Miss Tenacity: The Podcast?

Miss Tenacity, as part of my own personality, was born out of a love of trails. And the idea of tenacity has grown, as we all have, into something more expansive and embracing. This kind of tenacity is about women who run trails and often run really dang long trails. This flavor of tenacity is about athletes who balance families and societal norms and self-expectations and come out stronger.

This kind of tenacity is the community of female ultra runners and trail bad-ass women, and the friendships, trust, and knowledge that can be shared between us all. We are like a pride of lions, independent yet still cohesive. We are supportive of the group and value the accrued wisdom therein. If we function as a pride, we even recognize when the group needs to branch out and grow for its own survival.

Tenacious Flowers

And, yeah, we are PROUD of being ultra women. We’ve battled our schedules, other people’s expectations, our own inner demons, and a dozen other “maybe not’s” before we found ourselves HERE. We are runners, drawn to the self-unraveling that towers over us during long days on trail. When our emotional defenses topple in the middle of the night; when our bodies are ready to collapse in the heat of the 2nd day, THAT is when we have the chance to gather our smoldering embers and use our inner fire to finish what we started.

We trail and ultra women are special. We are like the guys in some ways: we’re tough, we are resilient, we are drawn to this strange kind of discomfort….

A long, long time ago in an ultra-world far, far away . . . One dude postulated that men run ultras because they envy childbirth. They envy the struggle, the pain, the final emergence into success and exhausted rapture. Well . . . perhaps. Could that explain women like me who run ultras and never plan to have children? Again, perhaps.

And yet. We are very different from the rest of the ultrarunning crowd, too. We need different gear, different nutrition, different attitudes. And that’s how we are coming together to make Miss Tenacity, the podcast.

Yes, you read that right. Miss Tenacity is about endurance women. It’s a thing. It’s a podcast. It’s coming.

You are your own Miss Tenacity. And I want you to be part of my tribe.

Better Than “First Aid”: Ultra Aid Kit Essentials

A few weeks ago I was running down a trail with a friend new to the amazing world of trail pounding. And then, they pounded. Caught a rock with their toe and landed with their ankle on another rock. Oof, and there goes a few ligaments.

Sure wish I had a cold pack…. Argh.

We got back to the car and I chastised myself for having such a crap first aid kit. Lots of bandaids but nothing truly essential for trail runners or even ultrarunners. Then I started fantasizing about creating such a kit myself and selling it, even a Kickstarter, the whole shebang.

But…. no. Some Kickstarters are lame and mine was about to join them.

And then I got pragmatic. Instead, I’ll tell you what will be in my perfect Trail Aid Kit for your car, and you can craft your own based on mine. No commercial first aid kits tailor to the odd desires of trail and ultrarunners, so this kit might save your butt, or make your ride home far less unpleasant.

TRAIL/ULTRA AID KIT: FOR THE CAR

The reasoning behind each of these is usually self-explanatory, but I’ll elucidate when I have something to add.

START with a basic first aid kit with bandages and the usual. Most normal first aid kits have SOOOO many bandages and not enough of the ‘serious’ stuff. Keep the basic kit and get another sack for your ULTRA kit. 🙂

  1. Instant cold pack(s). For injuries, usually, but also can be used to bring down body temp if you are finishing your run on a wicked hot day (just wrap it in cloth so you don’t frostbite anything, then stick under armpit(s), alternating as needed).
  2. Stretchy compression bandage, any kind. Tons of uses. To hold an ice pack on or create stability.
  3. Technu. (Or IvyX) Ran through a patch of poison ivy or oak? These are pretty much your only option.
  4. Nut butter or other chafing relief stuff.
  5. Electrolytes. Tons of options these days. I have definitely finished runs low on electrolytes because I misinterpreted the heat or the weather.
  6. Space/thermal blanket.
  7. Water filtration. Can help in more ways than you think. If you get to the trailhead and realize you’ve forgotten bottles, take a LifeStraw to purify water on your route (if there’s a stream/spring/lake!). If you bring bottles and run out of water, fill your bottles at a water source and bring it BACK to the car to filter later if you know you’ll be dehydrated.

