This Open Road

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Summer Days

So much has been happening! The summer has been good and the pace is starting to pick up. I have exciting goals that keep me energized and focused every day.

Last weekend was really fun. My sister and niece came for a visit and it was great to spend time with them. They come to Colorado every summer to go camping with our parents in their RV. I couldn’t join them for the camping trip due to teaching obligations, but it was awesome to see them for a couple of days.

Sister, me and niece (making an important call, apparently.)

My sister, me and my niece (making an important call, apparently).

 

I also ran the Sand Creek Half Marathon in Denver on Saturday. I was so glad to have my dad and good friend, Chris, there to cheer me on. It was a great boost to have them at the start and along the route yelling for me. I didn’t do as well as I usually do in half marathons, but still finished under two hours and recovered quickly. This half was a bit of a pep rally for the full marathon which I’ll run next weekend.

 

Running

I’m enjoying the tapering part of my training, gradually easing up on the long weekend runs these last couple of weeks. Yesterday I ran an easy eight-miler and today I went on a two-hour hike on the trails east of Laramie. I’ve pushed this training and may not be as ready for the marathon as I could be, but I’m excited and up for the challenge. There are many training schedules online for all race distances and I’ve been following this one. I felt that I could have followed the plan for the Intermediate 1, but since I was already cutting it close, I opted for Novice 2. (For other plans on this site, click on the “Training” link at the top of the website and select the race you’re interested in.)

Whatever the outcome of next week’s race, you’ll get the full report right here. :)

 

High plains training terrain.

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Somewhat related to running/going places, I got my new passport this week! The last time I looked all dreamy-eyed at a new passport was 10 years ago when my friend Jan and I were getting ready for our trek in Nepal. I remember thinking, I’m going to fill up this little blue book so much. Besides our trip to Nepal, I was sure I’d find time to return to the UK (the reason for my first passport and my first solo international destination when I was in college), and explore other European countries. Instead, my old passport is filled with stamps and visas from Colombia, Bolivia, India (just stopovers en route to and from Kathmandu), China and multiple trips to Japan.

 

Good to go for another 10 years!

Good to go for another 10 years!

 

I don’t know when passports began to have microchips embedded, but they do now. The pages are actually interesting, with depictions of historical events from U.S. history and quotations from various people.

 

From the early days of our country...

From the early days of our country…

...to an era of space travel.

…to an era of space travel.

 

Just as I did 10 years ago, I intend to fill this passport with stamps from countries I’ve never been to and at least one that is quite familiar to me now – Japan. This fall, I’ll be returning for a fifth term and my sixth working for Westgate. (I’ve been teaching for them through their E-learning program while living in Laramie.)

* * * * *

Speaking of Laramie, my time here is almost over! If you’ve followed this blog for the last several months, you know what a positive experience it has been. But I love movement and thrive on change, and it’s time to get going again! Already I’ve been packing up, purging (actually, there’s not much left to purge – it’s just maintenance now), giving things away and preparing for the next phase. The transition between gigs energizes me so much. I love wrapping up the last experience, organizing and prepping for the next one. I still have two more weeks of online teaching, a marathon to run, a short road trip with KRC to South Dakota (Mt. Rushmore) and northern Wyoming (Devil’s Tower), and a backpacking trip in Colorado! (More on that later.)

To be continued…

* * * * *

Travel as much as you can.

My thoughts, exactly.

Long Run Report

Yesterday I ran my last long run before the marathon. I did my 20, but it was painful. I’m not sure why it was so hard except that it was the longest distance I’ve run in several years. It was another morning of pushing through walls and breaking boundaries.

I felt ready for this run. I ate and hydrated well the day before; I slept great and was out the door at 6:35, only five minutes off my intended starting time of 6:30.

