If I write an article for the BSWD Newsletter, it has to be about something I am actually living right now. And with all these years of talking about the “Mature Runner” – well…it’s stretching it a bit now. I’m not really running any more. Oh, I can still run, but it just doesn’t come off too well – it feels like I’m missing some body parts, or the essential parts are stored away in some locked drawer somewhere. But I still love making fun of the crazy antics distance runners come up with – so they can keep on running whether they should or not. So, for this August 2020 article, I have to make some more confessions. I completely love walking up the Sourdough Trail. Stacy and I love the terrain, the meeting up with Sourdough regulars, seeing the newest flowers come into bloom, watching the river level change week-by-week. There is a definite Sourdough community out there, and you become a member of this community just by showing up once. If it grabs you, and enters into your heart and soul, you have become part of this special community.
A good example is from yesterday – Stacy went to the “Bridge”- that dreaded word to some people, the goal of a lifetime for others, or just another ho-hum 9.5 miler. Yesterday, Stacy ran into an old friend – Rudy. He’s 90+ years old, and they meet less frequently now, but there he was with his family in tow – standing around the new 2 ponds ¼ mile up the trail. When you don’t see a real ‘ole timer for awhile, there’s that nagging suspicion something must have happened. But there he was with his indomitable smile. After a warm greeting, she moved on up the trail. After awhile, she realized she hadn’t said a word about how much she loves him. There might not be another chance! This being Sourdough Trail, even people you don’t know are your potential best friends. So, further up the trail a couple horses were coming down. Without hesitating, she flagged them down, and explained the whole scenario – and would they please find Rudy (probably still near the ponds) and tell him his friend Stacy wants him to know she loves him. There, that should do it. But then a few minutes later, a runner came around a corner – going faster than the horses, so she flagged down the runner – and went through the same routine – sharing the message to find Rudy and let him know Stacy loves him.
So, what IS this article about? Telling people you meet on the trail that you love them? Yes, and it’s really about becoming more familiar with an important part of your neighborhood. And just plain ‘ole being neighborly. It can be done 6 feet apart. And this leads me into meeting some of my very best friends on the trail – the flowers. The following is a horrible admission – how about NOT trying to see how fast you can get from point A to point B? Well, it does have its benefits. You get to smell (admire, eat, take a picture of) the flowers. You might not burn as many calories. So, I too want to share the “Rudys” I’ve met this past week. Do I need to say “go up Sourdough soon” and follow my directions to find my best friends? It’s up to you.
Let’s start with the most startling flower most people don’t know about. They have never been so abundant in memory. They are called the White Bog Orchid. For the scientifically inclined….Platanthera dilatata of the Orchidaceae family. I’m talking about 50-60 teeny little orchids all clutching a tall stalk. I guarantee you can’t see the orchids if you’re running by. The stalk is 1-2 foot tall, but you have to stop, get really close, and put your face right next to the stalk to see actual orchids growing wild. Do it – go find them! The 1st stand is on the left – about 1.6 miles up the trail. They need standing water, which you’ll see puddling along the trail there. Then the next place that’s easy to see is on that wide, circular curve in the trail before you crest at 4.5 miles – before going straight down to the Bridge. You’ll see the standing water on the left, and suddenly dozen of orchid stalks. Want more?
OK. Gotta stop pretty soon. But last week, just walking along the trail around the 4 mile mark was this Gorgeous Puffball a few inches off the trail. I instantly realized this was a prize – a mushroom in Perfect ripeness. I grabbed it, took a bite – and shared it with Stacy who has learned to trust some of my more questionable habits. The rest went home with us, and provided several nights’ salads with great taste. Where to find them? No clue. They just appear. If you find one “just” past its prime (not firm), it’s BAD to eat. No, I’m not trying to tease you. They can pop-up just about anywhere. White, round top. Firm. They come in all sizes (1/2 inch to 1 foot in diameter). When they “go to seed” – the round ball becomes brown, filled with 1000’s of spores that go “puff” if you step on them. So…the challenge – go find a good one and EAT IT! See y’all along the trail …
- David Summerfield
With a month of trying to figure out if we can hold the Bridger Ridge Run this year or not, I’ve really thought of nothing else! While hauling 112.5 gallons of water to Kay Newman’s garage with Darryl Baker (yes, we’re optimists, and Darryl had 10 gallons of water already up on the Ridge a few days later…) I realized Kay is a treasure trove of memories of how the Ridge Run all began. I urged her to write down what happened that fateful day almost 40 years ago when she accompanied Ed Anacker on a scouting trip to see what doing the “whole” ridge would be like. If you haven’t noticed, the Bridger Ridge itself does start quite a bit north of Sacajawea. Having finished the Western States 100, Ed was eager to find his own Ultrarun in Montana. He knew the Bridgers closer to home, but had never done the Flathead Pass to Sacajawea Pass part. So here’s what happened in Kay’s own words:
This is about all that I can remember about the hike with the Anackers, Bergs, etc. I'm not sure why I was invited to go but I'm glad that I was. We were always safe except for a long trek back to the start which was in the dark. It wasn't cold even though it was the day in the fall when we changed time. However, we probably wouldn't have gone had the weather been stormy or bad. Those that were along on the hike were Ed & Stella, Lloyd & Edna Berg, Phil McCandless (a colleague of Lloyds), Mary Alice Chester (an active Wind Drinker with lots of hiking experience), Celia Wood (a friend of Stellas I think), and myself. I don't believe there was anyone else. As I recall, the group stopped by my house about an hour later than expected and we took off. I drove my Chevy pick-up as it was to be left at Fairy Lake to transport folks back to their cars parked at Flathead Pass. I had been to Fairy Lake several times but probably had never driven there but the road conditions must have been good as I don't recall any problems