XXXI: Trail (Running) of Tears


I never understood teammates that I had played sports with in school.

If they missed the winning shot.
They cried.
If they scored the game winning touchdown.
They cried.
If they broke a state record.
They cried.

I never understood the emotional responses from these student-athletes that I knew through my education years. What could cause someone to be so emotionally distraught that they would break down and cry during a sporting event? In my mind that didn’t register as something that was acceptable. They were not professional athletes, there wasn’t a human life on the line…it…was…just…a…game.

***

For a few months I had been toying around with the idea of ‘trail running’. There really is marginal running, it’s more about technical footwork, strength, and a lot of hiking. I had established amazing friendships, found incredible support, and most of my nights have been spent traveling around dirt, single path trails along the countryside. It is brutal, it is hard, and yet there is something about surviving that causes you to want to do it again the next day.

This is the world of trail racing.

Saturday morning, 9:00 AM CST I stood in the grass with nearly 100 other souls at a local lake. People were holding bottles of water, vests held food and hydration packs, hats were on, shoes were laced, and the horn blew. We were the last group to take off during this day. An hour prior the runners that were partaking in the 20 Mile and 50K (31 miles) had already begun their journey. The group I was with was running the 10 Mile course. It was the ‘safe’ course for newer runners, compared to the hard mileage that laid ahead for the other two groups.

PS16 I

Real photo at mile 7. Credit: Mile90 Photography

I’ll be honest in saying that the majority of the event is a blur to me now. The air temperature was a stifling 96°F with an extremely dangerous heat index of 103°F. The weather, mixed with being in the woods, resulted in an absolutely awful environment to run for any amount of miles. The first several miles my stomach was tied in a knot. I had ran this course a week prior, I knew it was a hard course, but by mile 4 my legs were completely exhausted. They were too heavy to move. I was in a struggle for this race.

By mile 7 I began seeing signs that stated, “You’re NOT almost there, but you look fabulous” and “Chaffing the dream!” I knew that this meant I was almost to an aid station that was being manned by the group that I run with on Monday nights…the ‘mud babes’. At the station I heard cowbells, screaming, a hairy man in a bikini top, and was inundated with the questions of “What can I get you?” and “Do you need your bottle filled up? Get him a bandana with ice, he needs to cool down.” Within five minutes of that small oasis I was back on the trail for the final three miles.

There was support raining from the trees!

There was support raining from the trees!

Becoming part of the trail running community has shown me so many different sides of humanity. It isn’t necessarily the race that really stuck out to my emotionally/spiritual self; it has been the people that I’ve been blessed to be around. They don’t argue, they’re not mean, and they are not stuck on their ‘pacing’ from their GPS watch. They help each other out through every obstacle. As one person stated, “Trail running isn’t about you against everyone else. It’s you against the mountain, the distance, your demons, yourself.”. In a world that is covered in competition this sporting event requires you to depend on the person your running against in order to survive (literally).

Mud Babes 16 Birthday

Tonight we celebrated birthdays (Mine, Darco, and two others), and then we ran (and ate cupcakes afterwards).

Being around these people outside of just race day has caused me to question so much in reflection to my own connection and growth within my own faith. How is it that this group of people can drink a beer after a run, moon a camera, and carry on in the heat for 3 to 6 hours…and still get along with each other? Politics are not brought up. Work is rarely touched. Family is mentioned frequently, and the next ‘fix’ of a race tends to be the highlighted conversation. There isn’t music players attached to everyones ears, and there isn’t asphalt for miles all around. Everyone is coated in sweat and mud, not pressed in dresses and slacks. Uniquely, the closest connection I’ve found to the world that God created is everything apart from the stone-faced, mortar-laid, carpet-clean church that I’ve been in for so many years. There is transparency (sometimes way too much of it in relation to bowel movements) on the trail, whereas I find so many hidden agendas laced throughout personalities everywhere else. Ironically, running through the woods feels closer to God than being in church on a Sunday morning.