Just as with previous mornings on my favorite road, it was beautiful and cool. I felt great. In fact, I felt fantastic all the way to the 10-mile marker, which culminated in some hilly sections, and was my turn-around point. I was really happy. There were segments in the first half where I was tempted to run faster than I should, but I held back, saving some energy for the return trip.

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Then, somewhere just past the 13-mile point, everything felt tight. I kept stopping to stretch, but I felt like my body was locking up. I brought an energy bar, cashews and water, so I refueled a bit. On my other long runs, I brought too much water, so I carried less this time. The morning had heated up quickly and I was regretting not having the extra water. It was a walk-run the rest of the way home. So I got the miles in and I didn’t stop. Psychologically I felt really good. But I just couldn’t relax or regain my stride.

For several hours after I got home, I felt semi-exhausted. I stretched, ate and continued to rehydrate. Surprisingly, I recovered quickly and felt much better by the late afternoon. Today I had only a little soreness. For the next three weeks, I’ll do short runs during the week and exercises at home. I’m running a half-marathon next weekend which is just a little longer than the 12 miles I was scheduled to do.

I don’t know what this means for marathon day. I was frustrated that I had to walk so much during my last long run and it makes me wonder how I’ll do.

I've crossed a line.

I’ve crossed a line.

 

I’m hoping a few factors will work in my favor:

1) The elevation along the course in Morgan is 5,069 ft. I’ve been training at 7,200 ft., so I’ll have a 2,131 ft. elevation bonus.

2) The race starts at 5:30 a.m. which means a brutal wake-up, but the lack of heat will make for a nice start.

3) I’ve been running with a small pack which has been a distraction. I won’t need that during the run, since there will be aid stations along the route.

4) The excitement and energy of the runners will carry me to some degree.

I started training for this later than is recommended, but I’m still excited for the challenge. I’m hoping to run under four hours, as that is the cut-off for my age group in order to be eligible for the Boston Marathon. (Making the time does not guarantee a spot, as explained in this post.)

I’m still loving the training. I love running in this wide open land. If I don’t make the qualifying time in this marathon, then I’m in good shape to adjust my training and run another qualifying race.

Transformation is happening. I’m pushing myself to new limits and it’s going to feel uncomfortable. But it’s all good with me. I love to run.

Training Ground

Yesterday I enjoyed another long run down my favorite road, which leads north out of Laramie. A left and another left from the door of my apartment, and within 15 minutes I was running through the expanse that is the Wyoming plains.

After unobtrusively slipping out of the neighborhood, this simple road seems to be making an escape through the rolling terrain, leaving town behind, and heading into the wide and windy emptiness.

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This scene ignites my need to run, enticing me to go further, and sometimes faster, just for fun. After several weeks of running this road, it’s familiar. I steadily push myself up the first hill, anticipating the landscape that will open before me as I reach the top. Then I ease back, regaining a steady breath and finding a pace I can manage fluidly for the next couple of hours and however many miles.

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Occasionally, a cyclist passes me. I’m happy to be running, moving freely, working every part of my being. I have everything I need to be out for a long time: my hydration pack, food, ID, wind shirt, sunscreen, visor. And on this day, I’ve brought my camera. The morning is cool and beautiful. Pronghorns populate the grasslands of Wyoming and I see them every time I’m out here. I hope to get a picture.

I stop several times to capture the view. The clouds are perfect; the wind strong, now calm, just as it’s been forever, and as it will be, forever.

This is my own personal rave run and I love it.

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A lone pronghorn. I usually see three or four in a group.

 

I see the boundaries that form the edges of this high, broad valley. Just to the east are the Laramie Mountains – hardly seems so, their incline is so gentle. To the west, in the distance, are the Medicine Bow Mountains, containing the Snowy Range.

Medicine Bow Mountains on the horizon.

The Medicine Bow Mountains on the horizon.

 

The road dips in and out of small depressions, tracing the contours and sometimes straightening out for a mile or more. It passes homes and barns, scattered on the land. It runs by narrow dirt roads leading to private property. And it just keeps going.

