It's Never Easy

I woke up too early Saturday morning.  I set my alarm for 6:30 AM to meet my running group at the Pannikin in Leucadia by 7:30, but I was wide awake at 6 AM and I decided to get up and watch some TV and kill  half an hour.  We canceled cable a couple of years ago and I still think it is one of the best decisions I have made as a parent, but it really limits what the adults can watch on TV.  We basically get the local networks; my biggest regret is that I have yet to see an episode of "Jersey Shore."  The local networks at 6 AM broadcast, for some unknown reason, infomercials, and not just about anything, the 6 AM crop sticks to crazyathleticcontraptiomercials.  These range from Knock-Out Abs, a device that you do sit-ups and there is this punching bag that you hit while you are doing sit-ups which I guess would give you some knock-out abs, because sit-ups and boxing aren't enough on their own, they have to be combined.

There was the air-climber which is a step-in-place machine with springs and it looks like they spent way more on faketanning and hair and make-up than on development, because, come on, you're just stepping in place.  The thigh glider was my favorite, I think it's supposed to work the legs, but I'm not really sure what it's working here; I was just surprised it wasn't pay-per-view...

I also watched a little bit of "Melt It Off With Mitch" which wasn't half as interesting as the Thigh Glider, but great name, though.  I know people get a sense of satisfaction in ordering these products and they have great intentions of melting it off or gliding thighs, or climbing on air, but these are about as useless as the January 1st gym membership.  They make it look so easy, so beautiful and made-up-spray-tanned, but it's not easy.  It hurts and it doesn't get any easier, you may get faster, but it still hurts.  And not just running, it all hurts, but you have to have a plan and stick with it.  Sign up for a race, make a plan, get outside, and keep at it.

My neighbor is new to running and has no business lacing up running shoes and signing up for a half marathon, but that is exactly what she did.  If she would have asked me, I probably would have told her to enter a couple of 5k races and then move up to a 10k and then maybe try a half marathon, but she didn't ask me, and that's great because she is smarter than I am and the bigger the challenge, the bigger the pay-off.  I would see her running along the coast every Saturday and she would post her updates on Facebook...ran 5 today and it hurt...torn hamstring...7 miles, hamstring hurt, but it's done...10 miles...12 and a half.  And my favorite, "DONE!"  I would see her and cheer for her on those Saturday mornings on the coast and she was hurting, you could see the pain in her steps and I would see her out walking, hobbling, the next day to get the mail, but she was out there, every weekend, overcoming injury and doubts, walking when she needed to, and yesterday she ran 13.1 miles.

I woke up early yesterday morning and got my kids dressed and fed and headed out to the Carlsbad Marathon because I wanted them to see their mom racing and in pain and beautiful.  I wanted them to see the winners, the Africans seemingly gliding over the pavement, expressionless and fluid,

and I wanted them to see the struggle, an elite friend who had to pull out due to injury, another friend who placed 7th overall and smiled the whole way, and another running buddy who I am sure is the fastest person to ever talk so much on a run - he was talking as he ran by us, pushing a little over a 6-minute/mile pace.  My kids saw these people, people they know from track workouts and long Saturday runs, and I hope they remember the race, and I hope they know that it's not easy, no great accomplishment ever is.


If this were a running log, which is what I originally intended it to be, but a bit more detailed, like a running journal, I would write:

32:40 4 mi. Questhaven, hilly, felt good

And there would be Saturday's run

1:32 9.23 mi. Camp Pendleton, hilly, trails

But that doesn't really capture it for me.  Saturday I drove up to Oceanside and met up with a running group led by a Marine (who flies attack helicopters) who was taking us onto the Camp Pendleton Marine Base for a trail run.  I've biked through Camp Pendleton a number of times and I always am honored and humbled by the experience.  This might sound strange because I am slightly to the left of Che Guevara, but I respect and admire the military and especially the kids who serve our country, not because they have no options left, but because they feel a duty to protect our freedom.  A friend of mine was attending college when terrorists attacked New York City and was so moved that he enlisted in the marines soon after.  That strength of conviction and the willingness to die for your country is one of the things that makes America great. [/soapbox]

Camp Pendleton is about the size of Rhode Island and is one of the only undeveloped spots left in Southern California.  It stretches along the coast from Oceanside north to San Clemente and east to Cleveland National Forest.  Rolling green hills and ocean views that I am sure are the envy of Marines stationed elsewhere.  I am always amazed at how young the sentries are with braces and acne, and I always thank them.

