Thursday, May 19, 2011
At the end of 2010 I found myself, for the first time in 10 years, lacking my typical motivation to train and race. It wasn't until February or March, when I caught up on all my race results that I realized how much I had over-drafted on my mental toughness account by over-extending beyond my typical too-much-is-never-enough baseline. I knew in November that I was burnt to a crisp, but I didn't know how to fix myself. I figured I could just take a break and cruise the 2011 season, and start racing whenever I felt like it. I was in denial.
I was also on the wait list for HURT and wound up getting an option to participate. I turned it down on the excuse of a minor hamstring injury. The real reason was that I just wasn't ready to attempt my first 100, especially not after struggling through a lackluster Honolulu Marathon, and double-especially not HURT, one of the most difficult 100's I would ever consider. Doing one of the 5 loops on the HURT course is enough of an adventure for me, two would be over the top and 3 would certainly lead to TBF (total body failure.) Five wasn't comprehendible.
Then I got accepted into Western States. That scared me a lot because I knew I couldn't turn down the opportunity I had waited 4 years for, and I knew I had to be prepared for it if I wanted to have a chance at finishing. When I paced Mike at Western States last year, I saw exactly how tough it can be. This was an eye opener because my prior experiences pacing 100's had been with Rod Bien and Iso Yucra, both of whom have this incredible ability to make 100 miles seem easy. Watching Mike struggle had scared me a lot. He spent years preparing for that race and it was still very difficult for him. I knew Mike was stronger in mind, body, and talent than I could ever hope to be. I started pissing my pants, metaphorically speaking.
It was January, while pacing Alyssa Godesky at HURT (which proved to be far more fun than I suspect racing it would be) when I realized exactly how low I had allowed my fitness to sink, mostly based on my lack of motivation to train and my denial of what was waiting for me in June. I knew what I should have been doing, I had plenty of opportunity and people to run with, but I was skipping out on those options, using every excuse I could. It was raining. It was cold. It was dark. Whatever, I was hiding in yoga class, unprepared to start preparing. I didn't know how to break the spell I was in, how to dig myself out of the funk.
There was a voice in the back of my head which I was ignoring. This ties into the conversation I had this morning, about how important it is to listen to that inner voice. For a while I was too scared to act on that voice, too unsure of myself, too intimidated, too proud to ask for help, whatever you want to call it. Watching Alyssa at HURT gave me a newfound appreciation for mental toughness, and hearing her excitement about being coached by my friend, Hillary Biscay, started the gears turning towards action. I began to listen to that voice.
I've only had one other coach in the past, and as much as I enjoyed the experience, I think I felt like a total f-up for how poorly I was able to follow someone else's lead. I was worried about entering into another athlete/coach relationship because I know that it would highlight many of my own weaknesses and I did not want to put a burden on someone else. I didn't want to empty my garbage into someone else's bin and drag them down with me. At the same time, I knew I needed help from someone, far more so than when I was racing ironman. I knew it would be more difficult for me to get from Squaw Valley to Placer High School than I could even understand before attempting it.
The most important criteria for me in a coach was attitude. I say that because my biggest concern for myself, based on my understanding of my weaknesses, is my often-times lousy attitude. I've worked very hard in the last 12 months to open myself up to new experiences, to accept things I used to reject like coffee and acai and actually learn to enjoy and crave them. For most people, enjoying these wonders comes naturally, but for me, I had to remove the mental roadblocks first. I notice this in yoga all the time, how often I hear my inner voice say "I can't do that" before I even try. This voice usually changes to "yep, you were right" as I tumble to the floor, but every now and then I'll hear a "wow, maybe you can" sneak out.
This video sums up my coach's attitude in a wonderfully succinct manner. I had casually followed her blog after Hillary's recap of New Year's. The catalyst for action ended up being this post which opened the door for me. I got in touch, we got rolling, and the fog quickly lifted, the funk departed, the foxhole was abandoned. I started running strong again, as David Kloz would say, I regained some of my mojo.
