Monday, February 28, 2011

February: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs

I like math.

With math, subjectivity is checked at the door and all that’s left are the cold-hard provable facts. The numbers never lie.

Sounds weird coming from someone whose entire professional life is centered around thoughts, opinions and creativity and whose repertoire of buzz-words include gems like insights and ideation. But I digress, this simply isn’t about work and ideas. It’s about running and the facts. However, just as I can apply logic to a creative profession (let’s be honest, at the end of the day, it’s not about the “best” idea; it’s about “who” is highest on the food chain and bowing to their opinion), I can also allow subjectivity to creep into my training. I begin to form opinions on what I am and am not capable of.

Allow me to elaborate a little on where my head is at right about now. Two weeks ago, I was basically amped. I’d been putting in solid training weeks all year and I felt great. I was completing super challenging runs with little to no trouble, climbing 5-7k back-to-back, at elevation every weekend and even ran every step from Chantry to Mt. Wilson for the first time ever (after a 22 mile day with 7k of ups). I saw progress. I felt amazing. And while I hadn’t yet swiped my Visa with the optometrist, these new rose-colored glasses were pretty much the shit.

Living and loving life 10 mi above the city.

Then came the sickness. The devil filled my lungs with nastiness and tried to break me with a fever twice. I kept training, but my mileage was low and I felt terrible. The low point was probably last Saturday when a fever had me soaked in sweat and dizzy only 2 miles out of Eaton, resulting in me only running four miles and then becoming disoriented in the middle of a RiteAid. I now own pillow pets and a yellow notebook.

Last week was sluggish and hard and I looked forward to 0 runs, but was optimistic heading into the weekend, even though the weather reports called for freezing temps, hail and snow levels down to 500 feet. This forecast didn’t entirely disappoint, which is how I found myself with numb extremities on the top of Mt. Wilson Saturday afternoon. The run/freeze/snow slog pretty much destroyed me and I spent much of my night writhing about the floor like a fish out of water. A fish in pain. Sunday morning, as we arrived back at Eaton (since Chantry was closed due to a landslide) I welled up with tears. There was not one part of me that wanted to get out there and run up a 4600 foot mountain. I wanted to curl up with the pillow pets in the back seat and sleep the day away. Only, not really…

Climbing into a snowstorm in the sun.

You see, I was completely present to the fact that I was not injured. I was no longer sick. I was just really, really freaking tired and arguably a little beat down – but that was no excuse not to run. This was my moment to either give in where most would justify that they should, or to go out fighting and climb another mountain. It was here that I would decide if I was serious about my AC goals or if I was just talking a mean game. Because let’s be honest, it’s easy to train hard when you feel great and are high out of your mind on life. But it’s training hard through the times of greatest mental and physical fatigue that define the truly committed.

The interesting thing though, was as I started my run,* I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be that person. Did I really want to allow running to start ruling a larger majority of my life? Did I want to be that athlete who ran even when it wasn’t fun anymore? Furthermore, was there even a point for me? Why was I completely breaking down over a weekend that was hard, no doubt, but nothing compared to what the top runners in this sport do to achieve their goals? Maybe it just isn’t in the cards for me. Maybe no matter how hard I work, I just don’t have the talent. Maybe I’m just not cut out for running a mountain 100.

*Go big or go home right?

Yeah. Maybe not.

That is reality. But what I quickly came to grips with was that the possibility of coming up short was not going to stop me from trying. I blew past my first planned turnaround point and continued up, up, up. My legs felt like I was at mile 60, which I was beginning to view as a good thing. Simulation. As I reached the turnoff to Idlehour, I thought, why not use this as an opportunity to pretend I’m at mile 84? Let’s go climb this godforsaken shit.

The canyon was pretty much wrecked from the storms we’ve had over the past few weeks, and I spent an unfortunate amount of time climbing over, through and around downed trees and shimmying/dancing across the creek turned raging river crossings at the bottom. I hit deep-ish snow about a mile up the climb/2 miles from Sam Merrill and shuddered at the thought of the numbing experience atop Wilson the day before. But I had a better jacket today and I felt fine as I continued climbing to my turnaround point. I was now officially on autopilot, and I think I even smiled a couple times. Hell, I was actually starting to enjoy this.

