There are some runs that are beautiful, where you are coasting along yet breathing hard, no matter the incline.
Today, I experienced one of these. After having been layed off for the week due to the lingering effects of the foot infection (malaise, fatigue, etc...) I decided, on whim, to head out this morning. Maybe and easy 8km, I thought.
When I got started, I felt great, so I upped my expectations. I ran the whole of the first Cootha-climb up the Flat Taringa track, dropped over to the Toowong side at a quick pace, before deciding to hit the back-end road ascent hard. However, my left calf had started to give me some trouble, so I was not confident in this decision at all. I churned up there, in pain, in the moment, alive,and managed just under 6-minute kms for the 2.3km climb of 200m. I then descended into the Gap Creek Road side, via the Jacksonia Track, having not yet had a walking break at all. At this point, I went into a solid funk, emerging just as I got onto Greenford Street. At this point, I was resigned to walking atleast half of the final Cootha climb, and it appeared as if that's how it would play out, as I grinded up the track at the back of Matt's house. I got to the junction with the Honeyeater track, having intended to take the steep Reservoir Track to the top, but I felt good enough to have a crack at running up the rest of the Honeyeater. As I had expected, I came accross Mrs. Newman and Sunny (the labrador), having a short chat and pat, before completing the final pitch at a sluggish running pace. After hitting the lookout for the second time in the morning, I was thinking about another climb, but as I passed some agressive-looking (but actually harmless) dogs on the ascent, my mind switched to thinking about the future. Tomorrow morning. 4 hours on the track with Nic and Mallani. That settled it; I ran home in the most direct route possible, to round out a 20-something km tempo-paced with 450-500m of vertical that took me about 2:24.
It was awesome; these runs are what the running Zac lives for.
Now, I will be attempting to turn this into a back-to-back weekend (the first real one for me), hopefully getting about 45km done with Nic and Mallani tomorrow (it may have to be extended to 45km). I say "hopefully" as my left calf is still highly suspicious, I will really have to watch it.
Found this old blog entry by Tony Krupicka on Coolrunning. It basically sums up why I love running/why I exist.
"Running up a big mountain is dramatic on so many levels. But, Mt. Massive sneaks up on you. The drama is given a chance to build gradually, first climbing easily out of the creek valley, then striding oh-so-comfortably contouring through the trees with the morning sunlight filtering through to occasionally warm my numb hands, and then the trail turns upward and I'm out of the trees and on the tundra and holy shit, THAT is a mountain, until suddenly there I am toiling up an impossibly steep slope, stubbornly refusing to give into the storm raging inside my skull, the world seems to be screaming so loudly that eventually it drowns out even the internal voices imploring me to walk, stop, sit, repose, rest.
Like I said, dramatic. If one could simply summon the presence of mind to objectively look at the situation, the absurdity and general calm would be obvious. However, stuck in my head, in my situational psychic reality, it feels as if the world is falling to pieces around my ears. A pleasant breeze is elevated to the level of howling gale, every simple rock step-up becomes a nearly insurmountable obstacle. If only the trail were always as consistently smooth and forgiving as this short stretch of sublime alpine singletrack I could emotionally bear the thought of continuing my cadence all the way to the summit. But it's not, it quickly turns back into the rock-strewn, ice-encrusted rut that is the norm.
But therein lies the beauty of grinding inexorably up a mountain face. Eventually, thought is forced to cease existence. It can no longer be born. It is the only way I can cope. I somehow even forget that I want to walk. Don't look up, don't look at the summit--for chrissakes don't look at the summit!--it's simply too soul-crushing to contemplate the objective, the final reprieve, whilst laboring at what feels to be the absolute zenith of effort. At what cannot possibly be a sustainable effort. But, of course, by turning off one's goal-oriented brain, it becomes sustainable.
Why? Because, all I really have to do is take one more calculated, perfectly-placed, as-efficient-as-possible footstep. Certainly I can take one more step? Of course, and, little by little, the ground is covered, the delta elevation is scaled, the absolute presence is experienced. Nothing else even exists but the here and now of inching my way up this goddamn mountain. And that, my friends (a phrase I will never look at the same way again, courtesy of John McCain), is an indescribably beautiful, important thing. It is living. In the end, it's all there really is.
And, thankfully, running (uphill, without much oxygen, it seems usually) is the one thing I've been fortunate enough in this life to find that reliably transports me to that psychic/emotional space of living, relentless, rife with effort (suffering?), but somehow, unexplainably fulfilled. Filled with life.
And then I get to the top. And my organism can't even express how ecstatic it is to be asked to do nothing else but BREATHE. Enormous, gulping, body-consuming breaths that each originate somewhere deep in my thorax, my spine, my soul. Hands on knees, elbows locked, praying to the decomposed granite between the toes of my shoes, I sway slightly, dizzily, in the ubiquitous mountaintop wind and, not so much inhale but consume the delicious, sweet, chilled air.
Finally, gradually again, on the downhill, making my way back into the valley carved by Halfmoon Creek between Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert, I re-enter the world where the mind wanders, thinking of other things than the task at hand, deftly stepping over roots and rocks, so unconsciously engrossed in something else that I forget to stop and drink from the spring that saturates the trail just after Willow Creek. But, that's okay, because for at least the next 24 hours, my psyche will be nourished by the fact that--for at least some, nontrivial amount of time--I was there, I was in it--life--and nowhere else. "