The Sunday ranch run is always a highlight of my week but often for different reasons. Sometimes it is about the discussion, sometimes the course, sometimes the effort, and sometimes the weather. It all started for me as an intimidating introduction to the local running community and it was the first place where I got to run side-by-side with Ironman champions. I owe some of this to my trailmom, Laurie (aka Rapunzel), who first mentioned a group self-named as "El Perdido" who met at San Dieguito park on Sundays at 8am. After some discussion I found out that more than one group would start from the same location, with some of the old timers heading out at 7 or 7:30 and those with fleeter feet laying chase at 8. I allowed myself to be talked into checking it out with Laurie's own group of primarily masters runners one morning. For some reason I decided to bring Hunter with me, and after suggestions to let him off leash once we got on trail, he promptly threw down a nice coil and left me on poop patrol. That was the last I saw of Hunter until the group returned from the loop, apparently he had stayed with everyone while I cleaned up his mess, lost the car key somewhere in the wood chips, and spent the rest of the morning stressing out because I couldn't figure out where they had gone or if Hunter had followed. I was lucky that Laurie was resourceful and good with dogs, she used her shirt as a leash and kept an eye out for him that day, returning him to me as a tired dog which really is the best kind of dog there is.
On one subsequent venture into the ranch, I brought Mika and Tomppa as they were staying with me en route to Kona. We met up with Jurgen Zack and as I remember it, one or two others. I was reasonably fit at the time, but not nearly prepared to run with as fast as they did, so I managed to hang for about half of the 11 mile loop but I fell off the back around the reservoir. I took a wrong turn heading home and then another wrong turn and wound up having to retrace my steps. Three hours after the start I found the car and a laughing group of professional triathletes who had no choice but to sit and wait for me. I was mildly embarrassed at my mistake, but I knew it could have happened to anyone who didn't know the area, the roads are very windy, the hills are confusing, and the trails criss cross each other as they snake through small canyons and ridges.
Once I started coming more regularly, I got to know that 11 mile loop a little too well. The first hill, where I had lost my car key that day, it was always a place to test yourself and others, sometimes in thick wood chips, sometimes in mud, sometimes the first few hot rays of sun exposure. Make it up that thing with the group and I'd be OK for the rest of the day but if I fell off the back there, it would set up an ominous theme for later. The 5950 rock is another little hidden spot, one day I took a thorn at that turn and man did it hurt, other days there would just be a river of mud for almost a half mile which made footing very difficult.
For some reason, or perhaps for no reason, I became friends with Luc. He has since been a part of all of my running accomplishments as we typically run together 3-4 times a month, almost always on Sundays in the ranch. Luc has been running in the ranch for almost as long as I've been running, so he knows them all very well and under his direction I ventured off into some of the lesser traveled sections. One day we named a course "The Tiger" since that was big news at the time, and we started using that course as an alternate route on rainy days because the footing was better for much of it. Luc coined his own "classic" consisting of the majority of the 11 mile standard loop plus a number of additional hills and what felt like a backdoor arrival to the finish, increasing mileage to about 14.
For some reason, or perhaps for no reason, after perhaps a decade of 8am starts at San Dieguito Park, Luc, Chris, Todd and I shifted and began running from the village, starting and finishing at Cafe Positano. At the time I did not give this shift much thought, I felt like it may have been temporary, and while it was a further drive, it did seem more civilized. The best part of that decision was our ability to spend up to an hour or more bs'ing after the run while drinking coffee. As ironic as it sounds, this move may have been the most brilliant decision ever made with regards to the Sunday ranch run as it opened up all sorts of new possibilities. The standard easy run became a loop to the coast, passing through the golf course, the lagoon, the coastal stretch of 101 in Solana Beach, and heading back east past the race track along the coast to crest trail. That course is as "classic" as any, with it's share of ocean views, breathtaking scenery, horse stables, trees, and even a few water stops. Alternatively, we could head east out towards Lake Hodges and turn around at the dam for roughly the same total distance on very well groomed trail with more climbing involved, such as we did yesterday. On top of these options we had all of the same routes we did before with just a different start/end point.
Luc typically brings his purple-cased iPad to the table and the first one done buys the first round at this cash-only but oh-so-cozy coffee joint. On hot days, Todd and I hose off at the real estate office which conveniently leaves a hose coiled up outside for watering the plants in front of its window. Sometimes we speak of politics, sometimes history, sometimes women, sometimes children. On any given week, someone will have to leave early while others can stay and linger. It has become something truly special, a small piece of routine in an otherwise disorganized and unplanned weekend. We consistently invite other friends to join us but it seems as if nobody else has the interest in the alternate start. There are the die hards who continue the San Dieguito 8am start and then there are those who prefer a Seaside Market start and stick to the coast with an out and back to Torrey Pines. Obviously a large group would not work so well in the ranch, as the cafe can barely hold 10 people in line and with one group of cyclists present, the chances of being able to grab a table outside approach zero. As a result, our group of four becomes a little tighter every week, living through deaths of parents, bike crashes, children growing older and heading off to college, dogs aging, and of course as the token unmarried guy, the ubiquitous talk of the ups and downs of marriage, the challenges of men and women relating, and how to work running into an otherwise busy life.
At one point a number of years ago I accepted a new job and planned to move out of town. Believe it or not, the ranch run was on the top 10 list of reasons why I wanted to stay. I wound up reversing my decision and I'm sure that was the right choice. Jobs come and go, dogs get older, children get old, we all get older, shoot even the barista gets older, but the ranch run remains.