or anxious moments because of the terrain. The group left Flathead Pass with Stella leading. She was going at a good pace when I heard Ed tell her if she didn't slow down, she could carry their pack with supplies. It was a congenial group and a beautiful day perfect for this particular excursion. After a late lunchtime break we headed out again. Ed suggested that Phil, Mary Alice and I lead the group and he would stay back with the Bergs, Celia and Stella. Probably in the late afternoon Ed caught up with us and suggested that Phil, Mary Alice and I head straight for Fairy Lake while he headed back to the start with Stella and Celia. Ed said he thought we could make Fairy Lake before dark but he knew the Bergs couldn't so they were headed back to the start. Well I thought this over and after recalling stories of being lost in the woods I decided I should head back with Ed who I knew best and trusted to get us out safely. So I told him I would go back with him instead of accompanying Mary Alice and Phil who I didn't know very well. In the end everyone decided to go back the way we had come. Dark was fast approaching but someone remarked that there would be a full moon so it wouldn't be too dark. There was one flashlight in the group and Celia's batteries failed after a few minutes. My flashlight was in my truck at Fairy Lake. When dark hit we were in the woods so there was little moonlight. We stopped again and ate what little food we had left from lunch. and rested a bit. Ed seemed to find his way easily despite the darkness. Finally we were out of the woods. We could see better and move faster. We could see a couple of men hiking up toward us who turned out to be the Sheriff and someone else. I think it was Celia's daughter who had called and reported that her mother was late in returning from a group hike so they sent someone out looking for us. They were happy to see us and didn't give us any lectures about how we should have been more careful, etc. One did ask if we had a pick-up parked at Fairy Lake and I said yes. I wanted to know what time it was currently and the sheriff asked if I wanted yesterday’s time or today’s time as the time had already fallen back to daylight saving time. I think it was about 2 or 3am. I don't remember anything about the trip home except I was glad to get to bed. The trail was easy to follow but a little treacherous with loose rocks and scree I seem to recall. I'm glad that I went. The scenery was beautiful and I would like to retrace my steps in the daylight. The group was compatible with no whining or complaining that I recall. Mary Alice and I became friends after that trip and we went to several runs around the area like Cody, Dillon and Red Lodge until she moved to Helena and we sort of lost contact. – Kay Newman
There you have it. Obviously, the BRR now starts at Fairy Lake – and that seems long enough for most. About 10 years ago I wanted to offer the opportunity to a few hearty souls to start at Flathead Pass on the Ridge Run day, and we did that two years in a row. I started the group off at 5:20am, and then I drove back to Fairy Lake in time to see the regular start at 7:00am. I then hiked up to the Sac summit to welcome the hearty gang of 6 as they went by. They all finished respectfully in the middle of the pack at the “M”. I believe the additional distance to be approximately 6.2 miles (curiously making it a “regular” marathon distance). So, there’s a little BRR history for those who want to know, and those 6 runners - Terry Leist, Rob Maher, Liz McGoff, Clem Izurieta, Greg Young, and Kurt Buchl - are true-blue Mature Runners in my book!
As promised, this Mature Runner HAD to go out and prove his abilities (now called stubbornesses) and willingness to push through various challenges. The Frank Newman Marathon is always the last Saturday of May (Memorial Day weekend). It was cancelled. What? My rite of passage into summer CANCELLED?? No way José. Then the thought came – why not a “virtual” run? Well, there’s no way I’m going to “pretend” to do this marathon. After all, it’s the last (and only) running event I do every year. I have to keep the record going (see the above meaning of “abilities”). I’ve cajoled Bob Wade and Kathy Brown into letting me do this “on my own terms” every year….meaning I start at the old traditional starting line (the 200 yards past the 13 mile marker on Bridger Canyon Road, and imagining where the old “0” was paved over last year…..grrr). And I get to start anytime I want, like 2-3 hours ahead of the real start. Yes, the start has been changed to somewhere up Stone Creek out of safety’s sake. But I’m too stuck in my rut to go up the muddy Stone Creek! (remember, being stuck in a rut is called an ability) And true to form, this year saw a “snow mixed with rain” forecast all of Saturday. Of course. How many of these silly marathons have blowing rain/snow in your face all the way from Bozeman Pass to the Sacajawea Park??
So, here’s what happened. My family convinced me they really wanted to accompany me to Bozeman Pass. Stacy and 17-year old Jacky. They verified they were not being forced in any way to do this. I kept double checking, even right up until we took off. BUT – since there was NO event going on due to the Covid-19, I had the luxury of doing the marathon on Sunday instead. I changed the rules – that’s the hallmark of being a Mature Runner – you just make up your own rules – but follow them to the nth degree. The “improved” forecast for Sunday was for no rain. Accuweather and the Weather Channel both agreed. Being suspicious Sunday morning as I walked the dog in the rain at 3:30am, I checked one more time with Accuweather…..”there is a stationary front over Bozseman but clearing over Great Falls.” Hmmm, so….we parked the car at the start on Bridger Canyon Road, stepped out into a drizzle, and started walking. Low clouds, no – we were walking IN the clouds. The Bridger Ridge was shrouded until we reached Livingston. No views. Our ravings to Jacky about the amazing views of snow-clad peaks, luscious green meadows, and abundant wildlife was challenged for most of the day. And the snow was mixed with the rain., of course. Our theme became “Oh Boy” – said with hints of various degrees of sarcasm at every turn – whenever we’d pass a mile marker (yes, I’ve memorized all the mile marker locations after so many years of doing this) – or seeing the beauty of a low cloud hanging over a grassy pasture, or hearing a bird song. But we persevered. We DID see the same 20 or so elk around mile 4.5 on Jackson Creek – but this year in the rain, they weren’t energized enough by our passage to jump across the fence in front of us. We did see and hear many Sandhill Cranes, a rabbit, a deer, a muskrat in a pond, and no howling wolves at the Howlers Inn.
