Invigorating Wilderness

Seven days of inactivity left my body yearning for some self human propulsion.  The final race of the year ended and the impetus to plunge into sustained movement was back after three days.  Addiction, it seems, can be healthy when one’s physiological or psychological dependence is on a potentially healthy drug.  The natural endorphins encountered from nourishing exercise can be a powerful driving force.  The withdrawal is absolute; although the syndrome of often painful physical and psychological symptoms that follows discontinuance of an addicting drug is not ‘painful’.  Uncomfortable; yes, Discontent; sometimes, Restlessness; yes, Despondent; sometimes, Irritable; yes.  It is mostly, just plain awkward.  There is a lot of time and energy that suddenly needs to be replaced.  This is where a lot of house chores come into play…but that’s not fun.  How about something inspiring?

I lay in bed until I can stand it no longer.  There is no denying my body has acquired all the sleep it needs.  It is my first Saturday in over a year with no plans to train.  It seems daunting to have a full day with no workout.  I worry that my excess energy will be spent cleaning the house all day.  Augh, I lay in bed longer, contemplating how to handle my day.  Then, an idea formulates and I’m out of bed in a flash.

“C’mon Milo , let’s go running.”  The day’s brilliant sunshine warmed the air to a comfortable 50 degrees encouraging some outdoor happenstance in mid November.  I gulp down some pulpy orange juice and grab my running attire.  I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt and shorts with a hat and sun glasses to neutralize the bright sun.  Milo and I drive a quick 2 miles, the last ¼ mile on dirt road to the base of Hulls Gulch. 

We start climbing immediately.  The steady climb makes for slow going but warms us quickly, Milo is already panting.  The temperature couldn’t be more arousing for running with light beads of sweat forming around my hat in the brisk afternoon air.  It seemed Milo and I had beaten the rush of people that would surely take to the hills on this fine day.  As we continue to climb we encounter almost no one.   For long stretches we take the scene in while feeling alone in our serenity.  I meditate on the sound of my foot strikes hitting the hard packed sand.  Quick strikes against the earth as I dance up some craggy areas along our ascent. 

My mind is free to wonder.  This simple pleasure invigorates my spirit, partly due to my fitness.  My body feels good while I climb and climb up the side of a mountain.  Feeling good while ascending a mountain charges the brain with endorphins.  I find what I’ve been craving the last seven days.  Soak it up.  Experience the surrounding.  A transformation takes place.  Your senses are on alert.  Something basic takes over as if you’ve been transported through time.  Back to a time and place where survival is paramount…  You are now on a hunting expedition trying to cover vast amounts of land in search of prey.  Your tribe is hungry and they are counting on you to find them something to eat.  The water is rushing down the mountain side in the creek just below the trail.  Following a water source almost always ensures a successful hunt.  You smell the air and pick up sage brush, decomposing leaves, mud from drying out rain puddles and… a hint of your prey.  Scanning the hillside you notice movement up on a craggy outcropping.  Adrenalin spikes through your system and your body moves with stealthy efficiency.  In one fluid motion the spear raises above your head with your elbow pointing right at the target.  The speed of your attack startles the deer and they hesitate for an instant.  They take off up the hill but it’s already too late.  The thrust of your arrow rock meets the flesh of the deer’s neck.  It is a decisive blow.  Your tribe will feast tonight. 

We continue climbing the mountain.

The steady climb brings us high above the valley giving us a birds-eye view of our town.  The grade gets steeper as we reach the crest of the trail.  We have now been unremitting in our ascent for almost an hour.  It is rewarding to see your progress laid out before your eyes.  You have just ran away from the city… far into the wilderness under your own power.  It feels good to escape.  Peering off towards the valley below the city is a small model confined to a diminutive area far away.  The tranquility of the moment lures one to stay awhile as if the open space around you somehow empowers you.

The sheer joy of the descent is evident in my sore thighs as we near the bottom.  I fall down the mountain with delight; enjoying the speed and efficiency that my body thrust itself.  I am not a good example of this, yet, it is astounding how well balanced a two-legged human can fall down a mountain gracefully.  A crash at this angle and high speed would be harsh but the acceleration from falling is too much pleasure to have any kind of delimiter.  I fly down the mountain with all the grace and speed I can muster.  Forget about everything else…it is thrilling.