The trail was rolling, one of those trails that stretches out for about five miles and you can see it fading off, a line going up and over rolling hills and I wanted my son to see it because he spends his time in his room making roller coasters for marbles and car jumps and he would love the track carved into the hills.  It was sunny and the view was amazing, green hills and silence, it was supposed to be a live ammunition week, but I didn't hear anything.  We ran over dirt and empty shell casings and I don't own a gun, but I thought how much fun it would be to go out there and shoot.  There is a bike race that goes through Pendleton and it is the only time they open up certain sections of the base for civilians and I remember biking past a church there with signs for a memorial service and I remember thinking how senseless some wars are and how brave these young men and women are to serve, not worrying about the politics; just serving a principle.

Wide trails at Camp Pendleton

Yesterday's run was quite different, the weather brought hurricane warnings to San Diego county, pouring rain and cold wind, but I am on day 36 of my 100 day challenge and I wasn't ready to take a day off.  I spent the morning picking up some new running clothes at Lululemon in Carlsbad.  They chose my previous post as a winning entry and I won some free running stuff and the opportunity to be a product tester, so that was nice.  Sanam and I went and got lunch afterwards and I had a corned beef sandwich which was probably not the best pre-run nutrition, but I think my stomach has adapted to eating on the run, especially in the longer races where you pull up to an aid station and they offer everything from pizza to grilled cheese sandwiches to chicken soup to potatoes dipped in a plate of salt to a big bowl of candy-colored pain killers.

Sanam picked up the kids from my mom's and I decided to run home in the rain and wind because it didn't look like it was letting up and it was probably my only chance to get in a run.  I took the Questhaven route which used to be a dirt road, but then it rained and got washed out so the city put up gates at both ends and made it a nature path.  We used to go out there in high school.  There was a rope swing and ghost stories because it was supposedly haunted and it felt so isolated from the big city of Encinitas that you almost felt like you were doing something wrong just by being out there at night, under the stars and trees on a dirt path, but maybe we felt like we were doing something wrong because most of the times we went out there, we were doing something wrong.

It's funny when it rains and you fight this battle to stay dry, keep your shoes dry, not step in puddles and yell at the kids to stay out of the water, but after you have been out in the rain, exposed, trying to avoid the mud on a muddy trail is pointless and then you give up and aim for the puddles, screw it, and this giving up is what it's like to be a kid and see the storm through their eyes as a playground and not worrying about getting clothes dirty and shoes wet and catching a cold because there is this huge puddle in front of me and I'm going to own that puddle.  Make it my personal foot cannonball.  And you think that running through a tree-lined path would shelter you, but these drops accumulate up on the leaves and they fall and hit my face with a purpose, not some little bit of mist floating around in the sky.  I didn't see many people out in the storm yesterday, but I did pass a postman, wearing a yellow raincoat, driving too fast and trying to hit the puddle next to me and maybe spray me because I am an idiot out running in the rain, smiling and laughing.

You can't really tell, but I'm soaking wet

This is Why

A couple of days ago, somebody asked me why I run.  They didn't really ask me, it was more of a status update on my Facebook account asking me to post a picture and explain why I run.  I have been thinking about it.  Probably too much, and I can't narrow it down to one idea, one central purpose that explains this compulsion to slip on a pair of old, stinky and dirty shoes and put my body through some manageable pain for anywhere between 30 minutes and six or so hours.  I have puked, been lightheaded, cried, exhausted all the strength and reserves I thought I had, sweat so much I couldn't see, twisted ankles, felt my iliotibial band rubbing painfully against my hip bone, been dehydrated, and many other minor discomforts.  So, when I am asked why I run, I feel like I should provide an answer to justify this hobby of mine that normal people, people who avoid pain and discomfort, shy away from.

I can't narrow it down.  I tried.  To stay fit; that is the easy, obvious answer, but that is something that is relatively simple to do - walk a mile or two a day, lift some weights and eat real food, and that should do the trick.  Some even argue that the type of running I do could be harmful to long-term fitness.  I have been thinking about it a lot and I can't narrow it down to one thing, one reason, but there are a few reasons, stripped down and added up, they become more than the sum of parts, they become a spur for an obsession, and when I break everything down to its parts and add it back up, I might have an answer for that question, why do you run?


