Hammer of the Gods

There’s something particularly brutal about distance running on a trail covered in ice and slush. The surface is hard as rock and full of ruts, holes and waves. On top of that lies a layer of slippery slush that makes every step a chore. Only the truly insane would run on it. Of course I had to do it.

My more dedicated running partners (Erin and Steve) had run the ordinarily gentle NCR rail-trail the week before. They reported that the trail was in better condition. Maybe I wasn’t as insane as I thought. I had taken some time off from running (except on the treadmill), so my goal was to run 16 miles.

The first mile or two wasn’t so bad, except for the fact that my friends like to run much faster than I do. It takes my body about three miles before it decides that I’m not giving up and so it had better get with the program. My buddies left me wallowing in the slush by the time my body decided to stop yelling at me. Apparently my body has more sense than my mind.

So, off I went trudging through the ice and snow. I kept thinking about Robert Plant singing Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song:

We come from the land of the ice and snow…

The trail was pounding my legs like the Hammer of the Gods.

My friends were doing I-don’t-know how many more miles than me.  I saw them coming back toward me while I was stretching at my 8 mile turnaround. Yep, I was going to be left swishing along behind them yet again.

Somewhere about 3 or so miles from the finish, Erin passed me going the other way. He said he was putting in some extra miles. That means that he is extra insane. He caught up with me yet again a couple of miles later. We cruised along until I got about a mile out and then I told him I was walking the rest of the way back. We were close to another trailhead, so we decided that I would get picked up there.

The weather was too cold for my sweaty body to sit and wait, so I started walking on the parking lot. I was amazed at how much better I felt as soon as I started moving on a smooth surface. I cruised around and logged another mile while I was waiting.

The brutality of the trail slammed my body with the berserk fury of a Viking invasion. Still, I took a blow from the Hammer of the Gods and was left standing. Erin and Steve told me that sometimes the Hat Run trail is frozen over, so now I know what I might be in store for me If I draw the wrong lot: ice cold brutality.

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Slippery Slope

The treadmill was developed as a torture device. I’m not kidding. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I don’t mind it.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still rather be out running through the woods. The problem is that the winter gifts the trails with a beautiful blanket of white and the sparkle of ice crystals. The scenery makes trail running a little dicey.

I am lucky enough to have a treadmill and a spinning cycle in my basement. I am smart enough to have put an old television down there too. These days I’m cranking out the miles while I watch a movie. Or two.

Indoor endurance isn’t nearly as fun as the outdoor wilderness experience, but it sure beats breaking a leg or an arm or worse. I want to give myself the best shot at staying fit and injury-free for the Hat Run 50k in March. Sometimes I need to stay away from the trails, as beautiful as they are. Even when the weather drives me indoors, I’ve got to keep going.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

My throat hurts worse than my legs. Heck, I’m an Alabama boy. Where I grew up weather below 30 degrees is considered incompatible with human survival and a few inches of snow is considered a blizzard. Now that I live in the mid-Atlantic I have to cope with bitter and evil cold temperatures if I want to run on actual outdoor trails. This is a tough thing for me.

Besides the getting over the I’m-not-supposed-to-go-out-in-the-cold thing, there is the what-to-wear thing. I seem to either over dress or under dress. It is tough to make more clothing magically appear when I am several miles out from the car. Even if I wear too much I have to cope with carrying around extra gear that I don’t have stowage for after I strip off. I guess I should start running with a backpack. Yee-haw.

More than that, there is the throat thing. The first time I ran in cold weather this season I could barely talk for a week afterward. First I had a deep and strong voice like a middle linebacker or a buttkicking mercenary and I thought that was kinda cool. Unfortunately that gave way to an I-sound-like-I-am-sick-and-I-can-barely-talk voice that lasted for a week. I could have lived with that except for the fact that essentially I talk for a living. Yet another sacrifice I make for my sport I suppose.

Of course I could run indoors. I actually have a treadmill at home. I don’t even mind using it. I like it better than running on pavement. The thing is, I would rather be out on trail even if I can’t talk so well afterwards.

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OK, so I’ve been busy…

It is hard for me to keep running while I am busy. The truth is that I am never going to find the time to run. I have to make the time to run. I know that I can. Sometimes I just don’t manage to do it enough.

Usually it doesn’t work out for me unless I get up early enough to squeeze in a run before the work day begins. On the other hand, sometimes I can work it in during lunchtime. The real problem with me is motivation.

