Cascadias and me, atop Big Si.
The saga of my shoes continues, as I talked my way in to a last-minute spot in a 25K trail race in a few weeks that goes up and down Mount Constitution in the San Juan Islands. 25K is approximately 15.53 miles - should be nothing, given that I ran a full 26.2 a couple months ago?
WRONG. Trail running is a different beast entirely, and I'm now breaking all the cardinal rules of training in hopes that I can whip my butt into shape for this thing in the next seventeen days. I have done approximately no serious trail runs in my life except for my meager little 4.5-miler up Little Si last week. (In other dumb, overzealous news in my outdoorsy life this week, I've been hobbling around with sore calves for the past two days after doing an overly ambitious (but awesome in the moment!) 7-miler in my Fivefingers...) And so today, with the sun shining brilliantly and nearly 60-degree weather, I once again drove out to North Bend in hopes of tackling the quad-and-calf-busting 8.5 miler up and down the full, 4100-foot-tall Mount Si.
This picture courtesy of Wikipedia. No, I saw no cows today.
One of my coworkers, Ali, is really into trail running, and is determined to convert me from my road-running ways. And I can see why; the views are more spectacular, the race fees much lower, and the sport as a whole just a lot humbler and quieter than all the flashy-fanfare of road races. Not that I'll ever stop doing road races altogether, as running Cleveland is high on my priority list for the spring...but I can certainly see the appeal of trail running.
Ali's take on it is, "You don't race against the clock. You just try to survive and get yourself across that finish line."
That might seem a little dramatic, but I can honestly say, after today, it's absolutely accurate. On the way up Si, I felt pretty much mentally on par with where I was during miles 22-26 of my marathon: absolutely drained, weak, trying to run but my body deciding at its own whim to walk instead, hunched over, heaving for breath, miserable, wallowing in the depths of discouragement, wondering why the hell I put myself through this kind of stuff. I doubt if I "ran" more than 15% of the whole way up, hiking in the intervals between and feeling totally discouraged about what I've signed myself up for.
But...the camaraderie of other hikers helps. As I was running up, I'd pass guys coming down who'd say things like, "It's really windy at the top; watch out for it!", and know, then, that I had to make it up there. Turning back simply wasn't an option. But I sure felt like it! The winds, indeed, were really intense around the top, and somehow, being up there with nothing but my sneakers, a light jacket, and a little Camelbak strapped to my back...made the wind seem scarier?
The views at the top, however, were awe-inspiring. My camera doesn't do any of them justice, but:
And then...dessert: running back down the mountain. The whole, glorious 40-minute way down, I hit the biggest runner's high ever, leaping over roots and rocks and pounding the dirt and switchbacks faster than I ever run on flat ground. I couldn't stop thinking about two things: (1) how similar trail running is to snowboarding in certain ways: your heart nearly explodes through your chest from pounding so hard, and you're burning holes through your muscles, but you don't care, because the adrenaline rush is so powerful. You don't stop. The wind against your face, the stunning views, the tree-dodging, the trust you put into your speed...and you hit the bottom, exhilarated and your legs shaky and about to collapse out from under you. Glorious!!! The big difference is just that with snowboarding, you get a free lift to the top; with trail running, you run your ass off in order to earn your ride down.
My (2) thought was how amazing the human brain is. It's capable of absorbing so much visual information about my environment so quickly, and making split-second, unconscious decisions about each and every footfall, as my eyes were already ten steps ahead, navigating what was to come, instead of the ground beneath my feet. So awesome.
Miraculously, I made it the whole way down without any scrapes or falls or twisted ankles...and I even got a bit of a (horribly shaky, sorry!) video to capture the experience as best I could on camera: (It gets fun about 20 seconds in, when you can start to hear my individual footsteps and my labored breathing...)
P.S. Headline today in the Seattle Times: Could Be Seattle's Warmest January Ever.