I took this for granted.  I picked up a stupid habit in college and tried to kick it, but couldn't for a long time.  I lost a sister to a lung disease.  I was in the room when she died.  It was her bedroom and I was there along with my two other sisters and mom and they held her as she struggled to breathe and eventually lost that struggle.  I saw on her face how hard that was for her and I remember how peaceful she looked when she gave up that struggle and stopped breathing.  I usually only think about that moment when I run, and am trying hard to control my breath, or when I feel like I am flying.  Lexi would have been a great runner and that is how I picture her now long arms swinging and long legs flying.  Now I use running as a form of penance, using every searing burning deep breath to extract the oxygen from the air and when my arms go numb because all the blood is being sent to my legs and there isn't enough oxygen and I don't think I can go anymore, I think of my sister and I push harder.


"Breathe" has now become my mantra, when I want to quit, when it is too hard, or when I am bored, I think breathe.  I cut up all my races into seven segments and each letter of breathe stands for something that I focus on in that segment.  I put a lot of time and creative effort into coming up with this acronym, so "B" stands for breathe, and focusing on my breath.


I love running by myself, except when I am running with others.  I tend to over-share when I am running with other people.  I know these people well, now.  It is amazing how well you can get to know somebody after running with them for an hour or two.  There are few uncomfortable moments because all the social mores are thrown out the window when you are running with someone and they have to take a shit and there is no bathroom around and they started the run with socks, but finished without them.  Forget manners when you blow a snot rocket and spray the person to your right, or crop-dust the runners behind you.  It's not a proper, genteel past-time.  Runners are sweaty and disgusting, and I can feel the disapproving stares of people in line behind me at the coffee shop after a run and I am wet and probably stink, but we love our own smell.  I'll stand around like a social misfit, staring at my too-bright running shoes, mumbling a few words of greeting, waiting for our group to start, but then after a few steps, I don't shut up.  We talk kids, financial woes (my running buddies were the first to know about my brilliant investment in AIG "because there's no way it will go lower"), our food, weight, drinking habits, and other things that I don't feel comfortable writing about because I don't even like writing the word menstruation, but on a run, it's just another way to pass the time.  I'll see people I run with and I don't know what to talk to them about, so we talk about running, but when we are running we talk about everything else.

A friend of mine just lost his dog.  He was a great dog, we all loved him, and he had become the unofficial mascot for our Sunday trail run, jumping around impatiently as we waited for the last few stragglers to join us, valiantly conquering the hills.  The dog was beautiful, a mix with some dalmatian in him, and the dog could f-ing run.  Last Sunday, my friend showed up without the dog and told us, very quietly, that the dog had a tumor and had to be put down. It was a sad run and we talked about the dog throughout the run and even ran to the top of one of the highest peaks in his honor, because he loved to climb.  We stood up there, looked at the ocean to the west and the snow-covered mountains to the east and it was quiet and beautiful.  This is a guy who I don't know outside of running and it was special to share that moment with him, because as runners, we have become close.


Kids don't play much anymore.  I am starting to feel old when I say stuff like that, but we used to play, we used to have dirt-clod wars, and we used to take the wheels off of skateboards take a sprinkler to the ice-plant and ruin clothes, we used to play baseball with sticks and rocks, we used to play games in the night, all night playing capture the flag, and we used to throw rocks at cars and run from the drivers (okay, that's not really playing, that's more like juvenile delinquency, but it was still running).  Kids don't do that anymore, and they're not to blame.  We, as parents are scared, and watching the news and the hype, we are lucky to let our kids out of our site for the six or seven hours they are at school, but at least at school they get to exercise.  Until we cut P.E.   My daughter does get to see some great videos about nutrition, and they do have "P.E." twice a week for a half hour, but nothing too strenuous, our kids are delicate.  They are structured, it's no longer go outside and play, it's be quiet and play your DS.  And when they do exercise it is running around the track at school.  Want to know how to make kids hate running for the rest of their lives?  Make them run around a track at school.  We used to have to run the mile in Jr. High every other Friday, and there was no better way to suck the joy out of Friday than to tell a kid to run a mile around the track.

