A Grand Summer of Running: Boulder

IMG_0620

Life has been interesting of late. A dog named Charlie joined our family. We got married. My back healed quickly after surgery. And I was lucky enough to run in some superb places. This is a chronological series of impressions from the trails I explored in the summer of 2015. One installment every Friday, for a while.

IMG_1348

Covering stories everywhere, I am lucky to have traveled all over the country for the past twenty years. Where ever I go, I don’t tend to get nervous. Now I’m in Boulder. A friendlier, more laid back town is hard to imagine. Still, I feel some butterflies.

It may be that I will soon meet and run with a terrific ultra champion, Timothy Olson. Or that I don’t know what to expect from the other participants of this running retreat. Will they all be semi pros nonchalantly ticking off 30 miles a day at altitude while I struggle?

The vibe at the Adventure Lodge is utterly mellow. After we settle in, the group meets on the grassy field near the stream, where will basically live, eat, talk, laugh and try impossible (for me anyway) yoga poses over the next few days. Runners of every age and size gather, shyly chatting or quietly stretching. Tim welcomes us, as we also meet his wife Krista, and her parents, Bob and Debbie. Later, the rambunctious toddler Tristan will bounce around in the group, too.

Then we take off for a first, quick 5 miler. Up and up, to a spot with lovely views and space to meditate. Mindfulness is the key, the goal, the central tenet of this camp. For a few minutes we sit mindfully, before heading back down. Dinner is fresh and healthy, prepared by a wonderful couple running RAD (Read Athlete Diets), a company worth checking out for anyone interested in delicious wholesome food to sustain a mountain runner or anyone, really, who likes to think about what she puts in her body.

IMG_1268The next day we eat early, then hit the trails for 18 miles. Some real climbing, some tricky technical stuff. My new and improved back holds up well. Food and water going down fine. Worries about work and my aging body vanish as I myself seem to vanish in this vast open landscape.

On the run I connect with a hyper fit father and runner named David (we share a great taste in hair style); a fast and strong young marathon runner, Annie; a deceptively laid-back southern trail guy on destroyed old Brooks, Keith; Derick, a tattooed LA dude laughing his way up the trails; the young and speedy Argentinian Mauri; and Billy, who’s filming Tim and us as he bounces up and down the trails as if it’s a short track workout.

We share quiet hours and intimate stories. Connections are forged as we struggle up Bear Peek. David hands me his head band to cover my bloody hand after a quick fall and perfect roll. A rattle snake rattles us. Wide open vistas takes our breath away, as if the brutal climbs weren’t enough.

As the different sub groups reconvene at night, on yoga mats on the grass and later by the fire, I learn about broken lives being healed through running. About battles with age, in which the run is a key weapon. About old addictions, rotten relationships, seemingly insurmountable challenges that we — many of us — overcame by doing what humans have been doing since the very beginning: one foot in front of the other. We run.

After the outings around Boulder Tim talks about his running, his life, his family, his struggles. It’s inspiring to peek into the mind of a two-time Western States champion. The usually shirtless retreat leader, soft-spoken en clear-headed, is of course more than a runner. He has a fascinating past. He, too, used to lead a life of depression and self-destruction. He also found salvation, perhaps redemption — though that’s my word, not his — in the solitude of these long mindful hours in nature.

In Dutch there’s a nice phrase for that melancholic feeling after an intense, intimate experience with strangers. It’s called a kamp-kater: a “camp hangover”. When I hug some of my sinewy new friends at the airport, after a near-miss with a tornado about to touch down on our car, I sense  that “hangover”.

We say good bye. Actually, it’s “see you later”, for we say we’ll run together again. And I’m convinced that’s true, thanks to this magical time in the mountains with a few dozen mindful folks on worn-out trail runners, who seem to think it’s great fun to nearly kill oneself running up a 9000-foot peak.

IMG_1329 IMG_1302

Advertisements

A Grand Summer of Running: Nijmegen

IMG_0558

Life has been interesting. Charlie the dog joined our family. We got married. My back healed well after surgery. And I was lucky enough to run in some superb places. This is a short series of impressions from the trails I explored this summer.

Come on, he’s just a guy. It’s necessary ro remind myself. Thomas Dunckerbeck is one of the best ultra runners in the Netherlands, in the world — a giant in the world of trail running. But I know him because he was the kind physical therapist helping my mother after she broke her ankle. I’m visiting my parents this June and, with some prodding from my mom, I’d reached out to him. A little run perhaps?

Trail2-M

That’s him: my mom’s PT and one of the best runners around. Photo: Barbara Kerkhof

My surgery to fix a herniated disc is about ten weeks ago and I’m only just running again, gently. Thomas knows this. He’s kind enough to start very slowly as we pass my old school, de Klokkenberg, at dusk. Past my favorite soccer field, into the quiet we move, slowly weaving our way through the hilly woods between Nijmegen and Beek.

Basically, I watch and learn. His stride is so light, his posture perfectly upright with a slight lean. As I work and sweat, gasp and struggle to land quietly — my physical condition is frankly pretty rotten — he chats and moves. Thomas turns out to be an amateur WWII historian, too. He shows me hidden spots under the trees where brave allied soldiers held off the Germans, almost 70 years ago. Allowing me time to recover, he chats and points and teaches.

