Category Archives: Run/Trip Stories

Harriet Tubman’s Birthplace

Kitty Hawk was behind us.  We entered Virginia and suffered the return to the noise and traffic of well-traveled highways to get to the engineering marvel of the bridge that took us over and under the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on U.S. 13.  We wanted breakfast.  We wanted out of the traffic.  Maryland welcomed us and we resigned ourselves to even more traffic when U.S. 13 junctions with U.S. 50.  The mention of us having traveled U.S. 50 near Great Basin National Park on the other side of the country in Nevada was barely noticed.  We got something to eat in Salisbury and continued on U.S. 50, eyes peeled for a less-traveled way to work our way north.

Kathy pointed at a sign pointing left, “Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge”. I turned off and we wandered here and there watching for a trail or a dirt road where I could park and we could get out of the car for a few minutes.  It was late in September of 1994, most of the creeks, streams, or still backwaters were empty.  I saw a wide spot and pulled in.  The quiet slowly took over.  “Frogs,” was Kathy’s first announcement.  Things were still green, fall had not yet taken its grip to shake change; to enforce its presence.  Frogs of several voices croaked and rumbled and remained hidden.  Song-makers took over as we sat in the grass and ate who-knows-how-many-days-old sandwiches.  I finished my sandwich, got up and  walked a few steps toward a long deserted dirt road.  I noticed a sign barely sticking out of the tall grasses of the marsh.

I don’t know that this is the sign we saw, but it looks like it.

Kathy will know.  I know she will.  “Who was Harriet Tubman?”

“Oh, many things, depending on her age.  Slave, escaped slave, abolitionist, one of, I suppose major persons, the Underground Railroad people.”  Kathy was on the other side of the car, still sitting on the grass warmed by an afternoon’s sun.  “Why?”

“She was born near here.  Down that way, I think.”

We walked a bit here and there, found a few houses that looked to be in various states of restoration–materials here and there as if it was an interrupted project.  I suggested it was an ongoing job, probably volunteers since there was no sign of officialdom.

No highway noise made it this far.  The quiet and the aged buildings slowed our looking in dust-covered windows.  Water crossed the dirt road a hundred yards down the way toward some other buildings; buildings more dilapidated than the ones we first saw.  We could put only the vaguest of dates here.  She was an adult during the Civil War.  I guessed at 175 years old.  That would be another reason for the slowness of the restoration–historically correct work would be slow–painstakingly slow if a person cared–and looking at the work completed I thought craftsmanship and pride was here.

We walked along a game trail to the paved road and turned toward the car.  An hour and more had passed and no one had passed.  The noise and bustle of the morning has gone from our minds.  “Greenbrier Road,” Kathy pointed.  “No house numbers,” I offered.  An abstraction of when numbers became needed in addresses followed as we got to the car.  I was just about to say something about which way might be shortest way back to U.S. 50.  We did need to get to Annapolis.  An old pick-up was rattling its way, not much faster than walking pace, toward us.  I waved and an old black man, the driver, waved back.  An old black woman smiled from the far side of the seat as they stopped.  “Good afternoon,” I said.

There is a distraction of watching when listening to old people talk.  They think with ‘most every word.  “‘Afternoon,” he nodded.  I asked how to get back to the highway.  The woman leaned toward me and asked, “Cambridge?”  I heard Kathy say yes.  I turned.  She was at the car and had the map in her hand, “Yes, Cambridge.”  He pointed ahead and told me, “About a half mile down there, turn right.  It’s a few miles to town,”  then turned to her.  She nodded and smiled in agreement.  A half hour later we were back on U.S. 50.

Somewhere in a box are some slides from that trip in 1994.  We were on our usual not-quite-direct method of travel returning to the Pacific Northwest from Arkansas.  Arkansas was two weeks behind us.  That part of the world we call home was some unknown time in front of us.  We still stop here and there and are often rewarded with signs almost hidden by tall grasses and history that we need to see and think about.

Where we were:,-76.0369139,15.35z

———–Run gently out there———-

An Unquiet Bear

An Unquiet Bear in the Night



What had woke me?  Whatever it was, something had told me to look at my watch from inside the sleeping bag so the light would not show outside the tent.  What woke me?  I laid there, involuntarily unwilling to relax.  There!  That!  My breath  went quietly shallow as I listened to the scuffle of gravel near the tent.  Seconds later there was another scuffling shuffling sound.  I guessed it to be the sound of a paw of some animal–a large animal–passing in these early hours of morning.  Then came the sound I immediately knew had pierced my sleepy subconscious.  I heard what awoke me.

snouaugglez?  zzhuoghullzz?

