Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

I had high expectations for this past weekend when I circled it on the calendar about 6 months ago.  The Bandera 100k Endurance Trail Race.  I was excited about it for a few reasons.  #1.  I love running at Bandera.  The brutal, rugged nature of the course is a dream.  I wish this place was in my backyard.  #2.  The beauty of the area is spectacular.  #3.  The people.  Great race director, courageous runners, and the best volunteers.  #4.  If that was not enough, it was announced in November that this race was designated by US Track & Field as the 2011 100k Trail Championship.  Sah-weet!  Within 2 days of this announcement this past year’s winner of the Western States 100, Geoff Roes, showed up on the registered list.  This was going to be a fast field on the toughest course in Texas.  Delicious!

2010 White Rock Marathon Double 

I trained harder this year than ever before.  Over 3,700 miles.  I had the awe inspiring privilege of being on a crew and pacing a runner at the Badwater 135 in Death Valley.  My year culminated with 5 Ultramarathon events in a very short 8-week span of time.  The last event was my now annual White Rock Marathon double I do in celebration of my birthday.  I run 26 miles from my house in the dark to the start of the marathon by myself and then run the marathon course all while carrying a 15-20 pound pack and all of my own supplies.  This was the first weekend in December.  The next weekend I went to Ohio for my Grandmother’s 85th birthday.  It was brutally cold there and I suppose my body was a bit vulnerable for all the recent efforts and I came home with a very nasty cough.  Maybe I caught this bug on the super-clean air they maintain on a plane? I used to make fun of people who wore those paper air masks on airplanes and in airports.  It may be me next time!  Anywho, that was December 11th.  This horrible, nasty cough and some serious chest congestion stayed with me for over 5 weeks through the holidays. 

Much better than schweaty balls.

I was planning on taking 2 weeks off in early December any way and then get back into mileage to keep my diet disciplined during Christmas and be ready for Bandera 100k and ultimately Rocky Raccoon 100-miler the first week of February.  So much for that!  Cake balls were another unforeseen calamity of the month of December.  14 pounds later!  Uggghhh!  I probably needed to put a few back on after all the big efforts of the fall, but not like that.  So this past week my cough really had not fallen off that much.  Due to the lack of mileage and my general health I had pretty much decided to bypass Bandera this year.  With Rocky on the horizon it was the right call.  Be right did not take the sting out of the decision at all!  Throughout the week my trail running compatriots are posting up their sentiments of growing excitement about taking on the raw beauty that is Bandera.  “See you on Friday Dave!”  Not!!!

My usual camp set-up.  I park my car in the tent when I encounter hail.

Friday morning rolls around.  I wake up and do not feel congested at all.  Very minimal coughing.  I had been able to get in about 50 miles the week before and 30 so far this week.  The thoughts start creeping into my head:  “I could make a go of it!”  “The tent and camping gear is still in the trunk of the car….”  I was this close (  ) to tossing a few items in a bag and hitting the road.  Judgment prevailed.  I am not going to say if it was better or worse judgment.  I will just leave it at that.   No Bandera for me this year.

No explanation required.

I moped about for all of about one minute and 27 seconds.  My thoughts turned to Rocky Raccoon 100 that will be happening 4 weeks from now.  Mileage.  I still need mileage.  When prepping for a 100-miler that means big mileage.  It means time on your feet.  It means big runs stacked back-to-back.  It means consuming most of a weekend with running and napping and eating to reload to run some more.  I immediately begin to construct my consolation prize for missing the pain train down in the hill country.  I know instantly I have to run 100k this weekend.  The question is what combination of my local running haunts will it be.  100k is a lot of solo miles.  I start thinking about some of my running friends still in town and what they might have going on.  Weather.  Some interesting stuff in the forecast.  As the pieces start to come together I make my appeal to the universe to give me exactly what I want this weekend to be.  If you do not ask you do not get.   This was the happiness I was seeking.  Or was it a (guilty) pleasure?  More about that in a bit.  Here is how the weekend unfolded:

Two people I admire and respect.

