Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Running Tap

I recall my first long run: trotted out the front door and didn't turn around until I started to feel tired. From Crescent Hill in Louisville I had run to, then through, Cherokee Park. I came out above Big Rock onto Woodbourne Avenue and approached Bardstown Road. I had carried myself to the neighborhood of my aspirations. As nighttime approached I turned and ran back toward home.

My recollection of that midsummer's night run from my youth -- before I had competed in or even had a concept of a distance race -- still gives me pause. Running just bubbled up from somewhere. My brothers and I did typical kid stuff. We rode bikes, played ball in the street, mixed it up with the bullies. A foot race was won or lost within seconds, and status was achieved with bravado. That long run came from another place. I was expanding my boundaries.

We had just returned from a camping trip. Although our family had already started to disintegrate, we could all appreciate something about spending the weekend outside together. We all enjoyed outdoor activity, and though the details are lost to memory, I know we hiked, ran, and played to contented exhaustion. Back home I imagine my Dad quietly puttering around our station wagon, getting the tent and stove put back in the garage. I imagine my brothers plopping down in front of the TV.

The energy demands of the weekend had been high, so a restful evening would have been in order. For me, though, our strenuous activity had just opened the tap. The energy was flowing. I imagine that I got little more than a raised eyebrow when I said I was heading out.

That pattern -- high level exertion followed by exhilaration -- has marked many of my adventures since. The most exhausting work I ever did was leading groups of 11-year olds through the woods in Greenfield, New Hampshire, in 1991. They arrived Monday morning and stayed until Friday noon at which time most of the staff collapsed in their cabins. Every Friday afternoon I ran up Crotched Mountain. When I finished my thru hike of the AT in 1998, I decided to run the Mountain Masochist 50 mile race. It took a while, but that race ultimately launched my ultrarunning.

The energy I can put into running has waxed and waned with many variables – now revolving around my family and work. The story has many layers, but suffice to say that last December I put my running to rest. One reason I had for retiring is that I want my kids to shine without any distracting glare from my successes. They resist when I encourage them to run, and I thought maybe they were uncomfortable being compared with me.

Of course I’m running again. I couldn’t really help it. And the kids run too – when I’m not watching. My son, remarkably, let slip his feelings about my running recently. Once I decided to run Terrapin and Promise Land, I abruptly ramped up my training. With the strain of training again came the familiar risk of injury. Robin expressed her concern that I was taking too big a risk by increasing my mileage so quickly. I replied that by “going for it” at least I’d end up in one of two certain places – either fit or retired. She pleaded with me to be careful and preserve my running career. Gavin, ever alert to his mother’s fears, blurted out that he wanted me to run 100 mile races! I was stunned. “Well alright then,” was about all I could say. Glad we settled that.

Last Friday I ran 13 miles on the rolling country roads around Meadowview. On Saturday I parked at Elk Garden and ran a 5 hour circuit around the Mt. Rogers Recreation Area. On Sunday I ran an 18 mile loop on Iron Mountain, hard. In 2006 I established this loop as a benchmark of my fitness. I determined that when I was able to run under 2 hours for that loop I would be ready to run under 7 hours at Mountain Masochist. Turned out I was right. So in my condition Sunday (old, fat, and tired!) I was hoping to eke out a 2:15. I managed a 2:08. That felt good.

The significant exertions on Friday and Saturday could have tired me out. Thankfully, however, the pattern that emerged in my youth continues. Open up the tap pour yourself out – the water will replenish itself. I hope the well runs deep.


  1. Running the White Mountains and Lakes Region are some of my favorite memories of adolescents:)

  2. Glad you are getting out and in a groove again, Eric. Nice story telling too (as should be expected given your profession!)