The barn at mile 4.2.

The barn at mile 4.3.

 

One day, when I had a car for the weekend, I clocked the mileage of the distance I want (need) to run before the marathon. I drove 10 miles. Eventually, the road narrowed, then the shoulder disappeared. The pavement wound tighter and higher into a shallow canyon. I took the first opportunity to turn around when I found a place wide enough. For now, what’s beyond that point is a mystery.

That’s the distance I’ll go for my next long run, in a week. 20 miles. 10 out, 10 back. The extra 6.2 I have to manage in a month will also be a mystery.

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Love of the Run

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.”

-William James

 

If I can’t be backpacking in the mountains right now, I’ll run.

Actually, I’d run anyway, as I always have on a regular basis. It’s my therapy, my happy activity, the thing that grounds me, clears my mind and soul, and resolves most issues when they start swirling around in my brain.

I’m grateful for a strong body and I want to keep it on this side of its limit, pursuing health and endorphin-releasing bliss. And so I run.

I run to maintain this strength and to see how much further I can go. I run because I can and I want to. I believe in moving toward what calls and honoring the butterfly excitement that flutters right here when I’m being summoned to the next goal.

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When running beckons, I go. And lately the call has been more intense than ever. I’m a morning runner, and sometimes I’ve been so excited to run, I’ve had trouble going to sleep the night before. I need new challenges, a place to direct this heightened energy. So, I signed up for a marathon, one to be run sooner than I adequately have time to train for. But I didn’t want to wait. And I’m not coming off the sofa – I have a solid base, and now just have to focus on increasing my weekend long runs. The race will be in Morgan, Utah, which sits at a much lower elevation than Laramie, so I’m hoping that element will be a trade-off for a short training season.

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For the last few weeks I’ve been increasing my time on my weekend long runs. Yesterday I ran for 2:45. It hurt in a deep and cathartic way, and I spent the rest of the day adjusting to the stress, stretching and resting. Transformation happens in a long run. I’m not exactly sure how yet, as I’m approaching this training in a new way. In the past (I’ve run two marathons and 15+ half marathons), I’ve fought my way through the long run, desperate for the end. Now, I welcome the struggle. There cannot be progress or growth without going past the next wall.

Yesterday, I talked my way through this new territory: This is good; Okay, here we go; We’re doing this. Then, my body rebelled and tried to be the boss: Are you kidding?! Stop now! I did for short bits, to stretch out the tightness. But then we were off again, pushing through the discomfort and getting tough.

During this rough patch, a couple who had passed me earlier on their bicycles, passed me again on the way back to town. They hollered, “Hello, again!” and “Looking good!” This brief encouragement gave me the shot of motivation I needed and helped me lighten my step and straighten my back.

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By the time I got home, I knew I’d gone beyond my limit. I knew this was a good thing and I’d recover. But I felt oddly disconnected from my emotions, except for some inexplicable irritation. I ran slower than my usual time, but I had done what I could do, running to the edge of my ability for this day, and I was not frustrated at that. I couldn’t understand why I was annoyed. As the day ebbed, so did my angst. I believe this emotional dip correlated to my physical exertion. Both settled out eventually.

Today I went for a long hike for some cross-training (where I took the pics for this post). It was over easy ground with minimal inclines. It felt good to walk out the residual soreness from yesterday’s run. Tomorrow is a rest day, a respite before the next day’s shorter but faster run. I’m already excited.

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Wondering if there’s an ultra in my future…

Engagement with the Wilderness

I am part of an eclectic tribe: Those who need the wilderness like they need air, the ruggedness of the backcountry trails and the unpredictability of the mountains.

Backpacking, and specifically backpacking the AT, is never far from my mind. During the winter months, I think about the excitement hikers are enjoying as they prepare for their hikes. They’re researching, evaluating and purchasing or making their gear. They’re reading blogs and websites, learning as much as they can from other hikers’ experiences. They’re lining up renters for their apartments and figuring out storage for their belongings, or better, selling it or giving it away. It’s all preparation for their soon-to-be minimalist life on the trail.