My great friends, Craig and Carla, have a group running the 380 Greenbelt at first light on Saturday morning.  10 miles up a very smooth, flat trail to the dam at Lake Ray Roberts and 10 miles back.  Perfect start for the weekend’s mileage including accountability to meet a group and get the effort off to an early beginning.  Most of the people in this group are fairly new runners.  Craig and Carla had tremendous success as new runners in 2010.  It culminated in both finishing their first marathon ever at White Rock.  I could write an entire post about their awesomeness.  Their close friend Michelle also got bit by the running bug this past year.  She finished 2 marathons and is eyeing the 30-miler at Cowtown.  She is a tough, determined runner.  She will get it done.  A small group of MTB’ers take off ahead of us and off we go.  I love running with all different varieties of runners.  I love the social aspects of running.  As I start running I feel as loose and as strong as I ever have.  It is pretty cool, but the sun is up and it promises to be a beautiful morning.  I run easy wanting to maintain contact with the group.  Within 2 miles or so no one is behind me and I am clicking of 8:00-8:30 miles with zero effort.  My mind is focused the way it usually is at the beginning a race.  Hmm.  I wonder why that is this weekend?

This is what REAL food is.

Before I continue with the outcome of this segment of the run, I should add that I recently made some huge changes to my diet in an effort to gain metabolic efficiency and avoid GI distress.  I considered being a Vegan or vegetarian.  Without going into detail, I would probably now describe myself as a flexitarian.  Anyway, this is a work in progress.  The miles this week should provide some interesting lab results for the tinkering I have started. I make 10 miles at the turnaround at the dam in 1h25m and start to head back.  The stomach is starting to growl at me a bit.  I have no food with me!  70 ounces of water with Nuun is it.  The water quantity will turn out to be an issue as well considering my effort level and the 55 degree temps in direct sunlight.  

Possible tattoo?

My pace does not fall off much as I am still feeling pretty good overall.  I am running pretty much at 9:00 pace the first 5 miles back.  I figure I can gut it out the last 5 if I have to.  2 more miles pass and the full-on bonk is coming.  At this point I am 2h15m into a strong effort with no calories.  Based on my research and ciphering with my fat crayon on my Big Chief tablet, I put the outer limit on my time for effort without additional calories at 150 minutes.  I guess the light breakfast did not help this.  I am even a bit woozy.  I had been rationing my water a bit, but now I decide it is now or never and start hitting the water harder.  Mile 17 to 18 had me doing some power walking and trudging.  This is about to get ugly.  Not the ideal way to start a weekend of big mileage.  At this point I turn a negative into a positive and SMILE.  Not even 20 miles yet and I have pushed myself hard and get to see how I react to adversity.  This is why I do this.  For this moment right now.  The trudge turns into kind of a run again.  Around the corner come the three MTB’ers I mentioned earlier.  They are cruising easy.  I ask the magic question.  “You guys wouldn’t happen to have any extra food on you would you?”  I look pretty ragged at this point.  Soaked and with the running beard it would not be the first time I have been mistaken for a hobo.  Thankfully one of the guys has a Clif bar.  I get an immediate surge of nutritional and spiritual energy and bring it home strong and finish the first 20-mile block in 2h58m.

My blog has been self-described as about my musings of how running imitates life:life imitates running.  Earlier in the week I saw the flyer below on the bulletin board at my home office-away-from-home office, Starbucks:

Creating Happiness.  The art of peaceful living.  Sounds like a great way to spend a little time in between some miles at a great setting at the DMA with my friend Crazy Ray Cooper.  Ray and I share many passions.  Among them are nature, photography, and of course happiness.  There is much about eastern religions and philosophy that I find appealing and I am on a journey of discovery in this arena.  Ray seems to be a few strides down the trail ahead of me on this.  This represents my first opportunity to actual hear much of what I have been reading straight from a teacher’s mouth.  A quick shower and food on the go and I make DMA with 10 minutes to spare and $10 poorer (parking) for this “free” talk on happiness.

