One of the things that I’ve noticed lately is that as I’ve gotten older, my ability to lie to myself has gotten better and better. And that’s totally cool with me!
Yesterday, I ran nine miles, and I did it by strategically lying to myself.
Let’s back up for a minute. About a year ago — it must’ve been my first little trail ride after the debacle at ROM ’13 — I headed out in the park and noticed ribbons everywhere. Then I noticed runners everywhere, and I had to pick my way through them, and I thought “gotta remember this for next year!”
Then later in the year, I started trail running. Achingly slowly at first, but I stuck with it. My walk intervals have gotten shorter and my run intervals have gotten a little more ambitious. (I can now run up hills for at least thirty, forty feet before I give up and start walking!) When 2014 rolled around, I remembered that run in my park, and I signed up for it.
But none of the distances were quite right for me. I plan to top out at the 10-13 mile range; I just don’t have any interest at all in running marathons or ultras. (For god’s sake, I pay how much to keep a horse? I can ride her for 26.2 miles any time I want!)
Canyon Meadow offered a 5 mile or a 13.1 mile half marathon (or various distances best accomplished on a horse.) I didn’t feel like I was ready for a half, but I wanted to run more than 5 miles. So I had a good look at the course map and noticed something.
I could park at the barn (yellow dot) and run (or “run” which is what you call it when you are doing more hiking than running) over to the start.
The only problem is that my barn is in a canyon, then there’s a big fucking hill up to the West Ridge, then a steep drop to the stream in the canyon at the Canyon Meadow campsite. I can go around, to the right on the maps, but that’s slightly longer, with up-and-down hills instead of one killer monster hill. But no matter! I did not want to run just five miles; I have done that on training runs. I didn’t want to thrash my body two weeks before Derby by trying a half-marathon. Therefore, parking at the barn and running to the start was the only way to be sure I’d do a little more than five miles but less than thirteen miles.
And the course map was quite easy! Only one big climb, up Canyon, and then it was all flat or downhill. Five miles isn’t really a breeze for me, but five miles with one climb isn’t much of a challenge.
So here’s the lie I told myself:
I’ve ridden these trails a lot and I know for a fact that it is .57 miles up to West Ridge, but then you just drop down into the canyon, so like a mile to the start and a mile to get home, maybe more if I went around the ridge instead of climbing it again, ok, no need to look at the map, that’s the plan.
I didn’t even glance at the map. I didn’t add the mileage, and I didn’t think very hard about it: I’d park at the barn and it would be a one mile warmup and a five mile race and a mile slog back to the truck. I got registered for the race.
(Pre-registration is absolutely crucial, in my experience. If I wake up at 5:46 am on a perfectly good Saturday and I haven’t already put money on the line, I will roll over and go right back to sleep rather than get up and go race!)
This whole plan seemed like a terrible idea at 5:46 am on a perfectly good Saturday, but I was out $40 or whatever already, so I started moving. I sullenly showered, dressed in proven gear, forced myself to eat a powerbar, and headed over to the barn. At the barn at 6:40, I sat in the truck with the heat on and sulked. I could just drive down to the right parking lot, pay $5, and run five miles like a normal person.
But. That was not the plan. Once you start out maybe-kinda-probably lying to yourself, you can’t change course. The plan was: hike a mile over, run five, hike a mile back. Harden up, Funder, get out of the truck and go!
I ducked in the barn to pee, and the barn guys were quite surprised to see a boarder that early. Dixie saw me and thought we were going to a ride and started dancing in her stall. Poor mare; not quite yet! I headed up the Tate at a good clip, got on the West Ridge, and decided to just take it down to the canyon floor.
I’d sort of thought about going down Orchard, which is the straightest line toward the race start, but during the hike up Tate I remembered that you can’t get across the stream there. You have to go upstream or downstream to an official bridge. It’s sensitive amphibian habitat or something. (Insert a rant, positive or negative, about California conservation stuff: the parks district people are downright Nazis about water quality issues in the park… but it is a gorgeous, pristine, multi-biome park mere minutes from one of the most crowded urban areas in all of North America.) So I decided I’d just as soon slither down West Ridge and end up near the downstream bridge. I picked up a trot on the ridge and made it over to the start right when I’d planned to get there, at 7:30. Picked up my number and tee and wandered around trying to stay warm until the start at 8.
There were over 400 entries in all the distances, so the start was super crowded. At the 8am “gunshot” start, I just stuck to the right and walked steadily from the start — I knew I couldn’t run up Canyon and I wasn’t even going to try. The assholes who can run up hills ran away from the rest of us pretty fast, and I started passing slower walkers. Having a horse with a great walk has developed my walk, too!
