Of all the important relationships in life, my relationship with the trails is one of the most complex and profound of all. Some days running the trail is like a magic carpet ride—every step easy and flowing and I’m one with the world. At times like this the trail allows me to connect with nature, know myself and be truly present. But other times the trail is a punishing taskmaster, with every rut, root, rock and impediment a massive hurdle. Each step is labored as I fall off goal pace from maybe 10-minute miles, to 12-minute miles—to hiking and trudging along in the high teens if not 20 minutes per mile. Such runs are not fun, they are supremely frustrating and humbling as they break me down into a dithering mess. But the trail doesn’t care, it is the same whether I’m cruising or struggling, and at times like these it is testing me.
Until I surrender and embrace the challenge, my suffering only increases. Once I get my head around this and adjust my attitude, I can start to move forward in a new way and enjoy the trail anew. It is on runs like this that the trail teaches important lessons like patience, perseverance, resilience and respect. As with any great relationship balance and harmony are wonderful, but not always how it goes. The trail helps me be a better person and define who I am. Even on tough runs I have to remember that I love the trail, and thank it for being there.
Recently I had an opportunity to share my love of the trail while celebrating my youngest son’s eighth birthday. Like any good parent, my approach was: “Whatever you want to do today, Billy, it is your day.” After departing Toys“R”Us with a passel of goodies, we still had a window of time that day, so I decided that I would give him a real gift. We went to the north slope of Mt. Tam and the Cataract Falls trail. The afternoon light was getting soft as we set off on the gnarly but gorgeous lakeside trail with a redwood canopy overhead.
Billy glided ahead of me running, no, skipping, along the way. Every unique plant or tree, side trail and stream crossing was a wonder and delight for him. He floated along ahead of me, and I actually wondered if he was full of helium. After about a mile and hundreds of stone steps up, we got to a natural pool that was fed by waterfalls cascading down. Billy was in heaven, rock hopping around and over it. He was one with nature and seemed to be literally walking on water. Suddenly, he slipped and fell on the rocks, his hand hit hard and he winced. He got up and stumbled over to me clutching one hand in the other and stammered: “the rocks got me and I’m hurt, Daddy.” I hugged him and opened his hand, fearful of seeing a flow of blood. But it was thankfully just a gouge of skin—painful to be sure—but no broken bones and stitches would not be needed. I kissed his hand and held him.
Then he said “let’s head back now,” and with that he was off and flying down that same gnarly trail again. When we got back to the car Billy asked when we could come back. I said many, many more times, and that we could also explore other new trails together in the future. His eyes got big and I smiled into them, thankful that I could share with him the gift of the trail on his special day.
In this issue we have so much great stuff for ultrarunners, and a major theme is older ages and longer distances. While the sport is getting younger and faster there are actually extraordinary things happening at the upper age and distance echelons of the sport as well. Check out the amazing and inspiring stories of Mark Richtman, Gunhild Swanson, Bill Dodson and Joe Fejes’ new American record of over 600 miles in six days. This issue also has helpful features on myriad topics that will help you on your first, or your hundredth ultra. We also have coverage and great photos from 20 ultra races that occurred in recent months. Hopefully you will find useful and entertaining information as you take on your own ultras this summer and fall.
May your every run be a great one!