The auditorium is filled to capacity and Ray makes the talk just before Buddhist monk, Gen Kelsang Jampa, begins his talk with a meditation.  First let me say he looks exactly as I expected and sounded just as I expected.  Here is his picture below and setting on the stage.  He spoke in a very hushed, understand tone of voice and had a very strong sense of peace and energy about him.  The meditation he lead quite wonderfully brought the room together and created just the right feeling amongst the group.

Happiness.  What is it and what causes happiness?  I make no promises, but I will try to be brief here and capture the essence since this is a blog about running?  (Or life?)  Many people mistake happiness with pleasure.  Pleasures in our life are all things external to our own being.  Money, houses, cars, clothes, etc.  He even talked about food.  We love to eat food.  Comfort food makes us happy.  Does it?  His more specific example was Snuffer’s cheese fries!  It was quite entertaining to hear this monk, complete with bald head and robe, talking about the greatness that are Snuffer’s cheese fries.  Those first few bites dipped in creamy ranch are obscenely good and on the surface it seems to make you happy.  This never lasts.  Pleasure ultimately becomes pain too many times for most people when it comes to such an indulgence.  1600 calories and 2 pounds of goo later you feel awful!  If something can cause true happiness for you this scenario should never happen.  Many people say I will truly be happy when .  Most of the time they are talking about having a certain house, and a certain car, and a certain income, and a certain relationship, and other STUFF!  All of these things are fleeting.  Just like the pleasure associated with eating Snuffer’s cheese fries. 

Hmmm.  Cheese fries.  Doh!

True happiness comes from within.  He was not saying it is bad to enjoy some of the pleasures that this world avails us just as long as you do not base your happiness on the possession of said pleasures(stuff).  Throughout your life chances are good that you will have periods of time where you have stuff and then you lose it somehow (job loss, etc).  Life happens!  How many people do you know who appear to have many pleasures, indulgences, and stuff in their life and are not truly happy?  These fleeting pleasures are nothing but moving targets for a misplaced pursuit.  Many of us are looking in the wrong place.  It is always WITHIN you and it is not fleeting.  It is possible to be happy all the time and too much true happiness, or inner peace, will not make your stomach hurt!  Meditation, praying, and other introspective thought is a great way to discover that part of your true self.  Running has been a tremendous catalyst and a big part of my evolution on this journey.  Once you find inner peace, you can then turn your concern towards those around you with a pure, open heart.  His call was to cherish those in your life.  With your own peace within, it all becomes not only possible, but effortless as well.  With my Zen-thing within fully charged, I wandered the DMA for a while after the talk.  This also reminded me that I need to spend more time looking at beautiful and interesting things.  A field trip to the Nasher is next on the list for my next foray to the Arts District.  Now, back to the running!

It truly is all in your hands!

I head back to the area of Allen that I live in that I affectionately refer to as “The Bubble”.  Statistically, Allen is the safest city in the state of Texas.  Everything is new, but very homogenous.  The Bubble is triangulated on all sides by repeats of the same big box stores and franchises.  I think kids who grow up entirely within The Bubble have a great potential to have an extremely limited world view as they become adults.  Do not get me wrong.  I love the community as a whole and there are lots of really great people here.  I’m just sayin’.  But, I digress.  I stop at my usual Starbucks and grab a cup of tea and sit for a while contemplating the great teaching I heard earlier.  I do not linger too long as I still have some miles to get in.