My daughter playing

Running can be fun.  We took our kids hiking over the weekend and in the unending battle of who gets to lead, they run, endlessly, tirelessly.  I had to chase my son down because he was running so fast down the trail that he dropped us and I was yelling at him to be careful until I realized what I was saying, shut myself up, and ran with him in this dangerous game of chase.  He was laughing so hard, running so hard, he could barely catch his breath when we reached the stream and jumped from rock to rock.  This is what running is for me, play, I mix in some track running and road running, but the trails are where the play is.  And watching kids run down hills, not worrying about form, is a study in grace and human evolution.  We try our best to beat that out of them by making exercise boring, but hopefully, the trails will get in their blood.

There are other reasons I run, but they are the boring ones, to stay not fat, to get faster for a race, a new PR, to qualify for Boston, to get some quiet, alone time, but none of these gets me out the door when I am tired and it is cold and dark outside like the few above.

Running Downhill (with scissors)

There is something about running downhill that can transform this boring step after step barely lifting your knees sidewalk clippity-clop activity called jogging into a thrill-ride where adrenaline pumps and coarses and you try to keep thoughts about what would happen if... out of your head.  This is trail running at its purest and most instinctual and by far my favorite part of running.  There is not much danger in my life anymore as a consequence of having a wife and three kids to look after and who look to me to provide.  I don't smoke anymore, I don't do drugs anymore, I jumped out of an airplane when I was eighteen and I probably won't do that again either.  Motorcycles have never interested me.  I purchased life insurance a few years ago and got a complete physical and took the risk questionnaire which was sent to the actuary and I got a good rate.  But they didn't ask a damn thing about trail running, because it doesn't sound that exciting, it's just running right?  Even worse, jogging.  I was doing intervals at the track last year, grinding out what I thought were pretty fast 400s and there was soccer practice going on and this mom in her 20s with her young toddler walking on the track and I thought I would fly by them and they wouldn't know what in the name of Mercury had just scorched by and as I passed the mom said "watch out for the jogger, honey."   And with that, a little piece of me died.

On New Year's Day I organized a "1st Annual No Puking on the Trail" trail run on the trails around Lake Hodges.  It was a beautiful morning and I still had the previous evening's indulgences threatening the name of the run and my head was screaming at me and the sun to stop, just stop.  But as I worked my way up the trail and around the blue lake with the sun reflecting, bouncing back to me dripping in sweat, I felt good and as I hit the trail back down, plotting a course and dodging people, jumping around rocks, leaning forward, breathing hard and searing lungs but not noticing because you can't take your eyes off the trail, you can't lose that focus while running that edge between control and running with scissors and I felt the best I ever feel.

New Year's Day at Lake Hodges

Running With Scissors is one of my favorite books and I think it would make a great running book title, but it isn't a running book, it is a book about a seriously messed up childhood and coming of age that will make you feel all too normal.  But it would make a great running title and that was the reason I first picked it up.  I try to read as many books on running as I can, and every year I try to read the new running books that end up being similar to the old running books, but with new voices.  The best running books I read this year were:

  • Brain Training for Runners (Matt Fitzgerald): I recommend this book to everyone that I run with.  When I first picked up this book I thought it was going to be about the mental aspect of training your brain to deal with the pain and discomfort of racing.  It really surprised me because it was more about exercise physiology and how to properly train yourself to avoid the fatigue that sets in when pushing the limits in a race.  Matt also co-wrote, with Brad Hudson, another of my favorite running books this year, Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach (the title needs some work, but the book is great especially if you want to set up your own training plan for a goal race).
  • Born to Run (Christopher McDougall): Just read it - even if you don't run or hate running, after you read this book you will want to enter your first ultra.
  • Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food (both by Michael Pollan): These books aren't running books, but they are great and will change the way you eat.  Most people hate running because they try it while they are fat and out of shape and it hurts, bad, so they don't give themselves enough time to get fit and healthy, and that is when running starts to become enjoyable.  These books help you get fit and healthy.

Happy New Year.  I didn't make any goals this New Year except to try and be a better person.  I don't write it down, I don't follow a step-by-step action plan and I don't have a dream board; I just work on it.  Going back, I could have written down that this year I want to go trekking in Nepal and climb to Everest base camp, but that wasn't really in my realm of possibilities a week ago, but a few days ago I was offered the opportunity to join my mom and brothers on a trip to Everest, so I took it.  The 100k that I was training for is going to have to wait until next year, but that is wasn't a New Year's resolution anyway.

Happy New Year

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