Wow. I got a taste of mountain running and I want more!
Eight of us went and camped at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It’s a 7 hour drive but luckily I didn’t have any driving responsibilities. (Hello naptime!) We got there Friday afternoon, set up camp, and suited up to run. The weather was dry and cool, but the nonstop wind made it rather chilly. None of us expected it to be as “cold.”
The first day we hiked up Guadalupe Mountain. The starting elevation was about 5800′ and topped out at 8700′ for a gain of 2900′. That isn’t that big for a mountain, but it’s way bigger than anything we have in town.
The rocky terrain was pretty challenging. You pretty much had to keep your eyes glued to the trail. If you wanted to take in the view, you had to stop. There were a couple of scary vertical-cliff-so-don’t-look-or-you’ll-fall-off points along the trail. There were also some runnable portions , but they were few and brief.
The peak was marked with a big pyramid monument and had a book to sign for posterity. We hung out there for a bit, soaking in the view. But before long we were off, ready to enjoy the downhill payoff.
Prettiest cactus I’ve ever seen.
Bush Mountain (?) from the RV parking lot.
The monument at the peak. The metal case has a book to sign.
Julie, Chris, Kellie, Brian, & Lorenzo posing at the peak.
Hat hair and loud sunglasses.
Almost a cool pose photo.
Near one of the other peaks.
Cute little red flowers along the trails.
El Capitan, not the famous climbing one, but his lesser known cousin.
* * * * * Day 2
The second day we ran Bush Mountain. This was all sorts of awesome. The initial climb was a slog fest. It seemed like there was an inexhaustible amount of uphill. But I focused on the trail in front of me and kept on pushing onward. Once we reached the peak, the views were fantastic. (Although they don’t look very fantastic in any of my pictures or videos.)
The best part of the run was the final few miles of downhill which were very runnable. It was a blast to be able to cruise along after having to dodge rocks all day. Lorenzo and Stefan full out raced the last miles and I would have liked to have joined them, but I was a bit more cautious.
We finished early in the afternoon. I had a few beers which put me into power nap mode which is unfortunate, because a few of them went out and ran a picturesque 5 miler. I was bummed when they got back and I saw the photos. So save the beer for the evening when you’re sure the running is done for the day!
* * * * * Day 3
On Sunday we did Guadalupe Peak again, which I thought was weird. But it was still fun, even if the vicious wind turned me into a popsicle. Always be prepared for cold weather in the mountains, even Texas mountains. A simple shell jacket, gloves, a buff, these small things can make a huge difference.
This might sound/seem dumb, but one of the things I was excited about was seeing the profile of the climbs we did. It’s sort of like looking at the results from a race, seeing your efforts measured and recorded in black and white. I almost feel like I should print out and frame the profile until I run another mountain.
Ran the powerlines today. It’s a 3 mile unofficial trail that crosses a golf course and some neighborhoods. It’s pretty hilly. As I finished the first half of the first lap, I saw something move at the top of the hill. Got up the hill and saw that it was a dog in the street.
Black and white, medium sized, he was wandering around, looking lost, peeing on everything in sight. I whistled at him. He came over and let me pet him briefly. He had a collar, but no tag. I walked around the street looking for an open gate or a hole in a fence, but found nothing. And no one was outside. So I just let the dog be, and continued on the trail.
After a minute, I heard something behind me. I turned around – the dog was following me.
I was like, “Hey boy, want to go on a trail run?” And amazingly, that’s exactly what he did. He led the way and paced me for the next three miles. I was really impressed. He handled the rocks pretty well for going barefoot. Sometimes, he’d stop and turn around to make sure I was still following him. When he saw that I was, he’d start off trotting again. He seemed pretty happy.
It was really cool running with this dog. It was nice having company that I didn’t have to try and make conversation with. He just led the way and I followed. And weirdly, although I’ve never been scared running this trail, I felt safer.
I’ve never had a dog before. Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting one, but my current situation doesn’t allow for a dog. But if I got a dog, it would force me to change my situation… Hmmm… I started thinking what I would name him.
At the top of one hill, he was panting pretty heavy. I made a small ziploc “bowl” and filled it with some water. He drank just about everything in the bowl. As I was attempting to refill the bowl, the water squirted out of the hydration tube like a little garden hose and the dog started licking the stream of water. I thought that was cute. I felt bad when I had to cut him off. Fortunately, it had rained the night before and we came across a few big puddles for him to drink from.
When he was drinking up the puddle, I noticed that his ribs were really showing. If he did belong to someone, they sure weren’t feeding him near enough.