After some more food and lots of water, I head up to Lifetime Fitness.  Before running I take a good soak in the spa.  I am not sore at all, but I am really just being proactive at this point.  Next, it is off to hit the dreadmill.  Yes I said dreadmill.  I am about as anti-dreadmill as one can get.  I really have no logical explanation as to why I decided to get the next block of 10 miles on the dreadmill.  60 minutes is the maximum time you can set it for.  I will have to break this up into 2 sessions so I decide 5mph is fine.  12:00 pace during a 100k is actually pretty ideal.  All of my miles this morning were completely flat and fast the opposite of most ultras.  To support my friends still out on the course in Bandera, I set the incline on 3% and let it roll.  I watch Ironman on my iPhone and the initial hour goes very quickly.  I reset the machine,  grab some water, and a 3rd towel to try and mop up the gallons of sweat I have sprayed on a 3-machine radius in all directions.  After 20 minutes of the next segment the movie ends and I just veg out for the next 40 minutes.  A guy comes and gets on a dreadmill a few down from me.  He is wearing Vibram five fingers shoes.  After a 45-second warm-up he has the machine cranked up to about 8-9 mph.  He sounds like a herd of elephants.  His foot strike is horrible.  You cannot even call it a foot strike.  I call it heel demolision with a case of guaranteed shin splints.  He runs exactly 1 mile and leaves.  Children!  Listen to me!  Listen to Ignacio!  These types of minimalist shoes are a tool to help you become a natural, more efficient runner and avoid injury.  Unfortunately, this guy represents a rather large percentage of the under-informed who buy these.  Please do not let him be you.  I beg you.

Here I am on the dreadmill at Lifetime.

10 minutes left to wrap up my 30 miles for the day.  For a moment I think fondly of the dreadmill.  I even go so far as to concoct a scheme to run for 24 hours straight on a dreadmill and see how far I can run.  I will do it for charity and I will do it right here at Lifetime in front of whomever wants to see this hamster on a wheel.  Logistically it would be easy.  Aid station right next to the machine.  6 TV’s in front of me.  People coming and going.  Surely I jest?  Probably not.  It will happen one way or the other I am sure.   Once I get a crazy idea in my head I just cannot let go of it.  Shower, more food and time for bed.  By the time I am looking at the back of my eylids it is close to 12:30 at night.  Morning will come early.

I highly recommend...

I awake to the sound of raindrops on my window.  At some point during the night I subconsciously I thought I heard sleet.  I pull up the weather radar and the hourly forecast to see if indeed the Universe was still conspiring to give me all that I wanted out of this weekend.  So far so good.  37 degrees and raining at 6:00 am.  Out of bed and out the door to drive to Frisco to meet a small group of hearty souls for a little birthday run in celebration of Patton and Steve-O.  We end up meeting at a Starbucks and get ready to take off from there.  With a Winter Storm Warning looming, people look at us like we are crazy as we take off through the puddles amongst whoops and hollers.  This easy 6-miler is a perfect way for me to get everything going again after yesterday’s efforts.  We return to Starbucks for cookie-cake (thanks Lori!), coffee, and some great conversation.  A good tribe was assembled that morning and the peace pipe was shared by all.  I head home and before I hit the shower yet again I grab 6 more miles on the dreadmill bringing my total to 42 miles and 24 still to go.

I heart Braveheart!

This next part of the story is the part I had been really looking forward to and was the lynch-pin to the whole weekend coming together perfectly.  Earlier in the week the weather “experts” had begun to sound the alarm for a major winter storm to hit Dallas on Sunday.  Let me put it this way:  A broken clock is right twice a day.  Or how about this way:  C.Y.A.!  I guess after totally missing the 12-14 inches that we got in February last year they were taking no chances.  At this point it is only 10:30ish in the morning.    True, I have still have 24 miles to get in, but I was waiting for a very specific time and culmination of events to take place before I get started.  I grab a big plate of food and get horizontal in bed with it while watching Braveheart.  I fall asleep to the sound of windswept rains pattering against my bedroom patio door.  Over 2 hours later I wake up rather refreshed.  It is quiet outside.  With a hopeful heart I peek between the blinds.  YES!  Not only is snow falling.  Big fat wonderful flakes of snow are falling at a steady clip.  The ground appears to have at least 2 inches already.  In the span of a quick 40 winks my playground that is Erwin Park has been transformed into a Winter Wonderland.  The universe will conspire to give you what you want if it is a part of your true personal destiny.  Any thoughts of Bandera are long gone.  I am exactly where I am supposed to be about to do exactly what I should be doing. 

