Crossing Paths


We all have a running trajectory. It can start at different times, and it may be a long, slow bell curve, or a steep, sharp climb and then a dramatic fall. Sometimes the curve stops suddenly and then starts again after 10 or 20 years.

My line started as a punishment for a bad wrestling practice or getting my ass kicked in a match, which led to me being a frequent runner and joining the track team. It stopped after high school, then started again about 20 years ago, took a turn up, and now it feels like a long line that is gradually trending downward.

There are dots on those lines. The races, the training runs that brought me to tears, the beauty that I would have missed if I hadn’t picked up running, the long talks, and the bonds that are welded together out on the trail.

My kids are starting their own lines, their own paths that I hope will continue on a long, sustained upward slope, but I’m okay with it if they don’t.

Sometimes our lines cross.

My son came home with these multi-colored Adidas “lifestyle” running shoes and he wanted to test them out. His coach gave him a homework assignment to take a parent on a run over the weekend. Smart coach.

We headed out and ran to the top of a big hill. Reaching the top, we found these huge Yucca plant spears that had been left to dry out in the middle of the trail. They were big and looked heavy, but if you picked them up, they felt like those movie props made out of foam. We launched them like javelins into the knee-high scrub until we couldn’t see them anymore.

We ran again, towards the sun and a winding downhill singletrack. I bombed it, and waited for my son at the bottom, then we ran together.

A mile or so into the run I asked him if he wanted to go home, and he thought it was too short of a run. He suggested we take another trail. We’d done it before, and it’s more of a game trail than a running route and it involves climbing over some rocks and holding onto some tree branches or risk sliding 100 or so feet down a steep hill.

It’s not the type of route that looks good on Strava or if you’re counting miles, or tracking speed, but it’s the type of route that you remember years after you’ve run it.

His fresh out of the box bright and colorful shoes were now dusted light dirt-brown and we compared the blood scratches that crisscrossed over our shins and knees. We heard some rustling down the hill below. We threw small rocks in the general direction to see if the coyote or the mountain lion, or most likely the small rabbit would show itself, but whatever it was didn’t make another sound.

We followed a stream, slowly picking our way through tall reeds, then climbed up a steep drainage ditch.

We finally made it back to a runnable trail at the top of a dead-end and I told him the story of how I was mountain biking when I first moved to the area and was trying to discover new routes when I hit this same dead-end. There was a parked pickup truck and as I was turning my bike around, a guy’s head popped up from the back and then a girl and they didn’t have all their clothes on and they were embarrassed and said hi as I tried to turn my bike around faster and I gave them an awkward wave and said something like “carry on,” but for some reason I said it in a British accent. My son looked at me, puzzled, and then he just laughed.

On the run down the hill he told me how much he loved his new running shoes and I told him that new shoes are magic. They add a small burst of speed for the first couple runs. We hurdled a log and we raced the 100 yards back to the trailhead. I spotted him 3 seconds and we finished close…I may have have edged him out by a fraction and then we walked the block home.

It wasn’t a long run, two miles max. We climbed, stopped, and told stories, but it was the best run I’ve had in awhile.

Soon he will be faster than me and we won’t stop to throw Yucca javelins or follow snake tracks, because he’ll have a mileage goal to hit, and I’ll do my best to keep up, and I’ll remember with a smile that day when our running trajectories lined up at the perfect spot.

Trail Running According to My 9-Year-Old Daughter


The conversation went something like this.

Dad, want to go for a run?

I don’t know, it’s almost dinner and I’m a little tired.

You wrote on your blog that your kids never ask you to run.

Did I? I didn’t know you read that. Umm, there’s probably some stuff there you shouldn’t read. I’ll go get my shoes on.

We set out on a short, but difficult route near the house. It starts out with a steep uphill, and as usual, she took off too fast, and stopped to catch her breath 3/4 of the way up. I waited at the top, and then we ran side by side for awhile, stopping to point out some rattlesnake tracks and some bunnies jumping across the trail.

How do you know so much about running?

I don’t know that much, but I like to read books and articles about running.

You know like everything about trail running. You should write a book.

What should I write about.

Trail running.

Well, I can’t just write a book about trail running, there are too many of those. It needs to be something more original and creative.

You should write about…

And then she proceeded to tell me all the the things that she likes about running.

You should write a book about trail running.

What would I write about?

Everything you just told me to write about. If you write something about trail running, I’ll post it, and then people will read it.

She smiled at the idea, and I thought she would leave it at that.

We got home and she showed off her dirty feet to my wife (look, I have daddy toes), and I told her to go take a shower. I watched some TV, frantically trying to avoid any mention of Donald Trump.

