Scorched Earth

We moved to San Elijo Hills in 2005. At the time, I was training for triathlons and just starting to get into trail running. One of the things that drew me to the area was the extensive trail network. I started with the wide, manicured paths that led to the schools and grocery store, then as the distances grew, I became more adventurous, covering more trail miles and discovering an amazing network of beautiful trails surrounding our dense suburban neighborhood. The wilderness was outside my door, and it became my playground.

Early fires on Double Peak
It has been a particularly dry year in Southern California, so when the fires started, the trails really didn’t stand a chance. When I saw the flames on top of Double Peak, my heart broke. One of the nice things about keeping a blog like this is that it preserves so many good memories. I did a quick search on Double Peak in these pages, and so many good things popped out, Mother’s Day hikes, early morning runs with friends, a run in remembrance of a departed dog, countless sunrises and sunsets, Fourth of July hikes with my oldest daughter for the best vantage point in the county, the start and finish line of our underground trail marathon, and hill repeats that made me throw up. I have an intimate relationship with that hill, and to see it on fire floored me.

At the start of the Inaugural San Elijo Trail Marathon

I didn't want to run up there today. I wanted to ignore it, to wait and experience it with the friends that I have shared so many miles with, but as I sat in my office in the shadow of the Peak, I felt like my heart was being squeezed with cables, and I knew that I had to go see it.

It was what I imagined it to be, skeletons of trees and black earth everywhere, tracks from fire trucks and bulldozers, small patches still smoldering and the smell of burnt wood, but the trail was still there.

I have run in some amazing places, but these trails are home to me. They have made me a better runner, and I have left hundreds of thousands of footprints in their brown dirt, discovering new routes, linking together old ones, and being absolutely crushed by the sun and the steepness, and while the trails may seem insignificant, and rightly so when compared to peoples’ lives and houses, they have a special meaning to me as they fuel my passion and have made me the runner that I am today.

I went solo today, because those have always been my hardest runs, the runs that build fitness, the runs that turn into walks, and eventually incoherent stumbles with not enough water and not enough strength. I have been burned out there to the ground, but those are the runs that make the good ones possible.

During the last race I ran, the Leona Divide 50K, I thought about one of those runs. It was a 28 miler where I started with a couple friends who pulled off one by one, leaving me alone at the end to climb up the back side of Double Peak. I thought of that run whenever I was feeling down in the race, and I remembered how awful that run was, and how it took me to a place that hurt, and I remembered the top of the climb, sitting on a park bench near the telescope on Double Peak, avoiding eye contact with the few other people up there as I sat with my head between my legs, spitting, drooling, and trying to hold it together. I knew that if I could get through a run like that, I could finish the race. Those are the runs that build strength, the runs that burn you to the ground, to your base, and allow you to grow into something better.

The base trails are still out there, and as I made the steep climb, I saw a ribbon tied on a branch. It was probably placed there by a firefighter, an all clear sign, or a line of defense, but to me and to anyone who has ever run a trail race, it’s a trail marker, a sign that everything is going to be okay, and that you are on the right track.

There is something stark and beautiful about the trails now, a fertile ground ready for rebirth. I’ll be out there looking for the change, and the new growth in the hills, and I look forward to being cut down to the base, covering the trails with footprints and sweat, and growing with the trails that are my home.

Leona Divide 50K

It's been a long time since I last raced. I'm pretty sure that the the ill-fated 2013 Miwok 100K was the last time I pinned a freshly crumpled race bib to my shorts. I hadn't signed up for any races this year, but thanks to my friend Chris, who won an entry to the Leona Divide 50K at a charity auction and somewhat uncharitably donated the entry to me, I was racing whether I liked it or not. Chris, by the way, ran the 50 miler and had a great race. He ran right through the finish line and kept going, running into some chairs and a couple of helpful bystanders.

I was very happy with my training coming into the race. The 50K training plan that I set up worked really well for me. It wasn't too much to handle, and I think all the extra stuff helped keep me healthy (MYRTL, foam rolling, cross training on the bike, core work). I feel like all that extra stuff, plus taking rest and recovery seriously, is as important as putting in the miles, especially as I age and the miles add up. I also really appreciate the advice of James Walsh, who suggested I add a fast finish long run every other week. I cursed him while I was running those, and I hope what I said under my breath doesn't hurt his chances to get into heaven. Those workouts were so tough, but I think they really paid dividends during the race.

There's not much in Palmdale. There were clouds covering the mountains to the west, bringing the rain, wind and snow, but by race day the clouds were mostly gone, the wind blew a bit, carrying some snow flurries, but it was crisp and beautiful running weather for most of the day. But yeah, not much in Palmdale and I really wanted sushi the night before the race, and there was this place called Shogun that was a little outside of town, if sprawling flat towns like Palmdale have an outside. It seems that there is no center there, and everything is outside of town, but this sushi place across the street from a few deserted warehouses and a Boys and Girls Club took me right back to Japan. It was some of the best sushi I've ever had. As soon as I opened the door and smelled the oil from the tempura, I knew that we had picked a good place.

My wife joined me for the weekend. It was the first race she has been able to come to in a few years and it was great having her there. Seeing her at the finish was one of the highlights for me, and made the day worth it.

Our marriage is sponsored by Patagonia (#sufferbetter)

The race director, Keira Heninger, found out a few weeks before the race that the course would have to change. The new route was run mostly on the PCT, and I was really worried about that. The PCT is pretty narrow, and this race had two long out and back sections on the PCT, but that really turned out to be one of the best parts. First of all, the sweeping views from the PCT were beautiful, and the other racers were so supportive of each other, offering "good jobs," "nice work," looking good," and "keep it up" as we squeezed by each other. Usually these races are much more solitary, but it was nice to share the trails with fellow racers, especially this group of trail runners.

My race was unspectacular. I passed some people, and I was passed by some people. I had a goal of finishing in between 5 and 6 hours, and I came in at 5:23, so I was happy with that, and I haven't run a lot of 50Ks, but that was my second fastest time, and my fastest time in seven years. Looking back on the race, I feel like I could have run certain sections harder, and that I walked some sections that I should have run, but that's easy to say a week later while sitting in a comfortable chair, sipping a cup of coffee.

My desire to race has been waning, so I don't have any other races on the schedule for this year, but I know racing has its necessary place; it motivates me to get the training in, it pushes me to run faster than I would if I were just out enjoying the trail, but as I take this running journey, I know that my favorite type of running is just getting out on the trails for a stress-free run, not worrying about time or distance, just appreciating the day.

Another benefit of racing: cool race photos

May you be blessed with a grimace that looks like a smile...people will think you're always positive.

Thanks for reading.

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