Heading back into Idlehour, I knew I had one more climb and then I’d just have to suffer through a quad-busting decent. But then I’d be done and would have completed 22 miles on a day I thought I’d only make it 7… if that. Pretty motivating. Actually, it was motivating enough to keep me running the whole 2,000 feet in 3 mi climb – a simple act that had me shocked at myself about a quarter from the top. Even though I was going through a rough spot in my training, I hadn’t completely broken myself. In short, I was proving that this type of mileage – more specifically the amount of climbing I was doing was sustainable.

Wilson Toll Rd out of Eaton - another crazy storm a brewin' in the distance.

OK, now I was officially running happy. (Er… I mean loyal to the sport.) I blew back through Henninger and down the steep descent to Eaton, singing and flying. Two of my favorite things. Within a mile from the car, Dom caught up with me, running back out to see where the girl who didn’t think she could run today had gone. He reminded me again of my declared interest: persistence over time. For me, this process is not about being fast for a quick moment. It’s about being consistent and strong for the long haul. Powering through the climb at mile 83.75, as I did at mile 9.3. And for that, days exactly like this were necessary.

Days where 24 hours later, while doing the math on my lunch break, I realized I had still put in a completely solid effort even though I felt weak and crappy. Despite wrecked legs, a few pee breaks, lots of climbing around trees and streams, snow, and an arguably bad attitude, I had still run the Idlehour section a few minutes under the women’s CR pace. No matter how down on myself I wanted to be, those numbers were bitch slapping me back to reality. Because while a person can lie to me to make me feel better, math can not. And math was saying I had done alright.

I decided to take my first day completely off of running all year on Monday. I needed to let both my mind and body reset, and most importantly, have a moment to understand what was about to happen. I was now very clear that I was very serious about my goal, and what that means to me is this:

Training hard when I feel great. Training hard when I’m tired. Snapping out of defeatist attitudes. Not allowing obsession to turn into injury.

It's a fine line between breaking down and breaking apart. I’ll continue to run that line until I break through.

When I say that I have a mountain to climb, it's always both metaphorical and physical. On this day, my mountain was ominous as hell.

February was a short month, both literally and mathematically. I was sick for the second half and as much as I tried not to let it affect my training, it obviously did. Both my mileage and climbing were lower than I’d have liked, but I’m accepting it for what it is, and am actually happy that I ended with a solid weekend of ascent. In short, I think February was entirely necessary to move me along mentally and responsibly in my training. Here are the incredibly loyal, honest as hell numbers:

234 miles

42,000 ft ascent

45:37 running time

0 days without poison oak

That puts the totals for the year at: 561 miles, 102,625 feet of climbing, 108:55 hours of running and 0 days without poison oak.

Heading into March, I need to be as honest with myself as the math is:

1. While my weekends have been awesome, I am not being consistent enough during the week. I think I’d be better to be running at least 40 miles M-F, and right now I tend to only run 25-30.

2. I also need to focus on core work. I’ve been doing a bit of ballet in my living room, but to be honest, I haven’t done a crunch in ages. I’m planning on rocking my free week at a hot yoga place the week after C2M (so I have time to get my no-money’s worth) which also offers ballet and core classes in a heated room. If I like it, I plan to invest and hope it will help take care of this area of my training that is lacking.

Moving right along, I’ll keep the mileage consistent with nothing too crazy leading up to the C2M 100k fun run mid-month. The plan is to follow the “race” with a three week build and then one week taper for Boston, where I will see how fast I can run a road marathon off of purely mountain 100 training. I like experiments.

FINALLY, seeing that the theme of February seemed to be Wilson ascents, here are some classics from some amazing days with amazing friends...

Running a snow-covered UWC, a week after charging up in the heat. Southern California is weird.

Always time for a good snowball fight.

Our favorite brothers from Arizona join us on a truly epic day.

Wilson summits are best followed by whiskey and kareoke. Fact.

Deepest powder I've ever encountered up top.

....and then they went numb.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

E=MC2. For Real.

“It’s all relative.”

I was 18. It was my senior year of high school. And it was my time to shine. Since I had first gotten the taste of winning a cross-country meet my freshman year, I became addicted. Addicted to being the fastest, the strongest, the one who always crossed the finish line first. Addicted to being the best.