Dad, want to read it?

Read what? Wait, you already wrote something?

Yeah, when are you going to post it?

So, here it is, unedited, bubbly, and pure, just like she is.

Trail Running : — ) 
Go run. 
So, are you running yet? Why not? You should. There are so many reasons why trail running is good for you, and if you don’t know some of them I am here to share some with you. If it’s a really lousy day and you are feeling lazy, just try a little run. Getting ready for a run is my favorite feeling when I feel like I don’t want to do it. It always wakes me up a little. 
Trail running is so worth it while you are running and the feeling after. For instance, it is worth it because it is locked inside your brain that you are having a breathtaking adventure and knowing that you are being active and getting healthier at the same time. There is so much fantastic nature that you can see with your own eyes that you have never seen before. I once saw a beautiful flower bed with over 100 flowers!!!! I have seen so many flower pictures, but seeing that many flowers took my breath away. 
It feels amazing while you run, but it also feels great after you finish your run!!! If you want to know how it feels after your run, I can’t tell you. You have to see for yourself. Now you know that you exercised for today, you can have a relaxing day knowing that you got outside and did something active. The best part is, you can do it whenever and wherever you want!!! 
There are endless trails and possibilities with trail running. I really encourage you to get outside at least 20–30 minutes a day!!! Boom.

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Learning How to Run


I set out to write a Father’s Day post about how I get my kids to run with me, how we head out to the trails and how I impart my endless wisdom through tough lessons learned through struggle, overcoming obstacles, and sometimes even pushing through limits. I had a list of How to Get Your Kids to Love Running in Ten Easy Steps. Those lists are bullshit.

Relationships are complicated. I don’t know how to get my kids to love running as much as I do, just as I don’t know how to get them to love the taste of pickled garlic as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll play them a song that I love. We usually blast some music after dinner, and you know how you have a history with a song, maybe it was the one you played when you drove home from your first real love’s house at 1 AM, heart ready to burst, and lips sore from making out for hours, and the windows rolled down because you wanted everyone to hear how much this song meant to you. You play that song now and all those emotions come back, and at the end of the song you want the people that you are playing it for to share those feelings, that excitement and thrill of young love, and then they look at you and say something like, it was nice, but the lyrics were kind of stupid, I mean did she really just say “I want to hold the hand inside you?”

Running has woven itself through my life, it connects me to my wife, to friends who have helped through some tough emotional times, and it has helped me drop a couple bad habits. My kids don’t run often. I don’t force it on them. They all have their current passions. My youngest is a soccer player and at this point she is probably logging more miles on the pitch than I am on the trails. I love to watch her play. She is small, but she is relentless, and she gets pushed around a lot by bigger girls, but she never ever gives up. I love watching the fight in her.

She just got a pair of light blue shoes from New Balance. Her favorite color. We run an aid station at the San Diego 100 Mile Race, and my kids come and help every year. Our aid station is at mile 43 of the race, after the toughest climb during the hottest part of the day. This year was especially hot, and people came into our aid station looking like they had experienced every level of hell. My youngest was in charge of the ice baths and as the runners stumbled in, heat-drunk, she offered to sponge down their heads and necks with ice water, and she soaked their hats and bandanas into the ice bath. She was tired and muddy after eight hours of being on ice bath duty. Her hands were bright red, and her new baby blue shoes were now brown, and even after a few washes, they are more a lighter shade of brown than blue. I think she likes them that way.

I can’t wait to get new running shoes dirty. The dirt tells stories, and there is nothing as boring, yet full of promise as a new shoe. The stories aren’t all good. There are plenty of bland, boring stories, dirt from the same trail run over and over, the layers stacking on top of each other. But someday, your shoe may be wet and cold after a stream crossing in the French Alps and those stories wash away the layers of local dust.

My son is always moving. I ran a 5K with him last year, and he spent as much time off the route exploring boulders that made perfect launching pads, just the right height to do a 360, than he spent on the trail. People would pass us, kids his age, and I looked for that competitive spirit in him, the feeling that I have, that competitive drive that will not let that person pass me, or that pushes me to catch that guy in front of me with all the expensive gear. I have to do it. My son doesn’t give a shit. Which is good.

