Thursday evening. The 28th annual Zane Grey 50 plus miler. I’m here for the third time. I first ran this race in 2015. It was one I’d been wanting to do for a while. A bunch of friends signed up, and one by one they all withdrew until it was only me.
I love it here. This is beautiful, rough, wild country.
Another rough week in LA. “You guys are a team!,” I’m told. “They really do want to get better! They’re really eager to learn!” “Really? So that time last year when we handed everyone guides on ____, and the next week we asked if anyone read them, and everyone said no? And the week after they said no again? They said reading is difficult, could I give them videos? That’s eager to learn?” “They’ve changed! I feel it! You guys are a team! You can teach them!” “Listen, I got hired to be a programmer, not a teacher. Especially not a teacher of marketing.”
And so it goes.
“You’re 57? I would have never guessed. I figured you were around 55.” “Thanks. Two years ago I was 55, and I looked about 40. It’s coming on fast.”
Speaking of 55, the Zane Grey race is growing. Literally. When I first ran it in 2015 it was about 51 miles long. This year I’m told it will be about 55. What’s interesting is that it is a point to point running the full length of the Highline Trail. The Highline Trail keeps getting longer. “Where are the extra three miles?” “We’re not really sure. They made a lot of switchbacks. It may be longer but the trail is much more runnable!”
I’m not sure that being more runnable suits me. The rough rocky awful goodness of the Highline Trail has been a bit of an equalizer. I don’t have much run left in me these days, so anything that forces everyone else to slow down is in my favor.
It seems to me that I left a giant chunk of Mojo somewhere on the Western States trail last year. The 24 or 25 hour finish that dropped to 26 and then to 27 and then there I was at mile 85 with a huge, swollen knee, legs bending in all the wrong directions and none of the right ones, barely able to walk, with six hours left to cover fifteen mostly flat miles and no hope of doing so, somewhere in the darkness while I was focused on all of that I didn’t notice my mojo falling away. A few months after that I ran my slowest 50K ever, and since then it’s been a progression of worst performances. Kind of a bummer. I’m sure it’s all in my head. That’s where pretty much all my problems originate, even when they manifest physically.
I have a very sharp mind. I keep cutting myself with it.
And here I am in Payson.
My projected splits look very doable. Everything looks easy on paper, is my experience. I just need to shave a little bit here, and a little bit there, even though the way it’s been working these past 9 months its me that’s getting shaved a bit at a time. In theory though, if I run this split as fast as I did in 2015 and this split as fast as I did in 2016, and this split a hair faster than either year, and those three mysterious extra miles fly by unnoticed, it should be a cake walk.
Yesterday Andrea and I ran a few miles out of the Fish Hatchery aid station. This is one of my favorite parts of the course – winding through the red rocks as you head into the 33 mile station. To me, it’s stunning, and I felt happier than I had in months running through here. This is a place that makes me feel joy. It was especially nice to hit this spot on fresh legs with no deadline; I wasn’t distracted by how tired I was or how much my feet hurt or whether or not I’d beat the hailstorm, and I was able to fully appreciate how much I love this place.
I’ve never liked the start of a race. The gnawing in my stomach is no fun. There was always some element of panic in high-school at the start of a 400 meter race. It wasn’t a reasonable panic – I didn’t lose – but it was always there.
Only once did either of my parents ever come to see me run. My mother showed up without warning to a small school track meet. I was not having a good day and her arrival threw me so badly I had a true Aspie meltdown. I withdrew from the race, and loaned my spikes to another runner. I then reconsidered, but couldn’t get my spikes back. I ran the race in a pair of sneakers: my brown suede Adidas Tobaccos. I probably won, but not by much.
I’m feeling the jitters more than usual at the start. I really don’t like that feeling.
We are not that far into the race, and runners are still bunched up. The Highline Trail is very rocky. I come upon a small group of runners going much more gently down the hill than I’d like to, and soon I am riding the heels of the runner in front of me, hoping to pass, too close to see the trail ahead of me. My left foot catches a rock and I go down, hard. The usual wounds – my right hand, my left knee, and another cut on my right shin. I’m up quickly and move to pass the runners ahead. Note to self: keep at least 10 feet between you and whoever’s in front. Not so much later I notice my bottle is slippery with blood, the same as Western States.
The first aid station – Geronimo – is at mile 9 or so. I declined first aid and headed out. Immediately outside the aid station I noticed I didn’t have much in the tank.
At some point I realized the second toe in my left foot was numb. The rest of the foot was starting to hurt quite a bit, enough that it was slowing me down. Climbing was painful. Maybe it’s just the rocks, I told myself. This course is not easy on the feet. Odd that it should only be one foot, though. And a mile or so later I realized I had done something to the toe in that fall.