CAR EXTRAS

Not necessarily in your first aid kit, but in your car: WATER. (If you keep a plastic water jug in your car, change the water at least every month because that plastic will leach… ick.) Also, some dry clothes, possibly a towel, and some calories that are heat-tolerant. Nut butter packets are great. I like to keep some protein recovery powder and my shaker bottle to have something for my quivering muscles on the drive home (or directly to a grocery store for some FRUIT).

Further ideas? What else is something you would LOVE to know is waiting for you in the car as you stagger down the last bit of trail, hurt or dehydrated or (gawd forbid) bleeding? Let me know!

For realz. Car-stable PIZZA ROLLS!

[NOTE: this post is full of Amazon links; buy your gear where you choose!]

Sunshine And Bunny Rabbits: Why Trails Are Therapy Until They’re Not

The tongue-in-cheek bumper stickers and t-shirts are clear: running and hiking are a direct substitute for therapy.

Is this true? I’d say . . . sort of. Maybe. Rarely. Here’s why: if I were to categorize running as therapy, it is akin to psychoanalysis. Wait, what? Hear me out.

In traditional psychoanalysis, much like running, you must do it repeatedly—even several times a week—for a long time, possibly for years, but you will certainly gain from the amount of repetition. In both, you’ll learn about yourself, you’ll be able to introspect and let your mind wander, and you’ll develop a kind of understanding with your therapist (or your body). But you will never graduate from therapy. It becomes your outlet, your tool for decompression, your safety valve. In psychoanalysis this comes at a cost, depending on factors such as insurance, choice of therapist, and more. It could cost you as much as a few hundred dollars a week. For life.

i don't need therapy just hiking

I don’t need therapy just hiking

When compared to that, running or hiking on trails sure seems like a bargain. Running can be inexpensive relative to other sports due to the minimal gear requirement. All you need is shoes, and maybe some shorts and socks that won’t be irritating when sweaty for hours at a time. But if you run regularly, it can be a lot of shoes. At more than 2000 annual miles, I might wear out 5-8 pairs of shoes in a year. Paying full retail that could mean almost $1000 per year, or a few hundred a year if you hound sales and thrift stores as I do.

Psychoanalysis (also called talk therapy), like running, does not require a huge investment to start but has costs that never end until the therapy ends. You might ask: is talk therapy effective? Depends on your long-term goals. Perhaps you want that reliable and neutral third party asking you the introspective questions. Perhaps you want a decompression time to vent or cry or let your thoughts wander. In those cases, talk therapy might be for you.

Running is My Therapy sticker from Trail GangstAZ

(Trail GangstAZ)

In that same way, running might be for you if you want to have some time to think, some time outdoors, some time alone, some time to work up a sweat and get that pleasure from discomfort. Or to connect with a group of like-minded folks. If all or any of those things are up your alley, running is a totally good option.

Running To Shut The Valve

And yet, there’s a rub. I spent nearly 25 years as a runner using running as a TOOL to drown out my emotions. To stop them before they even started up. To beat them down with a club of neurotransmitters designed to get me addicted to exhaustion. If my emotional sea was a faucet, running was the valve I used to tighten down any leaks.

I had to change my running from one tool to another, and it took time. No longer does it beat down the feels. Now, it helps them surface. Running is STILL the valve on the faucet of emotions. But now I’ve figured out how to turn it the other way to open the flow. This started to really manifest on my Colorado Trail thru-hike in 2017. Further deep diving and being coached last fall has put all the pieces together in a way I’ve been waiting for for literally 30 years.

Next?

There’s a much larger story here. Long enough for a bunch of posts, or a book, or something. Stay tuned. Get this same benefit for yourself and your running through my coaching. Because having a coach is so much more than a spreadsheet of mileages. It’s a whole-human enterprise.

Momentum: How Getting Faster Happens

I am a fast runner right now, and I love it.

How did that happen? Consistency. Luck. Momentum.

Newton’s first law of motion is that bodies tend to stay in the situation they are in. If moving, they stay moving. If still, they stay still. Momentum works both as actual motion as well as inertia. It is the driving force in the universe. Entropy also is a contributing factor: physics isn’t always clean and simple.

Translated from the original Latin, it reads thusly: “Law I: Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.”