With no “official” clock ticking, I gratefully got into our waiting car at Bozeman Pass and wondered out loud about continuing. (a shameful thing to do L) I ended up spending 18 minutes in the car – got over my wavering, and took off again. And true to tradition, the 2ndhalf of the marathon was everything I’ve trained for all these decades – digging deeply, and just plain ‘ole “going for it”. And that, folks, is what Mature Runners love to do. That’s what distinguishes us from others – we continually set ourselves up for a much anticipated situation. Don’t we always search for opportunities to dig down into our core, and come up with some ability we seldom use anymore? We used to do this on a regular basis. I’d give one workout per week going ‘all out’ in some way or other. The thought was to keep “race ready”. With aging bodies, true “racing” just doesn’t happen the way it used to. I do have to admit that there are many runners in their ‘70’s and ‘80’s who are still intent on establishing records for their age divisions. So, it looks like my definition of a Mature Runner is someone who has “matured” past the need for recognition of athletic prowess, and is now just running/walking for the pure joy of “doing it” for its own sake. And that’s pretty much a therapeutic thing. There. I’ve said it. Running/walking is our therapy – bringing inner peace to the surface through an activity that is still very physical.
Back to Frank Newman. The finish time would make no difference. And to be very Frank (again), all the previous marathon times on this course, (or on any other for heaven’s sake!) really make NO sense. Yes, the number would go on my log (going back to the 1stFNM back in 1975) – just one more entry below last year’s entry. I hope the reader understands the irony of keeping personal records. And yes, I did spend many moments during the last 10 miles of this marathon figuring what average pace I needed to get “under” last year’s time. How silly is that – after explaining why finish times make NO difference. HA. They do, personally, but it is such a fleeting thing. So, a final definition of a Mature Runner is one who does silly things out of habit, and then moves on, ready for the next opportunity to do silly things.
How To Make The Most of A Virus
Not that we’ve all haven’t had enough already! But since its consuming so much of our waking moments these days, please allow me to have a little fun here. The only reason I started writing these articles back in 1996 was to make light of our situation, no matter what it was. Usually, the “situation” was the ridiculousness of what we do as runners. And I’m talking about serious runners. Back then (up until not too long ago…) I was among the most serious in town. I could and would click off a marathon ON PACE in the Fieldhouse – back when the 200 meter track was more open to “recreational” runners. It was obsessive, yes. I would join the MSU distance men’s workouts on their track – with Coach Dale Kennedy’s blessing. As I slowed through the years, he’d welcome me to the track to do my own workout so long as I didn’t cut off any of his runners (I of course never passed anyone – it was more a question of not throwing his runners off balance as they zoomed by). I was an equally obsessive distance running coach at a NCAA Div III school in Illinois. I lived in a world of personal statistics and how to make sure they always got better (faster times, PR’s) year after year after year.
Back to today’s world. Has anyone found that the current general malaise of having to “stay-at-home” and do “social distancing” has only inceased the efficiency and diligence of your daily workouts? We long distance runners (walkers, okay?) have the luxury of being accustomed to going out on the trail/road alone. It suits us fine. While obeying all the rules of the lockdown, how fortunate we’ve been given the green light to do what we love most to do! Miraculously, we’re one of the 3 big exceptions to staying at home….getting food, meeting medical needs, and EXERCISE. How about that? Stacy and I have loved ones in NYC where they pretty much have to stay inside. Our population density is so low here, we can roam the great outdoors at will. We are SO fortunate.
This has allowed me the ability to go through my yearly rite-of-passage – which entails giving up the freedom of skate skiing and transitioning to the more gravity-bound activity of moving across the surface of the planet on my own power without the aid of gliding across snow. Sadly, the Crosscut Nordic Center just closed for passholders April 19th. The door swung shut, but the virus didn’t notice. Nor did it notice my pilgrimage to the High School track. And the virus didn’t notice how painful it was for my body. The track workout (mind you, I’m talking about for really Mature Runners only) – is much less of a full-body workout like skate skiing, so I have to compensate with the dreaded trifecta: pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups. UGH. I keep thinking the winter hours of poling up and down hills will keep me strong, no - stronger. HA! My 1stvisit to the peeling blue hexagonal metal pull-up contraption at the end of the high school track found me unable to ONE single pull-up. That’s not fair. Besides, there I was, having finished a decent 12:40 walking mile, exhausted, and having to wait 6 feet away from the hexagonal machine while 2 high school show-offs took turns trying to one-up each other – endless pull-ups. They finally moved away from the blue torture contraption, so I could have my turn at what? Almost ½ a pull-up. At least they didn’t laugh out loud. Yes, I was jealous – they probably saw me stare. It brought up from some deep place in a memory bank that “I used to do that”….was it this lifetime? And another thing, as a former coach, every workout HAS to show some kind of progress – any kind will do. The curve has to keep going up, on any level. So, 2 days later – at the track of course, I did a full ½ pull-up. Now that is measurable progress!
