In April of 2006, I met up with four other climbers at a Portland brewpub to begin planning a mountaineering expedition of Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America.  The three week climb would require us each to haul more than a hundred pounds of gear and food up a 20,000 foot mountain with heavily-crevassed glaciers and minus forty degree temperatures.  We spent the next year training, planning, and saving for this big climb.

To help us fund the trip we got an expedition grant from the Mazamas climbing club, sponsorship from a local outdoor shop, and were able to scrape together enough frequent flier miles to pay for our flights to Alaska.  Denali National Park requires all teams to have a name, we decided on “Ten Fingers, Ten Toes” because climbing safely was our number one priority and we really, REALLY wanted to return with all our extremities intact.  We also set out to have good time and to work together as a team so each of us would have a chance to stand on the summit.  I’m proud to say that we were able to accomplish all of these goals.  I’m even more proud of the fact that we’ve remained friends after the climb.  You’d be surprised how many friendships end during a stressful climbing expedition.

It’s been almost six years since we first started planning that memorable trip and we all seem to be climbing a bit less these days.  So I thought it would be fun to start off the new year by getting the team together to do a race.  Unfortunately injury, illness, and travel plans prevented Keith, Jim, and Kari from joining in, which left just Chuck and I (and our 20 intact fingers and toes) to take part in the Oregon Road Runners Club Y2K12 Run.  My leg’s still not 100% so I signed up for the 10K, while Chuck  opted for the 20.12K.  With New Years resolutions still fresh in everyone’s mind, more than 600 runners descended upon little Forest Grove for this annual event.

I’ve done very little running these past six weeks, so my plan for this race was to leave the ego at home and just use this as a training run.  I started out slow, enjoying the meditative rhythm of the easy pace.  I was able to keep my competitive instincts in check and simply get pleasure from the process.  After about a mile things started to open up and I ran into someone I wasn’t expecting to see…my ego!   He was like, “Dude, look at all those slow runners ahead of you.  Why don’t you pick off a few of them.  Your leg’s fine, don’t be such a baby.”  I have no idea how he got there.  I could have sworn I left him at home, but I was in no mood to argue, so I picked up the pace.  The competitive juices began to flow and I started passing other runners.  It was like a game.  As soon as I would pass someone, I’d then set my sights on the next one and slowly reel them in.  I forgot about pace, about distance, about time and focused simply on moving past one runner after another.  The pleasure was no longer in the process of running, but in process of passing.

My usual race strategy is to go out at a pace I think (and hope) I can maintain and then hold on for dear life till the end.  At this race, however, I was actually sad to finish–there were still more runners I was hoping to pass.  I didn’t run anywhere near my fastest time for a 10K, but I was able to finish in 17th place out of 437 runners.  “See I told you it would fun, man.  Aren’t you happy I didn’t stay at home,”  my ego boasted.

Afterwards I changed into some warm clothes and ate a fresh-off-the-griddle blueberry pancake the race volunteers were cooking up.  Back at the finish line the 20.12K runners were just rolling in.  Chuck has spent the last year recovering from a painful case of plantar fasciitis.  He had just missed qualifying for Boston at the 2010 Portland Marathon because of his injury.  I’m so happy he’s now able to train and race again.  If he can stay injury-free I’m sure that he’ll be able to qualify for Boston someday.  After Chuck finished, we skipped the long pancake line and stopped at McMenamins Grand Lodge for a couple of burgers.  This race was the perfect way to start out the new running year.  Next time I hope we can get the whole “Ten Fingers, Ten Toes” team together for a race.  Here are some photos from the event:

Chuck at the Finish