What is it about this particular coaching experience that fills the void for me? I ask myself that question all the time. I'm not sure I'm a good enough writer to convey what is so special about her, but everyone who knows my coach probably understands without needing any explanation. I do want to say that I think she continually rises to conquer ridiculous challenges, that she always brings her best, and that she never quits. Of course I can't sum up a personality in a few sentences, suffice it to say that I feel inspired by her words and actions in a way that allows me to challenge myself to reach higher than I could otherwise. One thing that was missing from my relationship with my first coach, back in my tri days, was that direct inspiration. Sure, I could watch a video of him sporting a ponytail and running in his speedo onto the podium at Kona in 1991 and 1994, but I couldn't experience that emotion in real time. I couldn't be connected to him in any way that showcased him as a vulnerable human or as a fellow athlete, he could only be a coach.
What feeds me in this particular situation is being able to derive inspiration and motivation from a coach who is doing what I do. After 10 years, we all _know_ what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Writing a training plan isn't terribly challenging, it's not even that tedious. Finding inspiration is much more difficult. As another analogy, consider the deeply religious. They've read the book, they know the rules, and yet they still choose to worship on a daily/weekly basis to further the experience of their faith. I want to feel that the guidance and leadership being given to me is based on real time experience, in the same way that a pope, priest, or shaman communicates divine inspiration in a modern context to his/her followers. I want to hear someone say "I struggle with this too." I want to feel the love of running flowing in both directions. I want to see the human side of my coach, to hear about the triumphs and struggles, and to gain perspective from everything above my own myopic horizon. In just a few months, I've experienced all of this, and it's made a huge difference.
There aren't many people who would qualify for this role. There aren't many people in this world who inspire me to give more than I thought I could. Krissy is one of those few.
Monday, May 16, 2011
When I think about the Pacific Crest Trail, I usually spend a moment or two thinking about Kent Bien, Rod's dad. Next, I think back to a conversation I had with Scott Mills, before I had any idea who he was, during my first year at the PCT 50 where I wound up crushing my legs to mush over the first 13 (while trying to stay with Scott) and limping home over the final 37 (after surrendering.) Last, I think of the RD, John Martinez, who is every bit as unusual and charismatic as anyone else in the ultra community, and thankfully continues to be willing to organize fun events for all of us. Thanks John!
Most of all, however, when I think PCT, I think of that first/last 13 mile stretch from the start/finish to Dale's Kitchen. The middle 24 is at 6000 feet and not exactly easy, but it's about what you come to expect from an ultra, some parts are beautiful, some are tough, most are runnable. However, that first/last 13 is really unique, and what becomes the most memorable part for me every year. You start at 3000' and climb to double that along some scrappy, rocky trails with only one aid station to break up the effort. On the way out, with fresh legs, it's doable but tough. This year I felt like I was running fairly well, but 4 or 5 guys passed me along those first two sections, even though I didn't even stop at the first aid station. Interestingly enough, in my training log I had written a few thoughts about comparing my training runs to my friends, Mike and Jeff who have been running really well, to which my coach politely reminded me to focus on myself and not anyone else. That is exactly what we need to hear as athletes, at least athletes who aren't racing for the win. I thought back to my days of racing Ironman, when I would plug away for 112 on two wheels, watching hundreds of strong cyclists pass me, and trying my best to avoid talking myself out of my race mindset.
What I find particularly interesting about ultra, at least about racing ultra, is that patience has many forms and is always a necessary ingredient for me to have a good day. I don't climb very well, so I know I'm going to get beat up the long grinders. At the same time, I descend like a rock, so I know not to hang back too much when gravity is in my favor. This attitude is totally different from how I approach road racing, particularly flat road racing. I'm much more of a "go out hard and try to hang on" type of guy on asphalt. I'm not saying I ignore pacing on the road, but I do not frequently attempt to negative split. In an ultra, however, the course dictates my pace much more than any "plan". Maybe the years of eating humble pie in triathlon have helped, or maybe I retreated into my shell a bit with each pass. I won't say that my confidence rose at all along that first stretch, but I felt I went out in the correct position and I felt like I was executing the correct pace for who I am and where my fitness is.
