Why do you run? We have so many predictable answers: Fitness, stress relief, competition, adventure. Running brings out my best self and sparks better, deeper thinking. I offer these reasons to explain why I keep doing it, five or more days a week, 22 years and counting—why I logged almost exactly 2500 miles in 2016.
This is the story of another reason, which I sometimes forget but then am happily reminded, as happened during the past two weeks.
It started Thanksgiving morning. I wasn’t going to race the Piedmont Turkey Trot 5K. I hate 5Ks! They scare me because they demand a redlining effort from the start. This 5K in particular stresses me out as an objective gauge of how much I’ve slowed down since my early 30s.
Then I thought of Sheila, whom I coached to race it. “Do not ask of your clients what you are unwilling to do yourself,” I told myself. And Len, my track companion; and Claudia, my Friday running friend—they’d be there, too. And neighbors I hadn’t seen in months, since we moved part time to Colorado.
So I went to the starting line to run mainly because of the community. At Mile 1, I recognized Len Goldman’s shoulder and arm swing, and I locked in on him, willing myself to stay close, as I do during our track workouts. He’s the one who paced me to run my first sub-40-minute 10K back in the early 2000s. He’s 72 years old and still kicks my ass.
We both finished in 21:31, a 6:56 pace on a hilly course. I also reconnected with more than a dozen old friends. I’m sure glad I ran that morning instead of staying home.
Two days later, on Saturday, November 26, it happened again: I laid in bed at 4:30 a.m. contemplating whether to go to a race or blow it off. Rain poured steadily while howling winds rattled the house. My stomach felt bloated from Thanksgiving leftovers, my mouth parched from too much wine with visitors. Soreness from the 5K stiffened my quads.
I was supposed to drive to Mill Valley—where the forecast called for more than an inch of rain—and race the 28-mile Quad Dipsea, which features two out-and-back trips from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach and 9200 feet of climbing. The rooted, mossy route with hundreds of stairs built into the hillsides would be more slick and treacherous than ever.
I had zero desire to go. I had the excuse of the rain and the soreness from the 5K.
Then I thought of Errol “The Rocket” Jones, my crew chief from Western States. He’d be there at the aid station at Stinson Beach, no matter what the weather. And I thought of Clare, my Western States pacer, and Tropical John, and “All Day” Ken and so many others who’d be there. Rain wouldn’t stop them.
And so I went, because of them.
Penny gave me a hug, as did Nate and Jonesy (Chris Jones), who always has his camera ready. More and more people showed up whom I recognized from races over the years, turning the rainy morning into a reunion.
The race started. Ironically, the worse the conditions got, the better and more energetic I felt. Seeing Christine Chapon volunteering as a crossing guard inspired me to do ballet leaps and spins across the road to entertain her and the waiting traffic. Chris Jones and I leapfrogged for miles—he’d pass me on the downhills, I’d catch him on the uphills, and each time we’d pass, we’d one-up each other with a remark about how heavy and slow we feel.
The best part was seeing Rocket at the Stinson Beach aid station. He yelled out my nickname, “Cocoa Butter!” (That’s another story …)
How slick and muddy was the 2016 Quad Dipsea? These photos from David P. Thomas give an idea:
On the final lap, I pushed to try to get Clare into sight. No luck—she still finished significantly ahead of me, 4th place, but I got 5th and broke my goal of running sub-6-hours, in 5:56. Among women, I ran the most even splits, with a four-minute variance among the laps (1:27, 1:28, 1:29, 1:31).
Fast forward one week: I wake up at 3:45 a.m. and get to Muir Beach in the Marin Headlands to work an aid station at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile championship. Clare is the aid station captain. We cheer and refill water bottles for some of the top ultrarunners in the sport and many mid-pack friends. We gather at the finish line to celebrate.
When my dad was my age, he had the Elks Club, Rotary, golfing, poker and bowling. My mom, she had book club, poker and garden club. Me, I have the community of trail/ultra runners, and along with family, it’s pretty much all I need for support.
I want to thank all of you for cheering me up and inspiring me to keep running. During the last few weeks, people involved in this sport pulled me out of a funk and motivated me to run hard and with joy. I needed it.
I’ll end by spotlighting two guys who are boosting the fun and community spirit of ultrarunning, Jamil Coury and Schuyler Hall of Mountain Outpost. Enjoy the episode below to get an idea of what the Quad Dipsea was like—and watch until the very end to see a fun outtake with The Rocket.
Happy holidays and happy trails for real!