We hit Babcock Road which completed a lap. The dog crossed the street and waited for me to follow. I contemplated what to do. Take him to a vet to see if he’s microchipped? Would he be returned to irresponsible owners? Would he be put up for adoption? Would I be ready to adopt him? Do I take him home and put up flyers in that neighborhood?
I hate to be the guy who “doesn’t want to get involved,” but that’s basically the route I took. I decided that I would run him back to where I found him. I figured at the very least he would be free to roam as he pleased, peeing everywhere.
We had to cross a road that had two lanes in both directions. It’s not terribly busy, but there’s limited sight and cars tend to drive fast. Instead of crossing the street, he was walking in the middle of the road, oblivious to an approaching semi truck. (And here I thought he was a smart dog.) Thankfully the truck driver was alert and was able to slow to a complete stop. I tried to call the dog to me so that I could grab his collar and hold him, but instead he took off. The driver waited patiently as I unsuccessfully tried to corral the dog. I wished that I could inform the driver this wasn’t my dog – no way I’d be dumb enough to let my dog run into traffic. The dog wandered onto the sidewalk, and the truck slowly passed. When the coast was clear, I sprinted to the other side and the dog followed.
Right after, a lady in an SUV stopped and rolled down her window. As she did, I got really excited thinking she was the owner, but no such luck. She thought the dog was a Malamute.
Two miles later, we were back at the street where I found him. I followed him around, hoping that he’d wander back to his house. Then I could just ring the doorbell and the dumb owner would come out and be overjoyed at the sight of the beloved dog. We walked down a few streets and by now there were people out and about. I asked everyone if they’d seen this dog before. One guy said he’d seen the dog wandering around all day, but that was it.
I got nervous when the dog started heading toward a mother and her three small children. As I’m running toward them, I asked the mother if she’d lost a dog. She said no, and her daughter said, “We already have a dog.” I jokingly asked if they wanted another. The girl says that she does want another dog. As I got further down the street, I heard the little boy say, “That’s a werewolf dog!”
The dog was going door to door at this point, every once in a while, he’d turn around to look at me. He seemed to be in his element. I figured it was only a matter of time before he got back to his house. That’s when I decided to leave him. I felt really guilty knowing that he was going to turn around and not see me. I felt like I was letting the dog down, and I didn’t want to be like his shitty owners. A dog this nice really deserves to be treated better.
I tried to help the dog, but I should have done more. I’m thinking that I should print up flyers and head back up there tomorrow to see if he’s still there. Who knows, maybe I’ll come home with a new dog.
* * * * *
Has this ever happened to you? What did you do?
What’s the best thing to do in this sort of situation?
In our group email forum, one group member mentioned that he held the Strava course record for the 1/2 mile long hill climb that a bunch of us were planning to do repeats on. He offered a light-hearted challenge to beat his record. I was not a Strava user, but I’d certainly entertain an open challenge.
Last Thursday, I met up with almost the same group of people from Tuesday, – Rachel, +Stefan, +Thor. (Yes, that’s his name. He is fast, having recently run a 3 hour marathon in New Orleans. ) We did an easy mile warm up, thankfully without running into the angry driver. We stashed our bottles at the bottom of the hill and slowly began our hill repeats.
The first two laps I fell in behind the group. Someone mentioned the email challenge, but everyone seemed content to trudge onward. (Actually the running joke was to have Thor carry everyone’s GPS.) The third lap, I’d had enough following and got out in front and went a bit harder. And then I think it was the fourth lap, I ended up racing Thor up the hill. Or, it seemed like a race, so that’s how I took it.
He took off incredibly fast. My brain says, “Forget it, you whipped.” Almost immediately, I was sucking wind and wanted to stop and walk. And then I was reminded of the time I’d been dropped exactly like this by a girl.
But I kept running. My brain kept telling me, “Stop! This is ridiculous!” My heart replied, “Stupid brain, you shut up now.” Coming in second is perfectly acceptable, quitting is not. Keep running!
Maybe three quarters to the top, I realize I’m actually closing in on him… and then… I catch up to him… and… I pass him! My legs feel like lead but I run the last stretch as hard as I can…. I make it to the stop light and practically collapse. Holy Crap! I caught up to him and passed him. Did not see that coming.
Thor is two or three seconds behind. He stops, says “Good job,” and gives me a high five. He is pretty nonchalant. Was he even trying? I struggle to catch my breath as we wait for the others to summit.