About halfway up Canyon I got synced with a woman in those Vibram toe-shoes. She said hi, so I asked her how thick her soles were, and we started talking about the perils (and pros!) of unpadded “barefoot” shoes. (I run in unpadded zero-drop shoes, but not the toe-shoe kind, because I love socks.) At the top, we started jogging together, and we ended up talking and running the entire first half of my race together. She’s from Weimar, CA, and she knows the guy who started Western States — her version of the story is that he was going to ride Tevis like he usually did, but his horse was lame, so he decided to just run it instead, and thus was born one of the craziest ultramarathons: the Western States 100. It’s Tevis, on foot. ON FOOT.
Anyway! She’s in the middle; I’m on the right side of the picture. Down in that valley to the right is where we started; Dixie lives over the ridge even further to the right.
She was running the half marathon, so shortly after we turned off of East Ridge, her trail split from mine. We shook hands, exchanged names, and I told her I’d be crewing at Tevis with purple hair if she came out to watch the riders come through. I hope I get to see her again!
And then I turned my music back on and actually got in The Zone for once. It’s not like running was suddenly easy, or I was actually enjoying the process of running — but I did feel really good about my pace. I’ve been slowly expanding my “green zone,” and I thought I could keep up my run/walk pace til the finish without a problem. I slowed down and chatted with a lady walking her dog, then took off jogging again.
Ahead of me was one of the dreaded Greybeards. If you’ve run anything at all, even a 5k, you know who I mean: one of those senior citizens who just shuffles along looking like they’re on the verge of death, but despite your best efforts, you can’t pass them/stay past them. No matter that you’re half a century younger and nominally fitter! You’ve got all factory parts and the Greybeard probably has a pacemaker and three titanium joints, and it looks like he (or she, women can be Greybeards too) is on the verge of death. But as soon as you stop for a drink of water, here he comes, shuffling past you and leaving you panting on the side of the trail.
(I really want to join the ranks of the Greybeards in due time.)
But this one wasn’t leaving me in his dust! I kept spotting him around bends of the trail, and what’s more, I thought I was getting closer to him! I honestly think I could’ve passed him… but I kept reminding myself, “you have to get back to the truck after the race, Funder.” I kept it in the green zone, let a Greybeard-in-training pass us both, and finished the race in 1:16:36. (Half a minute behind the Greybeard I was chasing, if you’re keeping score at home.)
At the finish, I collected my medal and grabbed a handful of chips from the snack-smorgasbord. But the lateral side of my left leg felt tight and crampy, so I thought I should head home ASAP.
I could reverse my trip over to the meadow and climb back up West Ridge, but that sounded fucking horrible. It’s about 500’ of climb in half a mile. Or I could go down Golden Spike, which is longer, and it has a hill so steep it’s got log steps set into it, but the hellish step-hill is way, way shorter. And it’s pretty, and I hadn’t run Golden Spike in months (because I hate those steps so much), so that’s the way I went.
The ultramarathoners were coming down Golden Spike, and I slowly and politely worked my way upstream against them. It was a really good excuse to not run anymore — I could run four or five strides, then leap off onto a rock and let a stream of insane super-fit ultra runners go by, then run four more strides and do it again. My legs were really tired, and honestly, I was pretty disappointed in myself. How could I be this tired after just six miles? But that’s exactly why I parked at the barn and not at the start: to push myself. I kept moving, eventually getting off the race-trail. I even found the energy to jog some more flat bits of trail, and steadily death-march up the last few tiny hills, and I staggered back to the barn at 10:20 am. I’d been on my feet for about 3.5 hours, and even if I’d only done a pitiful seven miles in that time, at least I’d stood and moved the whole time, and hopefully I’d toughened up my feet a bit.
From her sunny little paddock, Dixie watched me curiously. WTF was I doing? Why was I stumbling right past her? Where was the damn trailer? But I marched straight into the barn and sank down on a bench in relief. Then I popped back to my feet (ow) and headed over to the laminated trail map on the wall. I whipped out my phone and started adding up the trail segments. .57 plus .09 plus .28 plus… holy shit. 4.03 miles. Plus 5 miles for the race.
I’d just gone nine miles — the furthest I’ve ever traveled on foot — and I’d done it by lying to myself.
This is the same way I ride hundreds, too. I still need to sit down and put my head between my knees and breathe deeply when I think about riding my horse one hundred miles, but if I tell myself it’s just five vet checks, I can do it. Make a rational plan that breaks the goal down into segments. Stick to the plan, at all costs*! Don’t overthink the big picture, just work each little bit as it comes up.
(*I’m not an idiot. I’m allowed to reconsider the whole plan if outside circumstances change — if I wake up with a scratchy throat, or I trip and my knee is twinging when I get up, or if there’s an ominous storm front coming and I don’t have the right gear, I am allowed to wuss out. But I never allow myself to change the plan when I’m just sullenly shivering in my truck before dawn.)
So that’s what works for me. How about you? Do you lie to yourself? What’s your technique?