It was an inhaling, a snorting, a sinus clearing rattle, and an imagined head shaking that all came together to make a noise that said “big!”; followed by another shuffling step or two.

Shuffle.  Shuffle.  zzhuonghullez… Shuffle… going away… almost inaudible.

“Are you awake,” came the whisper.  The sudden shifting of attention let the tension leave and a sudden shivering started.  How long had I been frozen in silence.  “Yes.  Did you hear it?”  “Yes, grizzly?”  A silent pause as we both listened to the only noise the night air carried.  “Sounds like it’s going away.”  Pause.  “Stopped.”  We listened to a scratching and scraping sound; a clang of metal on metal — “It’s checking food lockers to see if any are unlocked.”  Silence.

I started feeling around for the flashlights and headlights, shoes, and car keys, as I waited for the next sounds.  Part of my mind was picturing where the zippers were–one for the sleeping bag; one for the inside door flap; one for the outside door flap; one for the fly flap–four zippers.  Four very loud zippers.  The anticipated loudness of zippers in the quiet of the forest brought forth vaudevillian images of creaking floors and stairs and noises in an otherwise quiet night in the Rockies.

“Yes, it had to be a grizzly; nothing else will make that much noise.”
“Do we need to get to the car?”
“Quiet! Wait.”

Faintly—we could hear it again.

Shuffle.  Shuffle.  zzhuonghullez… Shuffle…

“Coming back.” “Quiet.”

We listened to it pause; listened to its claws scrape the metal of a “bear-proof” food locker; listened to it getting closer.  My mind’s eye could see the car, the picnic table, the tent, the thicket, everything except the bear.  It moved and now I could track it.  It was between the car and the tent.  Shuffle. I wondered if Kathy was holding her breath too.  Shuffle.  Quieter.  zzhuon… very close.  A second, quieter, sound of breathing; it’s sniffing the air.  Oh, please smell some food, a bag of potato chips, anything some fool left on their table way over wherever.

Shuffle.  Shuffle.  zzhuonghullez… Shuffle…

I started undoing the sleeping bag zipper.  I found Kathy’s shoes, pushed them to her, “Get ready.”  We paused to listen.  We could barely hear the bear.  It was still going away.  “Pull the flap tight.”  The first zipper was unzipped.  We paused to hear a welcome silence.  The second zipper was unzipped.  “Shoes on?”  “Yes.” I pulled my shoes on.  “I’ll undo the fly, roll out and hold it open.  It’s light enough to see the car door.  Get a car key in your hand. Get to your door.”  “Okay.”

For the first time in ages, the fly zipper did not jam.  It unzipped and I was out and standing–looking in the direction I thought Mr. Bear had gone.  “C’mon!”  The comedy potential of the goofy old couple stiffened from several hours on the ground in the tent on a cold night in October in Montana came to fruition as we “hurried” to the car.  The giggling started halfway between the tent and the car.  The dome light came on—both a good and a bad thing.  Good in its telling me Kathy had her door opened and was getting in.  Bad in that it was the only light around—would Mr. Bear be inclined to notice.  The light went off. I heard the click as Kathy unlocked my door from inside.  I reached the door, started to open it, but, for God only knows what reason, I paused.  I suppose a part of my mind said, “If it was near, you would know by now.”  I looked around.  I held my breath for a few seconds to hear any sound the night had to offer.  I heard nothing.  I opened the door and got in.

Hi Kathleen. Hi John. How are you?  I’m fine.  How are you?  I’m fine.

I looked at my watch — 3:39:21 — seven minutes?  No, easily a lifetime.

Why are you breathing so loud?  I thought it was you.  It’s too cold to sleep.  I know that.  You want to flip a coin to see who goes to get the sleeping bags?  No.

epilogue:  We usually stay in a motel every fourth night.  The following day found us staying in Billings, Montana.  As soon as we were in the room we connected a laptop to Google.  For the next hour or so, certainly more than seven minutes, we listened to animals sounds.  We listened to black bears, old and young.  We listened to Sun, Polar, Kodiak’s, Alaska Brown, and plain old grizzly bears.  At the end of our searching and listening we were sure we had listened to a grizzly as it wandered through the campground way high in the Rockie Mountains near Two Medicine Lake in Montana.