The racing for me doesn't start until 6000 feet. Last year, I started pushing hard at about mile 18, and ran out of gas somewhere very close to 40. I wanted to attempt to finish strong and avoid walking this year, so I thought maybe I should try to keep perceived exertion in the "moderate" realm until at least Penny Pines (~22 miles) or maybe the halfway point. That was the unconscious race "plan" at least as much as that word applies to anything I do while running. Todd's cabin came up quick, as did Penny Pines, and even though I wasn't progressing through the field, I felt like I was still running the right pace, starting to eat/drink more, and cumulative fatigue was well within tolerable levels.
At Penny Pines you pick up a playing card to drop in the box at the turnaround, which was a fun addition to ensure nobody cut the course and eliminate the need for some poor soul to sit at the turn and write down bib numbers. I was handed a Queen of Diamonds, which made me think a bit of Ben Harper. Along the 3 mile stretch from Penny Pines to the turnaround I got to see the guys in front of me. First (Graham Cooper) and 2nd (Mike Alfred) had a sizeable lead. Ben Hian was in 3rd or 4th (here is where I get fuzzy), looking comfortable. At the time when we crossed paths, I estimated (based on my garmin) that Ben had a 15-20 minute lead on me. However, when I hit the turnaround which was closer to 24 than 25 on my garmin (perhaps due to some sections with poor gps coverage?) I realized Ben was closer than I had originally thought. I've never been able to catch Ben in a race, he is a consistent performer, and I have a pipe dream of being able to run with him someday. So, at the turnaround, I picked up the effort a bit and managed to reel in what I thought at the time was the only guy between Ben and I. I was feeling OK, eating well enough, and my stomach wasn't bad either. I was remembering to take salt at the aid stations, and I was fueling reasonably well, less than I might have hoped for, but as good as I could get with the quick stops I was taking this year. In years past, I've camped out at aid stations for extended periods of time to regroup. That's fine if you don't really care about the clock, but when you're trying to race, every minute spent motionless is a wasted opportunity.
The section from Penny Pines back to Todd's Cabin is a bit of a challenge as the course goes back up and over Mt. Laguna. There is an extended climb, which I've walked in past years, but which I managed to run this year. That was an accomplishment in and of itself, something to be proud of, for a guy like me who often struggles on the climbs. I was trying to be measured in my efforts, keeping in mind how difficult the last two sections are for me. Reaching Todd's cabin was a relief because it meant that the majority of the climbing was over. With 17 miles to go, I took an extended break and washed my hands. Yes, you read that right, I went inside the cabin to clean up my face and hands. Yes, I am neurotic. Yes, I am a freak. It made me feel better. It was worth it. I grabbed some food and my bottles, made sure nobody had passed me, and started the trip back to Dale's. This is where experience paid off for me because I know exactly how long and difficult the section is from Dale's Kitchen to Fred Canyon road and I knew from years past that I would run out of water. So, I spent the time running back to Dale's trying to chug as much water as I could out of my 2 bottles. When I got to Dale's, I asked Keith Kirby, who was working that aid station for a time split to Ben. At some point, Ben would have passed the 2nd place runner, possibly right around this point. Keith gave me a number, I remember it as 10 minutes, which compared favorably to what I was told at Penny Pines of 15 minutes, even with my pit stop at Todd's Cabin.