What that means for my running right now is that I am riding a wave of fast. I say this without braggadocio or swagger. I’ve amassed nearly a year of good training without injury (dear gawd let this not be a jinx) and slowly built up a good racing season. Joe Uhan calls this “marble in the groove“. It’s when you take that momentum and build something phenomenal, whether that’s over the course of one race, or a whole season.

After my first “A” race in June did not go entirely as planned—San Diego 100 in heat and meltdown—I focused on a sub-24 100 in September and nailed that without major issue, adoring nearly every mile of that high Arizona course. No unexpected downtime in the lead up, no missed weeks, no stressing. Just flow.

VFuel showing off their athletes, including yours truly. Wheee!

 

And then. After recovering from that race (which didn’t seem to take much time or effort, either), I broke my 50K PR set more than a decade ago. When I was 30 I ran a 5:22 over in Phoenix, and I thought that was a decent time, at the time. 2004 was a good racing year for me, with my 50 mile PR also set, and my first Hardrock finish yet to be claimed.

But last week outside of Salt Lake City, at an elevation where I do not live, I shaved 6 minutes off that PR at age 44, a full 14 years after the first one. And it was hard but not ridiculous. I was cruising, grinning, and on a goddam high pretty much all 5 hours of that magical race. I’d slept 9 hours the night before the race, but that was to make up for the 2 hours I’d gotten the previous night (umm), so it’s not like I’m some saint of sleep.

And since that race, I’ve continued to train hard. Or, hard-ish, given that I do not have another race on the horizon. I go out for “normal” runs on courses I’ve done dozens of times and set Strava segment PRs. It’s really kind of magical.

Marble, meet groove. Set last night.

 

And it has to end.

When? Dunno. Why? Because my body will hit some kind of combo of tired and unlucky. Some bug will hit me. My wackadoodle sleep habits the last month could catch up to me. The stress of moving to a new city and social engagements also adds to the physiological bill.

And, on December 1, I will know if my next 6 months of training will be as important as any I have ever undertaken. It is then that I will know if I get into Western States 100. When I run that race, it could be my only shot for years. That means I will run the race of my up-to-now life. That is the goal. There are performance goals that I will have in mind, but the main goal is to run The Best Race. Period.

If I don’t get in (and odds are still greatly not in my favor, with a 6.7% chance of getting in), I will look to a late spring or early summer “A” race again. Perhaps San Diego because that’s a stellar event. And then, there’s still the possibility of getting in to UTMB. Everything will shake out as it needs, but in the meantime I know that my volume of training is what is propelling me along now.

I will do my best to protect it and keep it sustainable. I owe that to myself and to my idea of racing well. Wish me luck.

If you want to have a go at ultra racing, I can coach you. This stuff runs in my blood and in my neurons, for three whole decades. Let’s make some awesome happen.

Brandishing my Antelope Island 50K schwag at top of Wire Mountain, Salt Lake City

5 Things You Need To Know About Running 100 Miles In A Day

It was Sunday, 10 in the morning, in the vicinity of the finish line of the Stagecoach 100 mile race. I was not functioning well as a human person.

“Hey, I couldn’t find you!” said Geoff after I’d wandered off for another unplanned nap in the back of the enormous tent. An hour prior I’d been wide awake, ringing a cowbell and cheering in other racers in the morning light. Three hours prior I was sitting in a daze after my own finish wondering if that had actually just happened (yes), if I’d feel some exhilaration any moment now (no), and why my ass hurt so much (TMI).

Okay. Wait. Back up just a tiny bit. Let’s go back a little more than a day and start this sizzle reel from the beginning. It was 6 a.m. on Saturday, I was about to run my first sub-24 hour 100 mile ultra marathon, and I felt pretty damn good. But why was I even here, with this particular goal? It all goes back to a “little” horse event called the Tevis Cup.

100 Miles. One Day.

To run 100 miles and not get “lapped” by the sun. It’s the stuff of ultrarunner dreams. Those four iconic words are etched into each coveted silver buckle from Western States—the oldest 100 miler in the country. Originally, 100 miles under 24 hours was the final cutoff for the Tevis Cup, but after Gordy ran it without his horse it was clear humans could do it, too. Now, a sub-24 at the 100 mile distance is a people’s benchmark, attainable and yet still difficult. In other words, it’s the perfect goal.