And now here I stood on the starting line of the district meet, in what should have been one more easy step towards the championships. I had one of the fastest 800m times in the state and could finally get my shot at being declared “the best”. And through the first lap, all was going according to plan. I tucked behind the leaders, staying nice and relaxed, and as we leaned into the first turn I prepared to make my attack. I would open my stride down the backstretch and pull into the lead, then run as hard as I could until I crossed the line and either threw up or was entirely convinced that I would. This nearly always worked.

But today, something different happened. The girl in front of me slowed sharply, as the one behind me surged into the turn.* The latter stepped on my heel as the former became a perfect blockade from my clear path. In an instant, I was sliding. Then rolling. Then face planted into the track. I scrambled up to see the pack of four begin blistering down the backstretch and set the panicked chase in motion. I caught one by the last turn… a second as we came out of it. Now I just had to catch one more or my season would be over.

*Who does that anyway?

Only, I didn’t.

After the race, I didn’t throw up. Instead I kicked a bench. I punched the ground. I collapsed into a sobbing heap of disbelief. I really thought my life was over. Accordingly, my dad pulled me out of the stadium to save me from further embarrassing myself and my teammates and attempt to set me straight. His words were stern, but poignant.

It’s all relative.

This race, this title was important to me – but relative to the grand scheme of things, who really cares? Did I really think that people would talk about my “failure” for years to come, relative to my overall competence as a runner? (Admittedly, at the time I did.) Was it fair to deem myself a failure in the wake of four years of championships and titles, relative to teammates who would have killed to just once feel the joy of snapping the tape? Was this the last chance I had to be “the best,” relative to the long life ahead of me as opposed to the mere 18 years behind me. Furthermore, was “the best” at the Missouri State High School Track and Field Championships really “the best” relative to national championships, world championships… I don’t know, universe championships?

The simple answer is no. But unfortunately I did not yet understand this theory of relativity my wise father had shared with me. (He’s an accountable engineer. I make shit up for a living.) So I did what any other hyper-competitive, self-loathing teenager would do. I quit running forever.

St. Charles West High School Track Team - circa 1998. Clearly, I was all business.

Fortunately, forever was also a relative term, and after a few years I began to pick up casually running (NOT RACING) again. I ran a few marathons, since I thought I would suck at it - thereby removing the competitive factor, and when I moved to California back in 2005, fell in love with running the trails of the Santa Monica mountains. The first trail I ever ran was a 4.5 mile loop known as Temescal. I use the term “ran” very loosely, as what I was really doing could be best described as a 1 mile jog and then painful death hike to climb the remaining 700 feet in a mile to the “top”. I continued to run this loop over the next couple years, and while I could run more of it than the first time, there was always hiking involved. I began to wonder if maybe someday I could run the whole thing, though I couldn’t imagine it.

Flying down the once elusive beast, ye Temescal

I don’t remember the day, the exact date or the circumstances of the morning I ran every step to the top, but I remember the feeling. I remember making it past the left hand turn over the metal drainage thingee and not stopping. I remember the realization that if I just held out a little longer, I was going to do something that I was reasonably sure was impossible for me.

Not too long after, I was introduced to the San Gabriel mountains – the big girl mountains – which dwarfed the Santa Monicas in comparison. Roughly two years ago, I went for my first run out of Chantry Flats and it reduced me to tears. Climbing the 3,100 feet in 6.24 miles on Upper Winter Creek to the toll road was no joke, and it didn’t just slow me down. It broke me. I went back to Chantry many times that year, and every time it was hard. Every time I hiked. A few times I cried.

Snow covered UWC on a beautiful day that will be the exact opposite of July 23rd.

After over a year away from my elusive Upper Winter Creek, I unknowingly ceremoniously embarked on a loop up to Mt. Wilson and down Sturdevant on new years day. I immediately noticed that it was not as hard as I remembered… but still hard. And eventually, I still had to hike a few short times when things got really steep. But still, I began to wonder if someday I might be able to run all the way up to the toll road without stopping. And there it was:

Chantry was my new Temescal.

Over two months of very productive and smart training flew by, with all my runs out of Chantry taking me backwards on the course to work on the descent from Newcomb’s. The staples became the 4600 foot, 10 mile relentless yet 100% runnable climb up to Mt. Wilson out of Eaton Canyon, and adventures up Baldy Road and beyond for icy, snowy slogs above 8,000 feet in the backcountry. I finished my weekends wholly exhausted but satisfied with the climbing. I knew I was getting better – I could feel it – but relatively I had nothing to compare myself to. Until last weekend.