When you move throughout the trails and enjoy the company of those around you, there is an emotional bond that is being built that individuals like me aren’t aware of until usually when we cross the finish line.

***

PS16 VIThree hours and six minutes, a time that I will never forget. I remember seeing the clock slowly tick by as the finish line came up to my sweaty, soaked, mud-caked shoes. Three hours and six minutes I had been alone in the woods, fighting off fear and disappointment, dealing with extreme heat and loneliness; all to cross one line and acknowledge that I had completed something I never thought I could ever do.

I crossed the finish line.

I saw Darco waiting for me.

I wrapped my sweat covered arms around her, and buried my head into her shoulder.

And I cried…

-D-

#getyourpraiseon


1 person says they want to run; 23 show up…

Somewhere around 6:00 AM I left the house. By 7:00 AM I was trekking through mud and rocks. I continued to repeat that process for two and half hours.
Welcome to my playground.

Welcome to my friends.

I’ve made note in the recent past that I’m finding myself around unstable trail runners. The addiction of this isn’t just from the insanity of running through mud and rocks, but because of an answered prayer.

For months, really years, I’ve been praying for friends. They’ve come and gone, but nothing really long lasting. It has hurt because it is something that I desire, but really struggle at creating.

My cup now overflows.

What started as being part of a running group for a local business has now turned to outings to run on Monday’s, Wednesday’s, Thursday’s, and now even random Saturday’s.

There’s laughter, beer, running, stories, and smiles. No one gets left behind due to their speed (or in my case, the lack thereof), and everyone encourages each other. Today I ran 9 miles with these people, they stayed with me, made humorous comments, and didn’t give up on me.

That’s a friend.

The reality for me is that God, one usual, was faithful in hearing and answering prayers. I’m smiling, I tell stories, I grab food afterwards, and I laugh. I laugh like I never have. It isn’t about running a fast race, it is about moving with good friends.

I’m happy. God is good.

-D-

XXXI: Ultras


I wanted to be fast.
I wanted to win.
I wanted to prove everyone wrong.
I wanted to prove myself wrong.
I accomplished none of these things.

Try to imagine this strange complex (some of you may be able to relate). You love a specific sport, soccer, football, baseball, etc…it is your life, it is your desire, it is something you dream about. There is just something about the event that just drives you. You play, participate, practice, train, etc…However, when the day ends, you are still too short, too big, too slow, or you just don’t ‘have what it takes’.

How do you accept that reality? Do you quit? Do you keep going? What is your exit plan when your dreams don’t always pan out the way you envisioned them?

For about a month, almost two months, that has been the life I have been living when it comes to running. I love running. I love everything about it. I train, I run, I eat well, I practice with others, and I run races. I just love to run. However, in a world full of statistics it turns out that passion doesn’t always equal results.

To be honest; I’m 6’5 and around 250 pounds. Overall I am just a big guy that towers over other people. There was not a lot of biomechanics that came with this physical package. Where MC and many other family members thrived in athletics; I looked good, but when push came to shove, I fell down. A lot.

I needed a change up. I didn’t want to vacate running because I still love the sport. However, I could slowly but surely feel the burnout growing within my own heart. I was growing tired of lining up for a local 5K race, running the race, and finding similar results. This year alone I’ve finished 4th in my age group in four different races. The ‘click’ just isn’t there, and now I’m starting to accept that reality.

Praise God for random strangers, stupid ideas, and foolish attempts.

Several weeks ago I wrote about making friends, trying out speed running sessions with random strangers, and even my involvement of being on a city running team for a local business. I needed all of those things, desperately. They were all the slight pushes I needed to move away from what was comfortable, but not fulfilling, and into something extremely uncomfortable yet incredibly fun.

Trail racing.

This is running on trails that are designed really for mountain bikes. A lot of rocks, roots, dirt, and the such. I’ve been out a few times, and each time I come back loving it that much more. Partly because of the technical challenge, partly because trail running people are a very special, close-knit group. Also, the distances for the races are a little different compared to standard 5K. They range from 7 miles to 20 miles to 50 miles to 100 miles, and everything inbetween.