So, leaving Dale's Kitchen, it was time to either start racing or decide to chill out and cruise. Up to that point, I had been sitting on the fence, not quite sure if the best plan was to build confidence for Western States by making 50 seem as easy as I could, or by pushing myself as hard as possible and measuring the objective results. Something about Keith's positive energy got my head squared on straight, and I decided to see how smooth and strong I could run that penultimate section back to Fred Canyon Road. In my prior attempts on this course, I've always walked some of that stretch. This year, I ran every bit of it and I kept pushing towards the imaginary person in front of me. I did run out of water, but it was a particularly mild day. My music had run out of battery by then, and the flies were buzzing a bit, but it was way more tolerable than I remembered it being before. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, but which was far less of an eternity than I remember it being, I reached Fred Canyon road and the final aid station.
Jeff Coon was at that aid station and I asked him as I came in how far I was behind Ben. I'm not sure how well Jeff heard me, but the response was 5 minutes. I let loose a few obscenities at that point, knowing that my increased effort had paid off and realizing that now I had to double down or it would have all been a waste. I thought I was chasing Ben, so I was a bit surprised to have made up so much time, little did I know I was chasing someone else as he crumbled a bit. I told the aid station I wanted to roll out of there quick, so just a refill of my water and 3 cups of soda and I took off for the final 6 to the finish.
On this last stretch, from Fred Canyon road to the finish, I predictably suffer. Every year it's just painful. Kitchen Creek road is the only landmark to break it up, and while the views are beautiful, it seems to take forever to get back under the I8 freeway. I burn through both bottles in this section as well, although it's not nearly as long as the previous one. It's easy to underestimate it as far as difficulty goes because over the final 3-5 miles in an ultra, the mind is somewhat detached from the body and time starts to blur. I remembered last year, how Scott (who was pacing me) received a phone call just before Kitchen Creek road and how odd that seemed at the time. I also remembered last year when Iso caught me and dropped me and then waited for me, all of which was so very nice of him. I wanted to erase those memories of weakness along this final section and run it hard. I wanted to catch the guy in front of me, hoping to see Ben, even though my brain should have known Ben wouldn't crumble like that. When I finally saw a runner in front of me with a bib number, he was walking, which sort of made me feel like I didn't deserve the pass, but I took it anyway. Soon after that, as I was willing myself to the finish and taking a few risks along the way, I rolled my ankle a bit more than usual. At that point, I decided it was time to back things off a notch, I wasn't going to catch Ben after all, and I should try to save my joints for June 25th. I ran steady for the last 2 miles, hit the finish feeling better than I ever had before for that course, and proceeded to stuff my face with 2 turkey sandwiches, 4 Gatorades, and some dark chocolate.
One big difference with the race this year compared to years past was the improvements in flexibility, core strength, and balance from yoga. I had my first opportunity to gather an objective understanding of how my physical transformations would affect my racing performance. Specifically, because the PCT 50 has a lot of narrow, rocky, slippery trail, I trip upwards of 10, possibly as many as 20 times in this race. Happily for me, this year, I did not fall once during any of those stumbles. I credit a lot of that to my core strength, particularly from coba and warrior 3, along with the twists. I was able to correct my body position mid-air, without panic, and roll through those moments of uncertainty much smoother than I ever have before. Falling into rocks and dirt is a great way to lose confidence and distract yourself from your goals, so being able to make it through the entire course without a single encounter with the ground was a wonderful accomplishment for me.
The other big difference I think is equally worth mentioning. While descending, I used to worry about burning out my quads. At the same time, to be safe and avoid excessive speed and eventual slips/falls, I need to use the brakes on certain sections. When the trail goes down beyond a gradual descent, I switch my gait from a stride to a shuffle, and I use my heels more frequently, along with my quads as pistons to decelerate. Over the past few months I've noticed the gains yoga has made for my quad strength. There is no visible difference in my legs, but I feel much less limited during extended descents as my threshold for pain and burnout has increased substantially. This has the wonderful side effect of allowing me to continue climbing past 20-30 miles without resorting to a walk/hike as I have had to in the past. I finally feel like I can run steady down and slog my way up, like a real ultra runner does, at least for 50-ish miles.