Unless I am on a training schedule for a particular event, I tend to let the running slide for seemingly more important things like clipping my toenails or watching a movie. I have to remember that I run because I really like running and how it makes me feel free and alive. Obviously, it is hard to keep that memory fresh unless I have done it recently.

The longer I postpone my next run the harder it is for me to do. It isn’t because it is physically more difficult. Sometimes it is easier. I just don’t remember how much I love to run and how much joy it brings me.

To keep it up, I need to remember the joy especially when joy seems so impossible to find. Every time I run I stay in the moment. When I am running nothing else matters but my flight across the terrain and where to place the next footstep. I need to do it. I just need to keep going.

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Beginning the Running Story Again

I have fallen off of the wagon with my running habit. By that I don’t mean that I have gone on a running binge where I have put in long miles almost every day. Quite the opposite. I have only been out running a few times since The Big Schloss 50k. This might not be a bad thing.

I probably needed a little recovery time. It took me nine hours to finish the sadistic Big Schloss course. I had never spent that much time running. I was in serious pain by the time I got to the finish. It shocked me that I had as much energy remaining as I did. I stayed at the party for a good while before getting back to camp. Back in the reality of my body, I had seriously abused myself.

The buddy that talked me into doing the race (OK, he didn’t really have to twist my arm) took a break too, so I don’t feel too bad about it. However, I feel like it is time to begin running again. I have committed to doing another (less grueling) 50k in the spring. Since I have trouble keeping my mileage up unless I am on a training schedule I suppose it is time to make one for myself again.

Most of my recent running (or lack of running) problem comes from my travel schedule. It is tough to keep getting in the miles when I am on the road. I hate running on pavement and it hates me right back. It is tough for me to find dirt trails to run unless I am somewhere like Portland. Usually I am somewhere like Shreveport or New Orleans or Orlando.

I began battling extensor tendonitis in my left foot just a week or two before the race. I attribute this to my switching from my Brooks Cascadia to my New Balance MT100s while doing a speaking tour of Louisiana. The MT100s are so small and light and easy to pack that it is hard not to make them my travel shoes. Unfortunately I didn’t run on trails with them, and I think my feet took a good beating. I will try not to repeat that mistake. I still feel a little twinge.  

So now, here I am, more than a month after The Big Schloss and I have been running only a few times. My fiancé (who very, very seldom runs) took me out running one of those times. I need to begin my running story again before it comes to an end once more. I know I can do it. I just need to keep going.

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The Big Schloss

My first 50k “run” was more like a mountain death march. The designated course for The Big Schloss 50k was often an obstacle course at best. The topography was almost enough to make me cry. I actually had to rock climb at one point. There were very few wide, relatively smooth and foot-worn stretches. The course was mostly rock-strewn single track. My choice in most portions was either to bounce from rock to rock or to pick my way through them at a walking pace. The more difficult sections were radical inclines. I had to hike up the steep sections and try not to kill myself while flying downhill.   

Last night I learned that the results had been posted. I finished in 9 hours and three minutes. It was a respectable time given that it was my first effort. My friend that finished in 7:48 posted a 9 hour finish his first time out. At least that is what he told me. Maybe he was trying to make me feel better.

Still I feel good about the run and my position in it. My goal was merely to finish and I did. So did 54 others. I finished an hour and a half ahead of the final two finishers. There must have been quite a few drop outs because they wrote the number 65 on the back of my calf.

It amazed me how quickly a bottle-necked pack of runners could turn into a more isolated experience. I was all alone for almost the entirety of the last leg. I finished strong (the last half of the last leg was over merciful terrain) and flew past one runner with 3 or so miles to go. I was motivated by an extreme desire to stop running. I ran fast to the finish just to get it over with.

My fiancée and another friend were volunteering at the aid stations. When I saw them at aid station #3, my fiancée told me I looked like hell coming in and she was worried about me. “Are you SURE you want to do the last leg? It is eight miles more…” I wasn’t quitting. I might have crawled if I had to. Wait, I actually DID have to crawl up the rock-climbing portion of the trail. Halfway through the last leg I began to think that it would never end.

The finish line was at the pavilion hosting the after-party. After I found my people I marched back down to the lake to take a dip. The cold water felt great on my hot legs and feet. I had worn a few blisters in my feet but they weren’t too bad and I hadn’t noticed them during the run. They were open and the pockets of skin caught water in them as I swam. Several other runners were wading around cooling their legs as well.