For me, it took some planning, some specific training, and a lot of base building. This race was chosen specifically; I had run my 100 mile PR here, a 26:15 five years ago. Everything seemed to be in alignment. I didn’t even get injured (more than a niggle) during training. In the end, my race was a success and yet the achievement felt incredibly numbing at the same time. I was left with so many conflicting emotions, from “of course I did it, I knew I could” to “that hurt a lot but I can do it better” to “I’m already sad and I don’t know why” to “goddamn I’m tired” to “maybe I feel a little . . . yay?

I have been doing ultras for a very long time, including 100s, yet I wasn’t sure how I would feel. Maybe I imagined it a little like Zach Miller. If you haven’t seen the end of The North Face 50 mile from 2016, give it a look. Watching that kind of redlining . . . it makes me FEEL stuff. THAT is how sport should be! And feel! And wooooooo! But for me, at 6:28 am on Sunday morning, 23 and a half hours after I started, there was not a lot of fist pumping.

Crossing the finish line I definitely felt relief that I didn’t fuck it up. See, the thing is that I knew I could break 24. My training was right, the day was right, even my cycle was exactly at the right spot. (And yes, that’s important if you are a woman trying to race. Dr. Stacy Sims, y’all.)

Weeks ahead of time, I told everyone I was going to do sub-24. It made the goal more real and more visible. And scary: what if I totally failed? If the result was that I struggled all day and finished in 25 hours, I’d feel surprised and a bit humbled and a lot embarrassed. So I needed some perspective.

Detach From Results

In order to let my legs do what they were ready to do, I put my trust in them. My heart was ready. It was the head that needed some coaching, honestly. The head controls pretty much everything, including legs and heart. It was my head that would tell my legs to slow down if it decided I was a crap runner. It was my head that would allow my legs to reclaim their spunk in the last hours to put the frosting on my race cake.

Days before the race I was in a yoga class and almost lost it when the instructor said to the room, “Your body is ready. You are ready.” She wasn’t talking to me. She was referring to all of us being warmed up and ready to do a deep stretch. But it didn’t matter. My heart heard those words and melted like butter in a skillet. Yes. I was ready.

5 Things Toward Making Sub-24 A Reality

In the end, several things helped me get to my goal. They are what you must remember. They are what I needed to relearn.

1. Running to a timetable is damn stressful.

Nearly every other ultra I have ever ran was “to feel”. Meaning, I ran what felt appropriate for the day, for my training, for the race. Not too hard. Sometimes I was fighting cutoffs. Sometimes I pushed myself harder than usual to finish strong. But almost always, I was running what felt reasonable for that day. And that made me feel unfulfilled as an athlete/animal. WHAT COULD MY BODY REALLY DO? This was a question I’d started to answer 10 years ago when running marathons, but I am just poking into it with ultras.

My 24 hour target splits were absolutely perfect for ME. They were based on two people who’d run this race the year before, finished just under 24, and raced like I do: worryingly slow in the first half, then a barely perceptible slowdown in the later miles. Based on previous races I knew this was my kind of plan. But it left little room for error. I wasn’t putting in quick miles early to have some wiggle room later. That ends up disastrously for many people, and besides, I love that feeling of “orange-lining” the whole 2nd half. Not redlining and blowing up. Bad idea. But just below that is the orange line and that is where I twiddle the dials of my Central Governor and go into the pain cave for awhile. Sustainable discomfort. Which leads to . . .

2. Everything is temporary. EVERYTHING.

Feeling bad. Feeling awesome. Being too hot. Needing to “find a tree”. Feeling hungry. Getting talkative. Wanting silence. Being lost. Getting lonely. Those fresh batteries in the super-bright headlamp.

Pretty sure I fertilized a tree somewhere around here. About mile 30.

Nothing lasts. Soon, you feel better. Or worse. Or your batteries die. Deal with it, and wait for the next change.