Heading down to Eaton Canyon after the standard 4600' climb.

Heading down the toll road after another Wilson summit.

After a 7k+ 22 mile day running up the ski slopes of Baldy, we camped at Manker and then headed to Chantry Flats. Dom came down with a fever, but insisted that I get my training in as I felt perfectly fine. So I headed up Upper Winter Creek, fully resolved to just see how I felt and possibly turn around at the toll road if the day wasn’t particularly great. It was a pretty perfect day, the sun shining brightly and me comfortably running in nothing but shorts and a bra top. I ran relaxed for the first two miles until I reached the split, where I knew things would get a great deal steeper. But a mile later, I suddenly realized I hadn’t yet needed to hike. I didn’t feel like I was pushing, yet I was still running further than I had before. Interesting…. That’s when the first thought crept in:

Maybe I can make it to the bench.

Owning the slopes on Saturday, sans board, plus microspikes

I hit the bench, and with only a half mile or so to the toll road, I knew what I had to do. Run every step of Winter Creek. I actually couldn’t believe how great I felt. Sure, I had to push in a few really steep sections, but I was once again, about to do something I had once thought was impossible for me. Compared to Temescal, this run was over 4 times as long with 4 times as much climbing and some magical math percentage that equals “way harder”. When I eventually popped out at the toll road, I was overcome with happiness, but it still wasn’t enough.

Fuck it. We’re going all the way to the top.

The fireroad from the UWC split up to Wilson; Mt. Baldy in the background saying, "Climb me too! I'm more legit!"

It was only 1 ¾ miles to the peak of Mt. Wilson, including a mile of gradual fire road to let my legs recoop from Upper Winter Creek before blasting them with a final ¾ mile of rocky switchbacks. I knew I could do it. I knew that I needed to do this. And so I did.

Blazing back down the mountain via Sturdevant, I meditated for awhile on the significance of conquering my new Temescal. And though this 17 mile route was much different than the 4, the effect was the same. I felt forward momentum. I felt progress. I felt my work coming to fruition. So many times in my running and my life, I allow myself to be consumed by the frustration of “why can’t I do this right now?” I compare myself to others and refuse to see that their circumstances are different than mine. I forget to content myself with “soon” rather than “now.”

I feel like this has been the lesson my dad has been trying to teach me all along. It all comes down to the same thing, and now I understand. It IS all relative. When I am impatient, it is not lack of patience. When I am unhappy with myself, it’s not the inability to be happy. It’s all the blindness I’ve had to accepting things as they are, relative to me - my life, my abilities, my choices, my experiences, my circumstances, my everything. The only real problem would be if I was unsatisfied with my world and my work. But I’m not.

The other engineer in my life recently asked me a similar question:

Do you want to be really fast or are you in it to endure the long one?

All I had to do was take a look at the last few years of my life and my relative progress to determine the answer. Yes. I am definitely in it for the long run. Now there is only one question that remains:

I’ve conquered the new Temescal. Now what’s the new Chantry?

Relativity: I used to hike all the ups. Now it's easier to run every step.

Relativity: 2 years ago, a mountain 50k was a huge race to prepare for - the longest I'd ever run. Now it's a standard training run.

Relativity: I used to run races 1/400th of the distance I do now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Changes, My New Name & January Totals

This song has been my official jam of 2011. Hence forward, you can now refer to me as "Bandida."

"Bandida" - Audra Mae

First of all, here’s an opposite of change:

I’m excited and honored to be running for Saucony again in 2011, to stain a fresh set of their great apparel with mud, rip a few more pair of ignite shorts and tear the shit out of at least two pairs of Peregrines. Seriously though, I’ll only run for a company I believe in that makes shoes and clothes that are the best I can get. Being a company dedicated solely to running , Saucony is always on the forefront of the latest technologies and delivering competitive runners exactly what they need. Case in point: their expanding minimalist line, which includes my shoe picks for the year – the Peregrine (trail), the Kinvara (road) and the Hattori (training). Basically, they know what’s up and I can get behind that.

Loyal to the sport, indeed.

Now, here are the official


A grande jete into my training. (Baldy proving grounds in the background)

This year, I’ve vowed to focus not only on my training, but also taking better care of myself and being safer in the process. How?