I got a few beers and some hot food at the finish. No t-shirt, no finisher’s medal, no schwag at all, and I think that is great. The memory of the views and my triumph of will is better than any trinket could ever be. Would I do it again? I signed up for another 50k within a couple of days of finishing my first. I guess that answers the question.

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I never expected that this past weekend’s running event would end with eight Capitol Police patrol cars responding to break up my ground fighting match against an honest-to-goodness soldier of fortune wearing a red dress. Actually we were both wearing red dresses. I admit that we were both a little intoxicated. OK, I was a little intoxicated and he was a lot intoxicated. I’m not sure how he was remaining conscious. Chalk it up to toughness and tenacity.

I swore to get his back that day after multiple in-my-face interrogations about whether I knew what it meant to have his back. This mostly consisted of us getting nose-to-nose and him yelling into my face “have you got my back?” and my yelling back “hell yeah I’ve got your back” followed by his yelling “do you know what that means to have my back?” and my yelling back “hell yeah I know what that means” or something along those lines anyway. We carried on mingling independently among the crowd until I heard another man tell him something like “if you lay a hand on me one more time, I am going to call the police.”

I took that as a sign that I might need to intervene. I did this by telling the somewhat frightened and fully annoyed party “I got this” and then engaging my new friend in some manly horse play. Unfortunately that ended with our knocking over one of the poolside bars. It was the one serving the Heavy SeasLoose Cannon” beer I had been sipping all afternoon. Yep, Loose Cannon. You can’t make this stuff up, people.  

I pulled him out of the pre-party to begin the run just as hotel security were arriving to explain to me that my new-found friend’s exit from the immediate area was not optional. After we made it about 50 meters around to the sidewalk next to the hotel, (which was something of an out-of-the-way location with a little grass strip next to it)  it seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess, to have a little sparring match. This went on for about, uh, fifteen or twenty minutes or maybe a little longer before the police showed up. The fact that we were both wearing red dresses at least did help to give the officers at least some sense of humor about it.

Yes, that is what I said. We were two men wearing red dresses ground fighting alongside what turned out to be the Capitol Police Vehicle Maintenance Facility. Brilliant tactic. Right where they never expected it. If somebody from the hotel hadn’t called them, we might have been able to go at it for an hour or so. At least I had grown bored with it by the time the cops showed up. He always got the advantage, but I was too slippery and stubborn for him to finish the job. Everything always seemed to end in stalemate. I guess I can be proud of that since he is an “Operations and Intelligence Consultant” for a shadowy contrator with a somewhat intimidating profile and corporate image.

I guess you might be interested in why in the hell we were wearing red dresses. Well, I am an infrequent participant in a self described “drinking club with a running problem” known as the Hash House Harriers. This is a worldwide disorganization that is mismanaged by numerous local groups in cities everywhere. It is something of an underground running cult with cultural ties to rugby players, lacrosse players and other singers of bawdy drinking songs. It also tends to attract a disproportionate share of current and former military servicemembers.

From time to time, a local hash will put on a “Red Dress Run” where all participants put on a red dress and run through the city. I was running the DC Red Dress Run. People inevitably think it is to support some sort of worthy cause. They tend to yell “what are you running for?” Invariably the response is “BEER.” This simultaneous and spirited reply tends to create even more of an expression of confusion upon the querent than the sight of a throng of men and women running down the street while wearing red dresses.

So, there we were, wearing red dresses and fighting on the ground next to the Capitol Police facility. The officers suggested that we should probably stop that, and then they separated us and asked us a few questions. To the extent possible I answered these questions with “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” and “yes sir” and “no sir.” That seemed to help things go a bit more smoothly than they otherwise might have.

The most important questions came at the very end of the exchange. The officer in charge asked me where we were staying. I pointed at the building right behind us and verbally emphasized our incredible proximity to the location where we could disappear never to be seen again for the rest of the evening. The officer then asked me if I could get my friend up to his room, and I gave an emphatic “yes ma’am” that seemed to register fairly well with her. After a minute or two of discussion among the officers on the scene the officer in charge asked me if I was willing to take responsibility for my friend and I agreed that I would. She then explained that if anybody saw us anywhere outside of that hotel until the next day they were going to haul in both of our sorry butts. I was good with that. It seemed better than getting hauled in right away.

I managed to coax, assist, carry and drag my friend back to his room. I made sure that he lived to experience the hellish hangover that awaited him the next day. I bet he wondered where all of the bruises and scrapes came from.

I never expected that my run would end up not being a run at all, but at least it gave me an interesting story.

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