3. Self-talk can make or break you.

Get ready for this one; it’s not as hippie as you think. Hours and hours of “you got this” and “you are ready” and “what a great day” will tend to produce a different mindset than “oh boy I feel slow” and “this hurts my feet” and “ow ow ow my butt”. And your mindset can turn into differing performance results. It’s true that some folks can rally when faced with criticism or difficulty, but those birds are rare. Many of us do far better with encouragement, from the world around us AND our inner narrative. Even though I wasn’t able to draw my Sharpie mantras all over myself, I still thought about them as if I had.

Corollary concept: positive talk directed to other people is a double shot of goodness. Telling other racers they’re doing well, thanking volunteers, all of it feeds into this big loop of sparkles and unicorns and love. And it works.

4. The finish is what you make of it.

Didn’t have any friends to be there and go WOOOOOOOO and take photos of your grimy face and thousand-yard stare? Suck it up, buttercup. You STILL did the thing and the tiny cactus still believes in you. Pat yourself on the back as much as you damn well want. Mope. Take a micro-nap without really planning on it. EAT something, unless you will literally throw up as a result. And, most importantly, get OUT of your head. You’ve been in it for more than a day. Stand up, walk around, and do the WOOOOOOO for everyone else who is coming in to the finish. Maybe they don’t have their friends around, either. BE their friend. You both did this thing.

5. Aftercare is real and underappreciated.

No, I didn’t just deliver a baby but boy did I put my body through the wringer. For days the muscles are confused and angry, the lower legs inflamed and swollen with impressive cankles. Sleep is challenging, and then sound, and then challenging. Hunger is fickle, rising and falling with no seeming logic. I am given a free pass to eat anything I want as a “reward” for my race, but when I go to the store the day after the race I buy salad and liver and eat them with gusto. More than a week after the race I find myself having a chocolate-bar-and-bag-of-chips dinner. Really. But with more than a solid week of nutritious food already down the hatch, I’m recovering like a boss.

Oh, yeah. Emotional wackness. I get this one, real bad. Half a day of “yay, I did that” followed by a day of random staring into space and thinking, “boy is my life empty and dumb”. Repeat for a week. Or two. Throw in some sudden emotional meltdowns, such as panicking at the grocery store or bursting into tears during a run, and you have a pretty interesting post-race period. It’s sometimes called post-race depression and it can magnify any other clinical depressive symptoms already present. Pay attention and call someone if you’re freaked. Call me. There’s lots of us in this together, and we’re stepping up to be seen.

Salt encrusted shirts are THE BEST.

Ultimately, the biggest secret to aftercare is just tuning in. Need a nap? Take one if you can! Hungry? Eat something, dammit: whatever sounds good. Legs all freaky and tight? Lay on the floor and put your feet on the wall. It’s a lovely feeling. Want to go running? Go, but slow. Don’t want to go running? Don’t! But do walk around and be mobile as much as humanly possible. You might get a cold a week or two later. That’s fine. Sleep more.

And take it all in. Smile, even if you still have the thousand yard stare.

42 Miles: That Day I Ran Across The Grand Canyon, Twice, On Purpose

The first time I ran across the Grand Canyon and back, it put me in its mouth like a fresh piece of bubblegum, swallowed me whole, let me bathe in digestive acids, regurgitated me back up its canal, chewed me a little more, blew a bubble, popped the bubble, then spit me out on the dusty dark trail.

I am chewing gum, wadded up, with teeth marks.

– from my 2014 R2R2R aftermath notes

The Big Ditch, as it is known, is the Grand Canyon. At 21 miles for the shortest trail traverse, I’d call that a pretty big ditch, indeed. By late 2014 I had been wanting to do the famous Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (also known as R2R2R, also known as R3) for a few years. Fortuitously, I was going to visit the Phoenix area for some Javelina Jundred pacing duties, and I had plenty of extra time to leave a few days early and get the Canyon adventure DONE.

