Musings About 2020: Pandemic, Turmoil, and Running

Source: Unknown

The understatement of the year is that 2020 has been a really weird year. You’re all living it, so you know what I’m talking about it. At first, it was about disappointments and inconveniences—kids home from school and in the house with me as I tried to work, races and travel plans canceled, parks and trails closed.

My little blog slowly seemed irrelevant simply because there didn’t seem to be much to write about. Life was on hold. At first it just seemed ridiculous.

Then the world turned upside down again after George Floyd’s death, and with it a growing awareness of privilege, the depths and facets of racism, and some intense one-on-one conversations with family, neighbors, and friends. I wished I could back in time and change each person’s pain. I felt guilty for my privilege. Frankly, it all made writing about trail running seem trivial—no, not just trivial. It felt wrong to write about trail running while the country wrestled with topics like slavery, incarceration, and discrimination.

All photos credit Unsplash.com.

But I did run this summer. I didn’t run fast, and I didn’t try to. My running was focused on time with friends in beautiful places, and we talked and talked and talked . . . about Black Lives Matter, parenting and homeschooling, COVID and quarantine and social distancing, our work and layoffs and furloughs and uncertainty, the elections, our nation’s angst, the world’s angst, our parents’ health, we talked about it all. We learned from each other, supported each other, and somehow kept each other moving.

“While we may technically measure this race in miles (or, “yards”), I’m always reminded that we actually measure it in memories, friends, laughs, and lessons.”

Amelia Boone

More recently, I think I’ve rediscovered how much the trail running community is a community and how much community helps with connection to the world and people around us. I first started thinking about it during Bigs Backyard Ultra.

As the race took place in locations around the world, people like me—from all over the world—were enthralled with the accomplishments of runners from Mexico, India, Belgium, Canada, and, yes, the US, as well as others. Amelia Boone, one of the American racers, said after the event, “While we may technically measure this race in miles (or, “yards”), I’m always reminded that we actually measure it in memories, friends, laughs, and lessons” [emphasis added].

Friends, laughs, lessons, memories. All the good things. The things that recharge you, connect you to the world, connect you to humanity. The things that allow me to return home, able once again to be a mom and to do my best to help the next generation be kinder, more aware, better people.

It’s made me think that maybe remembering and sharing my adventures here could offer that in some small sense to maybe even just one other person. That maybe I create a tiny bit of community for others here too. Maybe, through creating community, we inspire, aspire, and join together in this little way and do each other a bit of good.

Socially distanced atop Tinkham Peak.

Ultimately, the path I’ve found to working toward making a difference seems to come in these little ways. I work to teach my children to respect all people and to be aware of the harm so many have experienced, to be aware of history and how it continues to live in our collective souls. I try to share the beauty of our planet with others.

I hope I can write adventure reports and race reports more often. Maybe they’ll be more reflective, maybe they’ll just be about beautiful places. But whether it’s a trail run, or personal growth, maybe simply a sharing of things I’m learning or wondering, it’s all a journey. And I hope you’ll take it with me when it works for you.

I will try to include acknowledgement of the Native American peoples upon whose lands I journey, using Native Land as I go. This is part of my learning journey, and I hope if I need to update my information, you’ll kindly help me so I can update my acknowledgements.

Here are a few of the beautiful places I went this summer. I hope you found beauty wherever you went too. xoxo

UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge: WAS Up Loop in the Washington Cascades

Historical lands of the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Tulalip, and and Coast Salish people.

The Beaten Path in Montana’s Beartooth and Absaroka Wilderness

Historical lands of the Absaroka/Crow, Cheyenne, and Sioux peoples.

UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge: Big Jim and the Chiwaukum in the Washington Cascades

Historical lands of the Yakama and Wenatchi peoples.

Angel’s Staircase Loop in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness of Washington

Historical lands of the Chelan, Methow, and Okanagan peoples.

Tuck and Robin Lakes in the Teanaway, Washington

Historical lands of the Yakama and Wenatchi peoples.

I am happy. Best view I ever saw.

Rowan

Remember to hold onto what’s dear. And be like Rowan, who says, “I am happy.”

Mix It Up!

People have lots to say about running in the winter in Seattle. “Ugh! It’s always raining!” “I love running in the rain!” “It’s dark so early!” There are many online discussions about what’s the best jacket for running in the rain (hint: there isn’t one, you’re gonna get wet), best gloves for the cold and wet, best shoes, best headlamp, and so on.

While I have plenty of gear to keep me warm during a winter run, I find the other challenge with winter running is where to go. All my favorite runs are in the mountains and as the snow falls so do the chances that those trails are accessible. I can run at Cougar and Tiger just so many times before I start losing any sense of adventure.