Washington Park Aid Station. Running had been slow and painful, but the 4 ibuprofin I’d popped a few miles back were finally kicking in and I was able to run. My stomach was not great, though, and it was really too early in the race for that. I was really looking forward to hitting the aid station and regrouping. After telling Andrea I thought I was done, I decided to check the foot. My second toe was bent in the wrong direction and visibly throbbing; Andrea could watch my pulse. The EMTs buddy taped it, had me sign a bunch of papers, and suggested I hit the hospital sooner rather than later for xrays.
StatClinix Urgent Care
The nurse says “Do you want a wheelchair?” “No, thanks. I’m trying to stay out of those things.” “You sure? They are pretty nice.” “Yes, thank you, I’m sure. As long as I can move on my own, that how I want to live life.”
The Dr. positioned himself between me and my foot. He started running his fingers down my tow. “Does that hurt?” “No. It’s numb.” “Tell me when you can feel something.” “Yes! I felt that!” “Okay, try to push up. Tell me when you can feel something.” “Ow. Yes, I feel that.” “Okay, try to push down. Tell me when you can feel something.” “Ok. Ow. Yes, I feel that.” “Ok. I fixed it” He shows me my toe with a flourish. It’s the correct length, and it’s not pointing in the wrong direction. He has the nurse buddy tape it. They offer me bandages for my other wounds.
“So you want take it easy for a while.” “Ok. What does that mean? When can I start running again.” “Wow. Well, you should probably let the ligaments heal for a few weeks.”
Yesterday Andrea said “You should tell your coach that one run a week needs to not be a workout. For your own happiness you just need to get up into the mountains at least once a week, not to do anything but whatever you want.”
Today she said “You do it the opposite of most people. You sign up for races because it gives you something to train for. Most people train to race. You race to train. And it’s been a long time since you had any enjoyment racing.”
“When was the last time?” I ask.
“Well, you didn’t enjoy San Joaquin at all, did you? And you were miserable at Mt. Taylor. Did you enjoy Backbone 68?”
“There were some transcendent moments running by moonlight, but pretty much everything else was awful.”
“The last time you were happy was at Western States, before it all went wrong.”
It keeps coming back to that.
The Shambhala teachings say that the tiger is friendly to himself and merciful to others. In the context of meditation, this means we accept ourselves and appreciate others. In relation to running, being friendly to ourselves means being kind to our running mind. Being merciful means being merciful to our bodies. — Sakyong Mipham, Running With the Mind of Meditation
I am not as gentle as I could be. My mindfulness is not very mindful. As someone with Aspergers, I start with a deficit. I am easily frustrated, and when frustrated I am never gentle, merciful, or friendly. This causes me more sadness than you could know, because as much as I distrust and don’t like other people, I wish we could all treat each other with love, respect, and compassion. At the very least, I wish I could do that. Too often, I find myself snarling like a cornered animal. I am trying to make this not so.
Another weekend another fall. Last week was a dislocated toe at Zane Grey. This weekend a broken collarbone. Rocks 2, Geoff 0. I’m on a losing streak.
Eight days later my foot seemed to be healing, although it hurt a bit on hard downhills. That’s to be expected, said my coach, who had me scheduled for a two hour tempo run. It was a day where nothing felt right, and I went from one trailhead to the next, hoping to feel inspired, or at least summon up the willingness to run.
I decided to run loops out of the Glendale Sports Center. It’s about 1.2 miles up, and the same back down. Should it have started to rain, my car would be no more than a mile and a half away.
As I ran I thought about about the rest of my race schedule. My coach has me on a very specific plan, and it’s making me a stronger runner, but at shorter distances. Fifty miles had started seeming impossibly long. Jemez 50 miler is on May 20th, just two weeks away.. I’ve DNF’ed there once. DNFs are not good for my soul. I wondered if I should drop down to the 50K, but the 50K does not run through the Caldera, which is the beauty of that run.
It took a while for my brain to stop chattering, but when it finally did I settled in to a nice groove. And then it happened: on the third downhill, I hit a rock and went flying. This time I didn’t break my fall with my hands and landed hard on my right shoulder. I rolled onto my back and slid to a stop, staring up at the sky for a few minutes. This fall hurt. My shoulder was not moving well, and when I tried it made crunching noises.
The mile down to the car was slow and painful.
I’m just a guy who falls down a lot.
I’m not really anyone special. Maybe I was, once, a long time ago as a runner and a pretty good time ago as an artist, but nowadays I’m just a middle aged guy who finishes towards the front of his age group but otherwise in the middle of the pack, and my injuries aren’t anything special, either. I managed to break the most commonly broken bone in the body – this is no great achievement. This injury generally heals by itself, if you just take it easy. There’s nothing heroic about this injury or about the way I am dealing with it. It’s not like Pete Sercel breaking his pelvis in Idlehour Canyon, self extracting, and running down the Mt. Wilson Tollroad to his car. I’m just a guy who falls down a lot.
A week later and the pain has mostly subsided. The past week I’ve been tired, and sore. Today my body didn’t feel like it was summoning resources to heal. Today I am just sore.