We added “zzhuonghullez” to the spell checker on the laptop and went to bed.
Sunrise at Seiku, Washington -- Vancouver Island, BC, Canada on the left

———-Run Gently Out There———-


Tall enough or bushy enough? I was far enough gone to have started rapidly lowering my standards. When the urge was first noticed, I thought of the campground restrooms. A few minutes or a brief eternity later, I accepted the fact that I was not going to get to the campground. Well, okay, I could get to the campground, but the last two- or three-hundred yards to the yellow building with the gender-specific doors was not something I wanted to do in public view.
So it was back to a portabush or portatree, close relatives of those portapotties we are all familiar with. As with most calls of nature, the logistics of selection come into play as time and locale vary. Today is Tuesday. The park I am running in is not at all crowded on Tuesdays. I think it is unlikely that either trail to the campground will have any wandering nature lovers from the big city who might scream in shock at suddenly seeing a full moon in the middle of an otherwise serene afternoon. I choose left, thinking of the thickets of rhodies and salal in that direction. Wouldn’t you know, here comes Mollie Traipsezlitely with Harold Rootsjumpoutatme and two ankle-biters trailing behind. Don’t they know they are in the middle of—oh great, they are pausing to do the “My, ain’t it beautiful out here?”
I estimated the pucker factor to still be below five and paused to smile and mumble in agreement, “Yes, it is a gorgeous day,” and turned to continue awkwardly up the trail when Harold asked if I knew much about the plants along the trail. Okay, he only asked if I knew much. He didn’t ask about anything specific, but… if I say yes, I know he is going to ask something more and all I want is to be around the next bend in the trail. “Yes,” I replied hesitantly and all internal shutdown systems went on Grade Two Alert as Harold’s lips pursed to … ha! Mollie pointed at a clump of salal and asked, “What are these?” “Salal. A very common plant. It will have berries on it in a few weeks,” I offered, hoping that was enough. “See, I told you,” was tossed at Harold by Mollie as she paused to scream because one of the small people had discovered a not-great-big-huge, but still pretty-big, slug. They all looked at the slug. Having seen slugs before, I turned and was gone on down the trail while those just-asked-about salal thickets separated me from them.
Over there.
Salal thickets are good thickets for hiding things in or for hiding in. I did both. I don’t suppose it would be appropriate to discuss the various stages of flexibility of decaying salal or rhododendron leaves or how appropriately placed some of the many forms of moss in the Pacific Northwest were that afternoon in this particular portabush. Suffice it to say that my recently changed conditions meant I turned away from the campground and paid little attention to left, right, or people on the trails for a while.
Salal, rhodies, and Dougs along the trail.
One small window in my mind thought about the Falls to Gasworks 75k and a question about just how tall is the grass alongside the ten-foot wide Sammamish River Trail. That question was answered when I saw an errant throw of a dog’s ball go into the grasses. The dog, one of those medium-large blond friendly kinds, disappeared as it leapt into the grass. Hmmm, a little over head high if a person was, uh, squatting? Crouching sounds better. Discretion being what it is when you are on an urban trail, I did do a quick look around before disappearing into the savannah of the Sammamish on that long ago Saturday. Falls to Gasworks being a self-supported run, I had a fanny pack with everything needed so that I was both discreet and environmentally correct in all my actions, even to the extent of exiting my grass-lined loo with no one in sight as I stepped back on the trail and continued to run.
We’ve all experienced solitude out there on the trails, but the loneliness of the long-distance runner does not always present itself at the needed time. You would think in an ultramarathon where the distance sometimes puts a person running alone for miles and miles that there would be plenty of points of privacy to ponder the days unwinding. Some days are just not like that when you need them to be like that. It seemed just as the person in front of me disappeared around the next curve, a runner from behind would appear. A few minutes of adjusting pace to force the runner behind me to pass only duplicated the previous scenario. I would get rid of one unwanted witness only to have another pop up just coming around the bend. I finally satisfied modesty’s constraints, noticed no one behind me and dove into a clearing in the Manzanita bushes. Manzanita? Good grief! Who planned this course? Says right here on page 23 of the NAPBD&SRM (North American PortaBush Design and Stereo Repair Manual) that you don’t line a portabush with poison ivy, poison oak, Manzanita, Oregon grape, or Nootka roses. I suppose I should just be glad there was no saw grass or palmetto fronds in the area… or cows.
And then there were cows. Somewhere north of Outlook, Washington, the original landscapers of the those foothills above the Yakima River ran out of sagebrush, bunchgrass, mesquite, and other landscaping plants we think of as plentiful when driving through the drier prairie region of the Pacific Northwest. As much as I love running in the open region, there is something disconcerting about needing to pause when there are no bushes to hide behind for as far as you can see. It didn’t seem quite right to go over there behind one of the water troughs that are scattered all over the foothills. Why does it seem like time becomes the determining factor in such a decision. I dropped off into a gully joking to myself about the probability of a helicopter from Google Earth showing up in the next few moments. That led to thinking about ‘if I can see as much detail on Google as I do, what can they really see from up there?’ That led to speeding up the process only to pause because I was hearing something out here in the previously very quiet nowheresville. Did you know that cows don’t really go “moo.” What they do is somewhere between “moo” and “uemoohm” and “mmahhnnmoo”—some moos probably being contractions of the other moos or maybe some are structured and some are freestyle. Along the same line of reasoning is the idea that for something to startle you, that something needs to appear suddenly. A cow does not moo suddenly. First it has to decide on which moo to use (I did not list all the choices or dialects), then shift the mouthful of grass to one side or the other, inhale, and, finally, moo. The cow that mooed had probably been enjoying chewing its cud and wandering along in the shade of the bottom of the same gully I was using to contemplate Google Earth. She was not up for anymore conversation, so I left.
We have been back in there rock hunting
I continued up that hillside, sidestepping many patties, both cow and bull, thinking about their thoughtlessness and of the detours I have taken over the years seeking out a portabush here or a portarock there, just so other runners would not have any runnerpatties to worry about.