His current passion is skateboarding. If you’ve ever spent some time at a skatepark, and if you can filter out the language and the occasional scent of weed in the air, you will see a bunch of kids and adults rooting for each other, supporting each other, looking out for each other, and teaching each other. There is a bond between skateboarders. It’s an outsider sport with a high degree of risk and skill. They fall a lot. They pretend to not be hurt a lot, and they bleed a lot. There is a bond of shared pain, and also knowing how many times it takes to practice a trick before you land it. There isn’t a lot of cheering, but the looks speak volumes, the head nod acknowledging how hard that last one was, or banging the board against the wood a couple times when they are really impressed. My son has been practicing a kickflip for months. He goes through a pair of shoes nearly every month, always worn out in the same spot, the top of the front left shoe right above the pinky toe. That part drags over the velcro and spins the board as the back foot pushes down and launches the tail into the air.

After the last mass shooting, my son and I took our dog for a walk. I felt the darkness around me and I knew that if I turned on the TV or went on social media, I would be crushed by the hatred and speculation and blame and sadness. We got back from our walk and I couldn’t go inside. I asked him if he wanted to play catch, and he grabbed our gloves and we threw the ball back and forth, not saying much, just listening to that perfect sound, the repetitive snap of the ball hitting that spot in the back of the glove. On that day, being outside and together, that was enough.

If relationships are complicated, a father’s relationship with his teen daughter is complicated like walking through a minefield while blindfolded and being chased by a pack of wilds dogs. I have learned that there are things that you just can’t say, and I have also learned that I have no idea what those things are.

I recently read an article about the two types of fun, type one fun and type two fun. Type one fun is intrinsically fun. You are actually having fun when doing the activity. Type two fun is a struggle, it’s painful, and the fun usually comes after the experience when you reminisce with your friends about how you made it through, how you suffered together, and what a great feeling it was to accomplish whatever it was you set out to do. It’s easy dealing with kids when they are young. They are full of love and adventure, and they look up to you and they run to give you a hug when you pick them up from school. Some relationships are more difficult. I’m lucky, my relationship with my daughter is good, but it’s changing from that type one daddy’s little girl relationship. She makes me laugh, she gives me a kiss good morning and she smiles when I drop her off at school, quickly glancing around to make sure nobody is watching before giving me a kiss on the cheek and telling me she loves me. It’s more of a struggle. I get more emotional with her, choking up at the smallest things, like watching her play her clarinet or trombone in her school’s jazz ensemble, or symphony. Hell, I have to hold back tears when I hear her practicing scales in her bedroom.

I love watching her run. She hates to run, or at least that’s what she tells me. It’s my thing, running, but she loves the feeling after she runs. She is her happiest when I pick her up from track. With that post-workout endorphin rush, she is like so many other runners that deal with the pain and suffering just for the feeling they get after they finish, the type two fun. It’s different for me, I love the feel of running, I love the people I run with, and I love the stillness that comes on those rare occasions where everything just flows. But there are days when it sucks. Days when I have pushed too hard and ended up dehydrated, laying on a random road in the mountains while my friend hitchhikes to our car miles away, and drives back to pick me up. Those are the most memorable runs, the runs I never tire of talking about, and the runs that transform a post-run mediocre hamburger and draft beer to the level of Michelin-starred excellence.

New Balance sent shoes to me and my kids, and asked me to try them out. My initial goal was to get the three of them together in their bright new shoes, and hit the trails for a family run, taking pictures along the way, stopping on the hill above my house to enjoy the sun as it dipped into the ocean. I wanted to get it done before Father’s Day. This weekend is Father’s Day and my youngest daughter has soccer practice, my oldest daughter has a Senior Recital (where I’m sure I’ll cry), and my son would rather attempt his 6,834th kickflip. The idyllic family run is not going to happen this weekend, but the shoes are well used. My youngest daughter’s shoes are brown from the mud of the SD 100 trails and the soles are worn from playing soccer in the streets before school, my son has already started wearing a hole in the top of his, and my daughter will wear hers out through the painful heat of summer cross country practice, hating the running, but loving how it makes her feel after, and how it changes her.

Running continues to weave itself through our family, unstructured with that sweet mix of elation and agony, like that old song that I keep playing for my kids until they discover their own.

10 Things I Love About Trail Running

I've been injured for what feels like years, but is more like months, and at the moment, I'm feeling completely sentimental about trail running. I can’t remember the last time I’ve logged a run longer than 15 miles, and while I’m working hard to overcome an Achilles injury with PT, yoga, cross-training, and even the occasional 5 mile run, it’s just not the same as packing up the car to head out for a day in the mountains. So, while I’m feeling all romantic about trail running, I thought I’d buy it a nice Pinot Noir, rub its shoulders and slip into a velvety robe while I list the things that I love about it.

