So...I totally fucked up the layout of this fucking blog. After spending the last 2 hours trying to fix it I give up. Maybe this weekend.
I've been rereading my copy of Zen And The Art Of Running to help me both in and out of the woods. One of the more profound chapters talks about accepting challenging situations without attaching a mood or a feeling to them. In other words, quads that feel like they're doused in kerosene aren't good or bad, they just are. It's the attachments that we make that give them power and influence over how we feel and make the nightmare factory come alive. The idea is that by describing in a concrete way what the sensation or situation is and not placing an arbitrary emotion to it, it's easier to not come undone by the challenge. Todays run was a challenge. 3100 feet of elevation gain over 16 rocky miles and to add to the difficulty I decided to run every mile as hard as I could. In the past year I've settled into a pattern where I'm afraid that if I don't keep my pace down, walk the majority of hills, and eat a small feast, I'll bonk and end up having to walk my way out of the woods. What this approach has guaranteed is that while the distance I can cover has increased, nothing else has improved with it. There is a reason why I'm drawn to technical trails with lots of elevation gain/loss;I'm a shitty RUNNER. I'm a pretty good hiker and good at picking my way through rock and root strewn trails, but smooth and gently rolling singletrack forces me to actually run and I found it more challenging than any of the picking through rocks and roots I was doing. In the past few weeks I've worked to fix that. I've been running on smoother trails and I've been running them hard. I'm running more of the climbs and, thanks to my Hokas, blasting the downhills. I'd forgotten what it felt like to have really sore legs, legs that burned with Lactic Acid and not just the pain of bone and sinew that I'd been feeling for the last year.
About todays run; the weather couldn't have been anymore spectacular, which is still a strange thing for me to say. There was a large chunk of my life where I didn't give a fuck about the weather, about the beauty of silence, or the redemptive quality of pushing my mind and body. I felt strong right from the start. My thoughts, as always, were scattershot but never devolved into the ugliness that they had in the past few weeks. About 10 miles into the run I was able to put into practice some of my Zen And The Art Of... concepts when my hams and quads started to feel not so fresh. At first I acknowledged that they did, indeed, feel like they had a nest of fire ants on them, but then cleaved that fact from any feelings I might have had about the sensation. The burning wasn't pleasant or unpleasant, it was just burning. Every time I felt like walking I told myself that what I was feeling wasn't pain, it was discipline. It worked. I ran every remotely runnable stretch of the AT. Throughout the morning I also thought about Cheryl Strayed, author of the book Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail. It's the autobiography of a woman, shattered by the death of her mom, the collapse of her marriage, and a flirtation with heroin who pieces her life back together by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. What I focused on while running today is the fact that Cheryl hiked for 50 (!) days in boots that were far too small for her, that bruised and blistered her feet, and eventually cost her 6 of her 10 toenails. I kept telling myself if that woman could hike 50 fucking days in ill fitting boots and a pack that weighed more than half her body weight then I could certainly run some relatively small hills in Connecticut. I'm terrible when it comes to summarizing novels, but Wild is one of the most moving books I've ever read. The physical and psychic pain, the suffering and redemption are visceral and, unlike most books detailing hikes on the PCT or the AT, Wild is a story beautifully written. Just buy it.