———–Run Gently Out There———-

Walking, pace, effort…

Blathering about walking, pace, effort, and the Mongolfier Brothers
When to walk…, I suppose the first, or primary, decision factor would be the course. There are courses where you hit the first walking point within a quarter-mile of the start because of hills. There are courses where your first walking point will be determined by the watch (or distance) as decided by you in some secret prerace strategy meeting with your inner self–flattish courses or track runs.

I knew one fellow who walked the first 30 minutes of an 8-hour track run and still covered 50 miles by finishing time.

Running versus racing might determine tactics as you go. What are the day’s intentions?
a_balloon_2So, what to do…  I practice walking uphill stretches, working on form. I sometimes will  go out with “run no ups today” in mind.

It is nice to have some places (flat, rolly, hilly–we have all three) with known distances where I could see how fast (or slow 😐 ) I was walking–we were always using 15 minute pace as a guide. Trying to get below it on flat stretches and hoping to not fall too far below the dreaded 18 on the ups (18 times 100 is 1800, 1800 divided by 60 is 30 … that is 30 hours and a cause for a certain amount of anxiety in some runs.)

I’m not giving you much of an answer, but there isn’t a well defined one. The body will feel better some days. The mind will be more cooperative some days. The course may determine it. The course may allow you to determine it.One last little up and
Walk early so you can run later. Don’t overdo the walking.

You need to practice (train) for walking just as much as you do for the rest of the stuff.

I don’t know anything about heart rate methods. I have never used one. If I am running and notice some people are walking as fast as I am running… time to switch to walking. It isn’t a pace thing. It is an effort awareness need. You need to run enough to know what effort you can hold for how long–that could trigger the run>walk switch.

You might also use the walk segment to get a nibble or drink down.Where Arlo Guthrie waited?Where Arlo Guthrie waited?

Find a course with a little variety in it. Practice running, practice the run/shuffle/walk [run the downs, shuffle the flats, walk the ups]–see what the time differential turns out to be. You slowly become comfortable with what you are doing to get yourself able to cover longer distances.

Practice the transition–
run>walk — don’t suddenly slam on the brakes. Take a few steps to change. The sudden decrease in effort is enough to cause warm muscles to cramp.
walk>run — don’t resume running too aggressively or you might suddenly grab a calf you just strained.

Sorry for the rambling, incoherency, and whatever errors you might find. I deleted a page or two from something much longer.

———-Run gently out there———-

Father’s Day 2015

A Last Call to My Father

I almost shouted into the telephone, “Hi, Dad! I won! I won!”

My father replied, “Does that mean you were second again?”

What? Oh. No. I was first overall. I won.

Three weeks ago I had called to tell him of the course record I had set at Le Grizz. Then I had to explain how I could set a course record without winning (I was second overall but won the masters division). Rick Spady, the overall winner, was so far out in front that he probably had no idea a race was going on somewhere behind him. I, in turn, had no idea of the assault I was mounting on the masters record for Pat Caffrey’s 50-mile course alongside Hungry Horse Reservoir just south of Glacier National Park in Montana. Larry Carroll and I had played cat and mouse for many miles. When I finally passed him that last time, I started running against the most challenging competitors I knew—the watch on my wrist and the unsympathetic demons in my head. It would be fun to pretend it was something romantic like the age-old “You do your best and the rest of the day will take care of itself,” but it wasn’t. I had simply raced my watch with little thought about how that would do in the overall standings.

I thought of that conversation and told him no. This time there was no one in front of me. I was the overall winner.