And what really motivates me to keep doing this endless dance of workouts? Here’s the very frank truth – its called Frank Newman. At the end of winter, and we’re talking about many decades of doing this, I HAVE to be physically able to complete the Frank Newman Marathon the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. That’s the only reason. The only logical explanation is….I’m obsessive. I’ve written each year about this event. For a long time it used to be the only relaxing marathon when I was ticking them off all the time. Now, it’s the ONLY marathon I dare do each year. And also because Kathy Brown and Bob Wade let me do it. On my own terms (we start our own watches, and self-support ourselves with hidden food/drink along the way). Then I read that it’s been cancelled. What? Not on your life. I will toe the line (hopefully with Stacy at my side again) around 5am May 23rd. We’ll leave a car at Bozeman Pass, that’s where Stacy waves good-bye, and will meet me at Sacajawea Park around whenever I finish. Now, that’s a decent excuse to go to the track and up the mileage bit by bit over 5 or so weeks, wouldn’t you say? And that, folks, keeps my own obsessive mind off the world-wide obsession. And today? I’m off to the track in hopes of getting a full pull-up. If not, I’ll find someway to notch an improvement in some category….I have so many of them up-my-sleeve! - David Summerfield
As the end of winter becomes a reality, especially for one who LOVES winter, it’s a time of reflection, and this really means I have to patiently figure out ways to cope graciously with something imposed upon me by a greater power (simply called the tilting of the planet…the vernal equinox, get it?). As the ice starts to disappear, footfalls are easier, more sure, we can let our guard down (balance). I was doing this last week while carrying a long 2’x4’ trying to get down some monster icicles from the roof. Where did that invisible slick of ice come from anyway? Not paying attention, I went down hard, and am still limping. Darn. The only “fall” all winter, including skiing. L This makes me wonder even more about my role in helping power that gigantic explosion of 10 million stars. (I’m referring to the refrain from the song from Fame I mentioned in February’s newsletter: “I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, I toast to my own reunion when I become one with the sun, and I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of 10 million stars, and in time and in time, we will all be stars”)
So, was all this business of 55 years’ worth or running like crazy, skiing like crazy, heck – doing everything physical like crazy – was it all just getting the body in shape so I can…“go out” in a teeny “poof” (as the Earth burns up spectacularly in the Sun). Of course, we’re talking about millions/billions of years from now, but do you get my drift? Are you laughing out loud yet, or does it promote some introspection?
This is where I’m going with this: As a running club, we encourage everyone to get physically fit, running fit. Why? It has a lot to do with having that intense feeling of “being alive” and that can’t help but make you feel good and worthwhile. It helps working on goals, getting the body to respond better and being more integrated with the other part of your life – your inner life – the life you lead in your head (or mind, or spirit, or that other part that supports your body). That said, why bring up the fact of the galactic cycle – where new star systems coalesce from former star systems that finished their life spans? Is that really what we’re doing – being born on this planet – getting our heat/light/energy from our “mature” sun - and getting fit as possible in this life cycle, and then….what? Is this a dead-end conversation? Not for me. It opens up infinite possibilities. The refrain speaks of the “me yet to come” and having a “reunion when I become one with the sun”. This really speaks of an ultimate life course, doesn’t it? …becoming one with the sun sounds a lot like becoming one with all life – with all that is going on, on this planet right now. And my personal hypothesis is that what it’s all about is being the most vibrant you possible, and this has to include making your own physical body able to support as easily as possible the “real” you – who you are inside, what motivates you to get up every morning, what helps determine what you’ll eat today, say today, think today, create today. And that is what forms your life on Earth. “…and in time, and in time, we will all be stars.” Startling, perhaps. But don’t you have to admit it’s exciting to think you’ll take part in forming a new star system – physically? That still blows my mind. It could result in not “sweating the small stuff” – like I do so much! Example: the last 10 miler I skate skied at CrossCut I averaged a 9:38 mile – which I arrived at by a very careful attention to my GPS watch – a careful one point focus for 96 minutes and 14 seconds. Why the heck do something as ridiculous as that? There is no logical explanation of course. I took the body I currently have, and put it through a “routine” on snow. Basically, I was once more putting the body through its paces to get it ready for any challenge that can come along. I want to be ready to be the “me yet to come” so I can “become one with the sun” ….in the best shape possible. And this is very probably the most outrageous article I’ve even written. But then these days are certainly the most outrageous we’ve seen in our current lives, no? Hmmm, we’ve all got some pretty exciting happenings ahead of us, don’t you think? - David Summerfield
Last month’s article ended with the lyrics from Fame (musical) which included “I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, I toast to my own reunion when I become one with the sun, and I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of 10 million stars, and in time and in time, we will all be stars.” Were any of you able to go floating up above the Earth, at least for a moment or two? Try as I might, I still go for the floaty feeling of skate skiing, though it probably doesn’t look like it to others. Its my winter escape, creating my own heat as the cold settles over the Earth towards nightfall. Now that substantial snow has finally come, I do try to forget about the slowness of my forward pace on skis. Tomas Gideon passed me this week, he who skis like a Nordic god. 2 or 3 breaths later he was out of sight. My reaction? “Don’t don’t try to catch him David.” “Get back into your own world where YOU control what happens.” And suddenly, my skating form relaxes, I get the rhythm back, and MY pace comes back effortlessly. Where is all this heading? How is it that “…in time, we will all be stars”? This may sound too philosophical, but at some point all this “going around the sun” business will end up having the Earth burning up in the Sun – and our “personal” particles (aka bodies) will help fuel a giant exploding Sun! That sounds pretty exciting doesn’t it? Keep that in mind while I delve into a little “end of winter” reverie….
