would like to leave her good wishes or advice, I will be sure to pass those along.

Gift…

I have a “keep it forever” box. In it are gifts. Drawings and early scribbles from my babies. Love letters. Notes from my students. Cards from friends. Bits and pieces of one’s heart placed lovingly on paper and given to me. To an insurance adjuster it is worthless. But to me, it is priceless.

Today my husband and I have been married for 24 years. I would like to give him a keep it forever something. Last year I said thank you for the gift he has been to me. I thought this year it might be time to give something back.

So baby, these are my gifts to you:

I give you the gift of being heard. Your hopes, your dreams, your worries and hurts, your stories and jokes, your Snapple facts 🙂 … Share these with me. I’m listening.

I give you the gift of belief. Belief in who you are and who you can be. Belief in endeavors you wish to pursue. Belief in you as husband, father and friend.

I give you the gift of shared adventures. Whether racing up some mountain, navigating strange foreign cultures, trying crazy new foods, running all night, or something so wild we have not dared to imagine it yet, these I share with you.

I give you the gift of kind words. Words to you and words about you. I promise to be your biggest fan. Not blind. Not oblivious to challenges or faults. But honest enough and intentional enough to choose to acknowledge all that is good and true about you, to you and to others.

I give you permission to speak. Permission to speak hard words to me when needed. I do not promise I won’t be hurt. Nor can I assure you I won’t lash out at you. But I say to you that I need your input in my life. So if you are courageous enough, and I believe you are, say on.

I give you permission to not speak. 🙂 I give you the gift of long silent hours shared on the porch, or the beach, or a run, without the need to say anything.

I give to you my vulnerability. My hopes and dreams, my fears and worries. Not so you can fix them. But so you can know me. I trust you with me.

I give you the gift of years. Years to know one another better. Years to add to the deep well of our shared experiences. Years of laughter and tears. Years of sunsets, and chocolate, and dinners with friends. Years of watching our children build lives of their own. Years of playing with grandchildren. Years of ripening and deepening and becoming.

Happy Anniversary, Mike. I love you!

P.S. The chocolates at the top of the post are yours as well. 😉

Born to Run

Ccum

“It all began with a simple question no one could answer.  It was a five word puzzle that led me to a photo of a very fast man in a very short skirt…a murder, drug guerillas, and a one-armed man with a cream cheese cup strapped to his head.  I met a beautiful blonde forest ranger who slipped out of her clothes and found salvation by running naked in the Idaho forests, and a young surfer babe in pigtails who ran straight toward her death in the desert….barefoot batman…the Kalahari bushmen, the toenail amputee…and ultimately, the ancient tribe of the Tarahumara and their shadowy disciple, Caballo Blanco.  In the end, I got my answer, but only after I found myself in the middle of the greatest race the world would never see….And all because, in January of 2001, I asked my doctor this,
‘How come my foot hurts?‘”

Ccum1

Thus begins one of the most intriguing books I have ever read.  Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run combines masterful storytelling, mythic (yet real) figures, and truths about running that will blow your mind.  He drew me deep into the narrative with the first few sentences and told a story that was too fantastic not to be real.  I found myself so invested in the characters, I could hardly wait to find out what happened to them next.  Laced through the stories are discoveries the author makes about running as he spends time with these folks, many of which are quite startling…and liberating.

Plagued by repeated injuries and unwilling to accept the suggestion that perhaps someone of his size is just not cut out for running, McDougall begins a fascinating voyage to see running in a very different way.  In the Tarahumara, he finds a people who run for the sheer pleasure of it, who are still running injury free into their nineties, and who seem immune to the top ten diseases that are killing Americans.  What is it that they know and we don’t?  They eat a spare, vegetable based diet.  They live in simplicity and in harmony with those around them.  They have a very precise idea of how to treat others that demands hospitality and self sacrifice.

This last factor is more important than you might think.  Over and over, from running coaches and from runners themselves, the author learns that the most successful endurance runners are also gracious and generous human beings.  Witness Ultra legend Scott Jurek.  As a teenager, Scott came home after school every day to care for his sick mother who was dying of a debilitating disease.  He persisted on the cross country team even though his inadequate practice opportunities meant that he did not excel. He was tormented mercilessly by his teammates.  When his mother died, he suddenly had all this time on his hands.  So he ran…miles and miles and miles. A teammate enlisted him to run an ultra with him, and Scott won it.  From there, his life has been one triumph after another.  And yet, this 7 time Western States Ultra champion, who won the Leadville 100 then set a course record at Badlands just two weeks later, has never forgotten what it feels like to be the one bringing up the rear.  After every win, he wraps himself in a sleeping bag and stands at the finish line for hours cheering on each finisher.

McDougall introduces us to fascinating folks like Barefoot Ted, the verbose eccentric who eschews running shoes in favor of his own unencumbered (and unprotected) feet or, as an occasional concession to safety, Vibram Five Finger “shoes”. Jen and Billy are wild twenty somethings who party like rock stars, wake up late, and still have 100 miles in them.  Eric Orton’s coaching and friendship enable the author to be part of the race of a lifetime, and he, in turn, gets to meet the Tarahumara for whom he has the greatest reverence and respect.  And Arnulfo Quimare, the silent, regal, undisputed champion among a people who call themselves the Raramuri (running people).

The character who most captures my imagination is the enigmatic phantom, Caballo Blanco.  After acting as “mule” for Manuel Luna in the Leadville 100, Micah True leaves Colorado to do something no gringo has ever done; live among the reclusive Tarahumara in Mexico.  He fully embraces their lifestyle eating pinole (a corn porridge), beans, and limes and drinking homemade beer, ditching his running shoes for huarache type sandals made from old tire rubber, living in a hut he builds with his own hands, and running…running for miles and miles for the sheer joy of feeling his body move, strong and free.  He embraces the Tarahumara culture of korima, unconditional living.  If he is out running and needs assisstance, he stops at a hut and asks for it.  By the same token, his home and his larder are always open to visitors who pass his way.  And so, everyone is cared for.

It is Caballo Blanco who organizes the culminating event in the book.  He dreams of an ultra-marathon that will allow the Tarahumara to race inside their own canyon where they will not be exploited or manipulated, but where they can have the joy of running with some of the very best ultra athletes currently racing.  Just getting there is an adventure and it looks for all the world as though it may not come off.  I will not reveal to you how it all turns out, but I will tell you that I was crying like a baby before it was over.  The camaraderie, the kindness, and the ebullience completely overwhelmed me.

Whether you are a runner or not, you will find this story enthralling.  If you are a runner, you just might find yourself seeing the run with new eyes.  If you have lost that sense of fascination and wonder with what your body can do, perhaps you will find it here.

Photographs by Luis Escobar

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