Lovely profile created by Chris Dailey

Late October in the Grand Canyon makes for decent weather (meaning pretty warm yet not stupid hot) but limited daylight. On the day I ran there was a scant 10 hours and 45 minutes between sunrise and sunset, guaranteeing I’d be spending at least part of my traverse(s) in the dark. I’m no Emily Loman nor Krissy Moehl nor Devon Crosby-Helms nor Darcy Piceu nor Bethany Lewis nor Cat Bradley. (All of these women have held the fastest known time on the R2R2R at one point.) No, my talents are—let’s say—broader, and therefore not quite as deep in any one specialty. So I’d be starting in the dark, and finishing in the dark. It’s like an ultra! Except without the tables full of food! And the people cheering you on! And the handy drop bags waiting for you with extra gear! And the buffet at the end! And the MEDAL!

Who is going to be there to give me a gosh-durned medal, I ask you?!

No one. And that’s the point. Doing a double Grand Canyon crossing is one of those “because it’s there” kind of endeavors. It’s the reason I still plan to do the same across Zion National Park. It’s the reason I got very interested in joining a trip to backcountry Alaska, even though I’m no packrafter (yet). It’s the reason I am drawn to travel across the country with just me myself and I, either in a car, or in a micro-RV, or on a bike, as many have done before me.

The 6 A.M. Shuttle That Seems To Never Come

I parked the car over at Bright Angel. It seems odd now that I drove about 1.5 miles from the Mather campground just to park the car, but I guess that’s what I did. Honestly it’s hard to remember at this point, but in any case I had to wait for the shuttle from the Visitor Center over to the South Kaibab trailhead for what seemed to be a distressingly long time before it finally came.

And then sometime around 6:30 A.M., still dark, I stared down at my feet and decided to get this party started.

Rapa Nui shoes ready to get a thrashing. Look closely to see goosebumps on my thighs.

South Kaibab trail starts down through rocks and dust that are nearly white, but then a few miles in it abruptly shifts to a deep red so quickly that I thought my headlamp was malfunctioning. I spun around, shining the light, trying to see the “real” color, and realized it was actually just the ground. Headlamp A-OK. Onward. Downward.

Civil twilight came up within an hour, and with it a mellowing of the temperature. I clicked off the switchbacks one after another after another. I could see another light down below me, and wondered if I could catch them. Must be another weirdo like me.

Two-ish hours in and I reached the tunnel before the bridge. Six+ miles done, a whole lot more to go. Over and across the river, mules waited in their staging area, not delaying my passage. Lucky break. Phantom Ranch for the first time, a little water top-up, and I headed up into the narrows of the North Kaibab trail. This section would be “easy” to run as the incline is mellow and the surface mostly rock-free, so I run a little. I’m cognizant of not wanting to go balls out on this, my first R2R2R, trying to err on the side of “get it done” rather than “run it fast”.

North Kaibab: Dehydration, Melancholy, and For-Ev-Ah

I won’t lie: this trail is really long and at times seems like it will go for-ev-ah. There’s gentle inclines, gentle descents, steeper switchbacks, and even a smidge of snow as one gets higher up. It’s a LOT higher up on this side: the north rim is 8241 feet, compared to 7260 feet at South Kaibab. After a bit of a slog, and a quick water refill at a Ranger Station (still open until end of October, wheee!), I was trying to make progress.

But then it was getting hotter. I started drinking more. Historically I don’t drink much, so this was a little worrisome given I didn’t fill up all the way at the last water spigot. I was starting to wonder if I was going to make it to the top with the water I had. I started rationing: never the best strategy but it seems like the right idea at the time.

There is THEORETICALLY water at the North Rim. Right at the trailhead. I have heard back and forth reports about whether or not it will be running. If I’m truly hurting, there’s another half mile extension to get to a year-round water supply at another ranger station. So I am hot, and getting a little dehydrated, but I keep on. And then I get to the top. See the sign. Look for the water spigot. And . . . WATER!!!! Ridiculously cold water, too. Awesome.

They call this The Box. Huh huh huh huh.

NOW things are going to start looking up, even as I look down. Relief, even though I’m not even halfway done (when you count slowdown and whatnot). It’s early afternoon and not really super cool, temperature wise. And it will just get warmer as I go back to Phantom Ranch. The miles don’t fly by, but they pass just the same. The light is getting nicer, bouncing off the walls of the box in a decidedly photogenic way.

Winding through the campgrounds I pass by a ranger talk about hiking and not going out for more than a few hours because PEOPLE DIE and et cetera. I just run right by, the big “no-no” example to cap off their talk. You’re welcome, campers!