I was calling from a motel room in East Wenatchee, Washington, late Saturday afternoon. I usually waited until the trip was over and we were back home to call and tell him of the latest running trip. His interest was never at the level of excitement from years ago when I ran one lap or less—distances and events he could understand. He had never approved of this endurance stuff, these hours-and-hours-at-a-time runs—not good for your joints, he would say. Still I would call, perhaps still seeking his approval as any other aging child seeks a parent’s affirming nod. These last few years we had slowly bridged the gulf created those many years ago. It might be we had both learned along the way—surely he learned more than I—how was I to know of the abilities he had seen in me, tried to coax out of me during those years when I already knew everything? Surely his inability to talk was more the problem than my inability to listen.

This time, for whatever reason, I called before we started home. The 100k had started at midnight on Halloween, October 31, 1986. There were no aid stations. Kathy was up all night, stopping every three miles to feed and water me and whoever else was near. She was mysteriously correct at judging when I would want a dry shirt, a nibble of this, a drink of that, and all the while punching all the right buttons to keep the frayed ends of my mind together through that night.

Her mastery of my mind reached the peak as I took the lead at just past sixty miles and then labored through the paranoia- and anxiety-laden last few blocks as the course returned us to town and then the final turn up the two blocks to the finish line. I had won an ultra. We sat around waiting for the other events to complete. There was a 50k, 25k, and 15k being run on the same course. The staggered starting times made for quite a mix of finishers at the end. Finally everyone was in or accounted for, then various rounds of applause for awards, “oohs” and “ahhs” and cheers and laughter, rose and fell with each announcement, then finally died as the last runner was hailed.. Those of us from the 100k said good-bye or see you in a few weeks. Kathy and I headed to the motel, too worn out to consider the 150 miles back to Olympia.

The motel had an outdoor Jacuzzi—a Jacuzzi being a major selling point if we are not camping. After a shower and the requisite 47 minutes in the warm, whirling waters I decided I should call my father now instead of waiting. He should know of this one.

Hi, Dad! I won! I won!

Does that mean you were second again?

No. This time I was the overall winner.

Was this another 50-miler?

No, it was a 100 kilometers.

A 100 kilometers, how far is that?

Uh, just over 62 miles.

And you won?


That’s a long ways to run.

Yes, my longest so far.

How long did that take?

About nine hours and fifteen minutes.

For the first time there was a conversation with all the old interest from the years of track and field—sprints, hurdles, and jumps. The years where my performances, though erratic on a grand scale and full of high potential, were more showcases of my bullheaded refusal to be coached than anything else seemed to be set aside. We talked for a few minutes, questions about the course, about the field, and so on; finally I said I needed to get some sleep before I fell asleep with the phone in my hand. His last words still echo so wonderfully clear:

Sixty-two miles; John, that’s a long ways to run.

Yes, it was a long night on the mountains.

And you won.

Yes. Yes, Dad, I did.

Good, that’s real good.

I didn’t have to pretend I could hear the soft chuckle of approval.

Bye, talk to you next time, Dad.


Ten days later when I answered the telephone it was my mother calling to tell me my father had died that evening and I needed to come home.

Over the years I have been thankful many times for that last phone call with my father. We were left with many things still needing to be said, but we had said many other things. I am more thankful for what was said than I am remorseful for not getting to what we still had left to say.

———-Run Gently Out There———

Native Peoples Interlude

Trails have carried us to abandoned mines, logging camps, and a beaver pond one cold grey January afternoon. They have taken us to the historic Gila Cliff Dwellings and a sunrise on what seemed like the top of the Rockie Mountains just east of Pagosa Springs in Colorado. Somewhere in Maryland we got out of the car to stretch our legs–Kathy noticed a historic marker and a short trail took us to the birthplace of one Harriet Tubman. We learned long ago to pause long enough to see the writing on information posts, placards, signs, and such. Today’s gift was encountered on a run on some trails near Rosario Beach on Fidalgo Island here in Washington.  The story combines legend, history, and myth, Native American spirits, and visions of people gathered ’round a campfire to listen to an old story retold.