Two days out from the race and I'm trashed but in a good way. Smashed as Hillary might call it. I didn't even think about a workout this morning. I have that post-race buzz as my cells attempt to return to the land of the living. 'm looking forward to seeing the official results and confirming what I suspect was a substantial course PR for me this year. The day ended up being exactly what I had hoped it would be, a good measure of where I'm at, and another step forwards towards the possibility of completing Western States.
Friday, May 13, 2011
I'm a fan of increases. I like spring, when the days get longer, though the fall is tolerable because each Sunday the NFL season heats up. I like to increase things like my weekly mileage, my waistline, how soaked my towel is from yoga, or the number of bicycles hanging in my garage. More is better, right?
Well, actually, maybe not. I'm far below a position of enlightened wisdom, but I have learned a few things about minimalism over the past year or so. I've purged a bunch of junk (and even a few useful items) from my stockpile when I realized it is now cheaper and easier to just order what you need when you actually need it rather than having it sitting around in some box somewhere that you won't be able to find anyway.
How does any of that relate to fitness? Good question. I'm not sure I know the answer. And now I sound like Andy Rooney.
Let's just skip to the fun facts. My best races have all come after weeks that don't truly qualify as taper weeks. Before my RnR marathon PR I went hog wild on a track workout with coach Kevin McCarey, running within a second or two of my 400 PR on the last 1/4. Before my Chicago marathon PR, I did some similarly short intervals with Paul and Sean on Neptune that were in the same general ballpark. Of course these are very limited data points and even a clear correlation over multiple years of racing does not prove causation. But the point is that intensity and strong racing go hand in hand for me.
My running mentor and punisher, Luc Teyton, did his best to leverage what he knew about my tendencies when he prepared me for my semi-lackluster attempts at a marathon PR on the CIM course. He knew I responded best when given a healthy workload during the final weeks of preparation. However, sometimes the body is not ready to peak when the mind wants it to, and in those situations it really doesn't matter what sort of taper is used, the race is doomed. There are other times, the best case scenarios, when it feels like your body can handle anything you throw at it and those are exactly the moments when I've been able to race at my best. If I'm peaking and feeling physically invincible, the desire to suffer is the key metric, as opposed to any physical or physiological marker. I'm not the type of person who can fill my can of whoop ass during a rest week and un-cork it on Saturday. I'm not the type of guy who can lay low and be calm and prepare for battle in the shadows. I need to feel like I'm on the edge, especially so during race week, in order to achieve what I am capable of. I need to feel the burn, the pain, the intensity, every bit as much leading up to the race as in the weeks of prior training.
Taper for me is a strange word. I know I'm at my best when I don't really talk or think about tapering. But I also know that my tendency to overdo, to overindulge, carries risk. I've had plenty of flat races from cumulative fatigue over weeks of heavy training and excessive racing.
This week feels like a good one. I feel hungry. I feel ready, willing, and able to suffer, and that emotion is peeking out in what I've done this week. I've already surprised myself a few times with how far I've pushed things. With 36 hours to go, I await my chance to destroy myself with eager anticipation.
I wrote this yesterday, before my afternoon run which was predictably horrible. And so the ebb and flow continues. Then again, sometimes having a really lousy run the day or two before a race is a blessing because it helps center your mind and body and set your expectations at the appropriate level. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, it's a good mantra for just about anything.
Friday, May 6, 2011
Oh San Francisco, how wonderful and miserable you are to me. Let's start with the things I love about you:
1. Craigslist and eBay. My sister met her baby daddy on Craigslist. The world gained 3 beautiful girls as a result. And eBay, oh the joy of being able to find that strange, odd, out-of-production spare part for a totally reasonable price. OK, I know I'm taking SF and making it "Bay Area" but whatever, this is the good side, so I can paint with as broad of a brush as I want to.