The late afternoon light reminds me to get a hustle on to make Phantom Ranch Cafe as soon as possible. This is the witching hour for the tiny snack shop as they close up for the afternoon right at 4pm, and I’m gonna be close. Still, I make it, with time to spare, and promptly load up on something cold to drink. They even have stuff like GU and sporty things. And snacks. Snack food FTW.

Somewhere along the way I pass by a green piece of gum on the ground that I saw this morning the first time around. And for the second time I do not pick it up. Bad me. It wasn’t even chewed so I could have had FREE GUM. Passing up free calories is not even as weird as the trio of guys I encountered walking past me, headed back to their campsite. We’re the only ones around, so we all nod and smile as we cross paths. All in their 30s-ish. All pretty normal looking, neither schlubby nor handsome. But after they pass, one of them thinks he’s out of earshot of me and I hear the words, “I’d hit that.” I almost bust out laughing, flabbergasted. That’s pretty hilarious. I’m sure I was looking a bit scruffy myself by that point, 35 miles in.

ONWARD! Back along the river over to the South Kaibab bridge. “Just” 7 miles to go.

 

Ah HA, South Kaibab bridge, we meet again!

Ha.

Ha.

Ha.

Up through the tunnel and now it’s getting real. Up and up and up, all over again. More switchbacks. More dropoffs. Still a bit of heat. And soon it’s getting real dark. I’m going slow. Even slower than I hoped or planned or feared. I’m bonking. Then I’m eating. Then I’m doing OK. And so the cycle repeats. My feet are feeling like they are sandpapered with dust. Which, basically, they are.

Even the rock walls seem to want to give me a warm hug, radiating heat after the sun goes down. They’ve been storing it all day and now the heat unleashes to warm up the desert animals that can’t warm themselves and come out to get a little boost. Hiya, tarantula! Howdy, lizard!

And then, rather suddenly, I can sense the top. Am I close? I can even hear people. Where is that coming from? Whatever. Sometime around 14 hours after I began, I trudged up to the South Rim again. A little warm. A little chilled. And ridiculously tired.

But I wasn’t done yet. Remember that pre-dawn shuttle? That’s a one-way ticket up a private road and the shuttle’s hours are over. Now, I need to walk back to the car over at the Visitors’ Center. Granted, it’s “only” about 2 miles, but I’m beat and I can’t see much and it’s cold and WHO ARE THOSE PEOPLE talking!? Walking along the rim trail I keep hearing voices. Socializing kinds of voices. Finally I realize that this is employee housing and they are chilling outside their cabins. Drinking, eating, completely oblivious to me or anyone else who might be walking along the rim trail at a dumb hour.

I reach the car, flick on the ignition, power up the phone, and see where on earth I can eat at this hour. Everything in the park is pretty closed. So…… McDonald’s it is, then. I’ve got an hour and it’s 20 minutes away. One McFlurry and one large fry later . . . I’m a happy carb bomb. Even if it costs $8.

The most delicious carb-bomb at the most expensive McDonald’s. Check their Yelp. This was $8.

Sleep, and Seven Minutes in Heaven

Back in my tent, my filthy body can’t help it: I just conk out, sleeping spastically for the next 8 hours. I will have to wait until morning for actually washing myself. But when I do . . . it’s time for the best thing 8 quarters can buy within a hundred miles: 8 minutes of freaking HOT water. Yum.

8 minute shower at Grand Canyon

More than 7 minutes in heaven, all for the low low price of 8 quarters.

The Dust. The Dust. The Dust.

Next time I run R2R2R, the Dirty Girl gaiters are coming along. Going into the crossing in 2014, I knew it would be dry, sure. But I didn’t realize the extent that the silty dust that would permeate everything. It makes sense; we’re not so far away from Southwestern Utah where the red silt gets into your very soul (or at least into the crevasses of your tent and underpants for weeks). After I peeled off my nasty and dust-abraded socks, they were left to “air out” on the floor of my car. Realizing the futility of this, they soon went into the trash.

I’m sorry, ma’am, but your socks are unlikely to pull through after such a catastrophe.