Connection with the Land

I love the connection I have with the land when I’m out there. I love looking at a peak miles away, and thinking that’s where I’m headed. I love moving over a difficult trail, picking my way up a steep line, bouncing over rocks, and then throwing myself down a hill without a fucking care in the world, flying by people wearing 10 pound hiking boots and using trekking poles to carefully plant each foot. I like my intimate knowledge of each and every bump in the trails I run regularly, knowing that around this next corner I can push a little harder on the steep uphill because it will level out pretty soon, and the next downhill is the perfect spot to open up on and stretch the legs, not having to think about where the feet are landing because this is the perfect line.

Nothing makes me happier than sharing trails with my kids

The People

It would be hard to find another group of people that doesn’t like other people as much as trail runners don’t like other people. The trail has a way of distilling people to their bodily functions. Men and women blowing snot, farting, burping, pulling off to take a piss or the occasional, nonchalant dump, and I’m seriously not just talking about guys (see Equality below). Have you ever been to a runner party or a pre-race dinner? Most runners can’t come up with more than three words to string together in a social setting (unless it has something to do with running), but get us on the trails and it's like an episode of The View had a 3-way with The Man Show and Oprah.

My running friends say the most inspirational things

The Shower

And the shower beer. This is the best part of my day, especially in the summer, after a hot, dry and dusty run. I’ll just sit there as the dirt brown water swirls down the drain and sip a cold beer, and if I listen hard enough I can hear angels singing.

Food

No, not the liquefied calories partaken during the run, but the post-run feast. I read on Wikipedia that you can eat as much as you want of whatever you want for an hour after you run, especially if you keep your heart rate strictly in Zone 3, so take advantage of that window. There is something special about a post-run burrito, and the only time I can keep a straight face and say “wow, this Arby’s Beef ‘N Cheddar is delicious" is after a long day in the mountains.

Equality

You want to see democracy in action, run a trail race. If there is some kind of genetic, sex or age advantage that runners display on the roads, it is severely diminished on the trails, where the main advantage is toughness.

I like to play a game whenever I run an ultra. I look around me, judging the other runners with the cutting eye and bitchiness of Regina from Mean Girls. I pick out who is going to finish well and who is going to drop. Without fail, I'm wrong on close to 100% of my picks (just like last time I went to Vegas). The triathlete that I picked to win, the one with the shaved legs where you can see every vein feeding the massive calves came in limping behind the 63 year old grandma wearing Crocs and a fanny pack. Experience, smarts and grit does a lot to level the playing field on the trails more than any other sport I can think of, which is a good thing because I’m not getting any younger or fitter (and I can wear the shit out of a pair of Crocs).

Beer

It doesn’t necessarily relate to trail running; I just like beer.

The Not Running Part

The planning, the hanging out before or after a tough race, the scouring over maps and elevation profiles, watching Salomon running videos, the endless discussions about barefoot vs. minimalist vs. zero drop vs. platform cushioning vs. whatever the next big thing that will force our perfect, favorite pair of trail shoes to be discontinued. All this time spent on what is supposed to be the simplest sport. There must be some kind of special punishment we crave in turning the basic task of putting one foot in front of another into a complex science.

The chemical rubbery smell when you open a new box of running shoes

The Silence

I try to meditate. I try to sit on my meditation pillow, breathe slowly, quiet my mind, but then that picture of Jessica Alba comes to mind, the one where’s she’s wearing a bikini and she’s suntanning, and then I think about how she made a billion dollars selling bad sunscreen, and then about how bad Fantastic Four was, and then about Sin City, and on and on until the Buddha bangs the gong in my meditation app on my iPhone, and the Buddha says "great job today," and I say "thanks Buddha, but how much spiritual growth has actually occurred?" and the Buddha doesn’t answer because it’s just an app on the phone. I also try to reach this stillness when I take yoga, but I'm mostly just concentrating really hard on not farting.

The only times where my mind isn’t turning around on a hamster wheel, and is still enough where time bends, and I can’t remember the last 30 minutes, or 20 miles that just passed have happened while on a run. Something about the rhythmic, deep breaths, and the repeated patting of feet can make the time slip by in stillness. It’s not always like that, and most of the time it isn't. Usually, my thoughts bounce from one thing to the next while running, whether it be a problem, or an idea that needs to be fed a little more, or even the career arc of Jessica Alba, but those moments of stillness are a welcome sliver of quiet in my noisy life.

Free Therapy

The fact that no matter what happens during the day, the stress, the sadness, the anger, the anxiety, nothing is ever worse after spending some time on the trails (except for my Achilles), and most things are a little better.

I can't wait to get back on the trails for some long runs, if for no other reason than to remind me why running hurts so bad, and why so many people hate it, because all this romance is starting to scare me.


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