Last year at this time I was training for Black Canyon 100K, and I did plenty of runs that didn’t have “adventure” written on them just to get my training time in. But it’s been a long and for me successful year, and with no races yet on the docket (damn that WSER lottery!) I don’t feel driven to train.

So I’ve decided to mix it up. 

Yoga

A lifetime ago, I practiced Iyengar yoga fairly religiously. But Mike and I moved, and. I never found a studio I felt really good about, and after the kids were born a home practice always felt impossible.

A few weeks ago, another soccer mom and I were talking and she told me about BUTI Glow yoga. As soon as I hear about it, I was in! And, of course, I talked a few other friends into joining me. BUTI yoga is a fusion of hot yoga, loud music, tribal dance, and plyometrics … and BUTI Glow yoga adds in the fun of a black light and glow-in-the-dark paint.

Marna, me, Nina, and Sarah (l to r), at our BUTI Glow class

It was challenging, sweaty, and fun. I didn’t realize slamming my hands down on my yoga mat to the beat of music while glow-in-the-dark sweat droplets fell from my face would be so … well, satisfying!

And now I have a membership for a couple of months, and I’ve been back for 90-minute sessions of hot yoga. I tried hot yoga a few years ago, and I remember walking into the studio and thinking “Oh my gawd it’s hot!” However, after a couple of months of sauna training this fall as I prepared for Javelina, the hot yoga studio doesn’t really feel that hot anymore. But it does feel awfully nice when it’s cold and raining outside, and I’m finding a new focus as I practice the structured form of hatha yoga.

Old Places, New Trails

I’ve also been trying to hit new trails at old places. Last weekend my friend Christy needed a 20-mile run, so Sarah and I joined her to keep her company. She mapped out a route that included a new trail on one of our old standard routes, and all of a sudden that old standard felt brand new. And then it started snowing big, fat flakes. And then it felt like a grand adventure! 

Take time to look at the little things.
Laugh when the snowflakes literally stick to your nose and eyelashes.
Look to see if there’s enough snow to make a snowball!

Another local runner recently ran in the same area, and he posted some pictures of an old mine that’s in the same area. I had no idea it was there, and for my next run in that area I’m planning to go exploring and check it out. I’ll have no time goals, no distance goals … just the goal of exploring.

Hiking … in New Ways

This week has been very cold but clear and sunny. On Monday Sarah and I went to yoga (see, it’s a thing all of a sudden). Afterward, as we headed to our cars, she asked me if I’d be up for a sunrise hike at Mt. Dickerman off the Mountain Loop Highway. I hiked there more than a decade ago, and I remembered that it was beautiful … but it was summertime, and I started in the daylight.

This time we hit the trail at 5 a.m. and we witnessed the forest at night, with snow and ice crystals looking like glitter in the light of our headlamps. We saw the thinnest of a sliver of the moon partnering with Venus over the dark silhouettes of the mountains.

And then the world turned salmon, and orange, and pink; the snow around us adopted the same hues as we sipped on hot chocolate and jumped up and down trying to stay warm. And we counted to thirty as the sun finally worked its way over the adjacent ridge line.

Sarah with Mt. Baker photobombing her on the distant skyline.
Mt. Rainier awash in color and peeking out from behind a neighboring ridge.
No filter … this was dawn’s early light.
So much beauty everywhere we turned!

So What’s Next?

I don’t know! But I have a feeling that yes-itis will guide my season … I’m open to new places, or new trails in old places, and to new experiences that may or may not involve glow paint.

What do you do in the winter to mix it up?

Me, atop Mt. Dickerman, greeting the new day.


A Little Jaunt

Sometimes it’s nice to just go out for a little jaunt in the woods. No training, no GPS-enabled watch, no required mileage or time … just a little jaunt.

Sometimes I head out on my own for a little jaunt. I like being able to stop to take a picture or absorb the view (or the trees, which are often the “view” here in the Pacific Northwest) or just breathe. Sometimes I’ll see a woodpecker or a gray jay or a chipmunk or—in the summer, when venturing farther is more feasible—a marmot. Other times I’ll just enjoy the rays of the sun illuminating the forest and peeking through tree branches to highlight the frond of a fern or some crazy-green moss.

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Other times it’s fun to venture out with a group for a little jaunt in the woods. The introspection that comes with solo discoveries in the woods turns into shared celebrations of the wonders the forests and mountains hold, and laughter is frequent as we gather these experiences close to our souls. When you all see the snow-laden branches of a tree as the outside of a Hobbit house, or pop out at a viewpoint or the top of a pass and universally hear in your minds the “ahhhhhh” of the choir in heaven, or you all are stunned and thrilled to see a bear suddenly tear across a meadow, somehow that experience is amplified … the energy expands exponentially … it becomes solid and real and forever.

