Life, Trail Running, and Birthdays

When I left the house yesterday morning for a 20-mile trail run, it was cold and windy, raining, still dark out, and God only knew what shape the trail was going to be in.

I’m guessing not many people would choose to begin their birthday this way.

But I’m an ultrarunner, and thus certifiably bonkers, so why not stay in character. Besides, duty called. In just two weeks I’ll be in Georgia for the Lookout Mountain 50, for which I’ll need to be in as good shape as possible. Which, in turn, is a prequel to February’s Rocky Raccoon 100. (See above regarding certifiable.)

And, perhaps as a small birthday present from Mother Nature, conditions improved. When I began the run the rain stopped, the trail was in surprisingly good condition, and the woods broke up the winds somewhat. And wearing a full pack with 32 ounces of water (dress rehearsal for LM), I stayed plenty warm even with just one layer covered by a wind jacket. (I’d learned at the Indian Creek 55K not to overdress when wearing a backpack.)

It took four hours to get the 20 miles in, which for the most part went very smoothly. The hardest part was at the 18-mile mark when I stopped at my car for salt tablets. The wind was cooling me off fast, and my body was ready, willing, and able to call it a day. But I’d come there to run 20, and after a bit of self-talk, it was back onto the trail for the remaining two. And it turned out well. Even got a chance to stop at a historical site on the trail and read about it. A settler from Ireland had built a small farm there in the 1850s, and the stone fireplace and root cellar were still standing. Why he chose such rolling terrain is beyond me, though.

Thanks to whoever took this photo and posted it on the Internet, since I didn’t think to take one.

And there was one other notable moment. Around the halfway mark I passed a small marker someone had placed by a tree. It turned out to be what I think is a memorial to someone’s dad. Being a dad myself (in fact, one of my daughters called during the run), I was in that moment vividly aware of my own mortality, and how much it means to be loved by my children, as this dad was. I just hoped he hadn’t passed right there on the trail. I found a quarter in my jacket and added it to the coins on the stone. A little bit of insurance offering, I suppose.

The run reminded me of two principles I’ve been learning to live by. One, to accept what life throws at you with grace and resilience. When I made a wrong turn and wound up on a trail I wasn’t familiar with, I basically shrugged and treated it as part of the adventure. Plus I had miles to burn, so it was actually kind of fun. The second is to live every day. It’s easy to view a long run as tedious and look way ahead to what comes after, like a hot shower, food, and coffee. Perfectly understandable, except it spoils the enjoyment of being out there, which is why I run trails in the first place. So when I began to count the miles remaining I reminded myself to be in the moment and appreciate where I was and what I was doing. We have only so many birthdays, after all. We should enjoy each one.


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