Archives for posts with tag: Tom Waits

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My life has been a series of obsessions.  The first was tennis, back in the late seventies when the sport was in its heyday.  I grew up across the street from a set of courts and my brother and I would be there everyday honing our skills and taking on all comers.  The only breaks we took during the summer were to watch Wimbledon on TV.

I was a huge Bjorn Borg fan and probably the only kid in my little western Pennsylvania town that had Fila clothes, Diadora shoes and a Donnay racket.  Borg would forego shaving during the tournament and would look so cool by the time he reached the finals.  I couldn’t wait to be old enough to shave, so then I could NOT shave during Wimbledon.

My brother and I are only 13 months apart and extremely competitive.  This intense rivalry pushed our games to new levels and it wasn’t until he started beating me regularly that I began to lose interest.  However, his love of tennis has continued and now he’s one of the head teaching pros at Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, South Carolina.

After tennis, my obsessions continued one after another through the years: Kurt Vonnegut, golf, Jack Kerouac, the Grateful Dead, snowboarding, Tom Waits, mountain climbing, Haruki Murakami, travel writing, and then for the last several years, running.  This parade of random obsessions has been a great source of fun.  Life is never boring while you’re in the grip of an all-consuming activity.

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I didn’t consciously choose any of these obsessions.  They chose me and would eventually pass just as mysteriously as they appeared.  I never used to worry when my interest in one of these activities started to wane because I knew that something else would soon appear to take its place.

At the end of last year, without any sort of warning, running started to lose its appeal.  It made me sad to think that this thing which has given me so much pleasure may no longer be a part of my life.

Looking back on 2014, I think of all the places running has taken me.  There were races in Texas hill country and in the mountains of Oregon and Washington.  While traveling I was able to do training runs though Sabino Canyon in southern Arizona, along the River Walk in San Antonio, around Central Park in New York, through O’Keeffe Country outside of Santa Fe and over a seven mile bridge linking the Florida Keys.

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One day I saw a bald eagle scoop a fish out of the Willamette during a morning run along the river and another day watched the sun rise and then set while circumnavigating Mount St. Helens.  I feel so lucky to have had these experiences and know that they wouldn’t have been possible without running being such a big part of my life.

So for the first time I decided to not sit back and let an obsession pass.  I tried instead to come up with a plan so running could remain my focus.  Initially the plan involved taking some time off and only running when the mood struck.  For a few months I only ran 2-3 times a week and some weeks not at all.  As time went on, I wanted to run less and less.

Running, they say, is addictive, but you want to know what else is addictive?  Not running.  As my fitness level decreased, running became harder and less enjoyable.  I understood for the first time why most people think of running as a chore, as something to be endured.

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So I started 2015 with a new plan.  Instead of running only when I felt like it, I would now run everyday, no excuses.  It doesn’t matter if it is cold, dark, or windy, I’ll be out there putting in the miles.

It really sucked at first, but then slowly my fitness level started to improve and it started to suck a bit less.  As it got less difficult, it became more enjoyable (funny how that works).  It was a solution so obvious I’m still shocked it actually worked.

Now that March has arrived and the days are getting brighter, I find myself obsessing about running again.  I’ve starting checking all my favorite websites and am now planning my summer racing schedule.  Recently I had a dream come true by having my photo appear in two different running magazines.

The first was in an issue of Ultrarunning and is somewhat embarrassing.

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The photographer caught me at a low point in the race and while the woman next to me appears to be out on a Sunday stroll, I look like a broken down old man with a walking stick.  Luckily in this photo from Trail Runner magazine, I’m looking a little more determined.

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These pictures appearing one after the other felt like fate.  I now know that it’s too soon for me to give up and move on to something new.  There’s still so much I want to see and do in this sport.  And even though this old man may sometimes need a walking stick to get up the hill, I’m going to keep plugging away no matter what.

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Last year I ran my first 50 mile race.  This was nearly twice as far as I’d ever run previously and I had no idea what to expect.  Understandably, I was a bit nervous beforehand, however, there was a certain bliss to my ignorance.  Before my next 50 miler, I knew exactly what to except and just how much it would hurt.  The bliss had faded.

That second 50 miler was two weeks ago in central Oregon.  In honor of its 25th anniversary the organizers of the McKenzie River Trail Run (MRTR) decided to add a 50 mile option to go along with their usual 50k race.  I ran the 50k last year and had so much fun that this year I decided to up the ante.  However, about a week before the start of the race, doubts started to creep into my head.  Fifty miles now seemed like a ridiculously long way to run.  Maybe signing up for this race was a bad idea.