1. I got a Goretex Paclite shell to keep me warm and dry in adverse conditions. I have gone hypothermic TWICE now in a race. My stubbornness says I don’t need special, $200 gear. My body says otherwise. Luckily, Santa also thinks I should be warm.

2. I bought a pair of polarized sunglasses and wear them when it’s really bright to protect my light blue eyes. I started getting freaked out that after long days of running, sometimes my vision was really blurry. I don’t feel like going blind any time soon, so ole ‘coon eyes mcgee it is.

3. I ALWAYS put sunscreen on at least my face, or at least wear a hat. I do not want skin cancer and/or to look like leather when I’m 32. Even though I never burn, I understand this is necessary and I was being foolish for never applying. I even took it one step further and bought a daily moisturizer with SPF after I started noticing signs of wear and tear on my 27-year-old face.

4. I at least have the idea to text someone where/what I’m running, since during the week I pretty much always hit the trails alone, in the dark. This necessity was reinforced after viewing 127 Hours. I have yet to put it into practice, but I’m planning on it.

5. Probably the biggest change I’m making is taking better care of myself on the mental level as well. I’m learning to recognize paths of thinking that are destructive to me, my relationships with others and prevent me from reaching my full potential both as an athlete and as a person. And I’m committed to doing things differently.


A 27 mile, 6200 up day in the Baldy backcountry - a new favorite run.

I know. I know. It’s only been a month. But I swear I’ve already noticed some differences! Maybe it’s just that I’m so damn excited to be back into training and working towards a challenging goal. Or maybe it’s that nice rest I gave myself at the end of 2010 that after 2 years, finally got me back to 100%. Whatever it is, these are the facts:

I’ve run at least once every day since a random Tuesday of last year – a longer stretch than I’ve had in years, maybe even since high school cross-country. Not because I’m obsessed with running every day, but because I can and I don’t yet feel like I need a break. Mark my word, I will take a day when I need one. Hell, I’ll take two if I need two. But the point is, my body is sustaining the mileage and I feel good.

For the first time since my senior year of high school, I have a really healthy relationship with food. Whether it was struggling with my changing body as a distance runner, or feeling the pressure to look perfect in a shiny, barely there uniform as a professional dancer – to be honest, I’ve always had issues with how to eat… or not eat. Now it’s all coming together – I listen to what my body needs, I have the means to purchase those things, and I eat and drink what I’m calling for. Including meat. Including greens. And guess what… including sugar.* I’ve always eaten generally “healthy,” but I’m not depriving myself of anything anymore. (Only the things that make me feel crappy, which ironically are fast foods and anything over-processed.) And it’s working… I have energy, I feel great and my body’s leaning out nicely. I can see and feel a major difference.

*And definitely including beer.



I started the year with the goal of sticking to no more than 70-80 miles a week with minimal twice-a-days, in order to really give my body a chance to adjust to the high mileage. For the most part, I stuck to the plan (sans one week where I ran 90, but that was MLK’s fault) and felt good. What I am most pleased by is my ability to put in some solid climbing at elevation back-to-back most every weekend. I work on keeping a sustained pace and have really surprised myself at being able to run uphill for 2-3 hours without stopping. It’s weird. And I like it.

Here are the numbers for the first month of the year:

327 miles

60,600 ft ascent

63 hours of running

*The number I am really happy about here is the amount of ascent, a great chunk of which has been spent at elevation. I had one week in there with over 17k of climbing which is close to where I'd like to be this spring relative to my goals and my body.

Heading into February, I’ve definitely started to notice the miles a little. My long runs on the weekend are great, after I warm up, but anything less than 7 or 8 during the week feels pretty shitty. I’m going to continue at around 80 per week, but am going to try to focus my weekday workouts a little more in an effort to breathe some life back into my legs. I also need to start getting some speed work in, more out of curiosity than anything of where I’m at as far as running Boston. I paced some kiddos last weekend at the Students-Run-LA 18 miler (in prep to run the LA Marathon – yep, 2,000+ kids running 26.2 miles! So cool and inspiring!) and though my group was an easy 8:30-9 min/mile pace – my quads were pretty rocked from 2 ½ hours of pounding on the roads. My plan is to start getting a 10-15 mile tempo run in on the roads during the week, so as not to sacrifice any mountain time (fun time!) on the weekends. After conferring with “coach,” the thought is that if I can keep up the work, training through C2M and then kick it up to 100 mile+ weeks with at least 20k of climbing (I’m averaging about 13k now, so not too far off), I should be in good shape for giving AC a solid effort. In the meantime, I shall remember this mantra, courtesy of JDF:

"To be worn out is to be renewed."