I quickly start to lay out gear and clothes.  Choosing the right gear for a 24-mile run in the snow in 30 degree temps can be tricky.  We do not get to run in these conditions very often here in Texas.  Knee-length compression socks:  Check.  I slept in those.  2XU compression tights:  Roger, Roger.  Patagonia Capilene 1 base layer:  You betcha.  Long-sleeve Badwater technical shirt on top of that: Love the irony of running in the snow in a Badwater shirt.  Moeben calf sleeves and arm sleeves to regulate body temps as my effort and conditions vary:  Got ‘em and love ‘em- thanks Shannon!  2 layers of running gloves:  Fingers and one other appendage are the only things that even go numb on these cold runs.  Bandana and stocking cap:  Gotta look like a bandit if I am going to run like I stole it!  My Nathan hydration system and some very select calories rounds it all out.

I am down-right giddy as I head to the car to drive to the park.  The snow continues to fall at a rapid pace.  My timing will be perfect.  The drive there is very dicey.  The road conditions are really bad.  Now that the “2011 Winter Blast” as the media is calling it every 2 minutes is over, early Sunday afternoon were the worst driving conditions.  Especially bad are the dumbasses in pick-up trucks.  They haul down the road like they are somehow magically able to avoid the slip coefficient of rubber on ice just because A) they are in a “truck” and B) they have “4-wheel drive”.  On Central Expressway on the way up to McKinney I saw 4 vehicles in ditches/guardrails.  3 were trucks and at least 2 of them I visually confirmed were 4x4.  I rest my case and I digress yet again.  Back to the run.

It looks like only one other car has entered the park ahead of me by the tracks in the snow.  It could be the police officer that lives in the house in the park and keeps an eye on things.  I stop at the first lot on top of the hill instead of my usual spot because if conditions get worse there is a good chance I may not be able to drive up the hill later.  I quickly make some last-minute adjustments to my gear and get ready to run.  My moment has arrived.  42 miles in the books.  24 miles to go and 200 acres of trail covered with 3-4 inches of fresh snow all to myself.  Thank you universe and all the little people out there who made this possible.  I would not be on this stage without you.  I love you all!

My first few strides on the trail are indescribable.  Since they are that awesome I will say nothing else about them because it will not do the awesomeness justice.  I mentioned earlier how regulating your effort in the cold is important.  Too fast and your sweat rate will be too great and you will soak yourself.  Too slow and cold will creep into places you would rather it not.  Like, your body.  Specifically your feet.  How do you avoid getting cold feet running in 4+ inches of snow in 30 degree temps for 5 hours?  Scientifically I cannot explain it.  The snow today is very dry and powdery.  That certainly helps.  Eventually my feet did get a bit wet, but they were never cold.  Creating tracks in the deep, fresh powder definitely creates more resistance and requires more effort than usual.  This was easier than running in the mud though.  If the snow did not come and it just kept raining, my 24-mile jaunt that afternoon would have been much different.  Mud stuck to your shoes and the slipping and sliding that goes along with it are not a good combination although still highly desirable and sought after by the author and much fun.  It is like running with ankle weights in sand that is slippery.  The snow on the other hand made for a nice smooth ride.   It would compact enough on the ascents/descents to give me confidence in my footing.  What the snow also does is hide all the roots and undulations of the trail.  Fortunately for me, most of the 3,700 miles I ran last year were on this 8-miles.  I know every nuance of every step.  Even under a blanket of snow.  Amongst the trees it would be impossible for someone new to the park to know a trail even existed.  I picked every twist and turn exactly.  I charged the downhills with no fear.  The power of our brain and sensory perception is a powerful system.  Without even consciously thinking about it, my mind ran the trail as my body always does even though the benefit of actually seeing the surface of the trail was taken away.  Not one stubbed toe or misplaced step all day!  Thank you again Universe!