The snow IS gradually receding as we reach March - and trails are becoming slowly exposed for running – and I find myself way too sad in saying goodbye to the cross-country skiing season. I had another great 2 hour ski up Sourdough Trail. It looked like the dead of winter once you got far enough up the trail/road. Why sad? This is a horrible confession - because it means I have to get ready to…walk/jog/bike again. What? Wait a minute - those hours up Bozeman Creek were blissful. I saw no one after mile 2. Fresh snow had just fallen - I had winter wonderland all to myself.....is everyone really geared up for running now? Suddenly I was Jim Bridger out there looking for my traps and checking behind my back for the Blackfeet - knowing no other white man was within a week’s ride away. It had that wild feeling – I skied across fresh moose tracks. The wilderness feeling crowded in upon my senses. It was exhilarating. I know many people go up Baldy all through the winter - I’ve tried that but I kept looking down on an exploding civilization all around below me. Here, the deeper you got into the wilds, well, I even started thinking about Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, as they went through the wardrobe and found themselves in a snowy, foreign land. I found myself looking around for sounds of a carriage carrying the White Queen. I found myself desperately wanting winter to last for ever (not that I wanted an audience with the queen). I stopped deep into the woods past mile 7, and just stared around. Tears started welling up. It seems so weird trying to relate it on paper after the fact. I can get these same sensations in the summer (assuming it comes) too, going deep into an area where no one else goes very often. It is said that wilderness nourishes the soul. I faced that thought, and wondered what it really means. Man is a social being, no? So, being with friends or other humans should do all the nourishment necessary, no? What made me try with every fiber of my being to soak up the moment - deep breaths, intense feelings, thoughts like “I belong here, and nowhere else right now”...or “I don’t want to go back down, ever”....or “I want to freeze this moment and never forget it.”
Oh. Then I remembered. When everything isn’t going hunky-dory in life, wilderness becomes an escape/perspective-giver from problems. And don’t some problems need a way to be escaped from? Out there, everything is so completely free from human encroachment, its devoid of humanities’ stupidities and machinations and idiocies. If it all feeds the soul, then that must mean the soul needs something other than daily human life trivia to keep alive. Every twig, every fallen tree, every snowflake seemed to be in the exact right position. Don’t touch a thing. This is the way life should be. I’m an observer out here - and I don’t want to disturb a thing - hopefully the little double ski tracks aren’t too much to upset the balance. I felt like I was tip-toeing away. As the trailhead approached an hour later, I did feel the “whew - there’s the car, and a safe way home” feeling. But I also felt, “suck it up David, here we go again. Put your game face on and re-enter the human race.” At least I know again that there is an alternative to the way things seem to be.
And now, several days later, I’m still breathing in deeply and feeling the effects of being out there.....and planning the next outing so I can recreate the same feeling to keep me going another span of time. (parts of this are borrowed from a Winddrinker article I wrote 12 years ago)
- David Summerfield
My last article written for the local running community was in April 2016. I figured 20 years of articles every month was enough, already!! Now, 4 years later, I must be that much more of a “Mature Runner” – meaning of course I just keep on slowing down, my running heroes keep getting more irrelevant and unrecognizable to the current runners of today (well – my face alone is becoming more unrecognizable even to me….wait….I almost said “my running gait” but I have no running gait - at best it’s a brisk walk).
Big Sky Wind Drinkers (our local running club), by way of their co-president Gary Hellenga, asked if I’d consider writing articles again. His good-natured nudge to come out of retirement included a well-meaning example of how he’s a Mature Runner now. It’s the familiar story of going so many years of running the Fun Runs in a predictable 8-minute mile pace….and now realizing that “easy” pace has become a 10-minute+ mile. Frankly, Gary, I don’t believe you can qualify to be a real, true-blue Mature Runner yet….you haven’t slowed down enough….heck – you’re still running! So, I have now redefined what a REAL Mature Runner is. We can still run all right, but just the thought of running brings enough pain to mind, that you’d rather not talk about it. True confession.
So what on Earth can I write about? Certainly not my running past heroics, or the Kyle Klickir magic tricks (I’m referring to our local running legend you might have “run” into…he’d show up with all sorts of “running aids” attached to his body – braces of all sorts, perhaps a cane, bandages, and once the gun goes off, his aging body instantly transforms into a beautiful runner in his 20’s) – or I could write about what it’s like to slow down so much myself. (I’m definitely NOT talking about crawling along the ground, but that could come later.) I do not want to be depressing – imagining this is what YOU have to look forward to as you age….