I cannot count how many times these little group jaunts have soothed our souls as individually each of us has faced the demons life presents all of us—work troubles, the illness or death of a loved one, marriage problems, the angst that comes with raising children. And other times, I have found solace alone, listening to my breath and my heart beat, my feet touching the ground, and the wind and the birds and the life in the woods.

Maybe this is the unifying force that makes the trail running community embrace and encourage and inspire its members. We have all had our little jaunts, and we all know the mystical power and joy that come with them.

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Seeking My Inner Bunny

I have a friend who is one of those people who is a bright light in the world. She wears colorful clothes and always has a bright, lipsticked smile. When I’ve run with her, she’s talked about finding your inner bunny—that part of you that lets you bound along the trail with joy, bombing down hills without fear.

hopping-hare-snow
Photo from Factzoo.com.

Since the Grand Canyon, I’ve been seeking my inner bunny. I honored my body’s need to recover, and took some time off, slept more than usual, and mixed things up by getting back into the gym.

But my inner bunny has been shy about reemerging.

I served as the team volunteer for a two-day relay race on Orcas Island, spending several hours in 40-degree rain and wind directing traffic as different teams’ shuttle vehicles came and went. I loved spending the weekend in a beautiful place with awesome people, but on Day 2, when I had planned to go for an easy run my bunny turned into a slug and I said, “Nah.” (By the way, volunteering at races rocks—I’ve put it on my list to do more of that.)

Laura
She’s gonna kill me for this picture!

I went to a cyclocross race to cheer my friend, Laura. She’s been kicking butt this year, her second in cyclocross, and has gone from ranking 44th in her category in 2016 to 9th this year. Heck ya!! She’s been encouraging me to give it a try and even offered to loan me a bike and give the beginner’s round a try. Uh … no thanks.

My friend Wendy is rallying folks to go back to Diez Vista 50K next April. I was seriously traumatized by Diez Vista last year: not because I had a bad race and not because it was a bad race. It’s a seriously awesome race. But last year it was pouring rain when we woke up and it never stopped raining. Sometimes it rained harder. The puddles on the trails were literally yards’ long, and sometimes deep enough that I would trip on the water if I didn’t lift my feet high enough. It was the first time I’ve seen people racing wrapped up in space blankets! So when Wendy said, “Let’s do it again,” my bunny said “nononono!” and my slug said, “Meh.”

So I’ve been trying to enjoy little jaunts in the woods and trying a little road running to mix things up.

 

Then a quick 10 miler on Rattlesnake Ridge turned out to be a slog uphill in the snow and my inner slug got very grumpy. However, my bunny was happy to make an appearance after I donned my microspikes and bombed back down the ridge. Yay! The bunny’s still in there somewhere!

 

Then Ana sent me a message to see if I’d join her for the Black Canyon 100K in Arizona in mid-February. And dammit, you know what? I said yes! So once I did that, you know what I did? I said yes to Diez Vista too.

That bunny had better come out soon!

So the days of the little jaunts are over for a while, again. Today was a planned 22, and unfortunately the slug ruled. It may have been a bit of a hangover from overeating rich foods for Thanksgiving or because my hamstrings were still in shock from Wednesday’s football-workout-themed bootcamp class at the Y. I started out with the ladies from the High Heel Running Group, where Edith led us through 10 miles on a new Saturday loop for the group. It felt pretty good, and I mostly hung out at the back and took it easy. After that group run was done, I headed out for another 12 … and the slug said, “Uh uh.” I dug in for another 9.3, but couldn’t find the remaining 2.7 anywhere.

While I was out there, I thought a lot about how to find my inner bunny again. It can be hard in the winter, when workouts often involve laps up and down the same climbs and/or loops around the same lower-elevation parks over and over. I thought about all the destination runs and hikes planned for next summer, and I pondered whether not hitting my target mileage for today fell under the category of “10% undertrained is always better than 10% overtrained” or under the category of wimp … or maybe under the category of “just take care of yourself and the bunny will find you again.”

Whatever it is, I realized something I think will be important in the coming months: For me, the joy in running comes from being outdoors—often with friends and sometimes alone—in the forest or the desert, it doesn’t matter. As long as I attend to the details of my surroundings and take time to stop and photograph the waterfalls … well, all will be good and I will find my inner bunny again.

waterfall
Sky Country Falls, Cougar Mountain Regional Park