Now, enough with the seriousness. Look at how much fun I am having…..

June & I at the notch - getting our elevation on. (June's running States this year!)

Always focusing on proper hydration.

Some days, you've got to do handstands and eat ice cream sandwiches at the beach.

The ruggedly beautiful Baldy backcountry - leaving Stockton Flats, enroute to Gobbler's Knob

An extraordinarily tough day ending with an extraordinarily beautiful sunset - I'll never forget this one.

Mt. Baldy - the official new favorite playground

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Easy Like Sunday Morning

I only know one other man with a mustache that sweet.

Waking up sore and exhausted is tough. Waking up sore and exhausted with another long run in the big girl mountains* looming ahead is a bit daunting. Add some pouring rain and driving wind in there and you’ve got yourself a whole mess of “not gonna lie, I really don’t want to do this right now.”

*San Gabriels

Such was Sunday morning, as I awoke to all things comfortable: a warm, snuggly bed, cinnamon oatmeal, love, laughter and the freedom not to have to do anything. I had slept in until 7:45-ish after a night of hard sleep that could only be induced by the cumulative effects of hard training, and only disturbed by restless, twitching legs. But now I was awake, aware, and faced with that dilemma that ever so often creeps into the mind of a committed ultra endurance athlete – Technically, I don’t have to, but….

I looked out the window. I looked in the mirror. I could see the torment in my own eyes. I stalled with breakfast. I stalled with conversation. I stalled with every nonessential activity I could thing of. But there was an unspoken agreement. There was a common understanding.

Oh, we would be running today.

And so it would be, as we hit the highway in the Jeep and headed for the hills. It was an odd and somewhat ominous drive, as our typical loud singing, car dancing and blaring excitement for the day ahead was replaced with silence. I focused on the road and tried to convince myself that once I got going I’d feel better. And that another 4k or so of climbing wouldn’t really be that bad. And that I wanted to get out of the car and get started.

And so it was. We began climbing up Echo Mountain in the drizzling rain with the goal of getting some time in on rocky Sam Merrill, which represented miles 89-91 on the AC course. My body was tired and my legs were tight as I picked my way up the winding switchbacks, waiting for that a-ha moment where I warmed up and a little fire would light under my feet. However, as I reached the top of Echo 2.7 miles in, I was only more exhausted than when I had started. I began picking my way up Sam Merrill, but I could feel my form deteriorating and the full weight of my body with every step. Dom had doubled back to catch me, and I told him I was unsure how much farther I could go today. It wasn’t necessarily the number of miles, it was those which were vertical, and out here – vertical miles were inescapable. (Which is why we love it so.) I committed to running to the end of Sam, and then maybe I’d head back down if I couldn’t get it together. At this point, I had fallen UPHILL twice and I could just feel that I was running altogether ugly. 10-11 hard fought miles wouldn’t be a wash for the day and so I committed myself to knocking out these next two of climbing the best I could.

Sample of conditions on Echo Mountain Trail, as captured by Louis Kwan (who we ran into doing REPEATS up the thing - crazy man!)

Accordingly, I downed some calories and a Saltstick and focused on the task at hand. Get up this hill. One. Step. At. A. Time. As the trail wound upward, out of the exposed fire ravaged ridge and back under the cover of the forest, the grade became a great deal gentler and my feet began digging into the softened earth. I felt power in my stride and running became natural again. Mileage thoughts began to creep in – technically it doesn’t matter if I only run 11, but if I just go a mile and a half farther up, I can hit 14 to stick to the plan of 70 on the week. When I popped out at the intersection with Lowe Rd and Idlehour, I was all teeth... which were officially sunk into a day of training.

I decided that I would probably go another 15-20 min up on the fire road and then head back to the car. As we wound around the ridge it got colder and colder, so I ran harder and harder to keep warm. The fog, combined with the blackened hillside created some serious Tim Burton shit and I laughed at how happy I was in this completely uncomfortable and inhospitable environment. I was just so gosh darned excited that my run had turned around – that is what made me comfortable.