I don’t know Thor well enough to gauge his competitiveness, but if he’s like me, he was not pleased that I managed to catch him and next time he will really be cranking up the hill next time. Which means I’ll have to do the same. This will create a feedback loop of intensity that will undoubtedly result in some great hill workouts and probably some new course records. That’s my hope, anyway.
This little race up the hill reminded me of being a kid. Pure and simple, let’s race and see who’s faster. What I realized is that Direct competition is a great way to really push yourself. It is a tool that can propel you and also allow you to gauge your efforts afterwards.
Yes, (ultra) running is mainly a competition with yourself, but what better way to test yourself than by directly competing with someone else who is also pushing himself?
* * * *Are you competitive? What’s your take on competition?
The first week I ran up to the zoo. I’d run there once on a previous visit, so I knew I’d be safe. There are just a few houses on the way to the zoo, and thus the dog threat diminished, but I was still leery. Only once I got passed the gates did I feel at ease.
Inside the gates, all I had to worry about was dying from exertion trying to make it up the hill. It was a pretty decent grade, gaining almost 400 ft elevation over two miles, which might be peanuts to some folks, but it was a tough workout for me.
One of my cousins works at the zoo. I was chugging up the hill and I saw her at the small shrine where the workers make offerings. When I saw her, I was like, “She looks familiar. Do I know her…Oh snap, that’s my cousin!” I waved. She didn’t recognize me at first either. I didn’t stop to chat, which I later realized is really is rude, sorry, but lesson learned.
The downhill run was super fun though. It was hard to slow down. I was flying! I’m sure the workers there were thinking “Crazy Farang (foreigner).” Actually, most of Thai people that saw me running had a confused look on their face, that I understood as, “What is that idiot doing?”
THROUGH FARMLAND AND THE WOODS
The next few runs were out through some farmland. I wanted to be adventurous and go explore. Running in an unfamiliar location is thrilling in that you have no idea where you are, so it’s very easy to get lost – and that’s the best part! You just go. You don’t know where you’re going or what you’ll run into, but you’ll find out when you get there.
I followed this dirt road for what seemed like eternity. Running unfamiliar locations has that effect, making distances seem greater than they actually are. Eventually the road ended and I turned around. The next time I ran the same course, but ventured out a bit more at the end of the road. And I ran the course a third time and ventured even further.
Thrilling as it was, the idea of getting lost was scary. After all, I couldn’t exactly tell anyone where I was going, since I didn’t know myself. So they wouldn’t know where to look for me if something happened. Often, I was in the middle of nowhere and if I had been injured, it would be hours or days before I saw a person.
I tried to take mental notes about where I was running. I figured worst case scenario, I could simply backtrack. But after a certain point, my brain could recall only so many “unique” rocks or trees or whatever. And when it’s a million degrees and you’ve been running for an hour… all of a sudden backtracking isn’t so easy. I also had an idea of leaving a trail of bits of torn up neon colored paper, but I tried it and that wasn’t as good an idea in practice as in theory. Big surprise there!
A posted sign however, is unmistakable. This sign was my landmark for where the “road” ended and I ventured off into the woods. There was always a sense of relief when I saw the sign on my way back. I was cautious on those runs and didn’t get lost. So naturally, I stopped being cautious.
I knew I was already sick before we got to Camp Eagle. My overly cautious side wanted to stay home and get better, but the wheels were already in motion. Plans had been made and it would take more than a cold to keep me from checking out the race course.
My plan was to sleep once we got there, but not surprisingly, that didn’t quite work out. Everyone was having a good time talking about running and races and drinking beer – even some home brew! Brian had brought some of his creations and was sharing with everyone. I would have loved to have a sip, but I’ve told myself I am not going to drink this year. So I made due with a coconut juice.
I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked, but I still felt okay in the morning, considering. The forecast I saw called for partly sunny 60’s and low 70’s. Instead, it was overcast and chilly. That’s when I made my smartest move of the day and put on my running jacket. It’s windproof, weatherproof, and bright neon orange which would be easier for the helicopter to spot the body.
There was about a dozen of us, and it took forever to round everyone up, like herding cats. Once we got rolling, it was pretty nice. The trails were really windy and full of rocks. Tons of switchbacks that had me lost in no time. And eventually we would meet some pretty intense hills.
I didn’t want to slow anyone else down, so I was the very last person in the pack. I realized following a bunch of people on single track is like driving in traffic; when someone up front slows down, everyone following him has to slow down, and that sort of ruins everyone’s rhythm. To avoid this stop and go business, I tried to give a bigger cushion between me and Matt.