2. Muni and BART. Oh how I love thee. Nevermind that Muni totally sucked donkey butt when I lived here 14 years ago. That is forgiven. Electric buses rule, even when they break down, and public transportation totally kicks butt when it is useful, and Muni is actually useful. If I still lived in SF, I wouldn't bother owning a car. Maybe a scooter or motorcycle, but not a car. Public transportation makes so much sense that it will never be a part of the idiotic so-cal lifestyle where we run away from things that make sense.
3. Urban hipness. I don't even belong within 50 feet of the corner coffee shop, Farleys. The hipsters that hang out there tolerate me only because I don't pretend to be one of them. The coffee rules, and it's not even expensive. The barista on Thursday was sporting a mohawk and an NWA t-shirt with cut-off sleeves, talk about uuuuuuber cool! Oh, and if you want yuppie coffee, SF is the home of Peet's. Coffee and SF are like peanut butter and chocolate.
4. Women. SF has by far, hands down, the coolest women in any place I've ever lived. I'm constantly amazed at how friendly, sexy, down to earth, and open to just about any conversation that women are in this town. Maybe it's the plethora of gay me that puts the numbers game upside down or maybe it's the wouldn't-want-to-be-anywhere-else happiness, or perhaps it's the independence of making it in a real city without the NYC attitude. Whatever the formula, if you are a woman and you live in SF, you pretty much rule.
5. Bicycles. This town isn't super bike-friendly, but it's better than many and it's getting better every year. There are green bike lanes on Market Street. There are clearly marked bike lanes through the Mission. There are tons and tons of bike racks to lock your bike to. And there are cute as hell, punk rock chicks riding bikes at all hours of the night in boots. But maybe this is getting too close to 4...
OK, now, to be fair, I need to rant a bit, because I left SF once, and I'd leave you again if I had to do it all over again.
1. SF, you have the most bipolar weather I've ever seen. Thursday was gorgeous, warm, sunny, beautiful, blue skies, absolute perfection. Friday was windy, cold and bitter. Ugh. There is a reason why everyone in SF wears down jackets, there's no other way to handle the spontaneous temperature extremes.
2. Parking. Oh how I do not miss parking in SF.
3. Waiting for a table at dinner and eating late. Fortunately we did OK dealing with this, but it does make a noticeable difference as I get older and grumpier. Who wants to make a reservation 8 months in advance? I don't. And who can afford or wants to deal with a big kitchen and trips to the grocery store when you live in urban utopia?
4. Dogs. SF is a very dog friendly town, but it's still not a fantastic place to raise your pooch. There are very few open spaces and even fewer which allow dogs. Marin is better, but you pay out the nose for that. You can't have it all, and I am a fan of my canine friends.
5. Garages. If you have a garage in SF, you are lucky. If you have a private garage which is usable for something other than one small vehicle, you are flying high. In so-cal, you get a 2 car garage with just about every residence.
San Francisco, my heart is still there, but until global warming takes hold and bumps up the average temp by 10 degrees, I have to say that I prefer San Diego :)
Monday, May 2, 2011
So, then, why do I race? Why do I run? Why did I pull the plug on triathlon despite continued enjoyment of all 3 disciplines and yet continue to race running events? The answer isn't entirely obvious and may not have anything to do with anyone else's answer. The answer, for me, is quality.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance does a wonderful job of explaining just how difficult it is to define the essence of quality. Actually, there are numerous parallels to that book and my life, particularly the differences between my work as a software geek and my primary passion: exercise induced exhaustion. It is truly fitting that the book was published the year I was born.
How does quality relate to running for me? The essence of it boils down to the line my mother so often repeated when I would reach a point of frustration with the effort involved in academics or sports as a child and the stress which that frustration inevitably unearthed. Her words were consistently "just try your best". That mantra has stuck with me, to the point that I would classify one of my stronger personality attributes as an intensity and passion to achieve, and an insatiable desire to improve.