To Be Continued on March 31, 2018 . . .

Griffith Park: My Backyard Trail

“Ugh. Griffith? I am so over Griffith.”

So sayeth hundreds of trail runners, all over Los Angeles.

And I get it, to a point. The horse trails dotted with grassy chunks of poo and, on drier days, the dusty aroma of said chunks. The throngs of families out for strolls up and down the roads leading to the Hollywood sign. The groups of hikers walking four abreast on a fire road. Walkers bearing external speakers to broadcast their choice of audible distraction to the world. The dry dust. The post-storm sogginess. The flatness. The hilliness. The hotness. And so, to many metro area runners, running on the trails in Griffith Park is judged as The. Worst.

Except that it’s not, not if you don’t let it.

christmas tree in Griffith Park

In a city that never gets snow, the holidays never end.

1896: Griffith Park is Born

“I consider it my obligation to make Los Angeles a happier, cleaner, and finer city. I wish to pay my debt of duty in this way to the community in which I have prospered.” – Griffith J. Griffith, 1896

Griffith Park started out as a bequeathed expanse of 3015 acres—nearly 5 square miles—and currently stands at a whopping 4035 acres for all of the metropolitan area to enjoy and sometimes literally get lost. Sometimes compared to Central Park in Manhattan, Griffith serves a similar function for the city but boasts far more in the way of wilderness-like experiences and rugged areas. Many acres were scorched by a fire in 2007 but is rebounding in fits and starts and with the help of several local park charities, thankfully.

For a Burbankian like myself, the closest ingress point to Griffith Park is about 4 miles from home in a little gravel parking lot south of the Travel Town train attractions. Four miles might sound like a bit much just to go for a run, but it’s doable by bike or car. Other trails I can and do run sometimes (and all still “nearby”, relatively speaking) are 10, 12, and 17 miles away, respectively.

Trail Running Travel Town 101

For all the commonly-heard complaints about crowds and horse poo, Griffith has a treasure trove of trails just waiting to be strung together, looped, discovered, out-and-backed, lollipopped, and flat out enjoyed. My get ‘er done run is a loop starts from that Travel Town parking lot with a lung busting climb, then some lovely rollers, then a screamer downhill, and then a nice stretch to get some speed and put down a fast mile and a half. Total distance? 3.8 miles. I can pop over to the park and get that bad boy done in not much more time than it takes the sun to set and full darkness to set in.

You can lead a horse to water…. (up on the Travel Town loop)

Bonus: add 300 feet of climbing (complete with another steep up and stretch-out down) with one extra spur tacked on in the middle to land at 6-ish miles. Another good “go to” run. And from there we get to some extra deviations. Different looping middle sections to tack on even more miles. There’s a lot of satisfying daily routines to be built and enjoyed here.

Tour of Golf Course and Beacon Hill

On the other side of the park are my other “marble in the groove” runs, often done in the opposite style by starting out with a flat segment before transitioning into solid up and down with some fantastic downtown scenery to boot. Best done near sunset to capture those western beams hitting the skyscrapers and the lights coming on over the expansive urban buildup to the south.

DTLA sunset from Mineral Wells trails, Griffith Park

Runners can get their jollies by looking down over the 5 around dusk to see taillights starting to stack up; here you are up on a freakin’ trail in a near-wilderness inside the largest sprawling metropolitan area in the entire country. Make 2 hours out of that run with some really steep uphill on the Hogback and wind up with closer to a lovely 10 miles, also fantastic just before (or even into the) dark. Tacos at Guisado’s afterwards is a bonus.

Of course you can go a lot farther with these linkups, too. String together those two routine runs with some connector trail/roads for 15 miles. Get ambitious and throw in some a bit of sightseeing (either of the Hollywood sign, or of the people hiking to the Hollywood sign with terribly inappropriate footwear) and you can wind up with twenty miles, no problem.

Travel Town’s immediate trails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Griffith, but it is my Backyard Trail: it’s going to be a part of my training for a very long time. Happily so. Horse poo or no.

clouds over glendale

Lovely clouds make even Glendale look kinda nice.

[this post inspired by Brendan’s homage over at Semi-Rad.com more than a year ago. Fruition!]