What’s left to talk about? It’s really what inspires me to keep the ‘ole bod going as smoothly as possible, to feel as normal as possible as the years tick by. We’ll see if that can do the trick. I’ll always go “all out” in every activity. Put me on a bike, I’ll push the pace as much as possible (frankly I’ve missed the easy way to get up a good sweat – just run hard) – but I can actually get sweaty – and it seems a miracle now. Or go for a long hike – several hours’ worth…mind you, not every day but when I feel like it. Now I can reveal my reasoning about why I MUST do the Frank Newman Marathon every Memorial Day weekend. This all started when I moved to Bozeman in 1994. It’s always been my favorite run of the year – late May, gobs of snow still on all the mountains, leaving early to watch the sunrise on the Bridgers, all the fields are a deep green, LOW KEY competition, and the best post race carbo-loading around (yes, Subway sandwiches never taste any better). So I slow down, so what? As long as Bob Wade and Kathy Brown still put it on (and will indulge me) I’ll always do it. Yes, over 20 years the finish times increase each year. Yes, I now walk every step of the way. But I prepare just like I used to when I’d do the 6-minute mile marathons of long ago. Here’s the best part – I try to leave so I can arrive at the Sacajawea Park in Livingston before the last runner comes in….and this is a worthy goal now. This year it had to be a 5am start. Oh my gosh was it beautiful. I got to walk with my wonderful partner Stacy. It was dark on Bridger Canyon Drive (I still start at the “old” starting line near mile marker 13). Rounding the corner just past the 11 mile marker, a stunning moose was eating grass along the road and just stared at us for awhile. Then about 2 miles up Jackson Creek Road, a herd of 25 elk crossed in front of us, and kept us in sight as we worked our way up the road – going from left to right across the fences. Cresting the pass, a giant Great Horned Owl – perched on a wood post right next to the road – silently took flight over our heads. 2 years ago as we crested the pass, we could hear the wolves howling down at the “Howlers Inn” near where Frank and Shelley Coles live. And at this point - still no traffic, no other runners, no direct sunlight, and the Bridgers were a blinding white backdrop. The elation of crossing the finish line really doesn’t ever change. For all I could tell, I had just done one more thrilling marathon.
You know, I really want to end by saying “Aging as a runner can really be fun”… that’s too simple. It’s an adventure, and it’s up to the truly Mature Runner to make it as fun as possible. My latest trick? I consciously have to “reinvent” myself anytime a nagging thought comes along….like “ugh, look at that body in the mirror” can lead to “all right, this is the new me…I want to see a dazzling twinkle in those eyes RIGHT NOW.” Or, “why am I wheezing so hard going up this tiny little hill?” can lead to “I still have endorphins, lets watch ‘em kick in!” I want to end this with a much needed sense of perspective. Take a deep breath, see yourself floating above the Earth (yes, this is reinventing yourself a bit). Last night my wife and I were singing along with the chorus in Fame (‘80’s musical) and one of the verses went like this:
I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, I toast to my own reunion when I become one with the sun, and I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of 10 million stars, and in time and in time, we will all be stars.
I was blown away from an article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle this week (using that reference, you must assume it is now mainstream knowledge and won’t shock anyone, right?). So, go to Saturday, April 23, 2016, page 2: headline – “Mind. Blown. Brain-controlled drone race pushes future tech”. Site: indoor basketball court at the University of Florida in Gainsville. 16 teams at the world’s first drone race involving a brain-controlled interface – using willpower to drive drones across a 10 yard distance. This was 1st demonstrated at the University of Minnesota in a public display in 2013. Of course I’ll have a “hay-day” with this one!! If your thought can make a drone rise up off the ground and proceed in a willed-specific direction, isn’t that what we do every day we go out for our “workout”? And what if that drone, sitting on the ground, had thought back at the competitor wearing the brain-controlled headset: “naw, I don’t feel like it today, I’m a bit tired from all the practicing. Think I’ll just sit here and rest for the rest of the day.” The competitor wouldn’t allow it – and would obviously override the drone’s resistance and made it fly! That’s a hint, dear reader. Got a problem getting out of bed to go for a run? Who’s controlling you, anyway? Dare I ask, “Who IS controlling you? You or your body?”
The next step (of course) was to google “how can thought have power”. Up came a site called Collective-Evolution. I would recommend it to all (mature) people! It offers up the current discoveries and discussions about all the things that are being created/discovered today to solve all the world’s problems. It is the most amazing resource for “this is exactly what is being done today to fix what’s wrong in our world” and gives endless articles about how to help change the world by oneself. Because of what quantum physics has uncovered, thought is seen now as just energy and vibration. It’s already shown that matter is just that, but thought is no different. All there is around us everywhere is a whole array of vibration levels. Get down to the sub-atomic level, and there’s nothing but pure energy – and we then see that we’re all part of one energy field called the “unified field”. As I learned from Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Almost Everything” – whatever we see with our senses is pure illusion – we never even touch the ground when we walk on it – there’s always a “thin” layer of space between all objects. That makes the following true – what is real is that which we cannot see (or feel, hear, or taste, smell, etc.) Years ago, science proved that there was such a thing as electrical waves, and now we know that thoughts emit wavelengths/vibrations – and follow along electrical waves. And instruments are invented that can catch those vibrations, and send them to do a specific task – like fly a drone in a basketball court. How about moving a seemingly objecting body to move along a certain trajectory, like down a path in the mountains? Here’s a case in point.
Me, (of course being a mature runner) came up with a challenge yesterday. I spent a good amount of time with a carpet shampooer, up and down stairs and all that. I moved a lot of furniture (we bought a couch and had to rearrange the whole house to accommodate it), and I had less sleep than I usually like. It was Friday, my blessed Friday when I go out onto the High School track to do a “springtime getting back in running shape after a winter of skiing every day.” I didn’t feel like it. I had a narrow window of time between PE classes – I usually have about 20 minutes between classes to do my 20 minute time trial. The track is 1.5 miles away. The deadline was fast approaching, and my body said “don’t do it…you’re sore….you’ll hurt…get back in bed.” I had 15 minutes of contemplation. I slowly changed the thought form. And, I really doubted it would work. In a rather mechanical way, I walked out the door, told myself – “ok, now DO IT.” The body woke up, I was a little shocked, it got better, and suddenly all was going smoothly. The energy kept increasing, I was never so energized. Energy kept building all day long. Something tells me all runners worth their “salt” do this all the time. Somehow we’ve learned how to dispute the data being fed to us by the body. We’ve learned how to override the system. I wonder if instead of putting on this brainwave headgear shown in the newspaper article – and willing a drone to fly, we could have the receptors placed in our bodies, and get the body to obey us as if we were in the U of Florida basketball court. Seems like a round-about way to do what we already do directly! The interface equipment costs $500. Hmmm, free sounds better. So, go have fun playing with your own personal interface equipment and do what you really want to do!!