This next paragraph started off as a response to Jeff when he asked "What about tri didn't allow you to pursue quality? If anything it seems even better suited to your needs." I responded to that with:
I didn't really explain that well, did I?
I got turned off by the gear. By the drafting. By the dweebs. By my
own lack of ability to improve on the bike despite trying (at least
trying a little bit.) By the costs. By the trends and where it was
heading. But mostly because I didn't feel like I had many days of
"quality" when cycling or swimming. There were a few, but the
majority were all run days.
When I attempted to rewrite that response in a slightly less obnoxious manner, it ended up sounding overly sanitized:
So, wait, I mentioned that I pretty much gave up racing triathlon, although I still enjoy swim/bike/run training. So, what gives, how does that make any sense? Jeff asked me to clarify this point and it prompted additional thinking. The bottom line is that triathlon boiled down to an endeavor which seemed incompatible with my desire to pursue quality. I got turned off by all the gear. I got frustrated by all the drafting among nameless age groupers. I got sick of being around the personality types which dominate the sport. And, here's the part where I take some ownership of my own baggage, I was primarily frustrated by me own lack of improvement on the bike. I know I tried a few different angles on cycling, even spending most of 2003 focusing on riding instead of working, but the improvements didn't seem to come. Meanwhile, the costs of participating in an already expensive sport continued to increase, while my desire and ambition were trending the opposite direction. I started to feel like the majority of my "quality" was focused on running. I had a few good swims and a rare uplifting ride, but the arrows all pointed towards running as being the more consistent and reliable source of joy.
Jeff prefers the first version. I think the 2nd version is somewhat easier to follow, but I expose both angles as an attempt to let the reader decide for themselves what I really mean.
It is worthwhile to note that I am actually pretty lousy at a lot of things I do, particularly those I have less experience with. Take yoga for example. When I started, I flat out sucked. I had never been flexible, my balance is still well below average, and what strength I did possess was geared more towards spastic efforts than anything resembling graceful movement. I had always been scared off by the mirrors and the other people in the room, I retained fear of failure, fear of judgement, fear of looking like an idiot. With time, and particularly with effort, those fears dissolve in the pool of the inner ego, apprehension morphs into confidence as the unknown becomes familiar. Part of it is realizing that everyone else in the room puts their pants on the same way, even if they can do standing splits and jump into a pike position from adho mukha. But the biggest part is watching my body and abilities change through the continued application of desire to improve.
There is a genetic component to this desire for quality. I see it in my father's dancing. He started getting serious with it about 15 years ago and he has progressed into a fairly competitive dancer. Most importantly, far more important than any recognition he might receive from competition, is his own satisfaction from being able to do something with his body that was previously unknown or impossible. His career has been a series of rational decisions, with life and death literally hanging in the balance and the wealth of experience providing the sustenance on which to propel through each new uncertainty. Similarly and also differently, through dancing, his body and mind are invigorated in the relentless and endless pursuit of a perfection that cannot be defined, only asymptotically approached. I see beauty and grace in the fluidity of his instructors movements which he has not yet mastered and I can tell, despite how far he has come and how much I admire and appreciate the skills he has gained, there is still enough room to improve to combat any sense of satisfaction that might lead to complacency.
I run because every now and then I will encounter a moment that astounds me. Last year I had a number of days that absolutely blew me away, some in training, and a few races as well. Sharing those experiences and what they meant to me in this blog is a way to bare my soul, to rip away the meaningless layers of courtesy, manners, politeness, clothing, space and time, and delve into the raw emotion that fuels my journey of self exploration and attempts at self realization. I run to experience intensity, passion, and desire without filters. I run to watch myself give up and then re-enlist in the fight. I run to experience failure, remorse, greed, ambition and self-importance, and yet still attempt to supercede all of that and try to be better as a runner and as a human. It is, and has always been, an endless search for quality.