San Francisco Triathlon

San Francisco Triathlon, CA
Ending the season in the lively Bay Area is a treat.  The international flair, the bridges, the water, the hills, the ocean breezes, the gloomy, foggy, rainy to sunshine all in 20 minutes weather, adds up to a corporeal experience.  My wife and I always seem to tap into some extraordinary energy while visiting.  The landscape is dreamy with its mix of land and sea tempting one to explore.
It can be hard to read one’s emotions for the ‘last’ race of the year.  Are the emotions geared towards performing or being done?  Tweaking your fitness here and there to finish with a good race is exciting.  Having a reprieve from the day to day labor to enhance your body’s movement is exciting too.  Having passion to engulf you in the sport mêlées with the passion of taking a step back and the conflict weighs out in the back of your head as you toil to the finish line.
Hortense raced early in the 25 – 29 age group and finished 2nd while placing 8th overall.  She looked like she was riding well on the bike course and at the start of the run she looked quick.  It was good to see her after she finished with her look of gratification.  I would be joining her soon in celebration.
I was calm and confident moments before diving into the 56 degree bay water off Treasure Island.  My swimming fitness was on fire and I was going to boil the water.  The 40 or so pros were tightly packed on the starting block.  Then, the starter said, “Take your mark” and the horn went off as he finished.  I hesitated briefly and dove in with my buoyant wetsuit pulling me to the surface quickly.  Both my right and left arms were being hindered from the swimmers on either side of me.  I tried to stay in some open space but was getting bombarded from frantic swimmers.  This struggle wasted energy and slowed my forward progress but I wasn’t anxious until looking up and seeing 30 plus swimmers in front of me with the leaders already pulling away.  It was the water polo factor:  where the suit grabbing, punching, wrestling and dirty play that goes on ‘legally’ underwater slowed me down.  This situation is partly to blame on the condensed starting block, not giving us room to move.  Rounding the first buoy (only 200m) I was disheartened to be about 30 seconds down.  I spent the rest of the 1st lap moving through the swath of swimmers until coming up to the leaders of the chase group.  By the time I arrived the first group was an unreachable distance ahead. 
In the second lap, being at the front of the chase group gave me room to swim and I tried in vain to make some progress on the leaders.  Brian Fleischmann kept the pace fast though, leading out his pack of 9 swimmers and coming out about 50 seconds ahead of the chase group. 
I was in T1 with Matt Reed, Matt Charbot, and Bryon Rhodes who managed to bridge up the lead group while I wasn’t very efficient getting up to speed and just missed the wonderful draft that could have been big Matty Reed.  Instead, I was in the dreadful zone of no-mans-land.  Pushing hard to catch up to these three on my own was exhausting.  Serrano (who was in a successful break-away on the bike at the Beijing Olympics!) and Garza caught up and the three of us charged ahead for the next few laps until Dhalz and Rhodes fell back from the first group.  Then, at the end of lap 3 or 4 several guys from the 3rd chase pack bridged up to us.
With only a few guys willing to work I was easily sucked in to taking some strong pulls.  We were gaining on the lead group and ended up being just under 20 seconds down to them by the 6th lap.  The aggressive riding I had done left me guarded for how the run would play out.  To my delight the first couple of miles felt effortless and I stayed in contact with all but a few of the fastest runners from my group.  But miles 4 and 5 were slow miles and I started focusing on just being done and finishing at a comfortable pace.  With a half mile to go and knowing the end was near I picked it up to finish strong and hold off a fast charging Ethan Brown. 

I was neither happy nor upset with my race but satisfied; satisfied to have the fitness to race with some of the healthier people on the planet.
It was now time to take a step back and reminisce the season that had been eventful and action-packed.  The year molds into a lively ball of success and failure, hope and disappointment but an overall satisfying experience that is life in search of broadening your abilities and knowledge of what it means to be alive. 

Victor-y! Plata, Groff Win in San Francisco to Close 2008 Elite Series