In the spring and summer, I’m often thinking about the hikers that are on the trail, immersed in a temporary livelihood they will never forget, and, for many of them, will impact their future lifestyle choices. The friendships that form in the midst of a self-imposed, arduous, multi-month trek can be some of the most intense and unique of a person’s life.

In the fall, hikers are moving into the final weeks on the trail, and I empathize with their elation and despondency of finishing their journey. Some will be more than ready to be done and will believe, down to the bottom of their worn out soles (and souls), that they will never again step foot on such a path. But within weeks, the siren song of the trail beckons and the planning begins again.

Thru-hikers are often asked why they do this. Financial, professional and relational sacrifices are made. It’s hard. It’s dirty. You’re dirty. You sleep on the ground in your tiny tent or in a three-sided shelter with a bunch of other dirty, stinky, snoring hikers. You get rained on. You get hot. It’s buggy. You hike up steep trails and straight down the other side. Your pack is heavy. (It doesn’t have to be, but most traditional backpackers carry 30-40 pound packs.) And you chose this. Against everything that makes sense about a comfortable existence, you signed up. And if you’re like me, you’d sign up again. Thru-hikers get this.

Franconia Ridge, N.H.

Franconia Ridge, N.H.

 

But most normal people don’t get it and they’re the sensible ones. If asked by someone who has no experience with the trail, it’s difficult to explain the insistent call of the trail. But I’m going to try.

All that uncomfortable stuff I just mentioned, doesn’t really bother me anymore. On my first few backpacking trips it did. But I adapted and grew to love it. I learned how to prepare better, what to expect and how to get tough. When you’re hiking in the rain and there’s nowhere to go, you learn to accept it and continue on because you have no other choice.

And it will not last forever. There will be a reprieve and you’ll regroup, make adjustments and go again. Somewhere along the way, you realize you’re persevering in fine fashion, and you actually like it. Something in your core being is changing.

I accept all of this as part of the adventure and I welcome it. I adore it.

Engagement has happened.

September in Maine.

September in Maine.

 

I’m never bored on the trail. Every action requires my complete attention. Every step I take is important and can be the difference between a successful trek, an uncomfortable hobble to an access road or an evacuation. I have to be aware of the my surroundings and movements in the woods. I have to make sure I have enough water and know where the next source will be.

When I make camp I have to judge my location: Is it level? Am I in a low-lying area that might flood if it rains or is too close to the stream?

Am I still on the right trail? Where was the last blaze or signpost? Is my mileage accurate? What is the weather doing? Are storm clouds blowing in? Can I get to a good place to set up camp if necessary?

I have to budget my food and fuel to last until I can resupply. I have to be responsive to pain and sensations in and on my body. Too often I’ve ignored hot spots that turned into blisters. Am I dehydrated or overly tired? Am I eating at regular intervals and not waiting until I feel hungry?

Awareness of our environment is imperative in “regular” life as well, but routine and predictability make it easy to lose focus and operate on autopilot. We rely on the assumption that if something goes awry, we usually have easy access to help.

On the trail, everything is ramped up a few notches and convenience is nonexistent. Paying attention is vital, not just a good idea.

Maine.

Maine.

 

I love this necessary engagement on the trail. My senses are alert and everything that is, is even more. I’m more attentive to the play of light and shadows on the land as the sun moves across the sky, changes in wind and temperature, and the minor adjustments my body has to make as I negotiate ascents and descents.

Nothing else so captivates me as life on the trail, in the mountains.

The call of the wilderness is profound. It requires my best and most focused work. It makes no promises but the rewards are the severe and ageless beauty of the deep mountain country.

 * * * *

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
- John Muir

View from Killington Peak, VT.

View from Killington Peak, VT.

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