Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Virtues of Solitude

I am a social runner. I belong to a more than one running group, my phone is full of runners, I even have a Facebook page swarming with enthusiastic running buddies. I try to rally someone to run with me for anything over five miles. It makes the time fly by. The benefits of running with other people are many and I'm sure I will blog about that at some point, but today I want to acknowledge the pure bliss of solitude.

It isn't always possible to find a running partner, especially if you have to squeeze in a run at odd times. Recently I actually chose to do my long run alone. It was an odd feeling to want to be by myself, but I did. I was looking forward to going at my own pace and enjoying the crazy eclectic shuffle on my ipod.

The cool thing and the scary thing about running alone is that devoid of chatter, my mind seems to have a..., well a mind of it's own! I can't always control my thought patterns and that means I am at the mercy of my unruly mind, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes torturous. My fickle brain often sends me mixed messages about my comfort level throughout a run "This sucks, this feels great, I'm tired, I'm awesome, it is okay to turn back now, must go on, what is that funny feeling on the ball of my foot, hey, that guys was checkin' me out, I think these shorts are chafing my thighs, blah, blah, blah..."

My ipod is a welcome distraction from my mind, but that "shuffle" can also influence my mental path. During my recent solo trail run I experienced a myriad of emotions that were a combined mix of scenery and music. U2's "In God's Country" came on as I was ascending a hill that gave me the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean and I felt joy that almost brought a tear to my eyes. Then while running through neighborhood horse trails, the B-52's gave me a playful giddy feeling. Near mile six I heard an old punk song that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend and I reflected that it has been almost one year since his death. I got very emotional reflecting on the thought that I am still thriving and running and living and he is not. My life experience is growing every day, his has stopped. It makes me grateful and sad at the same time.

Marshall Ulrich (the great long distance runner most known for the idiosyncrasy of choosing to have his toenails removed) said it well when he admitted "I need to get outdoors, clear my head, allow myself to time to think about what I'd experienced and then think about something else for a long, long time. I need to run, to empty out the accumulated emotion, to strip myself of comfort and grieve both deal with and avoid emotional pain. "

Gee, I thought I was just trying to get my heart rate up and keep my jeans fitting! But Marshall is right about the cathartic quality of running. It may not completely eliminate the need for therapy, but it sure helps our emotional and mental health.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Rock Creek

If you are ever driving on the 395, up to Mammoth, Tahoe, or Bishop – I’m going to let you in on a secret. You may have passed it several times, not knowing you were a stones throw away from "The Best Run in the World." That is what my friend and I dubbed Lower Rock Creek, an appropriate name that stuck.

What makes Lower Rock Creek “The Best Run in the World?” Scenery so beautiful you forget you are running and a gradual decline that makes an eight mile run seem like three. Imagine a trail run that starts out in an aspen forest that changes into a pine forest, then into chaparral and bare rock cliffs, then back into pine again, all the while following the namesake creek. The water meanders, slows, rushes, plunges off boulders, settles into still ponds only to rush again.

The scenery can take your breathe away, and so can the altitude. This run starts at 7,000 feet and descends to 5,000. The decline makes the run deceptively easy, but can result in crippling soreness if you are not used to running downhill. Of course you can always run up the trail, something I’ve never attempted. My friends and I do this run as a shuttle, starting just south of Tom’s Place and ending in a tiny settlement appropriately named "Paradise." The trail intersects the road twice in the first 3-4 miles, then you are committed for the last 4-5.

This is a popular mountain biking trail, so remember to step aside if you hear them coming. They come down quickly, so ipods are definitely taboo, but you won't miss it. This trail really is spectacular.

Many times my husband and his friends have passed us on their bikes during this run, always teasing us “Get off the trail, runners” and attempting to kick us in the butts. One rider who was closely behind and did not realize we knew the group was appalled and said “I can’t believe what that guy said to you girls.” I laughed and said “Oh, I can. That was my husband.”

I have many happy memories of running this trail with my friends Sara or Angelica, but my most memorable run was on July 1st 2005. I ran the trail by myself that time, while my husband and friend rode ahead. My thoughts were not on the scenery this time. I spent the run thinking “I might be pregnant.” Turns out I was. Eight months later, a beautiful boy was born and I took a break from this trail for a little while, but I am happy to be on it again. It won't be long until that son is riding his own bike down that trail and I hope some day he wants to run it too.