In case the words on the left in the first picture are not legible,
“This is not a “totem pole”. Totem poles were made by Native peoples of the North Pacific Coast such as the Tsimshian, Haida, and Tlingit of British Columbia and Alaska. A totem pole is a record of lineage (family history). It uses a relatively standardized vocabulary of animals and people.”
“Here in the Salish Sea (Puget Sound and Georgia Strait), Coast Salish peoples carved or painted the doorways and large cedar posts of their houses. Carved and painted posts were also sometimes used to mark graves. The designs often tell how the builder of the house became wealthy.”
“This pole was made by Fidalgo Island artist, Tracy Powell; for the Samish people. It was raised here in 1983 by Samish families to celebrate their survival and honor their traditions.”
I look at these lines of historical information and am thankful for that day in 2009 when Kathy asked, “What about North Dakota?” I said, “What about North Dakota?” She explained about the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Reservation needing volunteers. We left our beloved Pacific Northwest; paused at Chief Joseph’s grave over in eastern Washington, ran on the trails of the Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico with Aldo Leopold’s words in mind.  We even took a picture at one of the bridges of Madison Country before finally arriving in Belcourt, North Dakota for a year full of new people, peoples, stories–myth, history, and legend–Native American crafts and skills, and a constant reminder to always pause to read the story pages along the way.

———-Run gently out there———

Wind, waves, and grasses

Viewed from the bluff the waves don’t look all that menacing. They are rolling with six to eight feet of height above their troughs. There are two triangles that come into play. I am about a hundred yards in from, and about thirty feet above, the edge of the bluff. The edge of the bluff is about two-hundred feet above the water—and my mind goes away trying to guess at how far out my line-of-sight intersection point with the water is. Those nonmenacing looking waves are around a thousand feet away. Their white caps, the endless frothing and roiling would not be any sort of safe haven for a small boat.
The grass when captured by the camera does not tell of the wind. A glanced at Web site told me today’s wind is steady at about 22 knots, with gusts to 30 knots. There is an option to have the wind speed shown in miles per hour, but I am comfortable with knots. The ship tracking Web sites all use knots to tell me how fast the large floating things will be gone. I sometimes turn down Water Tower trail, running hard to get to Brave Heart and Raider Creek–barely looking for cars as I cross to Kyles Kettle trail and hope to get to waters edge before the ship is visible from Partridge Point. That doesn’t happen very often–distractions come too easily with no goal but to be back in ninety minutes attached to today’s run.
Sometimes the directions were unclear to me.
I can still see the trees whose job it was to hide the old foundation. They did it well. Grasses and vines were called to assist; the greyness of aged concrete spoke of years gone by; beckoned history—until some well-meaning do-gooders came one weekend with clippers and shears and gas-engined trimmers and left a now bare and exposed naked to the world foundation that barely draws a glance.
Down and around, the ship long forgotten, greenness surrounds me most every step. I run with no apparent noise. The wind whistles. Trees push and rug against one another; moans and even shrieks are heard. There are no snapping, popping, cracking sounds of branches breaking. The wind is not pushing that hard; is not from the right direction to cause a run to be cut short as a forest danger turns from possible to present.
Frothiness Factor of 3.7 on a scale of 5.0, not something you will find in any science book, but it seems correct today. When the FF is above 3.0, there is a tendency to pause to watch… bobbing birds, a occasional seal or sea lion, a tug with a barge rounding the point and turning into the wind. No sounds come from all these things. The wind carries away all. The wind is today’s orchestra and choreographer… and I have stood too long, again.
Rhodies. Rhodendrons, “rhodies”, are blooming all over my forest. The deep hued red of buds a day or two away from opening are just one branch away from the pink and white of fully-opened flowers. Bees, bumble and regular, small fliers of several sizes and many humming variations are magically heard in this pocket of quiet, tucked away from the wind as I turn past the lake. We thought winter was late in leaving. We thought spring was fickle in her arrival. I think the forest is a very busy place as all things assigned to pollination seem to be out and about.
waves 019
The yellows, Scotch Broom and gorse, dominate the hillside as an old tree, fallen and slowly changing from wood to dragon tell anyone the shelter of the woods is gone and the wind is still there. Fifteen feet from trail’s end, safely back from wind’s edge and the chickadees play. Two flashes of yellow, or is it yellow-green? It matters. Yellow would mean the gold finches are back. There is a nest here–another pause point, but they don’t return. Vireo? I will return and eat lunch here on Thursday. That will give me time to find them, or for them to accept me for the coming summer.
There is a way to photograph the moving grasses so movement shows. I do not know how to do that, not with a still camera. The dull yellows and browns of winter grasses are turning to green. Tourists will complain of the trail being overgrown. I enjoy the grasses pulling at my hands as I pass. It is a small sacrifice. The park is mine five days a week and on weekends the visitors rarely venture more than a few hundred yards from the parking lots. For now I am concerned with these two triangles, once more in front of me, and the fact that my “I’ll be back in ninety minutes” seems to be just over two hours.

———-Run gently out there———-


I wish this were a “John’s wisdom will come shining through” sort of thing, but I know it is not. I was never at the elite level. On the other hand, I think that is a major fallacy of many advice articles–very few recreational runners ever perform at the mental and physical levels the top tier competitors do.