I needed this. Road running was just becoming stressful, frustrating, and the love was really lacking. This is new, refreshing, and at the level of insanity that I’m comfortable with.

Because of all of this I’ve joined up as a volunteer for construction projects on our local trails (AKA: more friends), I run with a specific group each Monday (AKA: more friends), and of course our running team comprises of several trail runners (AKA: more friends).

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Flyover Trail Racing (I have no idea what I’m going to do with this)

This has also allowed me to experiment with design and concepts for logos, brands, and marketing. I launched (for fun) a Facebook page, blog, and Twitter account really recapping my experiences in this new sport.

Personally, and this is not something I would have predicted, it is the support that is best part of this transition. These crazies all enjoy doing foolish things on the trails, and they don’t make excuses about it. I don’t have to go to races alone, I don’t have to talk to myself about my adventures, I now have a group of people that are all just as unstable.

I consider that quite the blessing.

Here’s to the ultrarunners. You untable, insane, awesome group of people that I can call my friends.

-D-

#getyourpraiseon


Strange packages I come home with…

image

5K Category

True story; 28 years of never winning a single athletic event, and today I brought this award home.

I’m happy. While the accomplishment isn’t perfect, it’s still an accomplishment. God gave me strength to move, and a heart to run.

I’ll get my praise on because my God continues to refuse to give up on me.

-D-

XXXI: I Made A Friend


Nearly two months ago I typed up a quick thought about the struggle of exploring new grounds when it came to establishing friendships (and going to public speed sessions). The week after I wrote that piece I started to force myself to attend these three hour events; knowing that I was easily the slowest person in the whole group. A painful, painful, humbling pill to swallow.

With that said, as weeks passed by I started to notice an adjustment in my own life at these practices that I hadn’t quite anticipated.

Hey, want to cool down with us?

How are you feeling today?

Don’t push yourself if you’re not feeling well.

I know that injury is hard, but patience is worth it.

Have you thought about running a race on a trail?

These, wait for it, people were talking to me. Sure, they had their one hundred mile races logged, and they average 40-50 miles a week of running, but they were talking to me. The guy that was running alone and not quite sure why he was even in this specific situation to begin with.

The awkward sensation has been taking place for two months now…

In this timeframe I did the unthinkable; I asked one of these random runners if they could speak to my students about owning their own business (coffee shop, naturally). They agreed! Yes, this random runner who unknowingly was kind to me at a practice that was so nerve wracking that I had skipped several weeks in a row, had agreed to speak with my students on the opposite side of the city. No. Strings. Attached.

Guess what?

The day came and they showed up! They talked about business with my students, they were kind, polite, and the kids were curious about their tattoos (it’s a ultrarunner thing I’ve learned). I was in awe; I had met someone, learned about them, ran with them (or tried to), and then asked them to do something with me outside of just running.

Did I just make a friend?
I just made a friend.

You want to grab a glass of wine with us?

The question that was directed towards me after last weeks session. Due to school I declined, but I knew I was glowing when I got into my car to go home. Someone had asked me to go with them, a group of people, and just be…well…normal people. I’m invited to other running adventures outside of Wednesday nights (of which I’m sure I’ll die), and have even started the training process of running with them this October on a 25K race.

I can’t quite think of the last time, if ever, that I made a friend that wasn’t connected to work, school, or church related activities. They are people who just hold the same interest as me. They are far, far cooler and better composed compared to myself, but they still accept me. They still accept my oddities and still choose to talk to me.

Maybe I’m a creep for writing about making friends. Maybe it further fulfills the notion that I am one of the most narcissistic people on this planet. Maybe I am happy that something out of the ordinary has transpired in my life, and I simply want to share the joy with people who read this post.

I have social problems; I accept this sad reality.

I also accept the reality that I’ve made a friend.

-D-