A double race report of sorts:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
As I ran through the desert and canyons of Moab Utah last Saturday I felt a wholeness I have never experienced while running. I felt like I belonged here. Like I was meant to run through this sand, this rock, and up these hills. The trail meandered down from the start line into the canyons. The surface underfoot switched constantly from sand, to dirt, to sharp stones, to uneven slickrock. The trail was very technical at times forcing me to watch my footing carefully. When I was able to look up my eyes were rewarded with the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Buttes and mesas of various shades of red rose from the ground like ancient fortified castles. The trail took us through tight winding single track along seemingly precarious cliff sides. It took us down runnable double track jeep roads past 100 foot tall rock spires that looked mighty yet precariously fragile. It took us from the valley floor to the top of a mesa sitting at 5300’ elevation. The view from the top seemed to go on forever. We stopped and took it all in. That panoramic is etched in my mind now. I wanted to stay in that moment forever. We took our time all day. This wasn’t as much of a race as it was an adventure.
About 9 miles in the entire race bottlenecked. A line of runners stretched as far as you could see winding around the side of the cliff. We stood there for 45 minutes or so only moving a couple hundred yards. I hardly cared. I was having so much fun that the prospect of being on this course longer did not bother me. Everyone was in good spirits while we waited. We finally scampered down between two narrow rocks and jumped down about 7 or 8 feet to the trail below. It was easy to see why this section caused such a back-up. Off we went through the next aid station stocked with everything from water, coke, beer, and potato chips.
Jason, Ernesto, and I ran on with big smiles on our faces for much of the day. We run through rocky tunnels, jumped across streams repeatedly. We climbed ladders, ran through culverts, and climbed and descended several sections with the aid of ropes. I have never been more present and in the moment while running than I was in Moab. The only time I listened to music was while we waited during the bottleneck. Otherwise it was too distracting from everything I was seeing around me. Every corner we turned we would see something more beautiful than the last. This is a tough race without a doubt, but the beauty of the landscape made every step worthwhile.
I am so thankful that running has brought me to Moab. I miss being there. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll go back and never leave. I am so thankful running has taken me to so many places. In the past few months I have logged miles from Cozumel Mexico to Detroit Michigan. From Washington DC to Leadville Colorado. From the trails of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma to Moab Utah. I am truly having the time of my life.
Two weeks before this I found myself standing on the starting line of the 39th Marine Corps Marathon. This race was very special to me having served 4 years in the Marines. I was calm. This was to be my 5th marathon and the first time jitters were long gone. I watched the parachute team fly in with giant American flags trailing behind them. One of these was a Medal of Honor winner who was running the race as well. I felt a deep sense of pride having served my country. I came with the intent run my fastest marathon that day. The Howitzer went off and so did we. This was by far the most crowded field I had ever been a part of. The first 8 miles was a wall of bodies.
People lined the streets for miles cheering us on. I felt great, but I could not keep my heart rate down. After several miles I just made the decision to accept this. I slowed down so I could reserve some energy for the finish. I switched of the heart rate view on my watch and just focused on form and distance. I passed many runners wearing shirts commemorating the service men and women they were running in honor of. I tried to read every name I could. I thought about their sacrifice and felt gratitude. As we ran through the park along the Potomac River signs lined the street every few feet listing the names of service men and women who gave their life for our country. I thought about those signs for the rest of the race and still to this day.
As the miles went on my legs grew tired. As I ran down the National Mall past the Capitol and Washington Monument I could feel the heat of the day starting to take its toll. It was in the mid 60’s. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was a beautiful day, but I was getting hot. I pushed on across the bridge back to Virginia at Mile 20. I began to cramp up in my quads despite staying hydrated and popping Endurolyte capsules every 45 minutes. At mile 22 I was hurting. I knew my goal time of 3:45 was out of reach, and I made peace with this. I slowed down enough to keep my legs from completely locking up, but I pushed on those last four miles. Running past the Pentagon for the last mile I began to think about my mother. I thought about her condition in that nursing home and how her disease has taken so much away from her physically. I thought about my daughter. She had turned 12 years old the day before and I missed her birthday. Months before I told her that I could skip this race to be with her on her birthday. She was having none of it. She told me to go race and she would be okay with this. I thought about the prospect of running with my daughter someday if she ever decides to do so, and it made me smile. Marines lined the streets cheering us onward. The final .2 mile takes a sharp turn up a steep hill before you get to the finish line. My legs were burning as I chugged up and across the finish. 3 hours and 55 minutes. Not fast by any means. Not what I wanted at all. I was happy though. This was a PR by 25 minutes and I left it all out on the course that day.
The race finishes at the Marine Corps War Memorial. It’s a large statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. Probably the most iconic image in USMC history. I walked around the side of the monument to take a picture of the beautiful Eagle, Globe, and Anchor finisher medal. I saw another runner sitting quietly crying. I walked up to him and asked if he was okay. He told me his father ran this race many times years ago. His father passed away and now he was running it in his memory. I let him be, but the expression on that man’s face left a lasting impression on me. Sorrow but joy and accomplishment. This race had a meaningfulness on par with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. I’ll never forget this one.
Oh, the places you’ll go… My travels have only just begun. The next two months I’m staying closer to home. I’ve got the Tulsa Half Marathon on November 23rd, and the Dallas Marathon on December 14th. I am pleased to say that I have found a 50 mile race. The day after I ran Moab I signed up for the Old Pueblo 50 in Sonoita Arizona on March 7th 2015. 50 miles through the desert with 8000’ of climbing. I am excited to say the least. Training has already begun. I’ve felt 50 miles was a distance I am capable of for a little while now. Although, now that I am actually registered for this race the reality is starting to sink in that this is going to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. I welcome the challenge that lays ahead.
On the home front I am very excited about a new running group in Oklahoma City. It’s the No Meat Athlete – OKC group. Matt Fraizer of nomeatathlete.com put together local running groups all over the country and the world in the last few months. We meet on Sundays for a 3 mile social run and coffee afterwards. It has quickly become the run I look forward to the most. Before I did not personally know any other plant based runners, and now there is a whole group of us in OKC. Meeting other like-minded athletes has been amazing.
It seems so simple now. Start running, cycling, swimming, hiking, or whatever. See where it takes you. Dr. Seuss knew what he was talking about. We control our journey. Strap on your shoes and go!
Evolution of a Vegan Runner