To ease my nerves, I sat down one morning with a french press of Nossa Familia coffee and made a list of my goals for the race.  The simple process of sorting out my motives and committing then to paper made me feel better.  Here are my eight commandments for the MRTR:

Start Slow:  Going out too fast may be a considered a beginner’s mistake, but everyone, even the pros, fall into this trap at some point.  The adrenaline is usually pumping at the start of a race and as a result “too fast” does not feel that fast at all.  Luckily the MRTR started at 5am, which meant that the first hour and a half would be in the dark.  I’ve never done any trail running with a headlamp before, so starting slow would probably not be a problem for me.

Have Fun:  A few hours into a long race, when you’re huffing up a big hill, sweat pouring down your face, stomach cramping up, blisters brewing between your toes, you’re probably thinking, “there’s got to be a better way to have fun.”  But you have to remember the big picture.  You’re in nature, far from the city and that little cubical where you work forty hours a week.  You’re on a beautiful trail surrounded by old growth forest and glacier-fed streams.  All you have to do is run.  I can’t think of a more simple and enjoyable way to spend the day.

Control Competitive Instincts:  Being super competitive has allowed me to accomplish many things in life.  However, there are times when I wish this fuel burned with a little less intensity.  I strive to do well in every race I run, but caring too much about the result makes it difficult to enjoy the process.

Thank Volunteers:  Ultra events always seem to have the best volunteers.  They fill up your handheld water bottles, help you find your drop bags, and tell you that you’re looking good, when clearly you’re not.  Many of them are ultra runners themselves, so they understand what it’s like to try and function with a carb-depleted brain.  I always make a point to thank them at every aid station, but sometimes I forget when I slip into a zombie state at the end of a race.

Run Smart:  There are many components that go into running a smart race.  Starting slow (#1) and controlling competitive instincts (#3) are a couple, but you also need to have a consistent fueling and hydration plan.  In addition, you must be able to adapt to the current weather conditions and adjust your race strategy accordingly.

Check Out The Scenery:  Two weeks before the race, Yoshimi and I along with a friend on break from the Peace Corps camped along the McKenzie River.  We hiked several sections of the the course and I was blown away by the beauty of this amazing trail, most of which seemed new to me despite the fact I had raced here in 2011.  This year I would make a point to be more aware and to better appreciate my surroundings.

Smile:  This one might seem simple, but it’s easy to forget.  I feel lucky to be healthy enough and fit enough to run these types of races.  When I’m out there alone, cruising along on a silky smooth trail, the morning sun just starting to filter through the trees, I feel that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing and no where else I’d rather be.  Why wouldn’t I smile.

Finish Strong:  We’ve all run races that looked good on paper (fast time/placed well), but without a strong finish, you know in your heart that something was missing.  To finish strong, it’s important to run a smart race (#5), but you also have to remember that a little bit of extra suffering in the end is much preferable to the regret of knowing you could have done better.

So, how did it all play out?  Well, my buddy Greg and I drove down there on Friday and camped at the same spot we did last year.  It’s one of the best car camping spots in the state.  But don’t even think about poaching our turf cause I already have it booked for next year.

Running the first ten miles in the dark was tough.  It required a lot of mental energy to move at a consistent pace and avoid all the trail obstacles.   Psychologically, I felt better once the sun started to rise.

All day long those eight commandments bounced around in my head along with a depressing Tom Waits song that I just couldn’t seem to shake.  “A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” has to be one of the least motivating songs ever written, but for some reason today was the day it decided to get lodged in my brain.

I ran with three other guys for a couple hours.  Time passed quickly as we chit-chatted about this and that.  For the first half of the race I cruised along at a comfortable 10 minute per mile pace, but then decided to crank it up a bit.

The second half was pure fun, maybe because I remembered to smile, check out the scenery and joke around with the volunteers at the aid stations.  I started to run out of gas towards the end, but was able to hold on and really push it the last mile.  Wouldn’t want to forget that last commandment.

I finished in 8 hours 27 minutes and got 9th place overall.  The 50 miler was won by a 16 year old kid form Corvallis in 7 hours 12 minutes…crazy.  A big thank you to Greg for his support and for taking these photos.  I’m already looking forward to doing some more trips together next year.  Just have to remember to put together a list of commandments for every race from here on out.