Yes, he’s just a guy. But running with a modest legend is a little different. At this moment, as I’m trying to feel what my new and improved spine can handle, it’s inspirational.

We have beers and roasted nuts when we come home in the dark after a solid — read: challenging — 8 miles. Later, a thought creeps up when I go to bed. It’s a happy thought, I realize, channeling Arnold: I’ll be back.

Solo yet connected in the mountains

IMG_0836The New York Flyers, the Trailrunners Club in LA, Miss Charlie and K all have something in common. They provide community and connection for the solo runner. While running the mountains is an individual endeavor, I often feel connected. Not only to the air I breathe and the ground my feet touch. Also to the people who begin and end with me, who are there, not always seen but always there.

I’ve never understood people who call running boring. These days I simply say “sorry to hear it” or “maybe another sport could work”. But I still think what I used to say to people: if you’re bored you haven’t looked, listened, smelled, felt. Anyway, my point is that I am loving these structures in which to run: the Flyers running club in New York, the Trailrunners in the Santa Monica Mountains.

K provides that sense of unwavering connectedness as well, during our walk-runs and in the marriage we are about to embark upon. Charlie the Vizsla is a great compagnon, too, when she roams the mountains with me, sniffing and sprinting her way up and down the trails, never losing sight of where I am.

We run alone. Our minds wander. The pain and joy of a 16-mile adventure —like yesterday— is often a solo experience. But I find comfort in knowing that my kind fellow runners, my wife-to-be- and our sweet dog will always be there on the other side.

IMG_0828 IMG_0835

Old friends in new places

96c77ef4dc020813fd2fdd4db6125f21

E has known me since I was six months old. Our close friendship is about twenty years old. He’s my cousin and soulmate, friend and brother I never had. A good guy, clearly.

E is old — younger than me, but old as in “been around, been around me as partner in crime”. Meanwhile, LA is still new, historically and in my life. The Santa Monica Mountains trails are pretty familiar, but still possess the newness to stir up excitement, a sense of exploring and discovering. When Miss Charlie and I disappear from the city into the wilderness just north of the city, it always feels as if we are forging new paths.

And so two worlds came together yesterday when E, visiting from Holland, joined me on the trails. We walked, ran, talked. He and M were amazed to see this raw and lovely bit of nature right there, a short hop north of the city.

It was good.

Happy little victories

I’m back. To me it means: I was forced to stop running for a while, I hated it, my body has been craving a run, neither bikes nor swimming water helped one bit, and I need to run. So when I’m back running again, the words “I’m back” signify a happy little victory.

This weekend my new running friend Sander and I explored the trails near the southern Dutch town of Vught. It was sweet. Sandy and soft. Sunny and cool. Quiet and light.

I’ve known this for a while now: running with a friend is different than any other way of sharing quality time. Dean Karnazes, speedy Eddie, superfast Chris, the amazing Cecile and Tomas and many other runners by my side have shown me how to run and chat, connecting in the movement. Maybe a running neurologist can explain to me one day why the brain opens itself the way it does while the body works in unison with a fellow runner in your footsteps, or leading the way.

In any event, to come back to running with a healed lower back on those trails —not far from the land my grandfather explored for years—was a gift on that sunny Dutch Sunday.

Watching you

image2

These days I watch runners. The barefoot ones, battling the deep sand along the ocean. The quick-stepped sprinters on the track. And on the trails the steady warriors with hydrations packs and big smiles as they climb and descend.

Yes, it fills me with envy. Since a minor surgery a few weeks ago I can only walk — which is wonderful with my new buddy Charlie. Mostly, though, I watch and learn. When I run myself, the focus is often on myself. On my breathing, pace, thirst, joy, struggles, footing. While walking there is now room to watch and imprint on my running brain the things I want to remember and emulate: they way he leans in a perfect angle, her light mid-foot landing, his easy stride, her impressive arm swing.

Soon I’ll be ready again for my feather-light La Sportivas, my GPS watch and Nathan bottle — ready for the mountains I can see from our bedroom. A little later, Charlie will be ready to join me on some easy runs there.

For now, we happily walk, watch, and learn.

Charlie is here

Charlie-sit

This is Charlie. She was born in November and joined our home in February. We are just learning what she’s like, while she eats and grows like a rock star. So far we see a sensitive, loyal girl. With other dogs she is fun and playful and fearless – too much so, perhaps. Her mind likes to be active and she will crawl into small, low spaces just because it’s exciting to check them out. She can dig. Recently she discovered her bark, though she is not sure yet when to use it.

She is fast.

In full gallop there is no way any human could keep up. And that’s Charlie at just four months of age. I’m excited to learn how fast and far she will go with us, once the is grown and completely comfortable in her own body.

On the nearby beaches she has made many friends, canine as well as human. Her gentle demeanor and soulful eyes draw in old men, young girls and every one else. Her tail will wag as long as they give her some love.

IMG_1792

Charlie-shoe