The folks that go into an event with the idea that anything less than a top five, maybe top ten for a championship event, finish being a failure are committing so much time and physical and emotional energy to each race, emerge totally spent and their recovery–just as their training–will seem extreme to most.

They push themselves into a “last resources used at the finish line” environment. The lesser runners sometimes do that, but it is more often because of going to the starting line somewhat poorly prepared (the just finish, just beat the cut-offs, don’t care about time realm). One group prepares themselves with total immersion in the needs of the day; the other embraces survival shuffles; often thinking a survived death march is a badge of grand performance.

In between… in between, uh, rest the masses? Some of us set goals that demand a lot of effort–keep in mind the psychological side of effort can be just as draining as the physical. It might be an effort level that will deplete the resources to get out the door for a while. I think the psychological aspect is just as important as the physical training, but it gets ignored; lost in the selection of gels, powder, pills, clothing gimmicks, and which sound list to use.

Sorry–this is something to be discussed while running side-by-side during three or four hours on the trails. Running has so many parts. When you get to that upper tier, some “least little things” can wreak havoc not to be recovered from that day and whose after effects will be felt for weeks.

Concrete examples in this nonelite household. We believe in active recovery. We run the day after–the day after long runs, as well as the day after races, i.e., if a long run or race was on Saturday, Sunday was a short run–just long enough to loosen everything up, get warmed all over, see how everything feels–nothing strenuous. Monday would be the rest day.

We ran Strolling Jim (40ish miles) on one Saturday and ran Coast Hills 50 (50 miles of trails) the following Saturday. We were not racing, just running at a reasonable pace. We wanted to see what consecututive long-run weekends would feel like. We thought of those two runs as a major psychological training lesson.

I came off a subseven-hour 50-mile time (6:31ish) with a 100k on a three-week horizon. We paused at a campground on the way home to get in the “just a few easy miles” run the next day. The next day was a rest day. The rest of the week was just easy stuff, tenish miles on Thursday and Saturday was a couple of hours. The second week–the middle week of the three–had three days with a lot of “playing” built in. I ran on routes with forest beauty and waterfalls, creeks and a meadow or two. The running might include “sprinting” to the next tree or switchback—anything to get the mind back into the enjoyment of small-goal segments.

The third week was back to nothing more than 45 minutes and nothing of hard effort. I knew the endurance was there. I sort of thought the mind was back. I knew I was not injured. Off we went to the 100k (I won 🙂 ).

That is sort of what we did. I used a five-day run week. Kathy tended to run seven days a week. We were not elites, but we did win a few. There were quite a few consecutive weekends of marathons, marathon/ultra, or ultra/ultra, but most of them were just running. We never did get to the top of the ladder where there was nothing left to give.john_on_horse002

I have been accused of heresy for not running all out. My running, even the racing, was done with being able to enjoy the day, and the day after.

Sorry for the rambling, but it isn’t a well-defined thing for me.

———-run gently out there———-

An Orderly Series of Errors

There is an… No. There should be an order to the occurrence of errors. Mistakes should be arranged in a certain magnitude as the day develops, as the miles pass ever more slowly. The suddenness of the change from running to walking tells of the ignorance in which I sought shelter. There was no one to tell me running sevens (mile pace) for fifty miles was not to be done this early in the day.

The web of deceit awaits...
The web of deceit awaits…
I was eating well. Someone even took a picture of me dallying at an aid station and put it in UltraRunning. There I was, preserved for eternity, trying to gain weight as I ran my first 50-mile ultramarathon. The eating was not a problem that day. A lack of respect, based on the bliss of ignorance–there is that word again–let me leave the 40-mile aid station still running just over seven minutes to the mile. The debt collector, never a humorous sort, came calling about a mile later. He arrived with such suddenness that I actually fell off into the roadside bushes. I am never a pretty sight, sometimes I frighten small children or puppies–what could I look like with these spasmodic limbs and uncooperative joints as I tried to regain verticality? I crawled to a nearby highway sign and slowly returned to upright.

I started walking. In just a few steps normalcy returned. Aha! It was just a random cramp; just a minor inconvenience.

I have never had pineapple upside down cake at an ultra, but...
I have never had pineapple upside down cake at an ultra, but…
It wasn’t. The seven-minute miles became ten-minute miles with no pause at the in-between numbers. The brief flirtation with tens was short as 15-minute miles now seemed to be all-out running and that was the way things would finish.
Sometimes the directions were unclear to me.
Sometimes the directions were unclear to me.

