Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Twenty Mile Tree

If I run to this tree from my house and back, it's 20 miles.

This is one of my favorite trees in Larimer County. It sits all by itself at the top of a hill in a field of weeds, in Fossil Creek Reservoir natural area between Fort Collins, Windsor and Loveland. It's dying a slow death, each year there are more dead limbs, but it's still an impressive old cottonwood, and it will hang on until the last leaf falls off someday.

Not getting any taller, spreading wider, but reaching out with limbs outstretched like it's trying to take in everything in the time it has left.

Sort of like an aging runner.

Today I ran exactly 20.5 miles, because I ran all the way to the picnic area by Fossil Creek Reservoir and took a little break in the shade to eat a Lara bar and drink some water before I went home.

Hamstring was good, no problems there. I ran an average pace of about 10 and a half minute miles, and it took a little over 3 1/2 hours. Easy pace, nothing hard, just relaxing the whole way and listening to music, something I haven't done for a while.

Didn't have to walk a single step, kept shuffling along comfortably, and even had the energy to push the hills on the way back. A good run.

When I got done I wasn't tired, I felt good, like I had plenty of miles left in me. That's encouraging. I think last month's marathons did help me maintain something. On the way back I was considering some detours to make it longer, but I kept myself from doing that, thinking I should see how the hamstring handles 20 miles before I start pushing beyond.

I thought about things on my run today. It was a good feeling to be out there alone for a few hours, I processed my thoughts and got some good ideas for writing.

I got to thinking about the sport of ultrarunning again, it's been on my mind and yesterday I saw a Facebook post that got me grinding the brain gears again. Andy Jones-Wilkins posted something on this blog that prompted me to comment.

Our local paper has been following my friend, PI teammate and 2008 Badwater crewmember Nick Clark in his quest to break the Grand Slam record this summer. I'm happy to see the newspaper covering ultrarunners as athletes and not as crazy extremist freaks as often happens in the media. In my monthly column I've been sticking to ultra topics in hope of showing the public that it's not out of the norm to want to challenge yourself in ways you never imagined were possible.

To Andy's blogpost, this is what I replied:

Been thinking about this topic myself a lot lately. Growth of the sport is always hard for us old timers because we get nostalgic about the "good old days", and often have a hard time accepting the changes that the newer, younger initiates bring. I love that ultrarunning is getting more attention in the press as a legitimate sport and not as a crazy extremist pursuit. At the same time, I roll my eyes at the "Facebook generation" and the narcissism and exhibitionism that goes along with one-upping everyone else. I love the sport and just want it to continue, and sometimes I can be a bit protective when I fear someone might do something stupid to endanger its future. Ultrarunning is still a sport that is not open to all- it's expensive, requires lots of disposable income and leisure time, and self-focused energy, so it's not really available to all for full participation. And women get very little recognition in their contributions to the sport. It's hard to get into so many races because there are so many participants competing just for an entry slot! But...records were made to be broken, change is hard, curmudgeons will be curmudgeonly, and I figure my part in it is to encourage people to participate and challenge themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually to the fullest extent possible, and that all are athletes and make a valuable contribution by example, not just the fastest, wealthiest, and best-looking. There's good and bad in everything and ultrarunning is that way too. But I love it, and I'm a lifer...

Every sport has its good and bad qualities. The things I think about as an ultrarunner have to do with preserving the sport for the long haul, safety, and making it accessible and welcoming to people who might never have thought they could be an ultrarendurance athlete. I think it's great that young people are taking up the sport, that there is a proliferation of trail running- and I wish the same for road running and multiday running too, eventually.

I would like to see more opportunities for older people to stay in the sport with generous time cutoffs and fixed time events. I'd like the contributions of women to the sport to be recognized instead of everyone focusing on the few fast guys. It would be nice to honor the efforts of people who had a long struggle and had to work extra hard to achieve what they have, whether it was overcoming obesity and a sedentary lifestyle and upbringing, struggles with addiction, self-esteem issues, economic disadvantage, health issues, and more.

It's one thing to have running talent, but quite another to have the determination to change your life and go beyond anything you ever dreamed possible when the odds are stacked against you. Some ultrarunners I admire in this respect are Heather Whiteside Ward, Bard Parnell, David Clark, and Alex May.

I'm one of the relative old-timers in ultrarunning at this point, though there are still more than a handful of people who were in it for 10 or more years before I was. Ultrarunning is a sport that has only been around in the U.S. for a short time. Since I started in the sport at a fairly young age compared to the majority of runners who were doing it at the time, if all goes well I will be one of the longer lived ultrarunners by the time I keel over. At least that's my plan, if I live to be an old fart.

The hardest thing for me as an ultrarunner has always been my lack of financial independence, because if I could afford it, I would be running across the US, running Badwater multiple times every year, traveling all over the world to check out different places to run. I'd be off on new adventures all the time. But I make the best of what I can do. And you never know what the future holds, as long as I have my health.

I'm hoping I'm less than halfway through my ultrarunning longevity at this point, 22 years into it. I'm not one of the fastest, and my claim to fame might be the longest time taken to complete a 100 mile run at age 95, but I'd be okay with that.

That's a lot of thinking for just 20 miles. I can't wait for the next long run!