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The Moments Tick Away

Last week I was getting my ass kicked at Body Specs (or, more accurately, I was kicking my own ass), when Pink Floyd’s “Time” came through the speakers.

Tired of lying in the sunshine, staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

Roger Waters wrote these lyrics in his late twenties. I’d call them ironic, given he was part of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Hardly a slacker.

But having achieved twice that age, I can agree on one part for sure: whether you spend your life killing time or filled with activity, years can slip by in what seems like a heartbeat. And the older I get, the faster time does that. Seems like just yesterday I turned 50, which I celebrated that entire year, as documented right here in this blog.

And next month the odometer rolls over as I turn sixty.

Unlike the rest of the stanza, though, the last ten years have been the most active of my life, and a great deal of fun. From just a handful of races at age 50, I now have well over a hundred under my belt, and I’m there for that starting gun, in the sunshine or the rain (or snow). And all but two times so far, I’ve crossed the finish line – even finishing first a couple of times.

Here are just a few of the highlights of my past ten years:

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          My first 50K, 50-miler, 100K, 100-miler, and 150-miler, and triathlons;

          Racing in snowshoes, including one year at 20 below zero

          Running a 50K at Burning Man (and the whole experience there)

          Cycling from Ann Arbor to Empire and back (600 miles over six days)

          Riding naked in Portland

          Achieving brown belt in Aikido

          Starting a Zero Waste company that’s serviced over 100 athletic events

          Walking my daughter down the aisle at her wedding

And earlier this year, I completed my first novel, for which I’m currently soliciting an agent.

Yet while I’m still looking forward to more adventures, I’m feeling a little pang about the change of decade. Even though nothing is really changing by leaving my fifties behind, it feels like the end of an era somehow.

But as my Aikido sensei pointed out many times, every end is also a beginning. And in that spirit, I will begin my sixties with an appropriate welcoming activity. A celebratory ultra, naturally. The day after my birthday, I’ll be running the Loup Garou 60-miler in Louisiana. As for 2022 and beyond, there are many intriguing opportunities, in running and in other areas of life. One thing I will never change, hopefully, is to always have something to look forward to.

There have been some sad times for sure, like my mother’s passing, and my wife’s health challenges. But for anyone who’s not looking forward to getting older, I have only this to say: Think again. At any age, you can do a lot more than you think. Just show up for that starting gun!

Ten Years of Distance Running: A Brief Reflection

I was at a recycling station earlier this week, dropping off stuff from working Zero Waste at the Ann Arbor Marathon. A woman there noticed the stickers on my Jeep’s hatch and beckoned to me.

“Excuse me,” she said. “Did you really run a hundred miles?”

I don’t use a lot of bumper stickers. But when I do, it really means something.

I confirmed I had – several, in fact – and wasn’t cured yet. “Wow, that’s amazing,” she said. “I’ve done a 26.2, but never a hundred miles.” I assured her that a marathon was also a great accomplishment. Even with the explosion in marathon finishers in recent years, they still represent less than one-fifth of one percent of the U.S. population.

This infographic is actually from 2011, so this was the situation when I ran my first marathon.

That stat is hard to put into context when you’re at a major marathon like Boston or Chicago, toeing the line with tens of thousands of others. I mention those two specifically because I’ve been there. The 2011 Chicago Marathon, ten years ago this month, was my first one and trust me, I didn’t feel at all special. I was one guy in the middle of a sea of humanity, most with probably far more miles under their belts.

But, as I came to learn, that doesn’t matter with marathons and ultras. For the 26.2, 100, and longer distances, the real competition is not with other runners but against yourself. It’s a test of what you are, or, more accurately, what you think you are, and a challenge to use that hard-earned knowledge to make yourself better, not just as a runner, but as a person.

My first marathon showed me that not only could I complete that distance, perhaps I was capable of more. The following year I ran my first 50K (at age 50), and things spiraled rapidly downhill from there. I have since run more marathons (although half of them are on trail), but over three times as many ultras, including three of the aforementioned 100-milers and a 150-miler. And, as I said, I’m not cured yet. I’m not sure a cure is even possible.

As for personal improvement, as I’ve written about before, I’ve become more patient and tolerant of situations I don’t like but are outside my control to change. And small annoyances are more easily put in perspective. While I’m far from perfect here, given my current family situation I’m glad to have at least improved somewhat. The reduction in my overall life stress has been much needed.

So, looking back on ten years of long distance running, I’m grateful on many levels. It’s kept me physically in shape, improved my self-discipline and stress management, and brought me new friends and new experiences. In a way, I’m feeling sorry for the over 99 percent of the U.S. population who haven’t run long distance. I know it’s not for everyone, but if you’re at all daydreaming or seriously considering it, you have my full enthusiasm and support. Get out there!