So, what I realized was happening now is that I didn’t want to turn around. I couldn’t remember exactly how much farther it was to the summit and I couldn’t see anything to make guesstimates, so I just kept at it. Keeping at it took me right to the top of the fire road, and even still, I didn’t want to go back. So I briefly explored a little single track before reasoning that I should go back down to the main road so as not to lose myself and add the aspects of worry and confusion to our already foreboding day. Before starting the decent, I decided to leave a little note in the mud, both for reassurance and smile purposes. Just as I was properly punctuating my greeting, I heard a voice behind me:

Hey, come up here. It’s snowing!

Sure enough, the rain was turning to snow right before our eyes. It was one of those moments where you couldn’t really do anything but just stand there, close your eyes and tilt your head to the sky, and smile. Magic.

The details of the descent were somewhat inconsequential, save my notations of how hard Sam would be after already having run 90 miles... of hellacious climbing... now in the dark. I opened my stride and pushed the pace in a few sections and relaxed into others, focusing more on form. I was running naturally. Comfortably.

As I wound down Echo mountain, I dipped out of the gray and became sandwiched between two cloud layers. The effect was pretty dazzling, as the sun stretched to highlight the trail and the weather swirled all about the mountain, above and below. As I ran the last few miles down to Pasadena, all I could think about was how completely and amazingly this day had turned around for me. Things didn’t just get better. They got awesome. I love surprises.

Down in the city, we capped off the run with some Mexican replenishment replete with a couple Negro Modelos and celebrated our bad day gone good. Looking back, it’s funny how our linner conversation echoed that same sentiment, on a much grander level. I’m talking about life, people. As we ate our delicious $15 meals in a warm restaurant, with gas in the car, rent paid, and nice gear on our backs, we discussed our gratitude for being able to finally live our lives more comfortably. Ahhhh, there’s that word again.

Less than a year ago, my life was much different. I was working tirelessly for a start-up that sucked the life out of me. I ate off $10 a week, never turned on my heat and sometimes had to literally run my errands because I couldn’t afford gas. I had to say no to social activities and scrape together enough cash to drive out to train, packing cheap food and sweating every quarter shelled out. I camped at races and shared meals when out with friends – always chosen by the largest number of calories per dollar and never by what looked good. It wasn’t terrible. But it was hard.

And now here I was, beginning to get a taste of the comfortable life America could afford you if you had the means to buy in. I could train the way I wanted. I could go to movies and concerts and dinners and drinks with my friends. I could buy presents for my loved ones and go on out-of-town visits. I could get nicer gear to keep me safe, warm and dry. I could eat. I could drink. I could be merry. And I was so very, very grateful.

Even still, how comfortable would I allow myself to be? Everything in my life – my apartment, my vehicle, my wardrobe – is built for function. And until now, that was always for necessity. Now, perhaps I could afford to begin acquiring nicer, more comfortable things – yet I have no desire. I think I’m afraid to lose that part of me that doesn’t need any excess, yet I am struggling with the pressure to create a more accommodating environment for the people in my life who perhaps do view these things as important. And not wrongfully so. I don’t blame anyone who would rather stretch out in a quiet Acura rather than bounce around in a Jeep with wet, muddy clothes permeating from the back. I myself occasionally enjoy curling up on a plush couch after dinner and surfing the channels, over spreading out on the floor and only being able to watch one of twelve DVDs on the TV I got for my tenth birthday. And I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t like to put on a pretty outfit, do my hair and makeup and hit the town.

Similarly, I wouldn’t blame anyone who would rather stay inside on a nasty day and be perfectly content with the fact they had already run 22.5 miles and climbed 4,000 feet the day before. But that’s where my path diverges.

Because when you don’t go out, you can miss the magic of rain turning to snow before your very eyes. You can miss the beauty of your body understanding the training and coming alive. You can miss the sheer joy of a few fleeting minutes flying down a single track that make the other four hours of grueling torture 100% worth it. You miss another opportunity to make yourself better. For me, the only way I can get to the things that make me truly unabashedly happy is by doing things that are hard. Things that “not gonna lie, I really don’t want to do right now."

Because the truth is, the only thing that makes me really, truly uncomfortable is getting too comfortable.

Saturday's training run on the Leona Divide Course, thanks to RD Keira Henninger. I swear there were other girls there too!

This song has been rocking my life as of late, and applies perfectly to my thoughts. Enjoy your socks for a few more seconds... because you're about to lose them.

"I Want Something to Live For" - The Rocket Summer