Maybe Elizabeth was using the same strategy because after about a half hour, she’d completely lost whoever she was following. And so we stopped. Elizabeth, Anna, Matthew and I were now separated from the group. We didn’t think it was too big of a deal. Anna and Elizabeth both had run the course the previous year and both Anna and Matthew had maps. We figured we were fine.
Our host Chris had mentioned that it was a smaller park, and that you couldn’t really get lost. Well now that’s just not true, you can get lost and it’s VERY EASY. To add the slightest of insults, it started to sprinkle. Nothing serious, but I was glad I’d worn my jacket and not just a long-sleeved shirt.
Several times we thought we were on course, but somehow got derailed each time. Along the way, I got to meet the big hill of the course. You go up a steep grade to what looks like the top, only to find that you’re only half way up. I don’t know if it has a name, but I imagine it would not be a family friendly name to print.
Surprisingly, I was able to “run” up the hill, almost the entire length. The others razzed me for “showing off” and I told them, “Hey, I’m going to have to run this hill in 2 weeks. I need all the practice I can get.” So they offered to wait while I ran it again. Yeah, I think it was their idea, not mine. But I was glad to take them up on it. I ran back to the base of the hill and chugged my way to the top. And then we went “exploring” again.
It was frustrating, not knowing where we were, despite having a map. But it was also fun. Everyone had a pretty relaxed attitude and took it all in stride. It was an adventure finding our way back. Meanwhile we just talked and ran and walked and tried to guess which way to go.
We were walking up the hill to the windmill we’d stopped by earlier. We’d covered probably 15 miles by this point, and I was ready to be done with being lost. I told Matthew nothing would make me happier right now than to see someone roll up in a pick up truck and take us back to camp. (Things weren’t that bad, I was just tired.)
And maybe twenty minutes later, we hear some noises… sounds like… people! We run a little faster and at the top of the hill we see one of those souped up off-road golf carts fly by. We wave at them, trying to flag them down. They stop and we hustle up to them. They ask us if we’re okay and we reply without a hint of shame, “We’re LOST.” One of them tells us where to go, basically just down the dirt road and take a left. Somewhat surprisingly, they don’t offer us a ride, (they already had several riders and maybe one or two free seats) but they do ask if we had water.
Now that we know which way the camp is, there’s a huge sense of relief. My foot is hurting in the same place after pacing Rachel, I’m tired and hungry. I want to take a warm shower.
I didn’t get to do my 32 miles, but ended up doing at least 16, with a cold, so I’ll take that.
* * * * *
Elizabeth and I left Camp eagle, both of us hungry still. We stopped at the only store around, a tiny gas station that sold BBQ sandwiches and had all sorts of pickled products. I bought some Habanero stuffed olives and she bought some jerky for her brother. And we both got a brisket sandwich. Not an ideal post-run lunch, but it was better than waiting two hours to get back to town.
When we got back to San Antonio, first thing I did was to buy a bottle of Nyquil. Normally when I’m sick, I take a few slugs, go to sleep and sweat out all the bad stuff. Usually it works like magic. Not this time.
Several Emergen C’s, countless Cold-eeZe zinc drops, 4 bowls of chicken noodle soups (two of which were made by my mom) a Theraflu, 2 cartons of OJ, and a whole bottle of Nyquil were not enough to put down this cold.
I slept all day Sunday and most of Monday. Here it is Tuesday. I’m still not 100%. I don’t have as much of the body aches but I have developed a serious hacking cough. My throat feels like it’s being sanded with 60 grit whenever I cough. Which seems to be every five minutes.
The race is two weeks away. I’m sure I’ll be 100% by then. I need to reconsider my workout plans. I really should start tapering pretty soon, so maybe this is a good thing. My body’s just telling me, “Hey dude, take it easy, you can’t always be pushing.” So maybe that’s what I’ll do. Try and go a bit easier. Until it’s time to push again.
Just did the upgrade thing so that I could have a “legit” blog and wanted to post a video. This is from Tuesday’s hill workout. It’s a dumb video, but you’ll get to briefly see my new Brooks in action. And sorry, but you’ll never get those 46 seconds of your life back.
That is what I told myself in order to get over my anxiety about hills. Because really that’s what a hill is: a shortcut to making you a better runner. If you can get good at running hills -or at least not be afraid of them- you’ll be physically, and perhaps more importantly, mentally stronger.
Now I look forward to hills. Bring ’em on, the steeper the better.