- David Summerfield
For many of you dear Mature Runners who persist in reading this column every month, you have to be wondering if I’ll ever really talk explicitly about running anymore!! Not being able to run as I am accustomed to has of course modified my focus to….cogitate on the more existential elements of life. I mean, if you can’t run freely, without pain, then is life (as we remember it) really worth living? I’m serious. So, my mind wonders around in the abstract world of delving into what is really running our human lives. I’ve talked about determining if we’re all being controlled by some kind of advanced computer program. I’ve wondered why I can’t change, modify, or at least control what my body does, so I can keep on running freely. I’ve even followed the career of a young idealist who went off in search of beauty and disappeared off the face of the planet. No, I’m not ready to do that!! And today in researching for this article, I googled my question of a few months ago “Are we the result of an elaborate cosmic experiment?” and was shocked to see among the results on page 3 – “David’s blog – are we the results of an elaborate cosmic experiment?”. Eeeegads. I feel like I’m being watched now. I better be careful what I’m saying. I might have to choose between Neo’s blue or red pill, and either erase all my lucid memories, or get thrown into the rebels’ ship outside the Matrix. So……let’s quickly talk about running J
Boston Marathon is looming, I can always feel it coming when it’s just 2 weeks away. It was the focus of all my serious thoughts for so many years. And for those of you not following the progress of the US Olympic Marathon qualifiers, here’s a list of who we are sending to the Rio Olympics: men – Galen Rupp (yippee – I’m an Oregonian too), Meb Kefliezighi (again!!!), and Jared Ward; women – Amy Cragg, Desiree Linden, and Shalane Flanagan (with Kara Goucher 1 minute behind in 4th place). So, those favorites in the field won’t be running Boston. But, I couldn’t help but read Shalane’s build-up to the 2014 Boston Marathon – and just have to include elements of it here for those starving to read about someone’s intense will to win at all costs. Years of living in the middle of competition (coaching and running ultra-competitively) have mellowed me out. I see all the danger signs, and wonder, “was I really ever like that???” Anyway, here are some of my favorite quotes from Shalane’s interview leading up to the 2014 Boston, in which she placed 7th, took almost 4 minutes off her lifetime best, and probably hardened her resolve to get better and better.
(from a CBS interview with Anderson Cooper): Anderson: “The Boston Marathon has been a part of Shalane Flanagan's life since she was a child. Both her parents were marathon runners. Her father ran 11 minutes off world record pace at the Boston marathon in 1980. Her mother set a women's world marathon record in 1971.” Shalane: “I thought everyone's parents ran. I thought everyone got up and went to the, you know, Sunday long run.” Anderson: “You thought everybody's parents did that?” Shalane: “Yeah. I thought it was like church of Sunday long run.” Anderson: “The church of Sunday long run?” Shalane: “That's what my dad would call it.” Anderson: “Obviously, marathons are painful. But for you, it's about being able to deal with pain yourself, and also, inflict pain on others.” Shalane: “Uh-huh (affirm).” Anderson: “That's part of the strategy.” Shalane: “Yes. You know, when I start to feel fairly uncomfortable, it's -- it's all about embracing it and realizing it's inevitable and…” Anderson: “Embracing the pain?” Shalane: “Embracing it, yes. So if I'm uncomfortable, I usually know my competitors are uncomfortable. If they're straggling behind, that's kind of the time when I say, ‘I'm gonna put the screw in.’ I can tell that they're either struggling mentally or physically. So I'm gonna just push it and just see if I can break them.” Anderson: “This is gonna sound like an odd question, but do you like inflicting pain on your opponents?” Shalane: “I think everyone who's got a competitive bone in their body-- to a certain degree, enjoy seeing a little bit some of the-- having their competition fall apart.”
When Shalane started running in high school, there wasn't much strategy to her racing. Shalane: “I would run so hard that I would literally make myself collapse.” Anderson: “I've heard you refer to it as kamikaze racing.” Shalane: “Yeah. I mean, it's not...” Anderson: “Kamikazes don't end up very well.” Shalane: “I know, but sometimes it could be brilliant.”
Shalane: “Boston has this really fun way of trashing your quads. As much as you tell your legs to respond and to pop off the ground and, like, as much as you want it spiritually and mentally, if your legs don't have it, they don't have it. There's nothing you can do. Like, I try to talk to 'em. I'm like, ‘Legs, you have to keep moving. You have to turn over. You need to be coming and giving me more energy.’ But if it's not there, it's not there. It's not much you can do.” Anderson: “You're actually talking to your legs while you're running? Shalane: Oh yeah, I have talks with 'em. Yeah, I'll look at my quads, and I'm like, ‘Come on, you can do this.’ And-- so I mean no one sees that.” Anderson: “Do they respond?” Shalane: “No. They're usually like, ‘Hey, screw you. You know, we've been running for a long time.’” Anderson: “To you, winning the Boston Marathon would be bigger than winning an Olympic medal?” Shalane: “Yeah. You could say, ‘Here, Shalane, you have an Olympic medal, or you could win the Boston Marathon.’ A no-brainer to me would be winning the Boston Marathon.” Anderson: “Why?” Shalane: “It is personal. It's where my inspiration started. It's where I fell in love with running.”