Ten years ago. I did it! Even got a free beer. What could be better?

God Bless Less Stress

So this year’s Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone. It was quiet in our house. For the first time ever, I think, it was just my wife and me having dinner together. And you know, it wasn’t all bad.

As fun as the big family holiday dinners are, they can include a lot of stress. There’s a house to clean up. Food to make. Places to go. And things always take twice as long as what you plan.

None of that happened this year. Our turkey breast, stuffing, and sides all came out fine, with no deadlines to worry about. I had time to give loaves of pumpkin bread to some neighbors and friends. I even got a run in! And a large family Zoom meeting that evening meant we got to catch up with each other and show off our various cats, who, frankly, were not amused.

Less mess, and far less stress!

I enjoyed the low stress level. Call me a party pooper, but I wouldn’t mind overmuch if we turned the holiday frenzy level down low from now on. Not that I want some kind of health crisis to make it necessary. In fact, why not call it a health benefit? Blood pressures down all over the country, and time to interact with our close ones without everyone running around with tons of stuff to do.

It looks like Christmas will be handled the same way. My wife’s family big get-together in Texas last year was memorable and a lot of fun. But at the end, my sister-in-law (our host) said, “I’m not doing this again.” True for this year anyway.

Xmas 2019 – Four generations of family.

And despite the immediacy of the current situation, there will come a day when this is all in the fast-receding past. What will life look like then? No idea. But I hope that things don’t go back entirely the way they were before. In this country, at least, I think being busy has been associated with being productive. Me included? Guilty as charged. No more. I’ve found I can be very productive at a lower level of activity. I’d like to keep that going forward.

Hope you all had a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Catch That Sunrise

My feet flew as I barreled down the singletrack, trying to keep an eye on the runners ahead while dodging rocks and roots and stepping on slippery leaves. I’d never run this trail before, it was still a bit dark, and I was fully focused on trying not to become a casualty.

Finally we reached the bottom and emerged onto a paved path for a short segment. The lead runners stopped to let the rest of us catch up.

“Did you all catch the sunrise?” one of them asked us.

It was 7 a.m. in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and I was at the U.S. Trail Running Conference. This event includes a morning trail run before sessions begin. And thus a bunch of us, including a couple of pro trail runners, had set off into the woods in dim dawn light.

We agreed we’d all run together. Well, “together” is a subjective word. Before long I was alone, between the pros and the less ambitious who wanted to take it easier. It was either slow way down or try to keep the leaders in sight. I chose the latter and succeeded, mostly. It was all downhill for the first part, and I was way out of my comfort zone.

Catch the sunrise? Hell, it had been all I could do just to stay vertical. I’d had zero opportunity to catch what was happening around me. From that point we went uphill, so things were harder physically but easier mentally, and I had time to appreciate the beautiful woods we were running through. Which is one main reason why I run trails.

Another trail run, same conference. Had more time to enjoy it this time.

More than any other activity I do, trail running forces me to be in the moment. In addition to studying the trail terrain and trying not to get lost, I need to be body aware. How are my legs feeling? Am I breathing evenly, or too fast? Do I need water, or salt, or fuel?

When the mind strays is when bad things happen. Most of my falls on a trail have happened on level ground when I’ve zoned out a little. This includes last January’s snowshoe 5K, when I successfully navigated the singletrack’s hairpin turns and quick elevation changes, only to face plant twice on the wide, groomed straightaway a quarter mile from the finish line.

That said, in training runs, and even in a large part of trail races, there is time to look at the beauty around me and remember why I’m out there in the first place. At the Grandmaster Ultra 50 last February, just after I left an aid station the trail led into a valley. But I had to stop before the descent and just gaze at the scene that opened before me, a wide vista consisting of the valley floor, the mountains in the distance, and the myriad of colors everywhere.

Stark but stunning. (Pictured: Chris, who I ran with most of the way.)

I don’t have a photo of it, but one wouldn’t even come close to doing it justice. It was worth the couple of minutes standing there taking it all in. That race in particular I was “in the moment” a lot. Desert running will do that, with the scenery and its demands on the body. I was so grateful to have run that race, and others. They reset my perspective.

Do we focus on being in the moment in our regular lives? It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little things we “have to” get done that day, or what we have coming up, or reliving what happened the day or the week before. It can clutter up our minds so much we forget to feel alive. And while every moment is a gift, it’s a fleeting gift. It’s here, and it’s gone. So don’t forget to use it.

And take the opportunity to catch the sunrise now and then.