Before I am into the 1st mile I am heating up pretty good.  In these conditions the hat is always the first to go.  I need to get rid of heat fast before begin to get wet.  The first part of the trail is nestles entirely amongst the trees.  This makes a difference as well.  While it is not very windy, just a degree or two and a subtle wind on a cold day like this day can make a big difference in how you are able to toss or retain heat.  I hit an open section and said breeze gives me the A/C blast I need right after climbing a decent hill.  As far as temperature regulation, this is how it would go all day.  Push the arm sleeves down for a bit.  Pull then up crossing a field.  3 miles in and I find the perfect, even rhythm to go the distance. 

Pleasure or Happiness?  Which am I experiencing?  True happiness because of the inner peace and full presence I have with my surroundings in nature!  My heart is wide open and I am cherishing every step and I am grateful letting all trivial thought go out the window of my mind.  1hr40m later I am back at the car.  I would say that it went by quickly but it does not.  Usually that means there is some struggle going on or something is not right.  Au contrere!  Everything is right and there is zero struggle.  Every step is pure joy.  I quickly take in some calories and get moving again.

One of the coolest parts of the second loop is tracking myself.   Mine are still the only footprints on the trail.  I have seen a few cars on the park road and a few people around the parking lots, but no one has ventured out to the four corners of this tract like I have.  I would try to insert a description of how retracing my own tracks is some sort of metaphor about life, but…I got nothing on that one.  Surprise!  That does not happen often.  I just thought it was cool I am still the only one who is enjoying this.  The snow is still coming down at a steady rate although not as hard as earlier.  As I hit the end of the 2nd loop it starts to dawn on me:  This pleasure will come to an end soon.  This does not make me unhappy though.  This loop was just 5 minutes slower.  I took a few more pics than during Loop 1 and peed my name in the snow twice in cursive.  More calories and the final loop is underway.

Epic moment!

The sun is begging to set and the snow is begging to stop.  About halfway in to this loop I actually saw blue sky and the sun peeked out.  All of this happened while it continued to snow for a few more minutes.  It was one of the best moments of the day for me.  Above is the picture I took.

Everyone loves Raymundo!

3 miles to go and I see a familiar truck on the park road as I pass a clearing.  Crazy Ray!  I knew he could not avoid the sweet siren song of snow in Erwin Park.  Between the 2 of us we have probably taken over 5,000 pictures out here.  Several times he has come out and spent 12-14 hours out here taking pictures of me and others as we ran in the park.  I give him a wave and meet him a click up the trail where it crosses the road.  My fingers are a bit numb and he helps me open a package of food and he snaps this picture of me:

A beard full of ice!   I always wanted to have a great running beard.  (check!)  And I always wanted to run in the snow and cold with said beard and accumulate said ice.  (check!)  If this had only taken place on some mountain in Colorado or Idaho the checklist would get another (check!).  When he takes the picture I had no idea I have all that ice in the beard.  As Forrest Gump said:  “I just felt like running!”  Ray moves on to keep shooting some more amazing pics and I take off again in the fading daylight.  Running across the big meadow this time is like running on the surface of the moon.  The undulations of the trail.  The blanket of white in the fading daylight.  Tiny particles of powder being swept across the scupltured, smooth drifts of a sea of sparkling white.  I get to run up and down a slight ridge of cedars next , their dark red trunks contrasted against the virgin white snow clinging to only their northern faces.  The last section is along the creek piled with undulating drifts of accumulation not unlike the Springtime when the bed swells with rainfall.  Home stretch and I am done in darkness.  5 minutes faster than the first loop.  Right at 5 hours.  It is over but a bright light is still shining inside of me.

Durkins: @ the corner of Custer and 121  Tell him I sentcha!

An ancillary reward for this effort is now in order and I stop at Durkins Pizza on the way home.  Best pizza and proprietor combination in town bar none.  End of story.  I eat an entire large while I thaw a bit.  After eating clean all week this is my allotted swing and miss on healthy.  Now it is on to my fourth, scalding hot shower within 36 hours.  I stand in the shower until I sense the slightest cooling of the water indicating to me I have depleted the stores.  Horizontal in bed again.  My journey is complete for the weekend.  I asked.  The universe conspired.  Destiny.  No regrets.  Just happiness.

100k.  11h57m = 10:50 pace avg.