So, there you have it. Shalane is now shooting for a medal in Rio, and not winning Boston this year. Have fun following the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day, April 18th. There’s always a contingent from Bozeman, I wonder who we’ll send over there?
- David Summerfield
I’d like to think that the truly “Mature Runner” is someone who needs to regenerate by going out on the trails (or roads), to get away from the clamor of civilization, away from schedules, responsibilities, and all the various weirdnesses that seem to constantly bombard us. Is this going too far? Heck, I don’t even have to go too far away! I can always find solitude and calm just by running around the high school track early in the morning. I go out basically every day, though, to get away from it all. So, it occurred to me that this is a pretty strange dance we all do, no? I mean, the see-saw back and forth between the engagement with our outward life (jobs, family, projects, etc.) and the need to get away from it all. Why not just get away from it all, period. ?? And that lead me to Everett Ruess. I’m amazed it took me this long to find out about him. A friend found out Stacy and I had roamed around the Four Corner area last fall, and were familiar with many landmarks that meant a lot to Everett. So I looked him up, and realized he speaks for us all – and here’s his story!
Everett graduated from high school in LA around1932, attended UCLA, met up with Ansel Adams, and left home to follow his dreams - still in his teens! With that youthful enthusiasm we know we all have stuffed away somewhere, he slept out under the stars every night, with his dog and 2 burros, he kept meticulous diaries of all this thoughts (and mailed them home to family), he learned to do blockprints on linoleum squares, he wrote poetry and painted water colors. When he was 20, he disappeared on one of his trips, and the mystery of his disappearance makes for a fascinating story. Even when I’m way back toward Mystic Lake x-c skiing, I have this feeling of aloneness, of remoteness, of wondering if something should happen, would anyone ever find me (the body)? The Four Corners area has 1000’s of square miles of remoteness – very few living things. And he thrived on it. His writings rival John Muir’s in my opinion. He constantly mused on the possibility of never returning to civilization, either by choice or by accidental death. And it makes me wonder how many of us have had it with what our civilization has produced! And it probably didn’t help to have watched the documentary Thrive last night. Talk about a dark view of what we’ve allowed to happen to us! The movie showed great solutions available to the world’s problems, but such a slim chance it will ever happen. I digress. Back to Everett and his thoughts. In his writings, he names “beauty” as his major quest, and “beauty” as his major achievement. The landscapes of Sequoia and Yosemite Nat’l Parks and the arid Southwest were his playground – and he was always alone. The great naturalist writer Wallace Stegner wrote just 8 years after Everett’s disappearance: “What Everett was after was beauty, and he conceived beauty in pretty romantic terms. We might be inclined to laugh at the extravagance of his beauty-worship if there was not something almost magnificent in his single-minded dedication to it….If we laugh at Everett Ruess we shall have to laugh at John Muir, because there was little difference between them except age. (“adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2009/04/Everett-ruess/david-roberts”)
And from Everett’s own pen (pencil): “I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities….It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty….This had been a full, rich year. I have left no strange or delightful thing undone I wanted to do.”
“I’ll never stop wandering. And when the time comes to die, I’ll find the wildest, loneliest, most desolate spot there is.”
(quotes from “goodreads.com/author/quotes/445669.Everett_Ruess”)
“say that i starved, that i was lost and weary
that i was burned and blinded by the desert sun
footsore, thirsty, sick with strange diseases,
lonely and wet and cold, but that i kept my dream!”
“It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty….Even from your scant description, I know that I could not bear the routine and humdrum of the life that you are forced to lead. I don’t think I could even settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.”
“Bitter pain is in store for me, but I shall bear it. Beauty beyond all power to convey shall be mine….Death may await me….Not through cynicism and ennui will I be easy prey. And regardless if all that may befall, let me not be found to lack an understanding of the inscrutable humor of it all.”
As a 15 year old, Everett wrote his “Pledge To The Wind”: (http://www.angelfire.com/sk/syukhtuneverett.html)
“Onward from vast uncharted spaces, / Forward through timeless voids, / Into all of us surges and races / The measureless might of the wind….
In the steep silence of thin blue air / High on a lonely cliff-ledge, / Where the air has a clear, clean rarity, / I give to the wind…my pledge:
By the strength of my arm, by the sight of my eyes, / By the skill of my fingers, I swear, / As long as life dwells in me, never will I / Follow any way but the sweeping way of the wind.”
How can we do this “dance” between civilization and wilderness? Everett couldn’t do it.
And here we are in Bozeman, surrounded by wilderness, and after each day’s outing - return to live under roofs, cook in kitchens, buy food from glittering supermarkets, put on constantly cleaned clothes (well, for most people), and then go for our token “outing” again, to be reminded (ever so slightly) that there is an alternative, a wild place of beauty not touched by man. The sobering reminder of his “disappearance” and the inherent dangers of “going for broke” in the wilderness keeps us coming back I guess. The only alternative that comes to mind is to develop the ability get in the wilderness in our heads to temper the urges to flee. But it’s not the real thing, and Everett could settle for nothing less than the “real thing”. Again, here’s something to ponder while you’re out there on the trails (or in your heads on the roads): be wise while immersing yourself in the wilderness! I want to see you around town for a long time to come!
- David Summerfield
David Nutter Summerfield
The following blogs were first published in The Windrinker, a running newsletter published in Bozeman, MT (www.Windrinkers.org). There is a constant attempt at viewing the foibles of long distance runners in a humorous light so we don't take ourselves too seriously.