“Do you want to change shoes?” I looked around at the three other runners. They all had a pair or shoes in hand to change to after the river crossing.
“Yes.” Kathy brought a pair of shoes. The wrong shoes. Everyone has some wrong shoes.If you look at a problem from a different viewpoint...If you look at a problem from a different viewpoint…

I absolutely cannot remember where I was going with this.  I know I sometimes repeat mistakes–argue which way we went at a certain fork again; causing some unneeded bushwhacking or two hours extra running when we finally turned around.  It helps that I usually run alone.  I live with the groans and the chorus of “why and why and why” from the demons, and run on.It wasn't that they weren't on the right feet.
It wasn’t that they weren’t on the right feet.

I have never run with my shoes on the wrong feet.  I did run a 10k on trails with one Saucony and one Brooks.  I don’t remember which was the left one and which was the right one.  I won age group; kept a straight face when asked if I always mixed brands.  I ran a couple of hours with no insoles one day because I forgot them.  That one has an easy solution, relace–tighter.  Don’t run long downhills in loose shoes.I think staying home would have been a better idea
I think staying home would have been a better idea

We left the house one day with snow coming down, wind picking up and we were happy with the thought the trails will be all ours today.  We ran a bit, paused to ooh and ahh and revel in the God’s own beauty.  Kathy was the first to notice the wind was moving the tree tops a bit more.  The gentle swaying was turning to dancing, some jerky and snow that had been clinging to the firs and cedars was blowing loose–clumps falling here and there.

It wasn’t long in coming.   Ceraawaack!  Shoulders are scrunched.  Neck is drawn in and both arms go over your head as you try to believe you can tell which direction the sound was—then silence.  “Let’s get down away from the ridge.”  “Okay.”  We dropped down, still hearing limbs breaking, wishing we were on a steep downhill trail and not the contour following one we were on.  The good fortune of knowing that forest meant we could turn down a game trail we normally did not run.  We just wanted down, away from the wind.  We went back the next day.  This time the oohing and ahhing was from looking at the trees and were strewn like pick-up sticks.The decision will be made by someone else.
The decision will be made by someone else.

I am cold.  You have been cold before.  It’s getting colder.  Run faster.  Where is the car?  I parked it down there and ran back up here.  I think I’ll stop when I get to the car.  I’m not going back to the car for a while (she said while running off up the trail).  I don’t have a key.  I know that, keep running.  You’ll warm up.

———-Run gently out there———-

Differing Days

There are days when I simply do not want to have to look down at my feet every step or two.   A deserted road with a center line whose end I cannot see might call. _evening 015
The mountains just across the water, the tendrils of smoke from a mill, or, perhaps it will just be the graceful flight of a Northern harrier searching the prairie for a snack–any number of gentle tugs will let my feet disengage from my conscious and time and distance will go away.
herons_geese 048
Bends and curves will be rounded with no thought about–hmm, I suppose that is it.  I sometimes want a run with no thought to be called forth.  Some conscious awareness is needed for seeing geese, eagles, or bicyclists, and  hopes of not quite imagined things are always there.004
Hills, up or down, are just differing strides, shifts of effort.  A watch is just so I know when to turn back.  It has no duty today, no splits or paces to tattle or nag about. It the route is a familiar one, the watch is left on the top of the refrigerator to sulk. jul_17_18 017
Somewhere east of Tonopah was a road whose end we could not see.  We could see mountains that could not be reached if we ran all the rest of our days.  They set just above the ground, shimmering in the heat.  They might be real a hundred or a million  miles away or not at all.  We would flip a coin and the winner would get to run toward something not there, maybe.
Trails ask for more attention, more than just passing awareness, and fewer glances–if any–off into the distance.rain 025Wandering eyes, a meandering mind, and a switchback that has no concern for the state of my mind accounts for scratches from briars, rashes from poisonoak, and the occasional short flight through the air with little grace, ending with the “whoooompf” of the last bit of air leaving my lungs.
auntit_pat_ 053The far side of a valley is not a thing to contemplate as you descend a trail in open country. Rocks await the moment of errant eyes. On a good day it is just a short slide on a grassy hillside. On a more typical day it will be scrapes and bruises and maybe the bonus of cactus needles as a reward.
...On an almost weekly basis I pass under this “leaner”, sometimes pausing to look for signs of recent movement. When it finally falls I will return with saw and clear the trail. I have paused on the uphill side, letting my eyes and mind pretend I see what I will do should it decide to fall as I am coming helter-skelter down Boundary Trail. Our truce has been honored for seven years, but so has its muteness.
bluff_trail_dead_treeThere are trails that seem to live in a world needing neither strict attention nor allowing day dreams. They often add time to runs, but no distance.
—–Run Gently Out There—–